Scrivener: Understanding the Filing System

Holy cow. What is this?
I stared at the screen of my computer. The excitement sank into overwhelm. I’d heard such great things about Scrivener; its ease of navigation, the built-in area to keep your research and photos as part of the project, the features that allowed you to see the structure of your entire novel on the screen. But this…. This was complicated, even for my computer-savvy self. There were videos, I was assured, and it was easy to catch onto once you learned the basics. But videos left me feeling impatient and most taught things I’d figured out but didn’t cover details I was looking for. Was Scrivener worth the learning curve to transfer my complicated 500-page word document into a manageable collection of files?

Turns out, the answer was a huge, YES!

I love Scrivener now. The good news you can use the program to write your entire novel with only a few steps under your belt – and they’re not hard to learn. Here is everything you need to know to set up or import your novel into Scrivener so you can focus on what you do best: writing your novel.

1. Understanding Scrivener’s Filing System

Scrivener can be as simple as working with a two-drawered filing cabinet. The top drawer is your manuscript and what you will see in a document that you import.
The “bottom” drawer holds your research, photos, notes and pretty much anything you’d like to add.

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If you would like to “add drawers” you can do that. If you use the built-in template for novels, (shown below) you will see six “drawers” for a basic novel. You may add or delete these drawers to fit your needs. Don’t worry! I’ll show you how. What is important now is to get the idea of a file cabinet in your mind.

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When you click on the gray arrow next to any drawer or file, the contents will expand and you will see “file” and “text” folders. These folders work the same way that a folder and paper would work in a physical filing cabinet. When you work with your novel in Scrivener, it is easy to set it up so that every chapter is a folder. You can then put one text document for the entire text of the chapter, or use several text documents if your chapter needs to be broken into parts. In a physical filing cabinet, this would be like adding one paper to hold the entire chapter or inserting text, photos, or parts of chapters, to create several pages in the same folder. Remember, these “pages” will all be exported in a row exactly as you file them, so be sure you insert everything how you want it to appear. If you have something you don’t want in the physical manuscript, it can be stored in the “bottom drawer.”

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Remember, the “Bottom Drawer” holds all of the important files that you need on-hand, but don’t want the reader to see. You can create one folder and drop files at random for a small project or go as elaborate as you like, creating files for your characters, settings, research, reader’s feedback, and anything you can think of that you will need during your writing process. In my “basic file” you can see my drawer is labeled “Research” and holds one file with the screenshots I need for this article.

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In the “novel template” version, you can see more folders for an elaborate organization system. Remember, the complexity of your project is entirely up to you and can be adapted to your personal organizing systems. Each of these folders will hold the text files or “pages” of your research.

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So what is the difference between files and folders? The short answer is: Not much. Again, visualizing Scrivener as a physical filing cabinet is helpful. You can make one folder for each chapter and insert one or more documents to complete that chapter. Or you could create one folder to hold your entire book and add text documents to contain each chapter. I have done both and they both work well. If you have parts you want to move around or want to section your chapters in any way, I would suggest setting up one file for each chapter. Again, it’s entirely up to you and your unique project.

So there you have it! Now that you understand the basic way that Scrivener works, you can decide which folders are right for your novel. Now, how do you set up your project and add the files? Don’t worry! I’ll show you that too, step by step. You’ll be up and running in no time! (NOTE: This tutorial is done in the Apple/Mac version of Scrivener. There are slight differences in how Scrivener looks for the Mac and Windows versions. Window