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Which Scrivener Features Do You Really Need?

Young Black woman wearing a pink sweater, giving skeptical look to the laptop in her hand. Title to her left reads, "Which Scrivener Features Do You Really Need?" Words floating to the right read: "Styles, Snapshots, Corkboard, Labels, Keywords, Annotations, Split Screen, Composition Mode."

I recently started a Scrivener Q&A column for my newsletter subscribers. One reader, Avril, asked how to determine which features you really need and which ones are distractions.

For example, she’d color coded her scene documents with Labels at one point because she learned how and it looked cool, but it didn’t really serve her process other than to make the Binder (list of scenes/chapters) look pretty.

Binder displaying documents in folders, with their icons colored blue, pink, or gray

Obviously, which of Scrivener’s tools are useful—or only useful for procrastination—depends on what and how you write. And it may change from project to project.

To help you figure out what’s right for you, I’ve developed a Writer Unboxed-exclusive, not-so-scientific, three-stage plan for getting the most out of Scrivener without getting overwhelmed. It’s what I preach to my private students and in my workshops, and I hope you find it useful for learning anything new.

1. Start by learning the basics so you can at least use Scrivener to write.

This requires a little time and discomfort upfront, but you’ll be better able to judge Scrivener’s value if you can actually use it. To get started, check out the free tutorial that comes with the software, but don’t worry about memorizing everything or even finishing the tutorial right now. Think of it as a nice introduction to what Scrivener can do, not something you must commit to memory before you can start working.

2. Learn the features that got you excited to switch to Scrivener in the first place.

Maybe it was the Corkboard for storyboarding, maybe it was tracking your progress, or maybe it was just being able to see the structure of your story in the Binder as you build it. Whatever it was, learn those functions as soon as possible so you’ll be able to get what you wanted out of Scrivener in the first place and be happy with your choice to switch .

3. Add more tools to your repertoire as your comfort level builds, or as needs dictate.

It’s good to focus only on what you need so Scrivener doesn’t become a distraction from what really matters: writing. But, it’s also helpful to know what Scrivener can do so that when you want a capability, you already know there’s a solution. Honestly, if you think it should exist, there’s a 91% chance (totally made up number that reflects my anecdotal experience) that it does exist.

In my blog posts, workshops, and classes, I try to highlight what I think are the most useful features. Not so you feel like you have to know/use all of them—I sure don’t—but so you know they exist in case you ever want them.

Avril didn’t find color coding helpful in her past projects, but what if her next one requires her to submit and then edit portions of the manuscript while she’s still writing other chapters? A quick visual aid for the status of each section might save her sanity. (I speak from experience.)

So, stage 3 is for those who say, “I’ve been using Scrivener for months/years, and I like it, but I know I’m not using it to its full potential.” (I hear this a lot.)

Now What?

Hopefully, my oh-so-official-looking three-stage approach provides you with a recipe for avoiding the overwhelm that comes with learning anything new.

As far as Scrivener goes, those at any stage can benefit from the free tutorial that comes with the software (Help>Interactive Tutorial), as well as the video tutorials on Literature & Latte’s website (Help>Video Tutorials). Their forum (Help>User Forums) is also good place to get help with specific scenarios or to check if certain behavior is a bug.

In addition, you can find a comprehensive list of my Scrivener blog posts on my website [1].

So, hit me with your Scrivener questions. How can I help?

About Gwen Hernandez [2]

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [3], 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 [4], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [5].