Scrivener tips and tricks from the expert
Gwen Hernandez is novelist who learned Scrivener the natural way—by using it. She shared what she knew with the online community, and her reputation as someone who not only used the writing software, but someone who could explain how to use it, took off. The author of Scrivener for Dummies talks to The Life Story Coach about some of the ways we can keep our writing, research, interviews, and everything else organized with what she calls the "project manager for books."
Color coding, tags, and meta-data, oh, my.
Listen as Gwen gives a rundown on helpful tools like tags, keywords, and other bits of meta-data, and how they can simplify the writing process.
Want more Scrivener?
Check out my video screencasts of podcast episode 40 and episode 41, where I walk you through my process of writing a life story book with Scrivener.
Part 1, episode 40:
Part 2, episode 41:
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Links & Things:
Visit Gwen Hernandez at https://gwenhernandez.com/
Want to take one of Gwen's Scrivener classes? Enter the code LifeStory at checkout to receive a 20% discount. See a listing of her classes here.
Check out her book below:
Excerpt of the interview with Gwen Hernandez
Amy: You actually had a career as an engineer and a programmer before you started writing. So when you did get into writing, did you use Scrivener right from the get-go or were you using a word processor?
Gwen Hernandez: I was using Word initially, but a friend introduced me to Scrivener pretty early on in the process. So probably within a few months of starting writing I started using Scrivener. It was one of those things I looked at it, not sure why I would need it, and then immediately fell in love.
Amy: How did it change things for you? What was the difference in your process when you started using Scrivener as opposed to using Word?
Gwen Hernandez: The biggest thing was being able to see my entire manuscript broken up into its smaller pieces much more easily. I think that's one thing that Scrivener really excels at helping you do. So whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, you can divide your work up into chapters or scenes or sections, whatever makes sense to you. And because it has what's called a binder, a little table of contents down the left hand side, you can see all the different parts of your story, click between them, you can even color code them and get all fancy with it and stuff. But it just really made it feel more manageable to me instead of just having this huge, long document that's 60, 80 thousand words or whatever that I'm scrolling through trying to figure out where I am, and if I'm try to move in between sections, or copy and paste, or anything like that. It felt very overwhelming. So this, to me, Scrivener makes it feel a lot more manageable and accessible and I can see it build as I go along.
Amy: Well and something that I find really helpful with the binder ... so the binder, like you said, that's on the left hand side if you have Scrivener, the program, and it looks like a table of contents. It shows you the little icons for whatever folders you have and whatever documents you have within those folders, and you can set up the hierarchy however you want.
Amy: But what I found it very helpful for, Scrivener in general, is that when I have an interview ... So the way that I work is I do a series of interviews with a storyteller, and they're always circling back to stories that they've already talked about, or topics that they've already covered, but they're adding new information. And when I was working in Pages, it was mindbogglingly frustrating to try to find the sections where they already talked about something. Because like you said, you can end up with thousands of words. It's not like finding a needle in a haystack, but it can still be pretty frustrating.
Amy: To have that visual over on the binder and see very clearly, because I don't use chapter names, I actually just have them very descriptive. They're not imaginative titles for the document names and the chapter names, it's just a help to me to see where I have something wrote, we've already addressed it. So that was something that helped me a lot.
Amy: Now you mentioned color coding, how do you use that?
Gwen Hernandez: Currently for fiction, I use it for keeping track of point of view characters. So if each scene is in a different person's point of view, I will color code by that. I also find it really helpful in the writing and revision process to keep track of where I am in the process. I can color code green for sections that are finished. Yellow for something that needs more work, or whether it's been to the editor or the proofreader, and then I've made the changes. There's a lot of different ways you would use it. You could color code by era, like if you were approaching a story from different decades, for example, or different characters within a story, like since we're talking about life stories, maybe if they were addressing, you know, all these things are about my father and all these things are about my children. Pretty much anything you can think of, but those are some of the ways that I've encountered or used it myself.
Amy: And then why don't you explain to the listeners, when we talk about color coding, what does that mean, or what does it look like visually?
