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Scrivener Basics: Starting, Opening, Closing, and Moving

When I started teaching others how to use Scrivener, I often skipped the basics. I figured everyone knew how to use a computer, therefore they already understood this stuff. I was wrong. I’ve realized there are a few key concepts that many users—new and old—don’t understand.

So, here we go. Back to basics.

Starting Scrivener

Start Scrivener the way you’d start any program on your computer. There are numerous places where the icon might be: Desktop, task bar (PC), dock (Mac), Start menu (PC), Applications folder (Mac), Program Files (PC).

Another option is to open an existing Scrivener project from your file management system (Finder on a Mac, Windows Explorer on a PC). This will launch Scrivener too. (This is true of most files on your computer. If you open the file for which the default program is not already running, the computer launches the relevant software as well.)

When you start Scrivener, you will see one of three things:

1. The New Project window

This window appears the first time you use Scrivener, and anytime you closed all projects before exiting the program last time (see #2). From here, you can either create a new project or open an existing one.

You can also access the New Project window when Scrivener is open by going to File—>New Project.

Mac new project window

Mac New Project window

Windows new project window

Windows New Project window

[click any image to view a larger version]

2. The last project you worked on

If you close Scrivener without closing your projects first—totally okay to do—it will open those same projects when you start it next time. Pretty cool, huh?

3. Nothing but the menu bar

If you start Scrivener and don’t see the New Project window or an open project, that’s okay. It just means your settings/preferences are set that way. You can still open a project by going to File—>Open.

You can change your settings to ensure you always see the New Project window when there’s no project open in Scrivener.

Mac: Go to Scrivener—>Preferences—>General, and check the box to Show Template Chooser When There Are No Projects Open.

Windows: Go to Tools—>Options—>General, and check the box to Show Start Panel When There Are No Projects Open.

Scrivener Files

A Scrivener project file has a .scriv extension. On Windows, it displays as a folder with lots of other files inside (see image in next section). On the Mac it appears as just a file (with subfiles hidden).

WARNING (PC users): All those little files need to stay together inside the .scriv folder for your project to work properly. This is a byproduct of how files work in Windows.

Opening an Existing Scrivener Project

There are several ways to open an existing Scrivener project.

1. To open a project directly from Finder or Windows Explorer (or your Desktop, etc), double-click the .scriv file. Windows users have to go one step further and double-click the .scrivx file inside, which should have the same name as the .scriv folder (but might be called project.scrivx if created on a version prior to 1.9 and not yet updated to the new file format), as shown in the image below.

If Scrivener is not yet open, your computer will launch the program.

project files in Windows Explorer

Project file on a PC

2. When Scrivener is already open, you can go to File—>Open to access your drives and find the project you want, or File—>Recent Projects to access the last several projects you’ve worked with.

3. From the New Project Window (refer to the Starting Scrivener section above), you can click the Open An Existing File (Mac) or Open Existing Project (PC) button. Or, you can click the Open Recent button for a list of recently used projects.

Working with Multiple Projects at One Time

You can have more than one Scrivener project open at the same time. This is handy for dragging items from one Binder to another (to copy), or when you want to refer to another project or a “series bible” while working on your current manuscript.

Or, if you’re like me, maybe you just like to have all current projects open all the time. 😉

Just use one of the methods described above to open an additional project.

Closing Scrivener Projects

When you’re ready to close a project, you have two options.

1. Close the project, but not Scrivener

To do this, click the Close button on the window (red dot on the Mac, red X in Windows) or go to File—>Close Project. Repeat for each open project, as desired. Next time you open Scrivener the project will not automatically appear.

2. Close Scrivener and the project

Go to Scrivener—>Quit Scrivener (Mac) or File—>Exit (PC).

If you close Scrivener without closing your open projects first, Scrivener closes the projects (backing up them up first unless you’ve turned off automatic backups, tsk, tsk) and then closes the program. Next time you open Scrivener, all of the projects that were open will reappear.

Moving, Copying, Renaming, and Deleting Projects

If you want to move, copy, rename, or delete a Scrivener project, you can do so from Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC), just as you would with a photo, Word document, or any other file.

Windows users, remember to always work with the .scriv folder, not the .scrivx file inside it.

If you need more help working with files on your computer, check out one of these handy links:

Mac (Intro to Finder and OS X Overview)  | Windows 10Windows 8 | Windows 7 (Video or Tutorial)

For more Scrivener help, try one of my online courses or Scrivener For Dummies. Happy writing!

Updated 11/17/15

29 Comments

  1. Pingback: Scrivener Basics: Starting, Opening, and Closing | Everything Scrivener

  2. Reply

    Thank you for the article. I love Scrivener and I use it every day. But I remember how it was a bit confusing when I first opened the program.

