How to Use Scrivener to Edit Your Novels

How To Edit Your Novels Using ScrivenerAs a writer, you need tools that help you organize your thoughts and eliminate distractions, so you can focus on what’s really important: the story. One of the best tools (of all time?) for this is the powerhouse writing software Scrivener. I started using it a few years ago, and it has transformed my writing process. But it does more than just help me me outline and draft; it’s great for editing too. Today, I’m going to show you how to use Scrivener to edit your way to a better story.

Scrivener LogoLast year, I wrote a two-part series about how I use Scrivener to outline my novels and write my first drafts. Right away, you guys wanted a third post: how to use Scrivener to edit. At the time, I wasn’t far enough along in my Scrivener experience to have used it to edit a work-in-progress, so I had to hold off until I could report on how things turned out.

And… I’m happy to report they’re turning out fine!

This is thanks in no small part to Joseph Michael—known in writerly regions as the Scrivener Coach and also one of the most generous and stand-up guys I know. Scrivener’s awesomeness is the result of its notoriously complex functionality. That means it does just about anything you can dream of—but first you have to figure it out. That’s where Joe and his detailed Learn Scrivener Fast course has come into the picture for me. He taught me how to use Scrivener—so I can teach you how to use it to edit your books.

6 Tips for How to Use Scrivener to Edit Your Novel

Following are my top 6 tips for how to use Scrivener to edit your fiction. Click on any image for a bigger view. 

But, first, a bonus tip…

Tip #0: Simplify Editing by Writing Clean Drafts

Obviously, this is a writing tip more than an editing tip, but I promise it will keep you from ripping out all your hair come editing time.

What is a clean draft?

It’s a draft that is already as neat as you can make it.

And how do you do that without falling into the grip of rabid and utterly unproductive perfectionism?

Outlining Your Novel 500#1: Outline

Outlining is like editing before writing. If you’ve worked out most of the major story problems and know where you’re going before starting the draft, you’ll be able to avoid the vast majority of big first-draft problems.

#2: Fix Known Problems

Did you just write a scene you know isn’t working? Stop now, go back, and rewrite it. Too often, when you leave a problematic scene behind you, the problems only snowball into all future scenes.

Now, I’ll grant this one can be a sand trap for some writers, so use it with caution. You don’t want to get stuck editing the same scene over and over again with no forward progress. But if you know what the problem is and you know how to fix it, do so.

#3: Stop Quarterly for a “50-Page Edit”

Don’t just write your manuscript all the way through (unless you’re competing in NaNoWriMo). It’s way too easy to lose the forest for the trees as you get immersed in the minutiae of your prose. Stopping every quarter of the story (at the First Plot Point, Midpoint, and Third Plot Point) and editing what you have so far is a two-fold aid:

1. It orients you in the overall flow of your story.

2. It gives you a much tighter, cleaner first draft, since you’ve basically edited it three times before editing.

This is the approach I use for all my novels. It certainly doesn’t guarantee you’ll end with a super-clean, super-polished first draft. But it does guarantee that it’s much more likely.

Tip #1: Use Scrivener to Edit Your Rewrite Notes

And now… let’s talk editing. The first step is to gather any rewrite notes. These could be notes you’ve already jotted down or just ones that are floating in the back of your brain. They could be big fixes (e.g., cut this minor character, adjust timing on the Midpoint, or give the antagonist a backstory), or they could be relatively small tweaks (e.g., make sure the protagonist’s eye color is blue all the way through).

The fantabulous thing about Scrivener is that it allows you keep all your notes neatly organized in one file. No more flipping through half a dozen Word and yWriter files to find what you’re looking for!

While writing the first draft, I keep a running list titled “Rewrite Notes” in the Projects Notes section of Scrivener’s Inspector panel (on the bottom right-hand side of the screen). Some of these notes I’ll have already addressed during 50-page edits, but a lot of them will be left over for the actual editing process.

Use Scrivener to Edit Rewrite Notes

If an idea occurs to me while writing, it’s easy to simply jot it in the Rewrite Note section and keep on going. Then I can access and refer to the notes when I’m ready to start editing. They become, in essence, my “rewrite outline,” a handy checklist for making each necessary change.

