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Revising Your Manuscript in Scrivener

I frequently get asked how to use Scrivener for revisions. Obviously, the specifics will vary depending on your approach to edits, but I’ll cover my basic system and give you some ideas which features you might find helpful.

Deciding Where to Revise

I make all of the suggested changes from my editor/beta reader/proofreader directly in Scrivener. A second monitor is helpful for referring to their comments, but I no longer have one, so I either divide my screen with the editorial notes document on one side and my Scrivener project on the other, or I open the notes on my iPad.

But what if you’re working for a traditional publisher who wants you to respond to comments and make your revisions within the Word document for continuity? (This was my process for Scrivener For Dummies.) At this point, you may be done with Scrivener until the next book. I’d make the changes in Word and then import the final version of the manuscript into Scrivener for future reference.

For those times when I have full control of my process, there are three main tools I use to help me with revisions: annotations, snapshots, and labels.

Adding Annotations

Annotations are a tool I use while writing to leave myself notes for when I’m ready to revise. I mark up areas that need something (e.g., more research, a conversation I’m not ready to write), or where I’m not 100% happy with what I have, but haven’t figured out how to make better (e.g., catchier opening line, better chapter-ending hook, snappier dialogue).

An annotation is inline text that shows up in a colored bubble, like the image below.

image showing an annotation in a paragraph

When I’m ready to deal with all of my annotations, I can just go to Edit>Find>Find By Formatting and step through them. Or, I handle them as I’m doing a read-through of the manuscript.

Comments work in a similar way. If you prefer to keep your notes in the sidebar, and don’t want them embedded within the text, comments might be a better option for you.

For more info, check out this earlier post [1] that covers annotations and comments in more detail.

Taking Snapshots

Snapshots are a method for keeping older versions of a document. Anytime I’m going to make significant changes to a scene—whether during my initial (horrifying) writing process, or later during revisions—I take a snapshot of the document I’m about to edit.

A snapshot (Documents>Snapshots>Take Snapshot) is a copy of the document as it is right now, that gets saved as part of the document’s meta-data. It’s a great way to keep track of different versions of a scene or section without cluttering up your Binder with files. I rarely go back to an old version, but I like knowing I can find my original words, if necessary.

If you’re worried about forgetting, you can select all of the documents you expect to work on that day and use the Take Snapshots of Selected Documents command to capture all of them. The snapshots for a document are viewable in the Inspector. Just click the camera icon at the top.

annotated screenshot of the snapshots pane in Scrivener

You can quickly tell if a document has at least one snapshot because its paper icon changes to a dog-eared paper icon. This post [2] has more detail on Snapshots.

Tracking Revision Progress with Labels

When I’m in the early revision stages—essentially before sending to my editor—I don’t keep track of my editing passes, though you certainly can. If you’re very methodical about it, making one pass for emotion, one for setting, and so on, you might want to use my post-editor method for all of your revisions, using additional label values.

Once I have my editor’s comments in hand, I want to make sure I know which documents I’ve finished and which ones still need work. I accomplish this by changing the use of the Label field from point of view (what I generally track when I’m writing fiction) to edit stage.

Then I create labels that apply to each of the rounds I intend to make. Yours might look something like the following: Post-Editor Done, Post-Beta Done, Final.

screenshot of an example label list

I always have icon colors turned on (View>Use Label Color In>Icons) so I can see the editing status of each document at a glance.

color-coded documents in the Binder

If you’re already using the Label field to track something else important, you can use the Status field in a similar way, but it doesn’t include colors. Status values can be displayed in the Corkboard or Outliner instead. This post [3] has more on how to use Label and Status.

Working in Full Screen Composition mode

To avoid distractions, I usually work in Full Screen/Composition Mode (View>Enter Composition Mode on a Mac, or View>Enter Full Screen on Windows).

To start, I select my first document, enter full screen/composition mode, click the Inspector button (in the control strip, accessible by pointing your mouse at the bottom of the screen), and move the Inspector somewhere out of the way.

Then, it goes something like this:

1. Make changes to the document.

2. Change the label value in the Inspector to show that the document has been edited.

3. Use the Go To button (in the control strip) to navigate to the next document I want to edit.

4. Repeat.

text displayed in full screen composition mode with beach background

This process means I don’t have to exit full screen/composition mode—or break my focus—when I want to label a document and switch to a new one.

These are my favorite tools for revisions. What are yours? Got any questions on this or other Scrivener topics?

About Gwen Hernandez [4]

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [5], 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 [6], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [7].