Moving from Word to Scrivener

scrivenerlogoNot so long ago, I commented that I had bought several different software programs for writers, but hadn’t even had time to explore what they could do. Writing software, I concluded, just wasn’t for me.

Famous last words.

I have now been using Scrivener for about a month, with occasional excursions back into Word to create a document or PDF that I then import into Scrivener for the research folder. (Example: a PDF with text and photos about a setting, or about a certain profession.  I do this because Scrivener converts all imported Word docs to an .rtf file, but images don’t show up. You can import photos separately, but I find it convenient to have text and photos in the same document.)

Perhaps I’d better make it clear from the start that Scrivener isn’t so much about creating a plot as organizing your novel. As such, I can see that it really, really works for me. I’m ecstatic. Maybe it’s a case of the right program at the right time: I have pretty much always written my stories chronologically – until my current WIP. With this one, I found myself all over the place. A scene from here; another from there. One from Character A’s viewpoint, then another from Character C’s – and from different places in the novel. My Microsoft Word document was beginning to look like a 5-year-old’s knitting project: holes and different threads everywhere.

Then I read a Facebook group post from an author who waxed lyrical about Scrivener. A few days later, someone else said how much they loved the program; that they loved being able to keep their research within the project.

Okay, that got my attention. I’d been using Microsoft’s OneNote, which is actually pretty good. I had notebooks containing all my novel research, along with web links showing where I’d found the information – but I still had to open my Word doc; open the Notebooks, then get up and grab the Characters index cards from the bookshelf to remind myself of names and traits…

Hmmm, I thought. Maybe this is worth looking into.

I downloaded Scrivener. I watched two webinars about how a successful author used Scrivener to organize her work. Better still, she generously provided a template for a series of novels based on the same setting and characters.

I felt a curl of excitement. Wow, I could keep the whole series under one project name. I could work on separate scenes, and drag them around to suit myself, trying them out in different places. I could include folders for anything: characters, timelines, photos of characters… and hey, Scrivener even had a name generator! How handy is that when you want a character name on the fly?

I spent a day transferring all my research, character files and completed novels into a series project in Scrivener, as well as the current book. It’s absolute bliss having everything I need in one place; just one left-menu-click away. Thanks to colour coding, I can see which scenes need work; which scenes need to be written, and which scenes are at final draft stage. I can drag scenes around and click a button to see the summary on scene cards.

Scrivener’s Split Screen

Scrivener's Split Screen is a really useful feature.

Scrivener’s Split Screen is a really useful feature.

The other feature that I really, really like is the ability to work with a split screen. This means that I can do things like have the character profile and photos open in the bottom window, while typing the scene in the top window. If I need a quick ‘cheat sheet’ on common phrases in another language, there it is in the bottom window. Ditto for ANY research. If I want to work on the scene, I can hit the ‘full screen’ button and just type – then hit ‘escape’ to go back to the split screen to check a fact.

Just click a button to go to a full screen.

Just click a button to go to a full screen.

AND I like being able to click on a scene and instantly know the word count for the scene, then click another tab to see all the scenes in the novel in a scrolling document, with a total word count.

Scrivener saves the whole project automatically every few minutes as a .scriv file. You can also compile your WIP in a format that you can open in your word processor or send to a critique partner, or print it out.

Scrivener has too many features for me to enumerate here, but you can download a copy and try it out for 30 days. I recommend that you do. Give yourself a weekend to explore its features and see what it can do for you – especially from an organizational perspective.

Where can you get Scrivener? From the Literature and Latte site, here:

You can also find Scrivener tutorials on YouTube. (Check out how many views the videos have had, and the date they were posted.)

Recommended: Scrivener for Dummies, available as a paperback or as an eBook from Amazon. I downloaded the eBook version to the Kindle app on my iPad.

BONUS: If you read the comments below, you’ll see that there are a few questions about how to compile in Scrivener – that is, how to prepare an upload file for Kindle, without having to exit and do it all in Word! Luckily, I happened to know someone who has the expertise, so let me introduce you:

P. Seymour is a woman on a quest to lose 100+ pounds and writes with the intention to help others create positive change in their own lives around weight loss and general personal growth. You can see her author page on Amazon here:

P. Seymour Author Page

Paula uses Scrivener to write and compile all her books, and has been kind enough to provide a PDF sharing her knowledge. Right click the following link to download it to your computer:



Moving from Word to Scrivener — 13 Comments

  1. I use one note also and just can’t think about ditching it BUT I have yet to write my first fiction book so … I should dive in.



    • Adrianne, I know just how you feel! I felt exactly the same way. But once you start writing fiction, download the free trial and give Scrivener a go. It’s worth it!

  2. Great post! I use Scrivener but am still learning all the features…like, evidently, there is a way to track your word count and set word count goals. I just signed up for an online tutorial and will now get the Dummies book, too. Thanks!

    • I still have a lot to learn myself, Carol – but I’m just using what I need right now, and I’ll dip into the Dummies book when I want to go further.

  3. Thanks Marge. SOLD – at least as far as the free 30 day trial is concerned. I’ve heard of this from other sources, so it is obviously useful if you put a bit of effort into learning the basics.

  4. Thanks for your insight on Scrivner. One thing that impressed me about it was that you get a 30 day free trial…and they only count the days you actually are working with it. I’ve had trial copies before and ran out of the trial time because I didn’t have the time to stay with it.

    Which is what I did when I downloaded the trial some months ago and then never tried it out. Now I’m going to try it out and if it has expired because of zero use, I can just download it and start from scratch.

    • It’s an excellent deal to get your 30 days calculated only on the days you actually spend on it. I do think it’s worth trying out. Not everyone works the same way, and there are undoubtedly lots of people who’d prefer to keep working in Word. (I was one of them, only a few short months ago!)

      I’ll be interested to see how it works out for you.

  5. I have Scrivener, I was lucky enough to get the full Window’s version at a discount price. I love the cork boards but am struggling with the the end result of a novel, and find myself uploading it onto Word for publication. I am sure I will find a tutorial somewhere which will click on the light-bulb for me!
    Glynis Smy recently posted…Getting to Know the Author: Marilyn MorrisMy Profile

  6. Marg, could you share the name/link to the site where you viewed the webinars and downloaded the series template? I’m writing the first of a six-book series using Scrivener. It’s been on my mind to create a story bible template but downloading is much faster then creating :). Thanks!

  7. Great post Marg! I’m at the stage of first novel, nearly done, lots of notes to self, comments from beta readers, edits, cuts, rearranging and expansion of characters and it’s doing my head in , the sheer size of the thing. So this looks like a very useful tool.

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