Writing a Novel With Scrivener: An Ongoing Review

writing a novel using scrivener

In an earlier post, I commented about writing a novel with Scrivener. I lumped Scrivener with many other products. I might have been too hasty in my judgment.

As I admitted in the post, I hadn’t used Scrivener. I argued that extra software isn’t needed to write novels. A blogger responded to my post. He challenged me to use Scrivener. He felt that I was reviewing a product with which I had no experience. Although I wasn’t writing a critical review of Scrivener in my post, I decided to listen to this blogger.

I downloaded a review copy of Scrivener with the intention to review it. In order to truly review this product, I feel I need to finish an entire long form piece using it. I intend to write the second part of my upcoming science fiction novel, Funk Toast and the Pan-galactic Prom Show, using Scrivener.

Funk Toast and the Pan Galactic Prom Show is a compilation of 3 novellas and one short story. These four parts are so tightly woven that the book will read more like a novel than an anthology. I have already written the core story, Funk Toast and the Pan-galactic Prom Show. It is finished at 33,000 words. You can listen to it as an ongoing book on tape by clicking here.

I downloaded a free 30-day, non-continuous evaluation copy of Scrivener. I found the software intuitive. After watching just a few included training videos, I had what I needed to get to work.

Although I can’t fully review this product until I finish Poison Nickels Across the Universe, I plan to post information about my experience with this software along the way.

So far, I have only used Scrivener to outline my story.

The good:
Scrivener offers an excellent and intuitive interface. This software makes it easy to outline a novel with folders for characters, places, and research documents. The software is flexible. I have tried other novel and story outlining software products and have found them restricting. I don’t like my creative processes to be governed by the philosophy of a piece of software. Scrivener doesn’t do this. It merely creates a place where I can include all of my documents in an organized situation for easy reference.

I liked the split screen interface. This feature made it easy to reference documents such as character sketches, places, and research articles in one pane while writing prose in another pane.

Multiple views of the corkboard outliner helped. I don’t like working with graphical pushpin notes on a corkboard. But, thankfully, Scrivener offers a different view that functions like a list rather than a series of thumbnail views.

The bad:
Scrivener saves your files in a file structure with multiple folders. I write on many different systems, sometimes at home, sometimes at work, sometimes on a tower, sometimes on a laptop. I, hence, save my work on the cloud in an organized folder structure. Scrivener made this process a bit difficult. I guess I can start packing around a thumb drive again, but I am prone to losing such small devices. Writing on the cloud is convenient. I hope there is a cloud option in the offing for Scrivener.

Scrivener seems to save all of your prose in its own folder structure, separate from research, character, and place documents. As I write, I hide a ton of information in notes along the way, including sectioning, plot points, and sequence information that won’t make it into the final copy. It seems that Scrivener doesn’t have a method of hiding some information, such as folder names and descriptions. Folders go into the final copy as section names. I might be wrong on this. As I use Scrivener more, I will divulge any indiscrepancies that I find. I would love the option to mark text as hidden from the compiled copy so I can access it while writing but know that I won’t have to scan through my document to delete notes and information that I don’t want included in my prose.

I don’t know how licensing for Scrivener works. But, as I said above, I write on several different systems. Although I install the same software on multiple computers, all installations are used by me exclusively. I hope that Scrivener allows me to license multiple systems should I decide to make the purchase and move to their platform. I can’t afford to buy 4 separate licenses. And I can’t afford to be limited to one workstation for all writing.

In short, I am impressed so far. As I continue writing Poison Nickels Across the Universe using Scrivener, I will post updates to this blog.

Good luck,

Craig Nybo

About The Author

Craig Nybo

Craig Nybo writes novels, screenplays, and short stories. He also composes and records music. Craig lives in Kaysville, Utah with his lovely wife and children.

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  • Steve Shepherd

    Reply Reply March 18, 2013

    Hi Craig. First I wanted to say it was a pleasure seeing you at LTUE this year and thanks for all your solid advice. I have since put it to good use with my book and it’s helping a ton (I was the guy who bought your book at the end of the last day and gave you the change after you gave me a discount for almost having enough for it). Second, I wanted to mention my experience with Scrivener.

    Frankly, it’s replaced a Story Canon folder for me since I can put the story canon and all my research and ideas right there. I also like that I can keep multiple documents open so I can see one while writing another. Also, the flash card outline idea is slick. You can even write in scene or chapter documents and compile them into a single manuscript when you are done.

    I totally agree with you on mobility though. Scrivener is supposed to get an ipad version soon, but it does make it hard to access your work while on the go without thumb drives. It does, however, keep your files accessible to any editor that can edit RTF files (Most of them), but digging through the structure to find a file that may be called “45.rtf” is a bit difficult. So, Scrivener works well if you can keep it on computers and port your info with a thumbdrive, but if you need more mobility, it may be easier to just use the cloud. It’s just harder to work with its file structure outside the program itself.

  • Admin

    Reply Reply March 18, 2013


    Thanks a bunch. Yea, I’m on the same page with you. If I can find a tool that can replace the story canon, I’m all for it. Scrivener seems to be the answer to a lot of issues. I’m digging it.

    Hope you liked the book by the way.


  • Jenna

    Reply Reply March 27, 2013

    (Hi, here via Everything Scrivener.)

    The Scrivener license allows you to install the same license on multiple machines.

    You can also set up the backup to save to a cloud site like Dropbox. A backup file is created whenever you exit the program, or from the File menu if you want to back up without closing; and then when you’re on another machine you just open the .scrix file and keep working.

    There’s a Scrivener for Dummies available, and the author’s website has a lot of tips: http://gwenhernandez.com/scrivener/

  • Will

    Reply Reply March 28, 2013

    Scrivener lets you edit across platforms, but you shouldn’t edit files within Scrivener’s folder structure directly. It’s possible that, if something goes wrong, Scrivener might not be able to read the files and you may have to rebuild the project.

    Scrivener has a Sync feature (File -> Sync) that lets you dump your work to the cloud, edit, the re-import. You can sync everything in the project, or only selected parts. By using sync, I need only one licensed copy of Scrivener, but I can work on any other machine in my arsenal (iPads, iPod Touch, laptop, desktop).

    As for hiding things, in the Binder you can create “collections” (essentially, new tabs) and add only what you want to see to each collection. You can then switch among collections to see different views of all your project’s parts.

    Folders as section names are controlled at compile time. The Compile menu is somewhat daunting and complex, but there is a section (File -> Compile -> Formatting) that controls how each folder and subfolder is exported. If you don’t want folder names used as section titles, turn off the checkbox in the Title column.

  • Tymber Dalton

    Reply Reply April 2, 2013

    As for compiling, use the Inspector to set pieces not to compile. If you set up root folders outside of the manuscript folder, it makes it even easier to control this.

    I am a recent convert to Scrivener after using Supernotecard for over 6 years and forty books, and so far, I love it. For me the painful part is exporting all my SNC data and recreating it in Scrivener (because the latest Java update farked SNC and the developers have no clue when or how to fix it).

    As far as writing outside Scrivener, it’s my understanding we can use IndexCard for iPad and import files. Or you can sort of Evernote the writing in your editor of choice and copy/paste it in later. That’s what I’ll be doing for now until an iPad version is available.

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