My Writing Process, Pt. 2 of 2: How I Use Scrivener to Write My First Drafts

My Writing Process, Pt. 2 of 2: How I Use Scrivener to Write My First Drafts

What’s better than writing software that helps you outline your novels? How’s about writing software that also helps you write? That’s where the program Scrivener takes its whole game up a notch. Unlike other programs that are really only handy for one or the other, Scrivener offers amazing tools for both outlining and drafting–and does it all in one place, so the two are super-easy to integrate within your overall writing process.

Scrivener LogoLast week, I showed you how I use Scrivener to outline my novels. Today, I’m going to show you how I take all those important notes and turn them into an honest-to-gravy book. I’ll be using my historical superhero work-in-progress Wayfarer in all the example screenshots. Don’t forget you can click on any picture to enlarge it.

Once again, this isn’t a tutorial on how to use Scrivener. It’s just a example of my process within the program.

And now, here’s what my daily writing process looks like when using Scrivener during my first drafts.

My Writing Process, Step 1: Warm Up

I start my writing session with a series of warm-up steps. I used to do a much more thorough warm-up session, but over the years I’ve found it takes me less time to switch over into full-blown writing mode. These days I only do the following:

Research Notes

My first stop is my folder of research notes in the Research section of the Binder. I’ll select a topic pertinent to whatever scene I’ll be writing that day, and I’ll read a screen’s worth of info.


Scrivener Tip Folders and Subfolders


Character Sketches

Next up, I visit my character interviews. Over the course of writing the book, I’ll read these interviews over and over to keep my character details fresh in my mind. I start with the protagonist and read through his interview one “screen” a day.


My Writing Process, Step 2: Review and Edit

Once I’ve finished reviewing my overall story notes, I zoom in to focus on the story itself. I always review whatever I wrote the day before, proofreading it and tweaking it as needed. Not only does this quick edit make for a much cleaner first draft by the time I’m finished, it also helps me get back into the flow of the story, so I’m ready to pick right back up where I left off.

This step is pretty straightforward: just find where you began writing the day before and start reading. One thing I’ve found particularly helpful in Scrivener is the ability to change the icons for all my scene files, so I can easily find the document I’m working on. I like to use a different colored flag to mark each of the major structural points. I use a checkmark to indicate scenes I’ve finished and a star for the scene I’m working on.


You can also use the Status tool in the Inspector (right-hand column), which will show each scene’s status when in the Corkboard mode. But I prefer using the icons, since it’s more visually immediate (and more fun).


Scrivener Tip SnapshotsWriting_Process_Scrivener_Snapshots

I keep a separate file, down in the Research folder, where I store my “deleted data.” I never permanently delete anything. You never know when it might come in handy! All deleted snippets go down in their special file, in case I decide I want them back at a later time.


My Writing Process, Step 3: Reference Outline Notes

This is where I review my outline notes. I have already typed up all the notes pertinent to each scene in the Document Notes section at the bottom of the Inspector (in the right column). When starting a new scene, I read through all the notes for that scene.


I then take the extra step of re-typing these notes into a bulleted list in the main Composition screen. Not only does this give me access to my notes when in full-screen mode (see next step, below), but it also helps me focus on the step-by-step play of the scene, so it’s as fresh as possible in my mind while writing.


Scrivener Tip Scrivenings VIew


My Writing Process, Step 4: Write!

There are two ways I like to format Scrivener for the actual writing, both of which I use to minimize the clutter and distraction of the organization tools–the Binder to the left and the Inspector to the right.

The first method is the awesome full-screen mode, which provides a customizable composition screen that eliminates all distractions, including your computer’s Start menu and taskbar. You can change the width of your screen, the opacity of the background (if you’re a Mac user, you can even add a photo background of your choice). When you move your cursor to the bottom of the screen, full-screen mode will give you a handful of tools, but otherwise it’s pretty streamlined.


Writing Process Scrivener Full Screen Mode

The one drawback to the full screen is that it can end up causing more distractions than it eliminates if you’re needing to constantly reference your outline or research notes or just a desktop dictionary/thesaurus such as I prefer. In that instance, I forego the full screen and instead create a streamlined layout in the basic Composition mode by closing down the Binder and Inspector. This allows me a spacious full-screen editing mode. I can then use the split-screen feature to put my pertinent research notes or character/setting/costume images to the side of my actual writing, for easy reference. (Note that the taskbars are completely customizable, so your Inspector and Binder buttons might not be in exactly the same spot mine are.)


In order to keep the timing and pacing between major structural moments on point, I monitor my word count scene by scene. After I complete each chapter, I add its total word count into the folder title, so I can easily reference it. It’s also fun to use Scrivener’s Project Targets to see how far along I am in reaching my total target word count.


