Starting Scrivener (Yep, the absolute basics)

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Knowing Your Whys

Why do you want to learn—or get better at—Scrivener? What motivated you to sign up for this course? Think about it for a minute, and then write down your answers. Don't worry. I'll wait. (Cue Jeopardy music…)

Now, pick one or two key reasons, jot them on a sticky note, and put the note somewhere you'll see it regularly. According to Charles Duhigg's book Smarter Faster Better, knowing your overall reason for a task helps you get and stay motivated to work on it.

So, now that you have your reasons, anytime your motivation flags you can revisit your “whys” and get back on track. Before you know it, you'll be using Scrivener like a champ.

TIP: It's okay if you don't remember or master everything I cover in this class. You can come back to it anytime. Plus, things you don't need now might be helpful down the road, so just be happy knowing the features exist. If you ever have a use for them, you'll know where to look. Oh, and have fun!

Beginning with the Basics

No matter what level of Scrivener user you are, it’s important to know the basics. Over the last few years, I’ve realized that many people don’t understand some of the key fundamentals of Scrivener. So, we’re going to start at the very beginning to ensure that you’re on the right path.

The basic file type used in Scrivener is the project. Think of a Scrivener project as a big three-ring binder where you can store your writing, along with your research, notes, pictures, links, and references. You can create a project file for each of your writing projects. I have one for each manuscript, one for a series bible, another to hold and organize blog posts, and one to track appearances and associated materials.

Scrivener is suited to just about any writing-related project you can think of. I’ve worked with students who use Scrivener to write novels, memoirs, travel guides, short stories, ad copy, legal contracts and briefs, how-to manuals, genealogy reports, cookbooks, and more.

So, let’s get to it!

Starting Scrivener

To start Scrivener, you can open the program by clicking the icon located in your taskbar, in the Apps list in the Start menu, or as a shortcut on your Desktop (if you have one there).

Scrivener 3 Mac logo

When you start Scrivener, you will see one of two things:

1. The Project Templates window
This window appears the first time you use Scrivener, and anytime you closed all projects before exiting the program last time (see #2). From here, you can either create a new project or open an existing one.

NOTE: You can also access the Project Templates window when Scrivener is open by going to File>New Project. 

2. The last project you worked on
If you close Scrivener without closing your projects first—totally okay to do—it will open those same projects when you start it next time. Pretty cool, huh?

Opening an Existing Project

If you already have an existing project, you can open the project and Scrivener at the same time. Simply locate the project in File Explorer (or on your Desktop, if it's saved there), double-click it to open the project folder, and double-click the project file (it's a .scrivx if you have extensions showing).

To open a project from within Scrivener, use one of the following menu options.

— File>Open

— File>Recent Projects (to access a shortcut list of recently opened projects)

— From the Project Templates window, click the Open an Existing File button.

— From the Project Templates window, click the Open Recent button (to access a shortcut list of recently opened projects).


If working with your project files in File Explorer, be sure not to separate the .scrivx from the .scriv folder (main project folder). More on that in the “Closing, Moving, Copying, Renaming, and Deleting Scrivener Projects” lesson.

Video review – 1:27 mins

2 thoughts on “Starting Scrivener (Yep, the absolute basics)”

  1. Patricia Aitchison says:

    I learned about Scrivener several years ago and would like to become proficient using it. I have written a book using only a very small portion of it and know it has many more options that I would like to tap into.
    This program was clearly developed to ease a writer’s nightmare in keeping everything in one usable place.
    Ready to learn all I can!

    1. Great, Patricia! Be sure to ask any questions you have along the way. 🙂

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