It’s hard to work on a computer these days. With lots of windows, notifications from your email and social media apps, and other distractions, it’s hard to stay focused. When you’re writing in Scrivener, whether you’re working on a novel, a thesis, or a play, you want to give your full attention to your work, and not be distracted by a friend who just sent a link to another cute cat video… (Though, to be fair, watching cute cat videos is a good way to take a break, when it’s the right time.)
Scrivener has a few features that let you shut out the rest of what’s happening on your computer and write without distractions. Here’s how to use Composition Mode, and more.
Thomas Carlyle once asked his friend John Stuart Mill to read the manuscript of his History of the French Revolution. Mill took it home, and later claimed that his maid had used it to start fires. It’s not clear if this is true, or if Mill kept the manuscript for himself, since he had plans to write about the same topic. But Carlyle didn’t have a backup, and he had to start all over and rewrite the book.
With computers, we don’t have to worry so much about our work being used as kindling, but we do need to ensure that we have backups in case of other problems, such as computer crashes, disk failure, or theft. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier today to back up computer files, and to back them up in multiple locations. Ideally, for important work, you should back up your work following the 3-2-1 rule.
Have 3 copies of your work – the original data, plus two backups
Store the files on 2 different types of media – computer, external drive, etc.
Keep 1 copy offsite – in a different physical location, or in the cloud
Just think of how much time you’d lose if your Scrivener projects got lost; you may never be able to rewrite them.
We welcome Peter Robinson, best-selling author of the Alan Banks crime series. Peter has written more than two dozen novels, and discusses his character, how he uses music in his novels, and how Scrivener helps him manage his manuscripts.
The Scrivener window contains many elements. In addition to the main Editor, where you compose your texts, there is the Binder, which gives you an overview of your projects, and the Inspector, where you can see notes, comments, snapshots, and more. Above and below these three main elements is a Toolbar, a Format Bar, and more.
All of these elements help you work with your projects in Scrivener, but you don’t always need to use them all. Hiding some of these elements can help you focus on your work, on your writing.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to customize the Scrivener window, so you only see those elements that you need when you’re working.
When you work with Scrivener, you use projects, which are packages or folders of files, containing the various elements of your writing work. These projects are what allow Scrivener to offer a full writing environment, with separate texts for chapters or scenes, character and setting sheets, and folders for storing research elements.
You can use one of Scrivener’s default templates, or you can customize your own; this is especially practical when you’ve gotten the Scrivener layout exactly how you like it, and want to use the same project settings in the future. Here’s how to create custom Scrivener project templates.
No book or long-form writing project can be open-ended; there is always a limit to the word count of your work. Whether it’s because you’re being paid for a specific word count for an article, or whether a publisher has a limit on the length of a book because of the cost of printing, you’re almost always faced with hard limits to how much you write.
Scrivener can help by providing detailed statistics about your projects, and allowing you to set targets for texts and the entire project. You can keep track of your word count as you write, and even get notifications when you hit your target.
Here’s how to track statistics and targets in Scrivener.
The Scrivener Binder lets you organize your projects in texts and folders, and you can use these texts for chapters, sections, or even scenes. As your project progress, you may want to combine certain texts, or split others, as you refine your project and its direction.
With Scrivener, you can do this is the Binder: you can merge two or more texts into a new text, or spit a text into two or more texts. You can also import texts in different formats, and have Scrivener automatically split them to create a hierarchy in the Binder.
When you’re working on a project in Scrivener, the Binder is your organizational tool. You create folders and texts, and use them to structure you work. You could just have a single text, and write like Jack Kerouac on a scroll, but then you wouldn’t get the benefit of being able to rearrange chapters, sections, and scenes in the Binder. Understanding how to use the Binder is the key to working with a Scrivener project.
Many writers like a distraction-free environment. OS X lets you put any app into full-screen mode, removing things such as the Dock and menu bar from view. But Scrivener, the powerful writing app, has a neat trick which offers an even better display: it’s called Composition Mode.
To enter Composition mode, click the Compose button on the Toolbar or choose View > Enter Composition Mode (or press Command-Option-F). Here’s what you see. (In the screenshot below, my cursor is at the bottom of the screen to display the Control Strip.
You have several display options in this mode. You can choose the text size; the paper position (left, center, or right); the paper width; and the background translucency. The Control Strip also lets you see a word count and character count, if you write to a specific word count, or if you have that writer’s anxiety of not having written enough words in a day and want to check, every few minutes, to see where you are.
There are also buttons to display the Inspector, access keywords, and to go to a different file in your project. There is also a full pane of preferences for Composition Mode in the Scrivener Preferences (File > Preferences). You can set editing options, paper and background colors, and much more.
When you are in Composition mode, you can still access all of Scrivener’s menus. To do this, move your pointer to the top of the screen to display the program’s menu bar. You can then select any menu items as you would in normal view mode.
To exit Composition Mode, just press Escape, or click the double-arrow button at the right of the Control Strip.
I love working in this mode, because of the lack of distractions, and the quick access to elements that I need in the Control Strip. If you use Scrivener, check out Composition Mode.
I’m currently updating my Take Control of Scrivener ebook, which should be out in a couple of weeks. If you’re a Scrivener user, check it out.