Scrivener Tip Typewriter Mode


As you can see, Scrivener does a great job of flexing to fit just about every part of my writing process. When I’m ready to edit and (eventually) publish, it’s also an all-in-one tool for creating e-book formats such as epub and mobi.

I’m having a blast with Scrivener. Seems there’s always more goodies to discover. If you’ve yet to jump on the bandwagon, I encourage you to give Scrivener a try. You can get a thirty-day free trial from their website–which will give you plenty of time to play around with the program to decide whether or not it might revolutionize your writing process just like it did mine. And 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!

>>Click here to read about how use Scrivener when editing.

Tell me your opinion: What does your daily writing process look like?

My Writing Process, Pt. 2 of 2: How I Use Scrivener to Write My First Drafts

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. thomas h cullen says

    There was never a lasting process.. There were bullet points, in the beginning, but being systematic never exceeded beyond that.

    (I’m contemplative, Katie. Could I edit The Representative’s SSD entry? Make it look more readable?)

  2. This is great! Do you plan on doing a tutorial for using Scrivener to edit? I love writing in Scrivener, but after I’ve completed my first draft and started revising, I can’t figure out how to make it work for me, and switch to Word.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is the first manuscript I’ve used Scrivener for, and I haven’t gotten to edits yet. If I feel that my process is Scrivener-specific enough at that point, I’ll definitely do a tutorial for that stage as well.

    • I agree this would be helpful. I’m just getting into story structure and have just purchased Kate’s “Structuring Your Novel” on Kindle to learn the process of structuring my first novel. Will definitely need help going back and editing everything within the guidelines I’m finding laid out in the book.

  3. robert easterbrook says

    I’d find this very useful if I had Scrivener. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to buy it right now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s well worth money when you can. At $40, it’s a steal.

      • Also it’s half price for nanowrimo or nanowrimo summer camp winners so if you write a novel in November or meet your goal for camp( two month long sessions to choose from in April or June) you can get the discount.

    • Alan K. McGrath says

      Hopefully by now you’ve been able to get a copy of Scrivener. But if you haven’t please be aware that the MakeUseOf tech website has a section called, “Deals”, where I see Scrivener for $20 two or three times a year. It’s not available right now for that, but I feel certain it will be again before long.

      I purchased a copy back in Spring of last year for that price. I’ve never seen it anywhere else that cheap! I usually try to alert anyone I see about it when it pops up. Good luck!

  4. Actually, PC users can set a photo as their background in full screen mode by going to Options – Appearance – Full Screen (under ‘colors’) – Background – Choose Texture.

  5. I’ve been using Scrivener for both fiction and nonfiction. It’s truly amazing, especially for being able to keep all the research organized in one spot in front of me. Now if it could just make toast…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! I love that it makes the research so accessible and how I can put it up in a split screen for easy referencing while actually writing.

  6. Good morning!

    Will the webinar be available for recorded viewing after the 23rd? I’m unsure if I will be available to view it live.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! If you register now, you’ll be able to access the replay and watch it whenever it’s good for you.

  7. I was wondering, when you started using this program, did you start from scratch on a new project or an existing WIP? Would you recommend switching over for someone in the midst of a huge revision? I have had so much trouble staying on track revising my own WIP lately, working between Word and One Note and Evernote and printouts and–honestly I’m stuck in revision hell. My perfectionism is really getting in my way, and I’m constantly tempted to just wipe the slate clean because I don’t really know how to simplify the process.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I started using it with a new project, and generally that’s what I would recommend. But if you’re struggling with organization on a revision, Scrivener would definitely be able to help a lot with that, so it just might be worth the hassle of switching over mid-project.

  8. These posts have been REALLY helpful, Katie. Thanks. I bought Scrivener last year after endless writers raved about it at a conference.

    However, my novel was complete and I couldn’t really figure out to transfer 400 pages from Word to Scrivener. I did start writing all my blog posts in Scrivener and immediately saw how AWESOME it is.

    I will 100% use it for all my future novels and am looking forward to Joseph’s webinar this week to learn more!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m thinking about starting to use it for blog articles as well. Doing so would make it super-easy when it comes time to compile articles into books.

      • I’ve REALLY like using Scrivener for blogs and you’re RIGHT! It’d be a snap to turn those into a book. Try it….you’ll like it!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Joseph Michael’s got a whole module in his course on blogging in Scrivener. I’m just stating in on that today, so we’ll see what amazing things I discover!

