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Getting Started With Scrivener

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Scrivener is one of those extremely useful Mac applications that I feel is really under-appreciated. You can use it for almost any kind of content creation and if you're a writer then it can really speed up your workflow and allow you to work more productively. It has won numerous awards from a number of high-profile sources (including Apple itself) and what's awesome about it is that it not only helps you write, but it also keeps all of your research and notes in one handy app -- so you don't have to go searching around your Mac.

In this tutorial, I'll be showing you how to get started with Scrivener by writing your first document, as well as exploring its various features and how you can use it to your advantage. Read on for my full tutorial!


Introduction

If you haven't already got Scrivener installed then you can either purchase it (for $45 from their website) or download it from the App Store. You can try before you buy, of course, by downloading a free 30-day trial from the developer's website.

Scrivener comes with plenty of project templates built right in. Scrivener comes with plenty of project templates built right in.

When you load up Scrivener, you've got the choice between a number of different project templates, from novels to play scripts and even essays. For this tutorial, we'll start off with a completely blank project so I can really dig in and show you how to get started with Scrivener, so click on Blank and choose a place to save your new project.

Choose a name for your project and save it on your Mac. Choose a name for your project and save it on your Mac.

You'll now be presented with the main screen of Scrivener. On the left-hand side is your Binder, that holds all of your draft documents (that we'll look at in a minute), any research documents that you've imported into that particular project and any that you've deleted. In the blank project view, a new document (in this example I've called it Document 1) will appear. Think of individual documents as chapters in a book, or sections in an essay -- you can create as many as you like and they will all be compiled into one neat document right at the end.


Creating Documents

The idea behind using individual sections is that it is far easier to manage short blocks of text rather than one long document. So, you don't necessarily have to place each section in a new document -- you could place individual paragraphs or ideas in there too. When the time comes to add a new idea, then click on the green Add button in the toolbar and a new document will appear.

Scrivener Main Screen
This is where all the magic happens – editing a document!

Scrivener includes all the text formatting features you'd expect from a word processor and you can customise the typeface, font size, layout and so on. The Inspector on the right-hand side allows you to give your document a synopsis (which will pop up in the corkboard that we'll look at a bit later on) and a custom status (for example, if you want to mark a document as a first or second draft). You can also add footnotes and comments to the text by clicking on the little n. icon in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen. Footnotes and comments in Scrivener behave like hyperlinks, so if you click on it from wherever you are, it will take you to the Inspector and the relevant comment or footnote.

Scrivener Footnotes
Scrivener handles footnotes and comments really smoothly.

You can also import a number of different document formats directly into Scrivener. To do this, click on File > Import > Files (or hit Shift + Cmd + I) and select your file. Scrivener supports most types of documents, including Word and Markdown (currently documents in Pages aren't supported -- you'll have to export them in either Word or RTF format then import from there) and once you've imported a document, it will pop up in your Draft folder.

Scrivener Word Document
Here, I imported a Word document into Scrivener. You can see that all the footnotes and comments are preserved.

If you want to split your document into individual sections, then click on the place you want to split it and hit Cmd + K. This will create a separate document within your Draft folder. Note that the original formatting from the Word document that I imported in the screenshot above is preserved, so you may need to tweak it around a bit to fit in with the rest of your document.

Scrivener Corkboard
The corkboard gives you a really easy overview of all your documents.

If you click on the Draft header in your binder on the left-hand side, then you are presented with the corkboard view, as you can see in the screenshot above. This gives you a really easy overview of your document and its individual sections. Note the synopses (which you can enter using the Inspector that we looked at above) that give you a quick and easy overview of your document. From this mode, you can also rearrange individual sections to suit your document.

Scrivener Outline
The outline view gives you more detailed information about your individual documents.

If you don't prefer the corkboard view then you can switch to the outline view instead, by clicking on the far-right icon in the Group Mode section on the taskbar. Again, Scrivener shows you each individual section of your document along with its label and status. You can change both of these easily here and, just like in the corkboard mode above, rearrange individual sections of your document. By long-clicking on the Add button, you can also organise your documents into folders if you wish.


Research

One of the features that sets Scrivener apart from all the other word processing apps is the ability to keep all your research documents in one place. As a student, I find this feature extremely useful and saves me hunting around my hard drive for all those reports and research papers that I need to use in my work. To do so, click on the Research button then choose File > Import > Files to import your documents.

Scrivener Research
Scrivener gives you a handy splitscreen view for your PDF files (or other documents that you've written).

You can import virtually any kind of file into your Scrivener project, including images and PDFs and they all stay nicely arranged in your Research folder. Of course, you can always organise your research into subfolders by clicking on the Add button in the toolbar. One of the most useful features of Scrivener is that you can have your research document and your work on one screen. To do this, click on the little window icon in the toolbar of the document you're working in, as shown in red on the screenshot below:

Scrivener Toolbar

This will bring up the split-screen view like you can see above, which makes it (in my opinion) a lot easier to work from documents and avoiding flicking constantly back and forth between windows.


Compiling Your Document

Now you've written your document it's time to compile it! The easiest way to do this is to click on File > Compile. You'll then be presented with a window as follows:

Scrivener Compile
Compiling your Scrivener document is the last step!

If you just want to compile your document as it is, then click on the Summary tab then on CompileScrivener will grab all of the documents in your Draft folder and place them into one document (if you click on the Compile For list then you can choose your document's output). If you need a few more formatting options, then click on the All Options tab.

Scrivener All Options All Options gives you far more control over the formatted document.

Here, you can customise almost every aspect of the document, from which sections are included to how they are displayed. You can also override the default text formatting, change the page layout and choose how comments and footnotes are handled. For beginners, I wouldn't recommend changing these settings too much (as it could mess up the look of your document) but if you need to tweak something specifically, then it is really easy to do it at the compile stage rather than going back through all your documents and changing everything manually.


That's It!

Congratulations – you've reached the end of my Scrivener tutorial! I hope that it's given you a good and detailed overview of this fantastic word processing app – of course there is far more that you can do with it but if you haven't used it yet then I'd highly recommend downloading it and giving it a go.

You'll soon find that Scrivener doesn't have to just be used by people who spend their days writing, such as authors and playwrights, but it can also be used for a wide variety of documents, such as essays, reports and so on. The possibilities with this great piece of software are pretty much endless, so go ahead and try it out – you certainly won't regret it!