    • Reply

      elorenalory: Absolutely. Scrivener is so different in appearance from what people are used to that they often think nothing about it works like other programs. And sometimes they don’t know what to expect or where to start. Anyway, good luck with your writing, and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. Reply

    Thanks for posting this. I haven’t read it yet but I will. I have downloaded Scrivener three times and then promptly deleted it. I don’t think my brain/work process is designed for it! I don’t know what I’m missing, but I’ll read this post of yours, which looks to be helpful. Some have told me I need to start a brand new project with it, instead of using an existing work in progress. We shall see. Thanks!

    • Reply

      Ron: I hope you find it helpful. You might try starting with the Scrivener tutorial (available from the Help menu or the New Project window). That’ll give you an overview of what the program can do. Good luck! 🙂

  4. Reply

    Hi Gwen…

    I stumbled upon your blog while searching for an answer to a problem that is occurring when I use Scrivener. I must admit I’m new to Scrivener; but something seems to be happening that I don’t understand.

    When I attempt to close just the project, the entire application closes as well. Of course I reopen the application, and there is my project – just as it was. I am not clicking on “Exit” – but instead “Close Project”. Something is not working right – as ONLY the project should be closing…NOT the entire application.

    I just installed the latest download, thinking it might have been a bug which got fixed…but it’s still doing it. I presume your suggestion will be to contact them directly; but I thought perhaps you might have heard of this anomaly from other users, and determined what the cause might be.

    P.S. I also don’t see any option to “DELETE” a project from any of the menus. Am I missing something? Do I have to “compile” the entire thing before I can attempt to do any of the tasks listed above? Thanks for your help.

    Tom Vernon

    • Reply

      Tom: If you only have one project open and you close it, Scrivener will shut down unless your Preferences/Settings are set to show the New Project window instead. I believe in Windows the default has it off, whereas the Mac default has it on. If you’re in Windows, go to Tools–>Options–>General and click the checkbox next to “Show start panel when there are no projects open.” For the Mac, it’s under Scrivener–>Preferences–>General and it’s called “Show template chooser when there are no projects open.”

      To delete a project, you have to delete it from your computer, not Scrivener. See the “Moving, Copying, Renaming, and Deleting Projects” section above. It will still show up in the File–>Recent Projects menu until you’ve opened enough other projects to force it out. On the Mac, you can go to File–>Recent Projects–>Clear Menu to remove the entire list of recently opened projects.

      You would only need to compile if you want to keep the project in some other form after you delete it from your computer. I hope that helps!

  5. Hanna

    Reply

    Thank you for the tutorial but I can’t find the answer to my question anywhere in the help documentation or online. I’m fearful the answer’s gonna be “doesn’t have it”. Where or how do I get to a main Scrivener window, showing folders containing my projects? I can get to my Dropbox folder to see multiple scrivener documents but that’s not very helpful. I want to see them within Scrivener to weed out duplicates as well as drag and drop from one project to another. Creative writing isn’t linear as we all know and misc ideas entered on the go often need re-organization. I hate that Scrivener uses it’s own format, requiring each document to be manually exported. ugh Thanks for any help I can get.

    • Reply

      Hanna: To view all of your Scrivener projects you’d need to use your computer’s file system (which it sounds like you’re doing). This is the same with most programs. For them all to be in the same window, you’d either need to save them all in the same place, or use the search function to view all .scriv file types. Or am I completely misunderstanding your question?

      Now, if you want to see the Binder for more than one project at a time, you can open several projects in Scrivener and move/resize the windows so you can see them all. You can also drag one or more documents from one Binder to another.

  6. Reply

    I don’t know if this will go through – always have problems with wordpress sites and prefer Disqus as it seems to work in all forums? Anyway this has been wonderful and cleared up a significant portion of my questions. I will however reply directly to clear those us and not sure if this will go through. Thanks and I highly recommend your site along with your knowledge base and ability to clearly explain / teach things! Rick =)

  7. Reply

    Hello. My editor uses a pc and I write in a mac. when I send her the zip file of my book, all the chapters are empty. one time it worked, but it hasn’t since. a box pops up saying that she can’t write the file so it is empty. do you have any idea on what i can do to have a pc view the .scriv file I wrote on a mac? thanks.

    • Reply

      C C Wall: It should work just fine on both platforms. Make sure when she unzips the file she chooses a new location so it doesn’t try to unzip into its own folder. (Oh, and make sure she actually unzipped it first.) That can cause issues. On a PC, she’ll be drilling down one more level into the SCRIV folder and opening the SCRIVX file (this process is hidden on the Mac). Hope that helps!

  8. Reply

    Hi Gwen, thank you for posting this!

