Get Scrivener now!As you probably know, I’m a big fan of writing novels–fiction, thriller, fast-paced action-type novels.

These projects, while fun, are often intense periods of writing broken up by pacing around the living room trying to figure out how to get my lead to find the McGuffin without making my readers laugh at me.

…Or something like that.

If you’ve written anything of considerable length then you, too, understand many of these unforeseen difficulties. In this post I’m going to talk about my method for writing–both fiction and non-fiction–using two popular software tools: Evernote and Scrivener.

Evernote, of course, is free (to a point). Scrivener is not, but it’s more than worth the asking price (also, check it out on the Mac App store here), and I’m going to show you why. This post is not a sponsored post (they didn’t approach me to write this), but I am an affiliate of Scrivener, so if you’re interested in trying it out, I might get paid if you do! Let’s jump in:


First, let’s clear the air: Scrivener is the writing tool, and Evernote is the planning tool. Sure, there’s overlap–both are outstanding programs intended for being used in whatever way you want, but you can’t beat the writing environment in Scrivener, nor the syncing abilities included in Evernote.

So, while we go forward with this tutorial, understand that you can choose to use the software in different ways–these are just the overall “buckets” I like to categorize them in.

Evernote is an application that’s available for Mac, Windows PC, tablets (iOS and Android), and phones, and it syncs perfectly between them. Known for things like keeping shared grocery lists up-to-date and being able to “read” hand-written notes, Evernote is a pretty powerful piece of software.

Scrivener, available for Mac and PC, grew up as a book-writing facilitator that allows users to work however they prefer. From storyboarding using a virtual cork board to exporting print-ready files, Scrivener really does hit the nail on the head for aspiring and pro writers.

Let’s get a little deeper into how I use each one in tandem.


First, writing any work of length is going to take massive amounts of planning. I prefer to use Evernote for most of my research-collection, but let’s look at some of the built-in awesomeness of Scrivener’s setup:

From their website:

No more switching between multiple applications to refer to research files: keep all of your background material—images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener. And unlike other programs that only let you view one document at a time, in Scrivener you can split the editor to view research in one pane while composing your text right alongside it in another. Need to refer to multiple research documents? Call up additional material in floating QuickReference panes. Transcribe an interview or conversation, make notes on an image or article, or just refer back to another chapter, all without leaving the document you’re working on.

As you can see from the screenshot on the left, Scrivener is great for including all of your clippings, articles, and general research in one easy-to-access place.

On the other hand, I prefer to be somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to actually writing, and since I do all of the writing in Scrivener, I don’t want all of my research so close at hand. Instead, I keep these “vetted” research items within my Scrivener file:

  • Character sketches: I don’t want to go scrambling around for little bits of information about each of my minor characters. I’m forgetful and lazy, so I want it all at arm’s- (or click’s-) length. I usually write the sketches right into Scrivener’s included “Character” templates, then just tweak them as I go.
  • General plot layout: If you’ve signed up for my Fiction Writer’s Guide to Writing Fiction, you know (or soon will know) that I’m a huge Dwight Swain fan. He likes to write using a “Scene-Sequel” method, and I hold true to this method in my own writing. Check out the screenshot of my WIP, The Depths for an example: you can see my “Hook,” followed by a few Scenes and their Sequels. While I do organize the different Acts inside subsequent folders, the real outline is in Evernote.
  • Front matter: I don’t even worry about this until I’ve written the book, but Scrivener makes it a breeze to include Copyright, Acknowledgments, and Table of Contents pages. Since they won’t change from format to format, I don’t even need to update them when I’m ready to print off a 6″x9″ copy.

Other than that, I use Scrivener for capturing everything that’s going to go into the final printed product. The beginning stages of writing a novel is easy–just write. Once I’ve gotten the words and images (if any) in, I can start using Scrivener’s built-in formatting tools to export manuscripts.