Scrivener Tip Project Notes

 How to Add More Project Notes in Scrivener

Tip #2: Use Scrivener to Edit Your Story Structure and Word Count

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Scrivener specializes in giving you a “big-picture view” of your story. It creates, in essence, an outline all its own, in the Binder section on the left, by listing all your chapters and scenes. This makes it easy to look at your story’s overall structure. You can:

1. Make sure all the important structural turning points are accounted for.

2. Make sure the timing is accurate.

There are seven major structural moments to be particularly aware of:

1. Inciting Event (12%)

2. First Plot Point (25%)

3. First Pinch Point (37%)

4. Midpoint (50%)

5. Second Pinch Point (62%)

6. Third Plot Point (75%)

7. Beginning of Climax (88%)

When I initially set up my outline in Scrivener, I create folders for each of my major structural moments and mark them with flag icons (square flags for each of the Three Acts; triangular flags for each of the turning points within those acts). Then I build my chapters and scenes within those folders.

Story Structure Sections in Scrivener's Binder

To make sure I’m staying (close to) on track with the timing of each event, I add each scenes’ word count to its title, so I can see at a glance where I’m at. This shows me where I need to trim word count and where I may need to flesh out a section.

See Word Count in Scrivener's Meta Data

Word Count Meta Data in Scrivener's Outliner

Tip #3: Use Scrivener to Edit Chapter and Scene Order

This is one of my all-time favorite Scrivener tricks. Rearranging chapter or scene order—or, even more tricky, the order of events within a single scene—can be mind-bogglingly difficult to get your head around when you can only see one screen’s worth of your story at a time.

Scrivener lets you rearrange chapters and scenes merely by clicking and dragging within the Binder. Don’t like the new order? Changing it back is as simple as clicking and dragging once more.

Even better, you can break down tricky scenes into beat-by-beat sub-documents, so you can see what your scene is really all about. Then you can click and drag those sections to remove repetitive elements and achieve the most powerful progression of events—as I did when editing a tricky dialogue scene in my historical-superhero work-in-progress Wayfarer.

Organizing Dialogue Wayfarer

Using Scrivenings View in Scrivener

Scrivenings View in Scrivener

Tip #4: Export Your Critique Partners’ Preferred File Types

Once you’ve completed your own edits within Scrivener, you then need to convert it to the proper format to share with your beta readers, critique partners, and editors. The one major drawback, as I see it, to Scrivener is that it does not allow you to send an editable Scrivener file back and forth between users (mostly due to the file sheer size). This means you must convert to some other file type.

The good news is that Scrivener’s export capabilities are vast—everything from Word docs to mobi and epub and everything in between. The bad news is that exporting can be tricky (especially if you’re trying to format an e-book, although it’s totally worth the effort).

Others (including Joseph Michael) are much better equipped than I am to explain the intricacies of exporting into e-book formats. At this stage in the editing game, however, all you need to do is export a no-frills Word doc you can share with your critters. The steps for that are pretty simple:

1. Click the compile button.

2. In the compile box, click the chapters and scenes you want to include in the export.

3. Select the type of document you want to convert to.

4. Hit compile and select where you want to save the new file.

Compile Instructions for Scrivener

There are all kinds of additional options for adding a cover image and formatting the text appearance, but chances are, at this point, you’ll find it easiest to do most of that in Word once you get the doc converted. Now you’re ready to send it out for feedback!

Custom Compilation in Scrivener

Custom Compilation Settings in Scrivener

Tip #5: Use Scrivener to Edit Word’s Track Changes

One of Microsoft Word’s best features is Track Changes, which records the changes your critique partners and editors make to your document and allows them to add comments. At this point, Scrivener doesn’t offer anything of competitive similarity, which means Word is still the best program to use for sharing critiques.

This means you need a system for switching between Word’s Track Changes and your manuscript in Scrivener. One option is to simply use Word exclusively as your manuscript’s master file once you reach the editing phase. I prefer not to do this, since I lose the accessibility of my Scrivener notes and I’d just have to plug it back into Scrivener eventually anyway for conversion to e-book formats.

Depending on the volume of corrections and comments you’ve received from your critique partners, you may find it easier to simply switch back and forth between Word and Scrivener, making quick corrections and adding footnotes in Scrivener to guide you to making the bigger changes later.

Adding Notes in Scrivener

How to Use Scrivener to Edit via Notes

If you’re dealing with a massive amount of changes, then a handy trick is to take a screenshot of the pertinent sections of your Word doc, then click and drag the images into Scrivener’s Research binder. You can then use the split-screen feature to show both the images with the Track Changes and your manuscript side by side for easy reference.

