Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Aileen Latcham on Scrivener

Hi, everyone! I’m Aileen Erin, author of the Alpha Girl Series and the Shadow Ravens—Cipher Series.

First of all, thank you so much for letting me guest blog, Beth! I’m super excited to rant—er…BLOG about one of my favorite writing tools, Scrivener!

For those of you not familiar with Scrivener, it’s a word processing application that has a few tools that are super helpful to writers—especially anyone writing something longer form (like a novel or a thesis). I’m going to go over the top five reasons why I find using Scrivener amazing and essential to my writing process. And nope, I’m not earning a cent by preaching about it. I only know that when I found out about it when I was in gradschool, I nearly killed my classmates! How had they kept this from me?! …Kidding. There was no bloodshed. But there could’ve been… ;) So, without further ado, here is what you see when you open up a new Scrivener project: Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.16.32 PM Pretty, ain’t it? ;)   1. The Research Folder. Part of being a writer is research. There’s just no getting around it. The thing about me is that I’m kind of on the lazy side. I want to just jump in and do some writing. But that never ends with a cohesive story. I have to at least get a few settings down and key information about my characters. Luckily, Scrivener has a spot for that and some handy-dandy tools to make it easy. Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.22.08 PM That little folder drops down to show template sheets—which holds blank “Character Sketch” sheets, “Setting Sketch” sheets, as well as serves as a place to put any documents you want that would be helpful to your project. Copy and paste from websites or drop in a .pdf. No big thing. The character sketches are super fantastic, as are the setting ones. Template Sheets You can fill them in as you go or before you begin. I like to add to the character sketches as I go. Anytime I need to describe the character, I can refer back to the sheet. And afterwards, I add the block of description to the bottom. This helps me keep descriptions consistent (no one wants to mess up the protagonist’s eye color!), while making sure I keep them fresh throughout the book. Here’s an example of a filled out sheet from my book Cipher. I add inspiration images to mine to make sure I keep that character fresh in my mind’s eye. Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.30.11 PM The document keeps going, but you get the idea. It’s super helpful, and right it’s there next to all of your writing. No flipping between files or programs. 2. The Bulletin Board Feature. In your manuscript folder, you can break down a project into smaller bits—usually by chapters or scenes. You get to decide. I prefer to work by chapters. Each chapter that you create has an associated index card. So, if you’re looking at the entire project, you can see all your index cards, and type on them what you want to happen in that chapter. Then, you can arrange and re-arrange the cards to your heart’s desire. When you’re ready to write, you can leave those cards up as “notes” and they can help guide your day’s writing. So, back to my Cipher example, here’s what I mean: Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.32.56 PM That’s my draft folder. You can see I just use numbers for my chapters. Now, if I leave just the draft folder highlighted, I can see my note cards. Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.32.43 PM Way cool, right? It’s like I can take my bulletin board with all of my plotting with me wherever I go. And if I need to make an adjustment, no biggie! I just click and drag the cards around until I’m happy.   3. Your entire work in one easily manageable file. Working on an 70K+ word project in Word is difficult. Especially at the end. And when you want to start revising…brutal. It kept crashing on me. I honestly don’t think Word is built to handle such large projects. But as you can see from above, I can easily jump from chapter to chapter in Scrivener. If I’m working on revising chapter three, and have something I realize I need to add to chapter seventeen, no big deal. One click and I’m there. No scrolling through over a hundred pages trying to find the right spot. No opening a different chapter file. Everything you need is right there. So. Much. Easier. 4. Full Page View. With Notes! Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.45.44 PM All I have to do is select full screen mode, and bam! All distractions from my desktop gone! And not only that, but I also have my index card right there. You can also choose to show other things—like research—while you’re writing. So helpful! That way I know what I’m writing, and my plot doesn’t wander is as I dig into the meat of the story. It makes me write more efficiently, and for that alone, I want to marry Scrivener. …Just kidding. Kind of… ;)   5. The “Project Targets” Window. In Scrivener, you can set a word count for the entire project and the date by which you need to finish. Then, everyday Scrivener will tell you how many words you need to write that day in order to meet your deadline. Not only that, but it has a progress bar for the entire project. So you always know where you stand in terms of your deadline. Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.48.51 PM   This is my Project Targets box for Cipher. You can see that I set a goal of 72K words and a date of June 6, 2014 for completion. Since it’s past that date and I’m finished, the session target bar is empty and the draft target bar is full. But usually it starts empty and crawls across the bar—from red, to yellow, and finally green—as you make your word count for the day. Same with the “Draft Target.” Trust me. It’s really satisfying to make the daily target every day. I celebrate every time it turns green. Plus, it makes sure that I make my deadlines. It’s for those reasons why I will never go back to using Word to write my novels. And really, there’s so many other features that make me love it more and more. It’s too much to cover in just one blog post. Luckily, if you’re thinking of using Scrivener, there are some really awesome videos that can help you get started. Click here to view them.

I hope that wasn’t too confusing. If you have any questions, please let me know! I’m always happy to talk writing and share Scrivener tricks.

Happy writing, y’all!


Aileen Erin is half-Irish, half-Mexican, and 100% nerd—from Star Wars (prequels don’t count) to Star Trek (TNG FTW), she reads Quenya and some Sindarin, and has a severe fascination with the supernatural. Aileen has a BS in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She’s the author of the Alpha Girl series and the Shadow Ravens—Cipher series. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles, and spends her days doing her favorite things: reading books, creating worlds, and kicking ass.Aileen Erin


  1. Thank you! I've tried Scrivener a couple of times and each time given up, thinking that as a terrible non-plotter I just couldn't handle all the organisation :-) But, looking at your post has made me want to try again. Off to Scrivener....

    1. Yay! So glad it helped! As you can probably tell, I love Scrivener. It keeps me organized and on track. What more could one want?! ;)