Scrivener: Organizing a Scrivener Project

I don’t know about you and your writing, but I tend to be a disorganized writer that wants to be an organized and disciplined writer. I’ve tried just about every filing system known to modern humans. I’ve experimented with notebooks, file folders, date books, stacks of paper, piles of paper, and even garbage cans filled with paper sorted by topic. The best invention in the world for me was the sticky note. Yet, once I discovered Scrivener, most of those went the way of the real purpose of the garbage cans.

So far in this ongoing series on Scrivener, the powerful writing software tool, we’ve learned about the basic features of Scrivener including the organizational benefits of Scrivener, how to start a blank Scrivener project, how to use the Scrivener Research section in the Binder, and using the split screen feature. This tutorial starts to dive into the organizational capabilities of Scrivener.

As you’ve learned in these tutorials, you can organize Scrivener files into two core sections in the Binder of your blank project: Draft and Research. Inside of the Draft area of the Binder you have folders and text. Folders may have subfolders and text files may have sub text files as well. Let’s start there.

  1. In the Binder, click on Draft.
  2. Click the drop down arrow of the green plus symbol to add a new folder titled Chapter 3.
  3. Click on Chapter 3 folder and add a new text document the same way, naming it Testing 3A.
  4. Click on the Testing 3A file and right click, choose Duplicate to create a copy and title it Testing 3B.
  5. Repeat the process for Testing 3C.

You should now have 3 folders and the newest one should have 3 text files within it.

Scrivener - Add Chapter 3 sections to Blank Project - Lorelle VanFossen

Notice to the right of the title of the folder a number. This number indicates the number of files within the folder. In my example, there are 11 files in Research, and 9 in Draft.

Let’s practice moving things around.

Click and drag 3C to 3B. You should now see a 1 next to 3B indicating there is a subfile under it.

Scrivener - Binder - Draft - Subfiles - Lorelle VanFossen

See the black arrow on the left of Testing 3B? Click it to open it and reveal Testing 3C under it.

Scrivener - Draft - Add subtext files - Lorelle VanFossen

As you look at these chapters and sections in the Binder they should look familiar. They resemble an outline.

Experiment moving things around within these three chapters. To move things, you can drag and drop in the Binder, or use keyboard shortcuts.

To move a folder or file up or down, click on the file and select CTRL/CMD+ up and down arrows.

At some point, you will get resistance. In order for a text file to go up paste a folder, it must first go out to the folder level in the Binder outline. To move a file or folder sideways, use CTRL/CMD+ right and left arrows.

Once you have moved all these files around, put them back in order.

Organizing the Research Folder

Most of these makes sense. You are using Scrivener like you would a filing cabinet with Pendaflex folders dividing up sections with folders in each section. Apply the same technique to the Research Folder.

Create a folder called Maps and put the maps you created in the previous tutorials into that folder.

Create a folder called Places and add research material about the place you are researching.

Create a folder called People or Characters and put photographs of them into that folder.

Scrivener - Add Folders to Research - Lorelle VanFossen

Click and drag the files into their appropriate folders. Note the number to the right increases with each additional file.

Scrivener - Binder Organization - Adding Folders to Research Binder - Lorelle

Now, consider the list of folders I just created. Maps represent places. Why not move Maps under Places? Try it.

Scrivener - Binder - Organization of Research Binder Section - Lorelle VanFossen

Remember to use the black arrows to the left of each parent holder to open it up and see what is under that.

You are getting the gist of this. More filing cabinet organization. And you can see the benefits. Let’s start to micro-categorize things.

Scrivener Labels

On my writing to do list I mark things as needing to be done, partially done, need more information, and done. I also have other labels I place on my writing such as which stage in the draft process the work is in, if it went to an editor or not, and if I published it on my website or elsewhere.

In Scrivener, you can work with the labels they have built in to help you organize your work, or create your own.

To add a label to a file or folder (Chapter or Section) in Scrivener:

  1. Click on the Chapter or Section
  2. Right Click and go to Label
  3. Select a label

By default, the blank Scrivener project comes with two labels: Concept and Chapter. In the same menu, click Edit at the bottom.