  9. One question: Where will we be able to access the recording of the Scrivener course if we are unable to attend the live session?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’ve registered, you’ll receive an email when the recording is available. I may be able to offer here on the site as well.

  10. I just wanted to come back to this post and thank you for bringing this topic up in reference to your own process. I honestly got more out of it from you than watching the Scrivener course because I’ve been familiarized with the program for a while now.

    Over the weekend I decided to go ahead and gather everything for my dual timeline WIP into Scrivener and organize it the same way I have been organizing all my Word files in folders over the years (I’ve never worked in one long document). But the thing i found most helpful which no one really speaks about too often is the collections feature in that program. I put all the chapters for each timeline into a collection, as well as whatever references or inspiration I need for it, and lock it down. It makes me feel like I have a forward path instead of all these options to go sideways with the other timeline, and I can revise them as two separate books in one.

    The only thing that would make it better is if the Windows version had that nifty Quick Ref thing the Mac version does.

    In time, I suppose.

    At any rate, thank you so so so so much for just getting me thinking on this and out of the same method I’ve been using for years.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for sharing about the collections! I still haven’t quite figured a good way to integrate that into my process. So many things to take advantage of!

  11. I’ve used Scrivener for a few years now and have watched loads of tutorials, including the free webinar you offered here, but I always come away from the tutorials feeling overloaded with too much information, and still not knowing how to best use the software. These two blog posts, with screen shots and specific instructions on “this is how I use it” have been tremendously helpful. Now I have a model to go by, to start with, and I can tweak it as I like. Thank you so much for all you do for the writing community.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great to hear! The great thing about Scrivener is that it is capable of *so much.* The bad part is that, you’re totally right, all those capabilities can be overwhelming at first. The key is to figure out just enough to let you get started using, then figure out the rest as you need it.

      • I found that this is the best approach to learning Scrivener in my personal experience. I learn as much as I can to get started and then discover the rest as I need it, thereby eliminating yet another excuse to procrastinate because of information overwhelm.

  12. Fantastic! I also use Scrivener for blog posts and nonfiction writing. I’ll never use Word again.

  13. Kate,

    I really enjoyed these posts on your process of using Scrivener and am looking forward to watching the webinar replay when I can.

    I have a quick question that wasn’t covered: Could you let us in on your toolbar layout? I see some icons that I’m not familiar with and would like to know what tools you’ve found useful enough to include in the toolbar; perhaps even your strategy for knowing what to include on it.


    P.S. Just bought your “Structuring Your Novel” e-book and can’t wait to learn all about story structure so I can hone my novel to a logical progression of story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you look at the buttons in the main toolbar, what you’re seeing are: Binder, Collections, Add Item, Delete Item, Project Targets, Project Statistics, Text Statistics, Keywords, Full-Screen, Layout Manager, Compile, Search, New Text, New Folder, Format Bar, Convert to Folder, Print, Typewriter Mode, Expand All, Collapse All, Customize Toolbars, Inspector, Spelling.

      • Thanks so much! Will definitely look into using some of these. Never knew about the Convert to Folder option.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          If you click on Customize Toolbar (in the Tools section), you can find all the possible options Scrivener offers for the toolbars.

  14. Scrivener says

    Lovely picture of you Katie. But your pencil is useless – you haven’t chewed the end of it yet!

  15. Barbara Rae Robinson says

    I love Scrivener. But I’ve only used it for writing, not plotting. I’ll be keeping your posts bookmarked so I can refer back to them when I plot the next book in my series. I’m putting all the books in my series in one project. It’s working beautifully. All the character stuff and research stuff is available to all the books at once. I’m revising book two and book three is in draft form and will be revised next. I’m looking forward to what you come up with for revising using Scrivener.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The thing I love most about Scrivener is that its all-in-one: it lets me do my outlining and my drafting all in one place. So I definitely recommend it for plotting!

  16. I’m thinking of using the scene/segment in Scrivener. How do you handle that?


  1. […] Once again, this isn’t a tutorial on how to use Scrivener. It’s just a example of my process within the program. If you’re interested in learning more about how to operate the software itself, then I hope you’ll join me this Thursday, April 23rd at 4PM EST, …read more […]

  2. […] K.M. Weiland blog and webinar access […]

  3. […] Here’s part 2 of K.M. Weiland’s Scrivener series: How she uses Scrivener to draft her novels. […]

  4. […] has two very detailed posts, one for outlining using Scrivener and the second on how she uses it to write her first […]

  5. […] I’ll do next time: I’ll use Scrivener from start to finish. (I’m still learning how to use it effectively. There’s a learning curve.) I had notes and partially-completed drafts saved on Word, Google […]

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