    I have just purchased Scrivener, the windows version, and I find it very confusing and not at all user-friendly.

    You have answered several questions of mine above, such as how do you open a project and why does the whole of Scrivener close when I only meant to exit one project? This information was not in the manuals or my eyes had glazed over so much I didn’t notice it!

    I’m concerned that the Scrivener files are enormous, despite being virtually empty, compared to normal word processing files and are using up my hard disk. I don’t want multiple back ups as I like to save files as and where I want.

    Is it OK to paste files into another word processor and delete the Scrivener files, just pasting it all back when you’re ready to publish? Or does that defeat the object of Scrivener? BTW I don’t want to use Dropbox.

    The good features seem to be that Svrivener lets you move chapters around and collate your document.

    I’m wondering if Scrivener is like Marmite: people either love it or hate it! 😀

    • Reply

      jmbakingbread: Glad the post helped! Scrivener can take a little getting used to, but I can’t live without its organizational features. The file size is bigger, but unless you have hundreds of projects–or a really small hard drive–you should be okay. I recommend changing the backup settings to save them somewhere other than your hard drive if you’re working from there (e.g. thumb drive, external drive, cloud). The backups make sure you don’t lose all your work if something happens to the original file. But you can also choose to handle all of that manually by turning backups off.

      I think pasting out of Scrivener and then back in would defeat the purpose. Maybe it would help for you to think about some of its best features and whether or not you’d find them helpful. Here’s a post I wrote on a few of the things I think makes the software so great. If none of those features sound exciting, then maybe you’re better off sticking with the word processor you’re familiar with.

      http://writersinthestormblog.com/2014/06/write-your-own-happy-ending-with-scrivener/

      I think Scrivener can be like Marmite in that way, but it can also be an acquired taste. Most people balk at Scrivener out of confusion rather than dislike. I know quite a few who can’t live without it now that they’re no longer scared of it. 😉 But also a few who decided it was not for them. Whatever works for you.

  9. Shell

    Reply

    Thank you! That whole issue with the last project opening instead of a generic Scrivener start screen was driving me insane. I’m currently trying to copy all of my Word writings into Scrivener and each time I opened it, it would go right to the first (and only) project I’ve been able to create.
    As someone that has many, many projects going at once, this was no bueno. So being able to show the start panel is perfect. Thank you, again.

  10. Reply

    On page 14 you say “you can change the project name manually or rename the project file at a later time.” However, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to do it. All the regular Mac tricks do not seem to work. Any suggestions?

    • Reply

      K. Elizabeth: You cannot rename a project file from within Scrivener. You should close the project and then rename it in Finder.

      To rename a file on the Mac, view it in Finder (for Scrivener, that would be the SCRIV file). Select it, wait a beat (to avoid double-clicking) and click again (or press Return). That will put the file in rename mode.

      Here’s an article about renaming on the Mac: http://support.apple.com/kb/PH10646. Hope that helps!

      • Reply

        I tried this today. Quit Scrivener, opened the finder window and found my latest saved version (that backs up automatically when I quit the program) and changed the name. When I opened Scrivener again, nothing had changed. Am I missing a step? The Mac directions don’t give me anymore information than you have done, so perhaps I’m doing something wrong.

        • Reply

          K. Elizabeth: You’re renaming the working file, not the backup copy, right? I see a lot of confusion with backup versus save. Saving just overwrites and saves the main file. A backup is a copy of the file that is saved (usually and preferably) in a different location than your working file.

          Where are you looking for the name change when you open Scrivener? The file name shows in the menu bar at the top of the screen (along with the name of whichever file in the Binder is active/selected, if any).

          So, if your project says MyGreatBook at the top, you’d want to close it, locate MyGreatBook.scriv in Finder, then rename it. If you rename it to MyAwesomeBook.scriv, then when you open MyAwesomeBook.scriv, it’ll say MyAwesomeBook at the top of the window.

          • Reply

            Thanks Gwen. I did finally get it to work. There were a lot of back-up copies, as this has been a two year project. I love Scrivener in every other way, particularly having my research and my drafts side by side in Composition mode. Your book is well laid out and has been tremendously helpful as I was going through the process.
            And thank you so much for all of your prompt replies. I greatly appreciate it.

  11. Richard Stephens

    Reply

    Hi Gwen.
    Am I glad I found your site about Scrivener. I have been using it for a couple of years now to get my thoughts and research straight on script projects. My projects get very messy as I am a little anal about keeping every little scrap of everything.
    I was looking for the way to transfer files from one project to another. In the help it was a little bewildering researching how to do it.
    One minute reading your page and it was solved. Just open a new project and drag and drop stuff from the old project into the new project. Easy and it cleans up a messy project for me.
    Thanks and you can bet I have bookmarked your page on my computer.

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