Gwen Hernandez: Okay, so there's a couple different ways to apply it. Once you apply this label or tag to a document or a folder, you can turn on colors in a couple different ways, but the one I use the most is where you color the icon. So for every document, you have a little text document icon that you can see all throughout the program. So in the binder, if you have the colors turned on in the icons, then your list will have all these little colored pieces of paper all the way down the line. You can also do a dot of color out to the side, or a whole bar of color across the side, and you can color code, also, the index card that goes with each document. So there's a couple different ways to do it. But in the binder in general, it's either the icons, or a dot, or a bar.
Amy: I actually didn't realize that you could use a dot of color. I've only seen it where it goes all the way across. But one thing that I do is I use separate colors for the draft documents, so actually what's part of the manuscript, the book that I'm writing for the storyteller, and then different colors for the interview transcripts. Then different colors depending on what stage I'm in. So if I finished with an interview transcript, I've gotten all of the material into the draft, then I change the color to something else so that I know it's done, and I don't have to worry about it anymore.
Amy: That's been very helpful for me, too. I don't even consider myself a very visual person, but when you're juggling ... for any of us, for you writing your fiction or nonfiction, for all of us writing our life story, books or even if we're using this as sort of a project management system for doing videos or audios, we have a lot of material to juggle. I think that was probably the biggest thing for me with Scrivener because it's really ...
Amy: We kind of jumped into how to use it, but how would you describe it? What is the difference between ... I know sort of intuitively what the difference is between it and a word processing program, but you could probably describe it better than I can.
Gwen Hernandez: I like to think of it as a project manager for a book. So each file is a project for a whole manuscript, and because it can contain both the writing and then all of the supporting materials for the writing as well ... and like we said, you can break it up in the binder, color code it, tag it, label it, add notes. There's so much you can do that takes it beyond the realm of just a place where you write on a piece of paper or a virtual piece of paper. So while Word is really great for business writing and general writing and stuff, Scrivener is built for writers, especially those doing longer form writing where it's more of a project, where you have all these bits and pieces to it, and you need to organize it. I don't know if there's a word for that. They just call it writing software instead of word processor, but it really excels at just helping you keep everything organized and in control.
Amy: Right. And you can put basically anything that can be digitized can go into a project. Not necessarily in the draft or the manuscript folder, but you can create a folder outside of that, and you can put in audio. Can you put in video? I'm not sure about that. I know you can put in images, you can put in audio clips, you can put in PDFs.
Gwen Hernandez: Right. You should be able to put in a video file. You may not be able to view it in Scrivener itself, but if you were to double click on it, Scrivener would just open the video viewer.
Amy: Let's talk about how you use it if you are going to be doing ... let's say you're gonna start on a nonfiction book. You open a Scrivener project and then what do you do?
Gwen Hernandez: It depends on how much planning I've done. For example, with Scrivener For Dummies, I had to submit an outline, so I kind of had a good idea of what all my chapters were gonna be called, what they were gonna be about, and the order, and all that stuff. So in that case, I would probably create the whole ... well, I did. I created the whole outline and then went back and started filling it in with the actual words. And then that's where the color coding came in handy, is which ones had I started working on, which ones had I not.
Amy: When you say that you started the outline, do you mean that you actually opened up documents and named them according to what was going to be the content that you were going to write about?
Gwen Hernandez: Exactly. I created a new document for each section, gave it a name. This might be Chapter 1: Introduction to Scrivener, or something like that. That way I knew what all of the pieces were I had to fill in, and then I made notes. So there's another section that can be opened on the right hand side called the inspector, and you have a couple areas there where you can leave notes for yourself, either in the synopsis where you might put in a brief blurb of what's going to be in that section, and then you also have a notes section where you can just leave a whole bunch of notes for yourself. In one or the other, I would leave a little bit of here's what I had already planned to talk about in this section so that I don't forget. That's kind of how I went through and did that. Then for fiction, I'm really horrible at plotting, even though I'm like this super left brained person who can't plot books. Basically ...
Amy: Well, that's unusual, right?
Gwen Hernandez: Yeah. It may not actually be as unusual as we think I'm starting to learn from friends and stuff, but it seems weird to me, because I had just assumed I would be a plotter.
Amy: Yeah, exactly. If you have an engineering background and you're organized enough to write a whole Dummies book for Scrivener, yeah, that surprises me. So how do you use it then if you're not a plotter? So you're not going in and putting in the chapters and putting in the plot points.