How I Use Scrivener

Scrivener was one of the first, if not the first app I purchased for the Mac. When researching writing tools, Scrivener ranks at the top of the list. And for good reason. It's a complete writing environment that changes the way you approach text, pages, documents, and the writing process as a whole.

In my previous life before the Mac, like so many others, I used and was a fan of Microsoft Word. I thought Word 2.0 was quite amazing after all those years of Wordperfect and it's "reveal codes." Word 2003 was an impressive evolution and allowed us to install more fonts than we could ever use. The 2007 version brought a ton of new features, but were they really about writing?

That was also my last Word version. The UI and push toward desktop publishing features didn't work for me. When the Mac opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance to use Scrivener.

For the way I work, I have 3 projects – Blogs, Journal, Work.

I have a blog project for 2018, 2019, 2020 and soon there will be one for 2021. In fact, they go back to 2011. Those were written before Scrivener, in OneNote actually, but everything has been imported so they can all be referenced with ease. The way Scrivener works, I can jump to any previous article and topic.

My largest project is for journal writing. Each month is a folder. Each monthly folder has an entry for the current day of the month. Using this, I can go back through an entire year's worth of ideas, projects, and goals.

There is a third project for all things related to Work. This is a relatively small project, but contains useful information. Before sending an email, even to a small group of people, it's written in Scrivener first. Any Slack message of substance gets mapped out here.

The great thing about Scrivener is it's flexibility. My journal project has decent structure and hierarchy. I have folders and groups. For the blogs, it's just a list. Both work equally well in Scrivener. For those who want to be strict in how their documents flow, Scrivener handles that. For those who want more freeform, Scrivener handles that as well. It's not a fight, or conforming to a specific process. There are multiple ways of achieving your end document.

For example, when working on a blog article, I take my TaskPaper outline and paste it into the Notes field. The Synopsis field is a quick overview so I stay on track.

To show the flexibility, I could just as easily paste my TaskPaper notes into a new document and switch between the two. Or split the screen to show both documents at the same time. Or create a document in the Research folder. Or make an outline in Scrivener and not use TaskPaper at all. There is no rigid structure I have to follow to make Scrivener work for me.

Using my outline, I write the first draft, getting all my ideas down. Next, is editing, and this is where Scrivener really shines. In many cases I will use the Snapshot feature, to take a backup of the document. I can now ruthlessly or recklessly edit, cut, add, and move things around. I take as many snapshots as I like.

If I like what I've done, well and good. If not, I can select a snapshot and roll it back. There is no need to worry about holding down Undo or restoring a saved copy, Scrivener handles all that.

One of the big fears with editing is the idea of losing a great idea. A lot of work went into that paragraph, it's a shame to throw it away. Well, that doesn't have to happen with Scrivener. Text can be added to Notes. It can be added to the Comments. It can be a new document. Or a document in a folder of ideas for later. Perhaps into the Research folder? Because of the way Scrivener works, all of those are possible. How you edit, store and work with documents is up to you.

When finished, the document is pasted into WordPress or MWeb. There are no control codes or weird formatting markers, just the text. That means it's ready to go in whatever publishing tool I choose next.

For compatibility, Scrivener uses the RTF format. Those RTF are bundled in a single .scriv file. It's akin to a zip file, but contains all the information, meta data, folders and documents. That makes backup and transport very easy.

While RTF doesn't have password protection, there's an easy workaround. I use an encrypted DMG volume to store Scrivener files. When I mount the volume (through an Alfred workflow), I enter the password and go about my work.

When the volume is dismounted (also using Alfred), the contents are synched to Dropbox. This shares my file between my work and home machine. This was more important last year, but I can still work on documents between both machines and through a secure process.

In the 5 years I've been working with Scrivener, I've written several thousand pages worth of text. It allows me to shape my text any way I see fit. I can jump between documents with ease. I can move things around without fear. I can make aggressive edits and always know there is a safe way back to the first draft. I feel completely at ease with how it functions and feel anyone who puts words on the screen needs to have a look at Scrivener.


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