How to Use Track Changes in Scrivener

Tip #6: Use Scrivener’s Snapshots Feature to Preserve Old Versions

Scrivener is very committed to making sure you don’t lose any important work, either unintentionally (it auto-saves every five seconds) or through your own misjudgment. Before you make major changes to any given scene, use the Snapshots feature in the Inspector on the right-hand side to save the current version.

If you find you liked the old version better after all—or if you just need to reference it for any reason—you can easily find it in the Snapshots section and “roll back” to revert to the earlier version. It makes the whole process of revision incredibly risk-free.

Scrivener Tip Snapshots

Writing_Process_Scrivener_Snapshots

My complete storytelling process—from outlining to writing a first draft to editing—has been improved thanks to Scrivener. I’m an unabashed fan of the program because I’ve seen first-hand how powerful it is for streamlining my writing and editing processes, showing me the big picture of my work, and helping me stay out of my own way as I work toward my best stories.

Give it a try! The program is a steal at $40 and offers a free 30-day trial. You can also play around with this free Scrivener template created by Stuart Norfolk and based on my books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. Have fun!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you use Scrivener to edit your stories? What are your best tips? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I used to be a power Word user, so I have nothing against MS Word for office correspondence, etc. But having moved to Scrivener for writing my book, I see no need to use Word. However, as you imply, it would be nice if Scrivener added features like showing provisional chapter numbers and word counts in the Binder and a graphic display to help managing all your structural moments. Perhaps you could give them a hint!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The folks at Literature and Latte (who make Scrivener) always seem to be tweaking and improving, so I hold out hope for such features in the future!

  2. Awesome post! Editing the second draft of my novel right now and it’s been quite the hassle, making sure everything is on track.

    When you figure out word counts and whether a scene is too long or too short from the various Plot Points, how do you know you’re on track using just the word count? Do you divide the final ideal word count into 25%, 50% sections and use that as a guide?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I always go into a project with a desired word count in mind. I try to work from that in the beginning, but I also keep an eye on how the quarters are shaping up and think: “If the First Act ended up at 25k words, then I know I want the other quarters to roughly balance that.”

  3. I love Scrivener and wouldn’t be without it. There’s a lot I need to learn about it, though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The awesome thing about Scrivener is that it’s capable of *so much*–and, unlike Excel or even Word–almost all of it is pertinent and useful to fiction writers.

  4. Thanks Kate, this is very practical. Scrivener is a beast that must be tamed. Right now I don’t think I have the nerve to wrestle with it just yet. But I do need to learn how to use its basic functions.

    Question. Will this seminar be available to view after the set time? Or is it only available at that time?

    Thx
    Benjamin

  5. Normally I do a hard copy edit first, following Susan Dennard’s revision flow. But for various reasons I haven’t been able to print yet, so I modified her technique to work in Scrivener. As I reread the MS, I made color-coded comments on the document, blue for plot, red for character, green for scene setting, transitions, and magical realism, orange for comments equivalent to”write better,” and purple for where the content of my dialogue works but is missing subtext/punch. Next up is coming up with solutions and leaving them in the appropriate places in the document (although I hope to make the changes on paper.)

    I also made a document that tracks GMC/lies/flaws for each important character, and open each document note (for individual scenes) with who is present, their overall GMC, what emotional dominoes (again, see Dennard’s process for that) I have previously set up and need to work in, and what goal has been thwarted or achieved. (Flow between scenes and obvious wants were the main flaws in my first draft.)

    I also typed up all the scene/sequel questions from the Structuring Your Novel workbook and copy/pasted into each document note, but I found I had too much to change for them to be useful quite yet. I’ll probably use them on a polish.

    LOVE the idea of making a revision notes project notes document, as a lot of things I want to revise and/or reference would be much more useful in the inspector instead of in their own docs.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I tend to need to print off at least one draft for editing as well. There’s something about seeing my words in the irrevocability of print that really helps me get a sense of what I have–instead of tweaking, tweaking, tweaking as I read on the computer.

      • I completely agree with that. It’s something to do with the way your brain works; I can spend hours re-reading my WIP on the screen then as soon as I work on a hard copy I see new things that need to be changed.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          My best theory is that I have to concentrate on the words that are actually *there* when the book is in print. Better for proofreading too.

    • I love your color-coding idea! I’ve tried to do that so many times on a hard-copy edit and usually just end up so involved in writing things down that I forget to switch colors. 😛 But I love the idea of being able to go back and just work on one color at a time when it comes time to fix those things on the computer.

