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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, and use the Window menu to switch between them.

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. Just be sure to close the project in Scrivener first.

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)

Happy writing!

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.

{Updated 22 Jan 2019}

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  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! 🙂

      • Frances


        All the tutorials, manuals did nothing. I did find out that there is mis information on the net. I was wondering why tools/options was not in Scrivener. One site finally stated tools/options is Windows. The search specified Mac and the websites specified Mac.

        It has its good points, but also its bad points, like backing up only 1% of my file.

  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


    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.

      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.

      • Frances


        Copy pasting saved my 98,000 words when Scrivener only backed up 1 %. I followed the tutorial for opening a project and it did not open to the editor page. Only the Inspector was not write protected. Then the cork board was not write protected, so I wrote there.

        What I found out later was that the tutorial was only for the basic project. there was no explanation as to how to use the novel option. The editor was one more level under the write protected novel explanation.

        Auto backup is disabled. Even though I manually backed up, Scriverner overwrote and changed my flenames. I chose to include the date and time of the backup which Scrivener erased?

        Scrivener also changed the permissions to read only, even though when I checked, the setting was not set for read only.

        The concept is interesting, the binder is excellent, but the autoback leaves much to be desired.

        I have created a brand new project to avoid confusing Scrivener. Somehow the tab function only works vertically, not horizontally. I have checked many sites and nothing about tab not functioning.

        Ignoring that and hoping that the manual saves are working. I do have an external backup.

        • Reply

          Frances: I’m not really sure what you mean about Scrivener only backing up 1% of your file. It’s generally an all or nothing thing. Did you run out of space on the drive you’re using?

          I’m not sure about the write-protected issue, but I do know the tutorial is just informational, and you’d want to start a new project for your own work. The Novel template works the same as any other template in Scrivener, but has a few more folders and documents added to it to get you started. For those new to Scrivener, I now recommend using the Blank template because it’s less confusing.

          If you haven’t already, you might check out my article on backing up files to get a better understanding of how that works ( Maybe that will help. Also, if you’re getting a lot of weird behavior, I’d try restarting your computer. Often, when any software starts acting up, a restart seems to help. Otherwise, I’d recommend contacting tech support.

          Good luck!

  9. Shell


    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: 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


    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.

  12. gordon vanbeck


    Hi Gwen
    I am new to scrivener and have got a couple of projects I set up which I now want to delete. I had already downloaded your book Scrivener for Dummies and I have done a word search but just can’t put my finger on how to do it. I use windows 10. I see your comment that window users must delete the file, but I’m still stuck! Can you help?
    Gordon Vanbeck

    • Reply

      Gordon: You have to delete them from your computer’s File Explorer (where you look at My Documents, Pictures, etc). It’s available from the Start menu, or maybe from your taskbar.

      1. Make sure the project is not open in Scrivener.
      2. Open File Explorer and locate the project’s .scriv file (the icon will look like a folder).
      3. Right-click the file and choose Delete.

      Does that help?

  13. gordon


    yes – thanks Gwen. All fixed. The problem was that I still had scrivener open!

  14. ceres


    I have just installed a trial version of Scrivener. When I click to open it, what comes out are files inside it, not the template or screen. what do I do to make Scrivener come out as a program, ready to use?

    • Reply

      Hi, ceres. You went through the install process? If you’re on a Mac, that would include double-clicking the DMG file (if it didn’t automatically launch after you downloaded it), then dragging the Scrivener icon to the Applications folder.

      In Windows, you would double-click on the executable file after it downloads (again, if it didn’t start automatically), then run through the install process.

      When you run Scrivener, make sure you’re selecting the Scrivener.exe (PC) or (Mac) file, not a folder.

      If you want to include a link to a screenshot of what you’re seeing when you try to open Scrivener, I might be able to direct my answers better.

  15. Reply

    I’m a new scrivener user. I’m not tech savvy. Windows PC. Thanks for doing this.
    1.) When I purchased & started using, I test-named a few folders (projects). Most have nothing in them. I want to delete. But I don’t find ONE delete key. Like a right click or something. I see CLEAR PROJECTS but I don’t want to clear (delete) them all, I just need to get rid of some. Windows user. How do I do that.
    And thank you for writing all this. It’s so helpful.
    2.) I belong to a closed- writing-group where we post our WIP weekly. I’ve worked with Open Office before Scrivener. I copy and pasted weekly. Back and forth. All ok.
    Now when I do that into scrivener I get rows and rows of BLACK BOXES where words used to sit. Why? Makes me sad and frustrated. Please help *cry*
    3.) Thank you sincerely.

