(I’m using the Mac version of Scrivener, v 2.3.1)

Given how often this comes up when I’m talking to people about using Scrivener, today’s Quick Tip should probably have come much sooner.

I’m going to throw a number out there and back it up with pure conjecture and a spoonful of BS – 99% of writers coming to Scrivener for the first time have been using Microsoft Word for all their writing probably for as long as they can remember using anything electronic for their writing.  Let’s look at my own progression: I started with college ruled paper and a pen, then I upgraded to a manual typewriter that had been collecting dust in my aunt & uncle’s garage, next, my mom bought me an electric typewriter at a garage sale, I upgraded that with a Word Processor, which was an electric typewriter with a monitor and a disc drive, so you could write, save the file, and print it later (which was huge).  Then I made the jump to a Windows PC running Win 95 and Office 95 installed.  This was my first experience with Word.  From there, I kept using Word for my writing up through version ‘Word 2004’, which I ran on a PC through 2007 and still run Word for Mac 2011 on my MacBook for whenever someone sends me Office files.

Because I used Word, and so many different versions of Word, my brain was wired to do things ‘the Word way’.  This means a lot of formatting up front, setting my tabs, my indents, my line spacing, choosing my fonts, telling it whether I wanted curly-q quotes or straight quotes, when to turn a dash (-) into an em-dash (—), so on, etc and yadda yadda.

When I came to Scrivener, this resulted in my completely gorking up my first project.  Many, many, many new Scrivener users tell me a similar tale and end with, “Scrivener just isn’t going to work for me.” or some paraphrased comment.  At this point, I chat with them, find out what they did – tried to do all that upfront Word stuff in the editor window – and walk them through how Scrivener is different and, therefore, to give it another chance.

When I used Word, I had a ‘project’ structure that looked something like this:

Let’s take these one at a time real quick:

  • Summary was the full story synopsis – usually the idea that spawned whatever I was writing, like, “A naked man appears in the desert. No one knows who he is or where he came from, including himself.  He has no memory before waking up in the desert. Who is he?  Where did he come from?  In the hospital, he meets some people who want to know the answers to these very questions.”
  • Template was a Word Formatting Template I created so I wouldn’t have to be messing with all of that every time I wanted to write something new
  • Descriptions were character descriptions, motives, etc.
  • Each Chapter got its own Doc. I did this so I could jump around without having to do so in a massive document
  • The Whole Thing was, as it sounds, all the polished draft versions of the chapters put into a single file

The Template Doc is important because rather than do all of the formatting stuff we’re trained to do inside of Word when we want to write something new, I made a template.  Inside that Template, I had all my indents, line spacing, Header styles, so on and etc blah blah blah already setup so I didn’t have to worry about it or dick around spending the time setting all of that up again and again and again because it was a pain in the ass.  Also, I had a Folder that was my ‘Project’, and everything associated with that Project went into that folder.

Scrivener does the same thing.  Everything that has anything to do with your Project, including photos, summaries, character profiles, websites, research, etc., goes into the Project.  And it handles the formatting, too.

When you start a new Scrivener Project, you have choices:

Choices include:

  • Blank Project
  • Novel Project
  • Novel in Parts
  • Short Story
  • Essays
  • Research Proposals
  • Scripts
  • Poems
  • Lectures
  • Recipes

(there’s more – but these are the highlights).

Each one of these comes with preloaded formatting appropriate for the selection.  A novel, for example:

And a short story:

The mistake a lot of people make is when they create their new Project and then they immediately start messing with these items:

OR, they click on Scrivener > Preferences > Formatting:

…and they start changing things.  Typically what I have found, is that they change everything to ‘standard formatting’ for whatever they are creating (novel, short story).  Why?  Because that’s what they would do in Word.  I get that, I do.  But doing that in Scrivener is going to A) piss you off when you export/Compile & B) frustrate you to no end because you did all of that work for nothing.

Here’s the Tip and the point of this post:


The Visual Editor and the Finished Document are two separate things, controlled by two separate areas.

The Editor is for you.  Do whatever you want to it to make writing easier for you.  Want the text larger?  Go for it.  Want a different font?  Have at it.  Indents, line spacing – all of that and more can be whatever you want it to be – while you are writing, so you can write the way you want to.

Personally, I never change anything except the Zoom.


‘Standard Manuscript Formatting’ is part of the template you chose and comes into play when you Compile (export) your manuscript:

Compile: Standard Manuscript Format

If you STILL want to mess with stuff, you can:

If, after all of this, you still want to mess with all of that and control everything, you certainly can.  You can setup your own, custom Compile based on your desired output and save it in the presets so it’ll always be there when you hit Compile.  And, you even have the option of doing a Compile out to Word, where you can tweak things as needed/wanted.

But, why would you?  Again, Scrivener is set to output your Project in Standard Manuscript Formatting; fonts, line spacing, indents, Italics as Underline, so on and etc.  It’s all handled for you so you can ignore the mundane of formatting and concentrate on writing.

And isn’t that what’s important?

More Scrivener Tips coming!

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  • Michael Cummings Posted October 22, 2012 10:12 am

    Funny, the formatting that always slows me down is the structure to use – folders vs files vs tiers vs one giant list of files vs a folder for each scene vs. my brain exploding at the thought of *organizing* it all.

    OK, its really an aversion to organization I suffer from. Timely post with nanowrimo around the corner 🙂

    • Patrick Hester Posted October 22, 2012 10:30 am

      Michael – I always do Chapter Folders with Scrivening (Scenes) inside, but that’s just me. 🙂

      You could do a long list of scenes and as long as they’re inside the Manuscript, you’d be fine. You could even name each Scene as Chapter’s, if you wanted.


    • Patrick Hester Posted October 22, 2012 12:47 pm

      Michael – here’s an example of how I structure a novel:

  • Trackback: Scrivener Quick Tip: Formatting Basics | Everything Scrivener
  • EJ Runyon Posted October 22, 2012 3:53 pm

    Tweeted this,
    mentioned your name and posted a link, but I didn’t have a @name for you. If you keep up with other great tips add a visual @name on your blog so we can add to our tweets.

Comments are closed.