When it comes to writing books, one of the most popular book writing applications is a piece of software called Scrivener. Unlike Word, which is designed for everyone, Scrivener is designed for authors. Using Word to write a book is like trying to screw in a screw with a swiss army knife. It’s possible, but it is a lot easier with an actual screwdriver.
Chances are you have Scrivener on your computer, and chances are good that you are only using a fraction of the power that Scrivener offers. Buying scrivener and not using all the features is like buying a Tesla just because you need a way to charge your cell phone. While a Tesla is a great way to charge a phone, it does far more than that.
Scrivener has dozens of hiddens features that can help you write better books faster. So, what are they?
David Lee Martin, welcome to the Novel Marketing Podcast!
David: Well, it’s great to be with you, Thomas. I’m happy to help people get over that apparent mountain that stands in their way when it comes to using Scrivener.
Why is Scrivener So Popular With Authors?
Thomas: I should start off by asking… Why is Scrivener so popular with authors?
David: Scrivener tends to work on a much more granular basis than a tool like Microsoft Word. Instead of having one long document that goes on and on, Scrivener allows you to break everything down into folders, chapters, and even sections within chapters.
I like to think that Scrivener helps me build a book, rather than simply write a book. When I write a story or create a book, sometimes the ideas don’t necessarily flow in order. As I’m writing, I discover that this particular part of the story would fit better earlier in the book or maybe later in the story.
When we’re creating these stories, we actually enter into that world in the same way the reader enters in. And sometimes, we ourselves are surprised as we are writing. We want to find out what happens next.
But as we learn more about the story and the characters, we may want to go back and develop some character traits or nuances into the story earlier on. If we’re writing in a linear fashion, this is difficult to do.
But with Scrivener, because each chapter or scene becomes its own building block of the story, it’s much easier to go back and make adjustments to your storyline. You can just grab sections and move them to different places in the flow of your storytelling or your book building. It makes the whole process of story crafting and world building more creative, fluid and flexible.
How Can Scrivener Help Me Organize My Writing and Research?
Thomas: A little later we’ll discuss how Scrivener can help you write better and write faster. But before you can write better or faster, you need to organize your writing.
Let’s talk about the organizational part of Scrivener. Scrivener is really strong in helping with organization. What are some of the different ways that you can organize your writing and research in Scrivener?
David: With Scrivener, everything you need for your story can be stored within one Scrivener project. It’s all saved in one place. You can create folders inside your Scrivener book document.
Thomas: This isn’t like a folder on your computer with lots of word documents in it. Each Scrivener document can have multiple folders for your research, chapters, character bios, etc.
David: Exactly. You have your main folder, where you’re actually building and writing your book. Then you can create a research folder where you can drag images, MP3s, videos, web links, or other documents. If it can sit in a folder on your computer, it will be able to sit in a folder in your Scrivener project.
Thomas: When you’re writing your book and you come across something you’ll need to reference when you’re editing, you can embed a link to that information right into your document. For example, you could create a map for a battle scene you are writing, upload a picture into the Research folder, and then link to that image from your main writing document.
You may be the only one who sees the terrible drawing of this battle, but it helps you keep the troops in the right positions. Scrivener makes it really easy to pull up that image. And not just for you, but anybody else editing or accessing that Scrivener document.
David: Also, with the Scrivener dashboard, you are not limited to just one item showing at a time. You could have your writing document open on one half of your screen, while on the other half of the screen you have your research documents or your character sheets, or your location sheets. And it’s all stored within one Scrivener project.
Does Scrivener Save Multiple Revisions?
David: Another thing Scrivener helps with is revisions. I’m sure many of you have labeled your Word Docs, My-Book-Final.doc, or My-Book-Final-Final-Final.doc, or My-Book-Final-for-Real-I-Promise-.doc. We’ve all done it.
But when you’re writing with Scrivener, the software saves several versions of your book as you build it. And you can always go back to a previous version. Maybe you have a great idea late at night after pizza and a glass of wine. You think, “This is it. This is the key to the story opening up.” And you pound it out on the keyboard.
And then you get up the next morning, read what you’ve written and think, “What planet did this person come from?” Well, with Scrivener, you can actually revert back to a previous version, before you ruined your story.
Thomas: A classic mistake many authors have made is when you cut a chunk of text and you mean to paste it somewhere else in your document, but then you forget. And you’re afraid it’s gone forever. With Scrivener, you can go back in time to a version of your document before that text was cut. You can copy it, paste it, and then save that text. So you don’t have to rewrite it.
