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Helpful Scrivener features for NaNoWriMo

Are you trying out Scrivener for NaNoWriMo this year? Or maybe you’ve been using it for a while, but aren’t sure how to make the best use of it for this one-month sprint. I hope these tips (and links to how to implement them) will help you meet your 50K goal.

  • Set targets: Set up your 50K target with a November 30 deadline, and choose the days of the week you plan to write. Scrivener will calculate how much you need to write each day to stay on track, and adjust as you add words.
  • Keep a change log: I’ve mentioned several times that I shoot for no-edit writing during NaNo by utilizing a change log. How?
    • Add a text document to your Research folder—or create a new folder, maybe one called Ideas with the light bulb icon (right-click to change icon)—and call it Change Log.
    • Every time you think of something you need to go back and fix, add it to the document and get back to writing as if you already made the change. You can edit later, but if you change your mind again, it’s a lot easier to edit the log than the manuscript.
  • Annotate: How many times have you been writing along and realized you don’t know the name, speed, value, location, or color of something? Or maybe you can’t decide on the character’s name or type of car. Mark it, skip it, and get back to writing with these options.
    • Use an annotation or comment to make a note in the manuscript.
    • Don’t like annotations/comments? Mark the spot in your script with a character combo that won’t show up in any normal word (I use ZZZ), and move on. Some people like to differentiate, for example ZZR for research and ZZE for areas that need more work.
    • You can easily search for the marked up spots later.
  • Idea Log/Outline: Got a great idea for something coming later in the story? Create one or both of these files and store them with your Change Log.
    • Jot down notes for upcoming scenes in an Idea Log.
    • Create an outline that you can fill in as ideas come to you. This will be great for keeping you on track when you’re not sure what to write next.
  • Unused Scenes: Writing a scene but don’t know where to put it? Have an old scene that doesn’t belong, but you don’t want to delete it (I never delete anything)? Create an Unused Scenes folder and store the scenes for later.
  • Whatever else you need: You can keep your research materials, photos, character sketches/GMC, prewriting, and anything else that helps you, right inside your Scrivener project. I’ve just scratched the surface here, but hopefully this will get you started.
Even if you don’t make 50K, if you’ve added words, you’re still a winner where it counts.

Good luck!

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

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  1. Reply

    Excellent NaNo post. Scrivener is a fascination to me. It can be set up to function the way the person actually thinks. It will follows the flow of your thought if you teach it to.

    Well, it’s good to be back. I’ve not experienced the flu in so many years I had forgotten what it was like. Well, I got re-aquatinted with the experience over the last few weeks. My recommendation– skip it.

    • Reply

      Oh no, Curtis. I’m sorry to hear you were sick. The flu is awful. 🙁

      You’re so right about Scrivener. Its flexibility is part of why I love it so much!

      Stay healthy!

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  3. Reply

    Great tips. Thanks so much. I use the target tool all the time, but I hadn’t thought about using annotations the way you have suggested.


    • Reply

      You’re welcome, Toni. Glad to help. It took me a while to get used to annotations, and I still sometimes just stick a “ZZZ” in when I don’t need to make a detailed note, but I’m really starting to like the feature.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope your writing goes well!

  4. Reply

    This is an excellent post and blog – thank you for sharing your experience and tips of Scrivener. New to Scrivener for Windows and first time NaNoWriMoer, this is going to help me enormously. Thank you!

    • Reply

      Laydilejur: Thanks for stopping by. From what I understand, the Windows version mirrors Scrivener for Mac 1.x fairly closely. You might find that the 1.x posts on my Scrivener page match your screen better (though they’re still Mac).

      I’m glad Windows users can finally feel the Scrivener love. 😉 Good luck with NaNo!

      • Reply

        Thanks for stopping over at mine too 🙂

        I also follow David Hewson’s blog (UK thriller writer) who’s a great pioneer of Scrivener. It’s from his blog that I first tried out Scrivener when they released a beta for windows. I think there’s a lot more functionality in Scrivener 2 for Mac than the Windows version, but I’m really happy with it so far. And with the help of blogposts like yours, it’s becoming one of my most used apps. Thank you and good luck with Nano too 🙂

        • Reply

          Laydilejur: David Hewson has some great Scrivener posts for sure. He also has a good e-book out on the subject. I find it interesting to see how different writers use the software. I always learn something new.

  5. Reply

    Great tips, Gwen! Love your change/idea logs. I’m totally creating them as soon as I get back to my computer. Thanks for all your help with Scrivener!

  6. Reply

    How did you get to set your target as 50K? I have an existing project that I want to add 50K to this month. But the system seems to allow only the same amount of words I already have and it only allows me to change the due date. ?? I can’t see how to change the total work count. Thanks.

      • Reply

        Thank you, that worked! And the daily recalc, even though I had to miss a couple due to friend visits, is a manageable number! Phew! Whyever did they pick November, with a big holiday in it, though? I wish they would choose October, or one of the other 31-day, no-family-coming-in months!

        • Reply

          Claudia: Glad it worked and that the new counts are manageable. I agree, November is one of the worst months of the year they could have chosen. Thanks for letting me know you got it!

  7. Reply

    Thanks for this post! I’m using Scrivener for Windows, so some things are a little different (for example, I cant’ set a deadline for my target word count, but I can still set up a target word count), but it was extremely useful! Some of these features I didn’t know even existed. 🙂

    • Reply

      Glad the post helped, Chris. I believe the Windows version’s capabilities more closely match Mac version 1.x right now. You might check my old 1.x posts under the Scrivener tab for more.

      Thanks for commenting!

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    • Reply

      You’re sweet, Tony. I appreciate the sentiment. 🙂

      Honestly, I figured that ship had sailed with the two Scrivener ebooks that came out this year, and mostly I want to focus on my fiction. And good on him for thinking to approach the For Dummies folks. Not sure that would have occurred to me.

      I enjoy teaching the class, but other than that, I’d like to focus on my fiction for now.

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    Reblogged this on Sam Travalian and commented:
    If you’re just starting out with Scrivener, particularly on the Mac (for which the software was originally developed), you are sure to find these tutorials useful.

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