For this, I usually prepare a “Master” file–Scrivener saves everything (content, research, files, folders, etc.) into one amazingly-compact .scriv file. This Master file will be my flat content. When I’m ready to export, say, a 6″ x 9″ (trade) paperback, I can do a “Save As…” to make sure my 6×9 file will include the “Page Layout” and “Page Setup” changes I’ve made.

Ditto for E-pub, Kindle (.mobi) and mass-market (5.5″ x 8.5″ ish) paperback setups.

*I may post again on the specific typographies, margins, and page setups that I’ve used for mine, as that was a huge headache for me the first time around. I’ll even include the templates I created! For now, though, let’s just keep going at this “bird’s-eye” overview.

Writing and Editing

When you write using Scrivener, it’s like writing on a Microsoft Word that’s been chopped of all the extraneous crap (Clippy, anyone?) and templates/layouts you’ll never use, then been injected with steroids and caffeine.

Basically, Scrivener is your best friend. It’s extremely fast (you won’t have to wait ages, or at all, for your file(s) to load), and it’s agile and sleek. Unlike Word or other software packages, you can organize your book in any way you want–and Scrivener’s totally cool with it:

  • Like to storyboard? Use Scrivener’s corkboard outline layout to drag-and-drop your book into order.
  • Like to see an organized, planned outline? Scrivener’s got one of those views, too.
  • Like to just write in a minimal, simplistic environment? Do it–Scrivener has a beautiful full-screen writing mode, and once you’re done writing you can go back and organize however you’d like!

Oh, and by the way: these methods aren’t mutually exclusive. You can switch back and forth between the view modes with the click of a button!

When you’re ready to edit and rewrite, try using included labels (like “First Draft,” “Second Draft,” “To-Do,” etc.) or make your own. I like to highlight sections of content that are going to need more research, rewording, or something I don’t feel like doing right then and there (did I mention I’m a lazy writer?).

Finalizing and Printing

Finally, Scrivener is the hands-down best when it comes to exporting different formats. I’ve tried a few different writing options, including Storyist, but while I was checking it out, Scrivener released a massive update.

Now it rocks even more. I was missing the full-screen writing environment–not anymore! Here’s a screenshot: 

Simple, easy-to-use functionality makes Scrivener better (in my opinion) than other minimalistic text editors. When you move the mouse in full-screen mode, a small menu box appears at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to change the viewable font size, alignment, virtual paper width, and more.

And did I mention it has a word count feature?

In some corners of the writing world, agencies and publishing houses might measure your story or work in the amount of words of the finished project. Usually that means the industry-standard average of 250 words/page, but either way–it’s never been easy to get Microsoft Word to give you a good estimate of how long your book will actually be, especially if you keep chapters, acts, and sections in different Word files.

Not in Scrivener. Scrivener includes a “project tracker” tool that lets you input your “target” word count. I use 100,000 or 110,000 as a target, as that is the general word count of many of the thrillers I like to read.

Here’s a shot of my current project counter for my latest novel, The Depths (yes, I’m behind. Don’t judge me.):

I’ve set a first-draft completion date of May 15, 2012, and the target word count (100,000). Scrivener automagically tells me how many working days there are left (if you write on a schedule, you can choose which days of the week you’ll be writing, and Scrivener takes that into consideration!), and it spits out a daily word count goal.

For example, if I have any real hopes of finishing by May 15, you’ll see that I must write 4,254 words today and every other day that I’m writing until May 15.

So, in a way, Scrivener is the evil stepmother making sure we do our chores before we go out to the ball.

A few other notable features and tools

If you’re not already hooked on the idea, check out these cool features:

  • Scrivener includes a built-in “name generator” with some worldly surname and first name libraries included.
  • If you’re going to be using Scrivener for writing numerous books or long documents, you can create templates for anything you need (characters, settings, export formats, etc.).
  • You can use a combination of the cork board layout, notes, highlights in any color, and custom labels to work in the way that you are comfortable with. No more “learning the ropes” or having “drinking from the fire hose” mentality as you try to struggle through the learning curve (Adobe, take note!).