Using “Snapshots” in Scrivener
David: One thing that I really love about Scrivener is something called “snapshots”. You can highlight a portion of your writing and take a “snapshot”. So if you’re going to make some revisions, and you’re not sure whether it’s going to work or not, you can literally take a snapshot of your document and that snapshot will be saved within the Scrivener project. And then you can compare different snapshots or portions of your writing side by side.
Scrivener saves your files every 25 seconds or something crazy like that. And every time you close your Scrivener project, it will save a backup as well as saving the file itself. So you don’t ever need to worry about losing your work.
A while back, a friend of mine called me in tears. Her Mac had fallen over backwards off her desk. She thought she’d lost a 100 thousand word novel.
It was nice to be able to wipe the tears from her eyes and tell her that all her work had been saved as a backup. I felt like the superhero coming in, in his Scrivener Cape.
Using the “Corkboard” in Scrivener
Thomas: Another organizational tool is the Corkboard. This is a feature of Scrivener that has no comparison in Microsoft word. David, what is the Corkboard and how would somebody use it to help stay organized?
David: I remember the way we used to organize our writing, back in the “old school.” People would get small index cards or sticky notes, and write the chapter titles or scene ideas on different cards. They would pin all their cards to a wall. Each card would have a synopsis of the chapter or the scene. And then they would move those cards around to organize and build their story. Maybe some of you still do it like that. Visually organizing your story helps you to see the big picture and understand how your plot will flow and develop. But there’s a better way. Scrivener allows you to create a virtual wall of sticky notes.
What are the Different Types of Page Views in Scrivener?
David: There are a number of different views that you can use within Scrivener. The first is called “Scrivenings”, which is what we would consider the typical word document look with just the words on the page.
Next is the Corkboard view, which gives you these little cards on a virtual board. Each card has the chapter title and any synopsis that you’ve put in there. You can also put pictures on the cards.
And then there’s an Outline View. In this view, you can see the chapter titles and chapter statistics. How many words are in that chapter? How many characters are in that chapter? You can also set goals for each chapter.
What is the Best Aspect of Using Scrivener to Organize Your Book?
David: I am not naturally an organized person. My brain can jump from the end of the book to the beginning of the book, to the middle of the book within a nanosecond. For me, the best part of Scrivener is being able to pull all of my research, my thoughts, my ideas and my notes directly into the Scrivener project. I love being able to build the book in a very flexible, creative way.
Thomas: Depending what kind of book you’re writing, this organizational feature may be even more useful. If you’re writing a romance that takes place in present day in your hometown, you may not have a lot of research to do. But if you’re writing an epic fantasy that takes place in a totally different world with different creatures and a complicated magic system, you’ll need a more robust system of organization for keeping it all straight.
What I like about Scrivener is that you can build your own “Wiki” for your whole story world. You can build your own encyclopedia. And it all lives right there in that one Scrivener document.
If you’re writing a nonfiction book and you have to collect lots of research, you can keep it all organized without it cluttering up the final product.
David: A lot of people will write in a series. Or they will write individual stories within a world they’ve created. And the great thing is, you can actually drag and drop items from one project into another.
You’ve done all of that work of world building and character building. You’ve got all of your research files and character sheets. Now, you can simply open that first Scrivener project, then open another project beside it and drag and drop anything you want from that previous project into the new project.
How Can Scrivener Help Me be a Better Writer?
Thomas: We’ve been talking about using Scrivener to stay organized. Now let’s talk about how you can use Scrivener to make your writing better. It has a lot of really fun tools that you wouldn’t find in Microsoft word.
Like a “Name Generator,” for example. David, tell us about the Name Generator. Will it help me come up with better names for my fictional characters?
David: I really love the Name Generator. One of my main uses of the name generator was to generate pen names. I actually run a publishing company. One of the most fun uses for me was creating wild and wonderful pen names that I’ve now published under.
You can tell the name generator to produce a list of just female names or just male names. Or maybe names that begin with a certain letter.
Thomas: There are some countries in which there is a certain list of names that parents are allowed to give their children. Any name that’s outside of that list is an illegal name. For example, Germany has a list of approved names. So, if you have a German character and you want to have a legal German name, you can use the name generator. It will only generate valid German names.
David: Another useful feature of the name generator is you can actually import your own list of names. If you write fantasy, and you’re creating wild, outlandish names for your characters, you can actually import a list of first and last names. Scrivener can then churn out a new list of names in all sorts of different iterations.
