Note: Not all the features of Scrivener for Mac are available for Windows users. What follows specifically refers to the Mac version.
For as long as I’ve been using Scrivener — six or seven years — I’m far from exhausting its capabilities. It’s probably safe to say that even the most experienced user doesn’t know all its nooks and crannies or use every feature. The basics are so satisfying and easy to use, that I’ve been guilty of not doing much exploring. It’s only been in the past year or so that I started using Target for word counts, and it’s still just a part-time feature for me. But it’s there when I want to use it and out of the way when I don’t.
A bigger step in the evolution of how I use Scrivener is Notes. This is a separate notepad that I can bring up or dismiss with a click of the icon in the tool bar. The difference between using Notes and creating files for various topics in the Binder is as much psychological as physical. Moving the “Notes,” “Questions,” “Structure,” and other files out of the Binder helps keep it uncluttered. That isn’t usually a big issue for fiction, but the nonfiction book I’m working on has become so overloaded with Binder files that it’s difficult to find what I’m looking for.
Another problem that keeps cropping up is that I tend to dump all my random ideas into the “Notes” Binder file without putting them in any kind of order. So that’s another area where finding what I’m looking for can be difficult. Because Notes allows me to create titled files, exactly like those in the Binder, it encourages me to stay organized right from the start. And just like in the Binder, I can drag those files up and down to reorder them.
Scrivener has so many different ways to organize material that it can seem like overkill. It might even be one of the reasons some people who’ve tried it reject it as too difficult to learn. The Binder is the most basic, and it may be all that you need. There’s also the Cork Board, and the Outliner, and two different notepads. What seems like overkill to the newcomer is actually part of Scrivener’s flexibility. Instead of imposing a structure on you, it allows you to shape it to your own way of working.
For instance, I initially tried the Scratch Pad, used it for a while, and forgot all about it. Now that I’m using the Notes notepad, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at how they differ and why the Scratch Pad didn’t work for me. First, the only way to access the Scratch Pad is via the menu. This is probably why I abandoned that feature: it wasn’t easy to access, and since I didn’t use it too often, I’d forget where it was and have to hunt around to find it in the menu. Second, the Scratch Pad’s panes are stacked, the topic list on top, and the text underneath. Notes matches the Binder structure, with the topics at the left. A small detail, but it makes a big difference for me.
The important thing about Scrivener is that there isn’t any one right way to use it. And you don’t have to learn it all at once.