    • Reply

      Hi, Selma. You can delete any project from File Explorer (your computer’s file system where My Documents and others are). Just look for the .scriv folder and delete it.

      Copying and pasting usually works. Maybe it’s pasting in a weird font? What happens if you paste into Scrivener, then select all the text and change the font? What happens if you use Edit>Paste and Match Style instead? The latter has the one disadvantage of destroying italics, bold, and underline, but if you don’t use them much, might work for you.

      I hope one of those helps!

  16. Wayne Bos


    Thank you for this site. I was greatly helped today as I started working with Scrivener. I am certain that I will be back!

  17. Carey


    I like to keep a pretty neat Documents folder (Mac) with everything in sub-divided folders. However, Scrivener saves directly to my documents folder with no immediately apparent option to save in a subfolder. How do I change this default setting?

    • Reply

      Hi, Carey. When you’re creating a project, Scrivener defaults to the last place you saved a project (or to Documents the first time). You can click the expansion arrow (blue arrow to the right of the project name when creating a new one) to expand the window and see all the options in Finder. If you’ve already created a project and it’s in the Documents folder, simply close the project, create the desired folder in Finder, and move the project (.scriv) into the new folder. Then double-click the file to open in Scrivener.

    • Reply

      Hi, Sara. You can delete a project on the projects list page by tapping Edit at the top, selecting the bubble next to the project you no longer want, and tapping Delete at the bottom.

  18. Caroline


    Thank you so much for this article! I just have one question: I saved a Scrivener project to my desktop, and want to start a new project but one that has some of the same content. I want to duplicate it. Can I just copy and paste the original on my desktop and then alter the contents accordingly? So I’ll essentially have the same project, but two copies. Thanks!

    • Reply

      Hi, Caroline. To duplicate a project, I’d open it and go to File>Save As, then give it a name (something that will keep you from getting confused between the two) and select the desired location. 😉 Then you can alter the new one as desired without fear for the old one. HTH!

  19. Caroline


    Great, thank you! And do you know if there’s any way to just copy an individual folder from the Binder of one project to the Binder of another project? Obviously I could copy the text, but I’m wondering if it’s possible to copy the whole folder?
    Thank you so much, I really appreciate your help.

    • Reply

      Absolutely, Caroline! You can open both projects side by side and drag the desired file/folder from one Binder to the other. Scrivener creates a copy, so they’re not linked and changing one will have no effect on the other.

  20. Reply

    help – I want to open several projects – and show them in tabs, not separate windows. In the Windows 10 software. (I know this is an option in mac OS, but can not find info or setting on how to do this for my PC.

    • Reply

      Hi, Ande. I don’t believe the Windows platform supports that option. On the Mac, it’s based off a MacOS functionality.

      If you don’t want to use the Window menu to switch between project files, you can change your taskbar so each project has its own button, which provides a similar result to the tabs you wanted. To adjust the settings, right-click the taskbar and choose Settings. Under Combine Taskbar Buttons, choose Never. HTH!

      • Andes


        Thanks, I’ll try that out tonight. It isn’t really at all the same.

        My goal is to have only one instance of the software open with each project in a tab. But cleaner & more efficient than minimizing and maximizing various screens, or manually making them tiled next to each other. And visually far less distracting in its presentation. Tabs are orderly and consistent.

  21. Robin


    HELP! I renamed my Scrivener project, but I didn’t close it beforehand. Did I just delete everything? Is there any way to get it back??

    • Reply

      Hi, Robin. It should be fine. If you have Scrivener 3 for Mac, it’ll update the filename just fine, even without being closed. If you have an older version and you’re worried, you can rename the project back to the original name and then close it. Then, rename to the new name you want once it’s closed.

      Mostly I recommend closing first just to be safe, because older versions/computers would sometimes give you an error if they could no longer find the file that you were closing (because you’d renamed it). Don’t panic! 😉

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