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Scrivener Fundamentals: What every Scrivener user should know (but probably doesn’t)

toy blocks [1]When I started teaching Scrivener courses, I often skipped the basics. I figured everyone knew how to use a computer, therefore they already understood this stuff. I was wrong. There are a few key concepts that many users—new and old—don’t get.

So, it made sense to me that my first instructive post here should cover the fundamentals.

Starting Scrivener

Start Scrivener the way you’d start any other program on your computer. There are several places to look for the Scrivener program:

The desktop, taskbar (PC), Start menu (PC), Program Files folder (PC), Applications folder (Mac), or Dock (Mac).

Another option is to open an existing Scrivener project from your file management system (Finder on a Mac, Windows/File Explorer on a PC). This will launch Scrivener too. (This is true of most files on your computer. If you open the file for which the default program is not already running, the computer launches the relevant software as well.)

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

1. The New Project 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.

You can also access the New Project window when Scrivener is open by choosing File—>New Project.

New project window (Mac) [2]
New Project Window (Mac)
new project window (PC) [3]
New Project Window (PC)

2. The last project(s) you viewed

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?

3. Nothing but the menu bar

If you start Scrivener and don’t see the New Project window or an open project, that’s okay. It just means your settings/preferences are set that way. You can still open a project via File—>Open.

You can change your settings to ensure you always see the New Project window when there’s no project open in Scrivener. Here’s how.

Mac: Go to Scrivener—>Preferences—>General, and check the box to Show Template Chooser When There Are No Projects Open.

Windows: Go to Tools—>Options—>General, and check the box to Show Start Panel When There Are No Projects Open.

Working with Scrivener Files

A Scrivener project file has a .scriv extension. On Windows, it displays as a folder with subfolders and files inside (see image in next section). On a Mac, it appears as just a file (the subfiles are hidden).

WARNING (PC users): All those little files need to stay together inside the .scriv folder for your project to work properly. If you ever open the .scrivx file and see the structure of your project but no text—scary, right?—your .scrivx was probably separated from the rest of the group.

Opening an Existing Scrivener Project

There are several ways to open an existing Scrivener project.

Opening From Your Computer’s File System

To open a project directly from Finder or Windows/File Explorer (or your Desktop, etc), double-click the .scriv file. Windows users have to go one step further and double-click the .scrivx file inside, which should have the same name as the .scriv folder, as shown in the image below. (NOTE: It might be called project.scrivx if created on a version prior to 1.9 and not yet updated to the new file format.)

If Scrivener is not yet open, your computer will launch the program.

Windows explorer [4]
Scrivener project in Windows

Opening From Within Scrivener

If Scrivener is already open, you can go to File—>Open to access your drives and find the project you want. File—>Recent Projects provides access to the last few projects you’ve opened.

Opening From the New Project Window

To open a project from the New Project Window (refer to the Starting Scrivener section above), you can click the Open An Existing File (Mac) or Open Existing Project (PC) button. Or, you can click the Open Recent button for a list of recently viewed projects.

Working with Multiple Projects

You can have more than one Scrivener project open at the same time. This is handy for dragging items from one Binder to another (to copy), or when you want to refer to another project or a “series bible” while working on your current manuscript.

Or, if you’re like me, maybe you just like to have all current projects open all the time. ;-)

Simply use either of the first two methods described in the previous section to open an additional project.

Closing Scrivener Projects

When you’re ready to close a project, you have two options.

Close the project, but not Scrivener

To do this, click the Close button on the window (red dot on the Mac, red X in Windows) or go to File—>Close Project. Repeat for each open project, as desired. Next time you open Scrivener the project will not automatically appear.

Close Scrivener and the project

Go to Scrivener—>Quit Scrivener (Mac) or File—>Exit (PC).

If you close Scrivener without closing your open projects first, Scrivener closes the projects—backing up them up first unless you’ve turned off automatic backups, tsk, tsk—and then closes the program. Next time you open Scrivener, all of the projects that were open will reappear.

Moving, Copying, Renaming, and Deleting Projects

If you want to move, copy, rename, or delete a Scrivener project, you can do so from Finder (Mac) or Windows/File Explorer (PC), just as you would with a photo, a Word document, or any other file. I suggest closing the project first.

REMINDER: Windows users, remember to always work with the .scriv folder, not the .scrivx file inside it.

If you need more help working with files on your computer, check out one of the links below.

Mac (Intro to Finder [5] and OS X Overview [6])  | Windows 10 [7] | Windows 8 [8] | Windows 7 (Video [9] or Tutorial [10])

Okay, hit me with your questions, or with topics you’d like to see in future posts. Happy Scrivening!

About Gwen Hernandez [11]

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [12], Productivity Tools for Writers, and the “Men of Steele” series (military romantic suspense). She teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world through online classes [13], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [14].