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Winning NaNoWriMo with Scrivener

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Whether you’re plotting in advance or completely winging it, Scrivener can help you win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Here are some of my favorite features to help you hit 50K in November, or whatever your writing goal is, any month of the year.

Handling Ideas, or the Lack Thereof

When you’re writing for speed, you can’t afford to be slowed down by ideas for future scenes, or get stuck trying to conjure the perfect piece of dialog. Nor do you have time for additional research.

Instead, make a note and get back to writing. Scrivener offers several options for leaving notes [1].

Annotations and Comments: These are notes you can leave at a particular point in your text, which makes them great for reminders about fixing a bad description, looking up precise medical details for an injury, or anything else that’s spot-specific.

screenshot of annotation and comment

Document Notes: Think of these like a sticky note you can slap on the scene. They’re best for general thoughts about the overall scene (e.g., research needed, ideas for changes in a character’s scene goal, ideas for where to take the scene if you’re plotting it right before writing).

screenshot of document notes and synopsis

Documents: For manuscript-level notes and ideas, you might instead create a document to jot down things as they occur to you. I also like the idea of having a Change Log document for notes on scenes I’ve already written, so I’m not tempted to fix them when I should be writing new material.

Another use for documents is to create one when you have an idea for a future scene, and use it as a placeholder. You can enter a brief description of what you think will happen in the Synopsis card, or maybe quickly write out the conversation or piece of action that came to you before you forget. When you get to that point in the manuscript, the scene will already be waiting.

screenshot of binder

Synopsis: For those who plot—either the whole book in advance, or each scene immediately before you write it—the Synopsis (see image in Document Notes section) is a great place to keep a reminder of what’s supposed to happen, in case you forget. If you don’t plot at all, you can add a short description of what happened after you write the scene, to help you keep track as your story builds.

The Corkboard [2] lets you view the synopsis cards storyboard-style. If this is your thing, I recommend not grouping your documents into folders until you’re done using the Corkboard to view, plot, and reorder your story.

screenshot of the corkboard

Blocking Out Distractions

Scrivener’s Composition Mode [3] (called Full Screen Mode in Windows) is the next-best thing to noise-canceling headphones. It hides everything but the document you’re working on, and even allows you to customize the background color or image. I like to use a background image that’s either calming, or relevant to the story to keep me in the mood.

screenshot of composition mode

You can use the control strip that appears when you point to the bottom of the screen to adjust the paper width, view the Inspector, jump between documents, and more.

Tracking Word Count

There’s no way around it. To hit 50,000 words by November 30th, you’ll need to write 1667 words every day. Only writing weekdays? You’ll need 2381 per day.

But don’t sweat it. Scrivener’s Project Targets [4] can not only track how much you’ve written toward your overall goal, but how you’re doing on today’s—or this hour’s—goal.

And if you give Scrivener a deadline, along with which days of the week you plan to write, it’ll even calculate your daily goal for you (Scrivener 2 and 3 only).

In this example, the session target of 1652 is calculated based on the deadline, rather than manually entered.

Adding Research and Images

To avoid the frantic search during NaNoWriMo, import research documents, images, or web pages you want to have handy while writing ahead of time. Select the desired folder (outside of the Draft/Manuscript folder, e.g., Research) and go to File>Import, or drag and drop from Finder or File Explorer.

For web pages, I recommend using Bookmarks [5] rather than importing. You’ll get better results and won’t bloat your project file.

Split screen [6] is a handy way to view your writing and your notes or images side by side.

Getting a Discount

If you haven’t bought Scrivener yet, but decide you love it, wait for the NaNoWriMo discount at the end of November before you buy. Winners get 50% off, and all participants get a 20% discount! For more info, head to NaNoWriMo.org [7] and look under Writer’s Resources>Offers.

Are you participating in NaNo this year? Feel free to ask me your Scrivener questions for NaNoWriMo, or anything else you’re working on.

About Gwen Hernandez [8]

Gwen Hernandez (she/her) is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [9], Productivity Tools for Writers, and romantic suspense. She teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world through online classes [10], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [11].