Scrivener - Add Label Menu - Lorelle VanFossen

In this popup screen called Meta-Data Settings, you have four tabs:

  • Labels: Labels are assigned to the various content in the Binder. They are colorized to help you keep track of a document’s status or other organizational indicator.
  • Status: Status is a meta-data to help you indicate the status of this part of the project. By default, Scrivener offers you typical examples of status such as To Do, First Draft, Final Draft, and Done. You may add more or change these.
  • Custom Meta-Data: Used with the Inspector and Outliner, you can assign custom values and keywords to the project to use throughout it.
  • Project Properties: This is where you fill in the values for the Project Title, Author name, etc. The embed tags (such as ) maybe used when compiling the project. Take a moment to fill these out for practice.

Scrivener - Meta-Data Default Label List - Lorelle VanFossen

In the Labels tab, you will see No Label, Concept, and Chapter. Let’s add another one called “To Do.” This will be a label that reminds you of the parts of your project that you need to work on.

  1. Click the + button at the bottom of the screen
  2. In the Label form, type To Do
  3. Click Enter

Scrivener - Meta-Data Add Label to Label List - Lorelle VanFossen

Notice that the color of the box is blue. Let’s change that to red to alert you that this needs work.

  1. Double click the blue box next to the label
  2. Using the Basic Colors select red or use the + in the color chart to find a good red color
  3. Click Okay

The box is now red.

Scrivener - Meta-Data - Labels - Lorelle VanFossen

Add another if you wish and click OKAY when done.

Let’s start applying them in our not-so blank project.

Click on one of the Chapters. Right click > Label and assign it to one of the labels. Go through the rest of the files in the Draft section and give them different labels.

Scrivener - Labels - Add Label to Text and Folders  - Lorelle

Click on one of the sections in the Binder then click on the Inspector. Look under General Meta-Data to see the label assigned to it.

Scrivener - Inspector - Label and Status indicators - Lorelle VanFossen

While this is helpful, let’s make it even more helpful.

In the menu, go to View > Use Label Color In > Binder.

Scrivener - View - Use Label Color in Binder - Lorelle VanFossen

You should see the colors appear in the Binder.

Scrivener - Label Colors in Binder and Inspector - Lorelle VanFossen

Now you can see what needs work and what is done with a quick glance.

Also note that the section that you are viewing switches to a colored dot to indicate its label.

Scrivener Status Data

To set the status of an article using the meta-data features of Scrivener, it works the same as the Label feature.

  1. Right click on any of the chapters or text files
  2. Choose Status and select a status from the preset list

Scrivener - Add Status to chapter or section - Lorelle VanFossen

If you would like to add more statuses to the list, click the Edit to do so.

Scrivener - Meta-Data - Status - Lorelle VanFossen

Let’s set the status for more than one file at a time to make this go faster.

Holding down the CTRL/CMD key on the keyboard, left click with the mouse on every other item in the Draft section of the Binder.

Releasing the key, right click, choose Status, and select one of the status options.

Repeat this with the remaining items in the Draft section.

To see the Status, go to the Inspector for each document.

In the Binder, click on Chapter 1. Switch to the corkboard view. You should see a watermark indicating the status of each text in that Chapter on the index card.

Scrivener - Status watermarks on Corkboard view - Lorelle VanFossen

Custom Meta-Data in Scrivener

Think of the Custom Meta-Data helps you organize your writing in your way. Think of these as keywords and data that helps you track and organize information in your writing.

A keyword is not just a word in a document but a word or phrase that describes the theme, mood, concept, or purpose of that section of your writing. For instance, you might wish to track the emotions of your main character as she moves through the story to ensure her emotional progress. In the sections when she is happy and confident, you could add a keyword to the meta-data that describes her as confident. As you well know, a confident character is one heading toward a fall, so maybe you have another keyword to describe the section where she is over-confident, then another for when she takes the fall, and more emotional keywords in the sections to represent the depression, the struggle, sadness, courage, determination, etc. As you work through the novel, if you can’t remember where in the novel the character was depressed, you can search by keyword in the project to find it, even though you don’t use the word “depressed” anywhere in the text. It just helps you track the character’s moods.