  6. I just started using Scrivener this past year, and I love it. It’s perfect for a scatterbrained writer like myself! With it, there’s no need to constantly search for documents about your characters, plot, or random ideas that have gotten buried in various folders. I just import any document pertinent to my WIP into Scrivener, and open them in a separate pane when I need to refer to them. This has helped a lot, as I’m writing a book that takes place in a high school. I created a list in Word of all of the students in my protagonist’s class that also includes notes on some of the students who play a role in the overall plot. Now, whenever I need to remember something about one of those characters (like which clique they belong to, which extracurriculars they take, their family, or even their last name), I can just open it in the second pane, with my WIP open in the first. I usually keep my initial outline open in the second pane as I work, so I can constantly refer to it and use it as a guide for my WIP, and can make tweaks to either doc if I need to. It makes life so much easier, and much more organized! I’m not a Scrivener whiz, though, and there are still so many functions I’m either unfamiliar with or don’t use, but I honestly don’t know what I’d do without this gem of a program. It truly is fantastic, and I recommend it to any and all writers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Exactly! I used to waste so much time clicking through every possible folder where I might have put the one little bit of info I need for a particular scene. Now it’s all right there within the Scrivener file. So much easier.

  7. I have to say I didn’t finish a single manuscript until I found this blog and Scrivener. I kid you not. I learned story structure and character arcs first, and then once I found Scrivener, I’d found the solution to all my million-Word-document woes forever. Finally, I could get nitty gritty or big picture with the click of a button, and all my files, pictures, outlines, notes, references, etc. could go into one main file, like what I had been attempting to do for years with a giant physical binder that was too heavy to carry around.

    I think the tips you’ve shared for editing are incredibly helpful, as I honestly didn’t think of using Scrivener much for editing (besides using the awesome Snapshot feature). Now I am brainstorming new ways of taking advantage of Scrivener’s power for every phase in the writing process. I especially loved the idea of screenshotting an edited Word document and then using the split-screen in Scrivener. I love it when people think of resourceful ways to utilize Scrivener’s many facets. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      So great to hear you’ve found the blog (and Scrivener!) useful. I definitely like the idea of keeping as much of process as possible all within Scrivener. It simplifies things and makes less work for my brain, so I can focus on creativity!

  8. My advice is to get a second monitor. Since I’ve got two monitors at work (most of the time) I can’t live without it! Especially for the moving-edits-back-into-Scrivener part. Two monitors will do wonders when doing that. (You can also connect a monitor to your laptop and have it as the main screen and use the laptop monitor as a side-notes monitor).

    The only lemon right now is that Scrivener doesn’t seem to support dual monitors (unless you count QuickRef-panels, the keyword window and similar)… so it will only work if you have edits or research in a separate document.

    Another nice thing about Scrivener is that it’s now available on iOS (iPad/iPhone) once I get to the editing stages I’m going to try to run Scrivener on my iPad for “off site” editing and reading. Hey! I may even try to write the first draft partly on the iPad (can’t waste 2×40 mins on the train!) It all hinges on what iPad vs desktop does with the scrivener file on Dropbox… (Unless it’s supposed to work with “Mobile Sync”… so much testing to do!)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s a great idea. I’ve pondered getting a second monitor, but for now, my desk space doesn’t support it. I had a huge monitor last year that I absolutely hated. I just felt overwhelmed by all the visual stimuli.

  9. Hey Katie, as always thank you for a great post! I’ve been reading your blog for ages but don’t usually comment since I’m more of a lurker. 🙂 I’m breaking my silence for this post because I do have quick question about the 50-page edit. I know you’ve talked about it before, but I’ve never been clear on how it works later in the book. For example, once you’ve written the first 50 pages, you go back and edit those, right? When you write pages 51-100, it’s time for the second 50-page edit. For this edit, do you work on pages 51-100 or everything you’ve written so far (i.e. pages 1-100)? Thanks in advance for your response. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good question. Sorry I didn’t make that clearer! So, yes, whenever I do a “50-page” edit, I’m reading the entirety of the manuscript up to that point. So for the first edit, I’m reading just 50 pages, for the second edit I’m reading 100, and for the third I’m reading 150 (or thereabouts).