And if you get stuck

Never before have I come across a piece of software (Windows or Mac) that’s had as beautifully-formatted, all-inclusive, and “down to earth” user manuals as Scrivener.

Seriously, if there’s one thing they did right, it was the user manual. I actually popped it open on my Mac and read it cover to cover, as it was concise enough to make sense but detailed enough to be captivating.

I can’t explain it, so you should just go buy it to see what I’m talking about.

All about Evernote

As I mentioned above, I like to use Evernote for my planning and outlining process. Mainly, the draw is that Evernote is free, syncs between all of my devices, and is equally easy to use. To get more into detail, though, let’s look at just how I go about planning and outlining my novel:


The first step in writing a fiction novel for me is idea-generation and general research. Using Evernote for this is a breeze–there are a million ways to grab content and throw it into an Evernote notebook:

  • If I’m online, I’ll use a Chrome extension that places a little green elephant in my browser bar. Any page I’m on that needs to be saved can be “clipped” by clicking the button.
  • If I’m on my phone, I can open the Android app and save a note by typing or talking into it.
  • If I’m offline completely, Evernote still works perfectly–I can create, edit, and delete notes that will sync up whenever I’m back online.

I keep a folder in Evernote for the name of the book, and inside I have three or four sub-notebooks:

  • Current. “Current” is my current chapter, scene, or section. I sometimes want to write when I don’t have access to my beloved MacBook Pro and Scrivener, so I’ll usually copy/paste a segment of my WIP into the Current notebook.
  • Research. This is my “swipe file” of research. I drop anything and everything in here, whether or not I actually use it in the novel. Having a random assortment of research articles, notes, and website clippings also acts as a sort of inspiration bucket as well.
  • Outline. I do my outlining and scene/sequel organization in Evernote, and you can see a screenshot of what my first draft outline looks like for The Depths below. Also, if you want to know more about this Scene/Sequel stuff and see more about the outlining process, be sure to check out The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Writing Fiction. It’s a 20-week long FREE email course, and it’s been pretty well-received so far!
  • Marketing. When I get to the end of a novel, I’ll start a “Marketing” notebook. This is an unorganized mess of notebooks and notes that serves as more of an “Oh yeah–I should do that!”-idea book than anything else. Still, though, it’s been cool to keep a list of checkboxes for my marketing “to-dos” like printing bookmarks, finishing the trailer video, and setting up a website.

This is what my basic, unaltered outline starts to look like in Evernote. As I begin filling in the Scenes and Sequels, and developing sub-plots, this outline will grow into a massive 10-plus page in-depth outline.

The result?

I’m able to keep my ADD in check and get to the end!

Evernote is great for this kind of stuff–it has a basic markdown-type editor that allows the essentials, without the clutter:

  • Unordered (bulleted) lists
  • Ordered (numbered) lists
  • Check boxes (great for shopping lists!)
  • Hyperlinks
  • Audio/video inserts
  • Clippings (you can include websites, articles, and other stuff right into the note).
  • Files (great for attaching documents for on-the-go editing

There’s much more to it than that, of course, but you can read the ins and outs of all Evernote has to offer on their awesome Trunk and website.

Using them together

Obviously, as I mentioned before, there is definitely some overlap between the two pieces of software, but that’s to be expected with two awesome, in-depth packages like Evernote and Scrivener.

Give them a shot–you won’t be disappointed, and I think that even if you don’t use them exactly like I have, you’ll still be able to find a great use for one or the other in your own writing!

Finally, I created a video showcasing how I go about using Evernote to plan and organize my first novel, The Golden Crystal:

Using Scrivener and Evernote to Write Your Novel from Nick Thacker on Vimeo.

Let me know what you think–I’m interested to hear about what the rest of you are doing as well! Have you used Evernote or Scrivener before, or do you write using another piece of software altogether?

Leave a comment and let’s discuss!