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 Dock, in the Applications folder in Finder, 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 three 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. project templates window
  1. 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?
  2. Nothing but the menu bar
    If you start Scrivener and don’t see the Project Templates window or an open project, that’s okay. It just means your settings/preferences are set that way. You can still open an existing project by going to File>Open, or create a new project via File>New Project. File menu
    TIP: You can change your settings to ensure you always see the Project Templates window when there’s no project open in Scrivener. Go to Scrivener
    >Preferences>General>Startup, and check the box to “Show template chooser when there are no projects open.” NOTE: In MacOS 13 (Ventura) and later, Preferences are now called Settings.Preferences window showing startup settings

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 Finder and double-click it.

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).

Video review – 2:54 mins

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

  1. Sophia Coudenhove says:

    It wouldn’t let me go to File>New Project (New Project was gray, not black). The only way I could open a new project was by going into the templates. Is that OK?
    Also, what if I haven’t chosen my genre yet, ie if I am starting a new project but don’t know yet whether it will be fiction or non fiction?

    1. Sophia: File>New Project opens the Templates window for you, so if you can see templates, you’re already there. If you don’t know your genre yet–and honestly, even if you do–I recommend choosing the Blank template. It’s simple and clean without a bunch of folders and instructions you may not need or want. You can add anything you need to the Binder when you’re ready.

  2. Lenwoth Pratt says:

    two Questions,
    mind you I’m not a computer guy and I just picked up a Mac,
    Where should I save Scrivener3 ? Where should I save New/Old stories on my Mac?

    1. No problem, Lenwoth! The Applications folder on the Mac is the one intended to hold all software programs. When you install Scrivener, it should recommend Applications automatically. Check the lesson for more on that.

      You can save your project files anywhere you want. I’d recommend choosing somewhere that’s easy for you to find, like Documents or Desktop. Maybe make a Writing folder or something like that to keep things organized. If Mac is new to you and you’re not sure about the file system, I’d go back and look at the links I included in the lesson.

  3. rebecca garnett haris says:

    You say save your working file to the desktop or documents. Is Dropbox ok to use? I set my Scrivener up in preferences> backups to the hard drive default setting. Does that sound ok? Mind you, if you asked me where that default location is I don’t know, only if I open it in Scrivener.

    1. Rebecca: Dropbox is fine. I’m just giving examples. The hard drive is actually a great place to keep your backups if your working copies are on Dropbox. You want your backups to be separate so if one drive fails, you have the other.

      If you ever need your backup files, you can always locate them in the Scrivener>Preferences>Backup pane by clicking on “Open backups folder”. There’s more in the Backups lesson later in the class. Feel free to skip ahead. 🙂

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