How to Use the Linguistic Focus Tool in Scrivener
Thomas: One of the tools in Scrivener that you’ve probably never used before is the “Linguistic Focus” tool. The name itself has probably scared you away from ever using this feature. But it’s actually very useful.
The Linguistic Focus tool allows you to highlight every instance of a specific part of speech, like all the nouns or adverbs. This is a great tool to use if you’re trying to reduce the adverbs in your writing. With just a couple of clicks, it will highlight every adverb in your manuscript. Then you can go through and evaluate if that adverb really needs to be in that sentence.
David: Writers often have a tendency to overuse certain words. The Linguistic Focus tool lets you see at a glance if there’s a particular word you use too often. You can then either eliminate that word altogether, or use the built in thesaurus in Scrivener to replace the word with a better one.
Thomas: That’s right. You’ll really see your writing with whole new eyes when you use the Linguistic Focus view. Another way to use this tool is when you want to analyze the dialogue in your writing. You can toggle the view so you are only seeing direct quotes throughout your manuscript. You can see if you’re using too many attribution tags or if you need more action tags.
This tool can transform your use of verbs as well. We all know it’s better to use a strong verb than a weak verb. Or worse, we try to add adverbs to make our verbs stronger. Hopefully most of us learned that in school. It’s in every book on writing. But there’s a difference between knowing that you need to do it, and having all of your adverbs jump off the page saying, “Hey, look at me.”
Then you realize you’re not doing as well as you thought you were. When you use this Linguistic Focus feature, you will have a stronger manuscript going into your edit, which then helps the whole rest of the process.
Using the Text Tidying Tool in Scrivener
Thomas: Another writing tool that’s built into Scrivener is Text Tidying. Text tidying is a tool that helps you clean up the type setting of your book. Some people will press the space bar once after a period, and some people press it twice. Most style guides call for just one space after a period.
Scrivener can go through your whole document or a selection of a document, and standardize it. If you’re going to do two spaces after a period, you need to do it consistently throughout your whole book. You can also standardize the amount of space between paragraphs, leading tabs, etc.
Sometimes when you start writing in Word and then you copy and paste into Scrivener, your formatting may be all over the map. However, there are other tools that may be better for this text tidying type function. I think Atticus is pretty strong at this and Vellum is also really good.
What Software do You Use to Format Your Final Ebook?
Thomas: Scrivener does have the functionality to format and export ebook files. But Vellum is probably a better tool for that. What is your process of formatting your final book?
David: I used to use Scrivener for everything, but now I do use Vellum for my book formatting. Scrivener really is an all in one type of software — from the very inception of your idea right through to spitting out a print-ready PDF or EPUB file.
The feature that formats books for print or digital distribution is called the Compiler. Instead of creating a digital version of the book and then a completely different version for print, Scrivener can produce multiple types of formats from your original manuscript. You could create a manuscript that you would send to an agent or to a publishing house, or a print ready file that you upload directly to KDP.
So, it is possible to set up your entire workflow, from beginning to end, in Scrivener. And if that’s appealing to you, that’s fine. But that’s not what I do now.
Now, I build the book in Scrivener. I then export it from Scrivener as a DocX, and then drag and drop that file into Vellum. I use Vellum to format the book.
Thomas: That’s what I recommend as well. Even though Scrivener can generate ebook files for indie authors, I think either Atticus (if you’re running windows), or Vellum (if you’re running Mac), are better tools to use for formatting. It’s worth the extra investment. Scrivener is really strong is in the writing tools. But it’s best to use other tools for formatting and publishing.
I recently found out that Scrivener will give you statistics on what the most frequently used words are in your entire manuscript. It will count up how many times you use a favorite phrase or word. It has a lot of really cool features like that. But when it comes to generating the ebook, tools like Atticus or Vellum will give you a better experience.
David: Scrivener is worlds apart from most other tools. I love it. When you put the two pieces of software together — Scrivener for writing, Vellum or Atticus for formatting — they’re really just power twins and make the whole process of writing enjoyable.
How Can Scrivener Help Me Write Faster?
Thomas: We talked about how Scrivener can help you stay organized, as well as improve your writing. Before we go, I want to talk about how it can help you write faster.
The first feature that attracted me to Scrivener back in 2006, was Focus Mode. At the time, this was a revolutionary concept. Almost everyone has copied this feature now. In Focus Mode, you can put Scrivener into a view where it hides all distractions and it blacks out your entire screen expect for the manuscript you’re working on.
