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Rocking NaNoWriMo with Scrivener

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Are you planning to tackle 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month in November? Here are some of my favorite Scrivener features for staying on track.


When you get stuck in your manuscript—can’t think of the perfect dialogue, realize you don’t know the right word, feel like you need to do more research on the topic—make a note using an annotation or a comment and get back to rockin' the words. You can use Find by Formatting in December to revisit the spots that need more work.

Annotations example

– Annotations: Format—>Inline Annotation

– Comments: Format—>Comment

– Find by Formatting: Edit—>Find—>Find by Formatting

Project Targets

Get a nice visual cue for how you’re doing with project targets. Set the Draft (Manuscript) Target to 50,000 and the Session Target to 1667, and let Scrivener keep track of your progress. You can leave the Project Targets window open or closed while writing.Project Target example

– Mac: Project—>Show Project Targets (NOTE: Mac users can go into the Options pane, set a deadline, and let Scrivener calculate/adjust the daily target automatically.)

– Windows: Project—>Project Targets

Full Screen/Composition Mode

Block out distractions with Full Screen (Windows) or Compositon (Mac) mode. You can keep the black background, change the color, or even add an image. I like images that are conducive to calm and creativity, but lately I’ve been using pictures that remind me of the setting of my story and keep me in that mood.

Full Screen Composition mode example

– Change the background color (Mac): Scrivener—>Preferences—>Compose, under Customizable Colors, choose Background and click the color box

– Change the background color (Windows): Tools—>Options—>Appearance, under Colors, choose Full Screen—>Background, and click the color box

– Use an image (Mac): View—>Composition Backdrop, choose an image from the Binder or your computer

– Use an image (Windows): View—>Full Screen Backdrop, choose an image from the Binder or your compute

NaNoWriMo Edition and Template

Current Scrivener users can download a special NaNoWriMo template that comes loaded with predefined project statistics and compile settings.

If you’re new to Scrivener, there’s a NaNo version of the free trial that gives you extra time to play with the program and includes the template I mentioned above. If you decide you love Scrivener, wait for the NaNoWriMo discount at the end of November before you buy!


You can import your supporting materials—research, notes, and images—in advance. Simply drag them from your computer’s file system into the Binder, or go to File—>Import. Are you a plotter? Pre-plot your manuscript using the Corkboard, or just write out your ideas on a blank document stored outside the Draft folder. And you might want to add another document for storing ideas for changes or new scenes that come to you while writing.

Have fun!

Don’t forget that NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun and empowering. Enjoy the process, write fast and loose, and don’t censor yourself. Even if you don’t “win,” you’ll probably still surprise yourself with how much you can write in a day or a week. No matter what the final word count, any progress toward your novel still makes you a winner.

After a year off, I’ve decided to rejoin the NaNo craziness, and I’ll be taking advantage of Scrivener to keep me on pace.

Are you taking up the NaNo challenge this year? Is it your first year? Your tenth? I’d love to know. And good luck! (I’m gmhernandez at if you want to add me as a buddy.)

Need 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.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Too busy this November, Gwen. Would love to be able to do it, though–especially with Scrivener. Perhaps next year. Good luck and happy wtiting to you!

    • Reply

      Mark: I’ve had the same problem the last few years, but I think I’m going to give it a go this year. Even if I only get 10K that’ll feel like a win. 😉 Thanks!

  2. Reply

    Gwen. Thanks for the ” Find by…” info. I’m thinking I might use NaNo as the deadline excuse to block out a concept/premise, bet sheets etc, etc. rather than spend the month stacking words.

    I’ve been meaning to tell you ( for months actually) how much I enjoyed the posts you did following your reading of “literary” material. It was fascinating to see how that exercise shifts the depth of a persons writing. I also liked your idea for using it for character development. Did it serve the purpose for you?

    • Reply

      Hey, Curtis! That sounds like a good use of the time. As for the literary “stuff,” I’m not sure. I think everything we read/watch/listen to has some influence on us, but at this point it isn’t a conscious part of my character development process, but I hope it’s having an impact. Thanks for asking! I hope you’re doing well and that you get lots of plotting done in November. 😀

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