In the Meta-Data Settings, you could add some of those keywords before you start writing, but an easier way to add them is through the Inspector.

The following video will take you through the process step-by-step.

To access the Inspector, click the blue I to the right of the toolbar.

To add keywords, choose the key icon at the bottom of the Inspector panel.

To add Custom Meta-Data, data that you create and fill out consistently in your documents, click the luggage tag button next to the key button. Add each meta-data field by clicking the button to define them.

Scrivener - Inspector - Keywords - Lorelle VanFossen

Think of keywords as terms in common with individual documents across your project. Custom Meta-Data is information specific to each text file or chapter, unique to each one.

Scrivener allows you to add the same meta-data fields to all documents like a form. You fill in the information as you create the documents and work on them.

Scrivener - Custom Meta-Data on a document - Lorelle.

Suggested uses for custom meta-data include:

  • Timelines (by year, month, or date)
  • Acts (Act I, II, etc.)
  • Point of View
  • Scene Goals
  • Character Motivation
  • Conflict
  • Settings
  • Arc
  • Place or location
  • Readers (track who read/reviewed each piece)
  • Readings (track the readings of each piece)
  • Blog Post Types (promotion, marketing, reviews, sample chapters, etc.)

In my collection of ancestor’s writings, I’m using meta-data fields to track dates and topics, helping me to arrange the order of the anthology.

Here are some articles to help you better understand how Scrivener’s meta-data feature works. This is an invaluable feature to help you track and organize your work, so take time to learn how it works.

Making Use of Labels, Status, and Meta-Data Settings in Scrivener

Now that you’ve organized your Scrivener project, how to you make this work for you.

Select a Chapter or the Draft section in the Binder and view the content in Outliner view.

Scrivener - Outliner Default Fields for Labels and Status - Lorelle

Notice that next to each title there is the Synopsis, Label, and Status by default.

Along the line featuring the Title, Synopsis, Label, etc., at the far right is a drop down arrow. Click it and select which fields you would like shown in the Outliner. Notice at the bottom you will find the custom meta-data fields you created. Choose those to display them in the Outliner.

Scrivener - Outliner - Field Selector Drop Down - Lorelle

Scrivener - Outliner view with Custom Meta-Data Fields - Lorelle

At a glance, you can see the plot line develop, see the pattern, the structure of the novel, memoir, or non-fiction book, or any writing. If this is a collection of poetry, a custom meta-data field for the genre or poetry type would help you keep track of the various styles of poetry.

Another powerful feature of Scrivener is its Search.

Click on the down arrow next to the magnifying class in the search box next to the blue Inspector button on the toolbar. Expand each item in the outline list.

Scrivener - Labels - Search by Label Drop Down Menu - Lorelle

This drops down a menu featuring a wide range of search options. One of those options is to search by Label, another by Status. Choose that search option, type in the Label or Status words, and Scrivener will display a list of all the chapters and sections featuring those words.

Scrivener - Labels - Search by Label - Lorelle

Try this with the Label “to do” to see the results. Click the X to clear the search results and return to the normal view. Then try it with Status and one of your status titles.

You can also search multiple search fields. For example, if you are looking for a keyword “marriage” that may also be a label, you can click the drop down search options and use the CTRL/CMD key and left mouse click to check the ones you wish to search, then type in “marriage” in the search form. Remember to clear the search when done and change the selection options on your next search.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of options for organizing in Scrivener. You can apply all of these features, labels, status, keywords, etc., to your Research as well, helping you to keep that organized. As I am doing research on the story of Taylor Rapids, Wisconsin, at the turn of the previous century for my own project, I’ve a custom meta-data field for the character, the name of the person or people who figure most prominently in that story or research item as well as the location. This is especially useful in the Research section of the Binder. By adding a location to the photographs, I can better match the photographs with the stories through their shared meta-data information.

It’s your turn to share. How do you think you will or have used the Scrivener meta-data feature in your writing?

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