And I think it even turns off spellcheck. It recreates the typewriter experience where there is nothing to do on your computer but write. Only an author would appreciate that. For a lot of writers, if there’s any distraction whatsoever, they’re going to get off track. But with Focus Mode, you can hide those distractions. You can just sit down and write, which ultimately helps you write faster. But it also helps you write better because you can stay in the “zone”. That’s when your best writing comes — when you’re in the “zone.”
Using the Target Feature in Scrivener
Thomas: Another feature it has that helps you write faster is Writing Targets. Let’s say you have a 50,000 word manuscript due in a month and a half. You’ve already written 5,000 words. How many words do you need to write today to stay on track?
Scrivener can figure that out for you. It can help you track your writing goals. It can track by words, or pages. It’s a really powerful tool for helping you know whether you’re on target or not. One of the things that separates professional—traditionally published authors who keep getting contracts—from the ones who only get published here and there, is whether or not they can reliably hit their deadlines.
Using Scrivener to Dictate Your Manuscript
Thomas: The final feature we’re going to talk about today is dictation. Did you know that Scrivener integrates with the dictation software on your computer? A lot of people don’t realize this, but both Windows and Mac now come with free dictation software, where you just talk into your computer and it turns it into text.
You don’t have to pay for Dragon. Now, you can just talk to Siri. Siri is about as good if not better than Dragon at converting text into speech. And once you enable that on your computer, you can talk straight to Scrivener. It will then turn the audio of your voice into transcription that you can edit right there in your document.
For the people who write really fast—the people who are writing a book a month—dictation is almost always a part of their workflow. For one thing, writing a book a month is hard on your wrists. But also, most people can talk a lot faster than they type. A normal talking pace is almost as fast as the fastest typists.
David: Dictation technology now is so advanced. Dictation takes a little bit of time to get used to. It’s a learned skill in the same way that writing is a skill that must be learned, practiced and perfected.
But once you get used to it, you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Thomas: I believe for both Windows and Mac, dictation tools force you to put in the punctuation. Whereas if you pay for some of the online tools like Descript or Sonix, those will actually put the punctuation in for you. They’re a little bit more advanced, but you have to pay per hour for that transcription. Dictation software has come a long way.
What Other Software Tools Can I Use for Dictation?
David: Have you used otter.ai before?
Thomas: Otter.ai is good. Happy Scribe is good. There are a bunch of tools that are really good. Half of them are just reselling Amazon’s text-to-speech. So half of them are secretly powered by Alexa.
Scrivener Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
Thomas: We’re almost out of time, but what’s one common myth about Scrivener that you’d like to debunk?
David: The biggest myth about Scrivener is that it is difficult to use. It is not difficult to use if you will give yourself about one hour to familiarize yourself with the basics of the software.
Thomas: You just have to jump in and start pushing buttons. Find out what everything does. Just like a child exploring a new toy. Just play with it.
David: I’ve got a little booklet that I can give to the listeners that will help them learn the basics of Scrivener in half an hour. It’s a PDF that will show you a lot of the same things that we spoke about today. It will help you break down some of the basics.
And honestly, within 30 minutes you will feel very confident to open up Scrivener and begin to explore further. I’ve also got a number of courses, with full versions for both Mac and Windows as well as the iOS app.
If anyone would like to check out my courses and fast track their Scrivener career, they can jump over to www.DavidLeeMartin.net/Scrivener. When you check out, use the promo code NOVEL, and it will take 50 percent off%. Because I love Thomas so much. He’s such an amazing help to us all.
Thomas: Yeah, thank you. I’ll have links to the Scrivener in 30 Minutes starter guide and also to all three of those courses, as well as the coupon code.
I highly encourage you, if you’re going to use Scrivener, it’s important to invest in training. A little bit of training at the beginning of your career can save you hundreds of hours of frustration. This is true regardless of what tool you use.
A few months ago I did an episode about Atticus, which is another really good tool.
There are so many better alternatives to Microsoft word out there. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. Scrivener is stronger in the writing area, but it’s weaker in collaboration or publishing than Atticus.
So you could start off in Scrivener and then you kick it to Atticus. They’re not expensive. They’re all cheaper than Word, especially in the long run.
CLR Peterson, author of Lucia’s Renaissance
“Heresy is fatal in late Renaissance Italy, so only a suicidal zealot would so much as whisper the name of Martin Luther. But after Luther’s ideas ignite a young girl’s faith, she must choose–abandon her beliefs or risk her life in the turbulent world of late sixteenth-century Italy.
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