      • No worries! Based on what you said about this method allowing you to have multiple edits done by the time you finish, I suspected that’s what you meant. 🙂

    • Also (nit-pickingly :)) I think the keyword here is “quarterly edit” rather than “50-page edit.”

      I understand it that you write an act at a time and then edit all you’ve written.

      With a normal sized novel, with normal words per page, we’re looking at a 75-100 page edit, rather than a 50-page edit.

      Especially if you want to print the text on paper and be able to take notes, make sure you have enough line spacing and margins to do so (which will give you closer to 250-300 words per page than the 500 you’d need to get the act of a 100k words novel on 50 pages…)

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Also true. I started using the “50-page edit” back before I knew anything about structure. The name stuck.

  10. Thank you so much for this. I love #1 and #5 – can’t believe I didn’t think of those. Off to implement them immediately!
    Will the webinar focus on new things including editing tips or is it Joseph’s standard webinar with all the basics?
    And which do you think is the best package for LSF? I got the basic on offer but he had closed registration when I wanted to upgrade.
    Thanks Katie for all the brilliant advice – it is so helpful.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, this will be the same webinar as the previous ones. I believe Joe has updated a few things, but it’s same basic presentation you’ve seen before.

      I bought the Ninja version of Learn Scrivener Fast and never regretted it. Lots of goodies.

  11. As a pantser, I just about stopped reading after your lecture to plot everything out. Not sure why plotters think they have to lecture us pantsers in the “proper” way to write (so yeah, that part ticked off half of the writing community who don’t write like you do). You spend much more time on your planning and editing as you go than I do. I spend more time editing after I have the first draft done. Six of one, half a dozen of another. Let people write the way that fits them best (it has nothing to do with Scrivener because we can all use it equally well).

    Now, as to the Scrivener content (which is why I came here in the first place), isn’t taking screen shots of the track changes a really impractical way of viewing the edits, especially for a lengthy document? Have you considered using Word to save it as a PDF and bring the PDF into Scrivener (yes, the track changes will come through fine as long as you have the Show Markup on)? Then you can split the writing screen and make your changes in Scrivener.

    I was hoping for some new ideas, but I already do all of this (well, not the planning part). Not trying to be negative, but the first part of this was so off-putting to me as a pantser, it set a bad tone for me. Thanks anyway. Guess it will help some.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ah-ha! I was trying to do exactly that with pdfs, but the Track Changes part wasn’t coming through. Thanks much for sharing that!

      As for plotting, I apologize if you felt I was “preaching” at you. It’s true I’m a hardcore outliner and believe strongly in its benefits. But, above all, I believe each writer must find the creative process that works best for him, his personality, and his lifestyle.

  12. I can’t make those screen shots larger on this webpage. That isn’t helping me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Argh, you’re right. I didn’t realize WordPress had changed the default on that. So sorry! It’s fixed now.

  13. How did you get your scene word count to show in the binder?

  14. Until the introduction of the iPad into the writing universe, I actually used Ulysses for everything up until the final draft, which I ported into Word. Then the iPad came along, making my MacBook Pro so cumbersome, I simply worked with tons of work arounds (mostly iA Writer and Word) converting to eBook and POD with inDesign. I always had my eye on Scriveners, but, alas, no iPad version. So it made no sense.

    Ironically, about a month after Ulysses released an iPad version, Scrivener’s released their iPad version and I had no excuse. I purchased for both Platforms, and I do the bulk of my writing on Scrivener now. The program’s ability to organize just about everything still amazes me.

  15. Hey! Just trying Scrivener out. It’s not as intuitive as I thought it would be, so I’m wondering if there’s another webinar/tutorial coming up?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Nothing official, but I’m definitely hoping Joe will be available later this year for another presentation. Maybe late summer.

  16. I use word now but would like to change to scrivener. My problem is, I use grammarly and I’m told it doesn’t work with scrivener. Is that true?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m not much of a Grammarly user myself, so I’m not sure. If I remember right, you just copy/paste into Grammarly, right? In which, case using it with Scrivener would be no different.

  17. I’m so excited about this article! I found it from Pinterest and have already learned a couple of very handy ways for me to use Scrivener.

    I just started using it and have finally gotten to the point where I set up my novel in Scrivener and digging into revision and editing. I originally wrote it in Word, but found it way to cumbersome and my notes everywhere were driving me crazy; best forty bucks ever spent.

    I know I’ll be using this article as a reference as I go along. Thank you for such a great source of information to make a tool even more functional.

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