Scrivener Superpowers

How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice

A Walkthrough of Scrivener’s User Interface (for Mac)

Familiarizing Yourself with the Program

(For the Windows version of this tutorial, click here.)

In the Scrivener walkthroughs and workshops I’ve done, one of the most common complaints from new users is that the interface is confusing and overwhelming. People find it difficult to get used to new software, so they give up before they even get started.

Don’t worry. I’m going to walk you through the important pieces of Scrivener’s interface, their names, and what each one is used for right now.

First, Install Scrivener

In order to get the most out of this book, download and install Scrivener on your computer and follow along as we explore the program.

Take advantage of the thirty-day free trial or buy the program for a one-time fee of $45.

Windows Versus Mac

One more note before we get to the walkthrough: For the most part, the functionality of Scrivener for Mac and Scrivener for Windows is comparable, but there are a few notable differences. This is the Mac tutorial, and uses screenshots on the Mac OS X operating system.

If you’re on a Windows PC, jump over to the Windows version of the tutorial.

Project Templates

Now, let’s get started!

The first screen you’ll see when you open Scrivener is Project Templates. From here, you can create a blank project, start a project based on an existing template, or open a recent project.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Project Templates

For now, open a blank project to follow along. I’ll talk more about templates and teach you how to create your own when I introduce my No Nonsense Novel Template later on.

Blank Project

This is what a blank new project in Scrivener looks like. You’ll see an identical screen if you are following along.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Blank project screenshot


Scrivener Walkthrough - File Menu

The Menu is where you can find a full list of actions and functions, whether that’s adding links and images to documents, printing, compiling, formatting, etc.

I like to spend some time with any new piece of software familiarizing myself with the Menus because they’re always different, and always very powerful.

Don’t just look at the actions, but try to perform each one. If you can’t figure out what an action does, there’s a handy (but dense) Scrivener Manual which you can search. Find this by going to Help > Scrivener Manual in the Menu.


The Binder is the left-most area of the interface. Its job is to contain all of the documents and folders in your project.

While most new projects give you a basic Binder structure to start with, it is completely customizable. The structure pictured above is what you will see if you open a new project using the novel template that comes with Scrivener.

The Binder is one of Scrivener’s greatest advantages over other word processing software because it allows you to quickly and easily jump between sections of your manuscript, research, and other folders with scene-level granularity.


The Toolbar is the gray bar across the top of the program where common actions are located.


The screenshot above is the default configuration on Mac, but you can customize the Toolbar by adding and removing buttons. Simply right click and select Customize Toolbar… to check out the additional buttons and options.


The Inspector is the menu on the right hand side. Open and close it by clicking the Inspector button (the blue “i” in the circle) at the top right of the default Toolbar.


Within the Inspector, you can switch between several panes using the buttons at the top of the Inspector area. From left to right, these panes are named:

  • Notes
  • References
  • Keywords
  • Custom Meta-Data
  • Snapshots
  • Comments & Footnotes

In Notes, the first pane, I use everything. I use the Synopsis pane to write a summary of the scene I’m working on, the Labels and Status to label and set the status of each file of a draft. I also use the Document Notes section to take notes while I’m writing, as a kind of scene-specific scratch pad. Each document you create in Scrivener has a Synopsis and Notes section as pictured above.

Then we have the Snapshots pane. This is a crucial tool for me during the revision process. I take snapshots at the end of each draft so that I have rollback points saved in case I screw something up, change my mind, or dislike the edits I made for whatever reason.


Finally, here’s a screenshot of the Comments pane. This is for leaving comments within your manuscript. To insert a comment, use the Format > Comment action in the Menu, click the Comment button in the Toolbar, or use the shortcut Command+Shift+*.


Explore the other panes, Custom Meta-Data, and Keywords if you want to, but don’t worry about them too much. Personally, I rarely use them.


The Editor is the important part in the middle, the blank page that you write in. This is where you make sentences and create your stories, and where you’ll be spending most of your time.


The Editor can be full screen, or swapped to Page View like I have it above. I like Page View because it shows the gutters at both sides of the page, which feels cleaner to me. You can toggle Page View on or off by going to View > Page View > Show/Hide Page View in the Menu.

There are other view options as well, such as showing a Ruler at the top of the editor so you can adjust tabs and margins. Do whatever makes you happy. Play around with it! The Editor, too, is completely customizable, so you can make the background bright pink if you want to.

Group/View Mode

Depending on where you are, these three buttons in the toolbar will be labeled “Group Mode” (when viewing a group of documents) or “View Mode” (when viewing an individual document).


They allow you to seamlessly switch between seeing your documents and subdocuments in the Editor. From left to right they are called Scrivenings (“View the document/group of documents”), Corkboard (“View the document’s subdocuments on the corkboard”), or Outliner (“View the document’s subdocuments in the outliner”) viewing modes.

These are the most powerful buttons in Scrivener because they allow you to toggle between perspectives of your manuscript, another one of Scrivener’s big advantages over linear, single-column word processing programs.


Use the Group/View Mode button on the left to get to the Scrivenings view. This is your default view.

If you click on a single document in the Binder in this view, you’ll be shown the text in that document within the Editor. If you click on a folder, you’ll be shown the text of all files within that folder in order, with marks delineating where one file ends and another begins.


In the screenshot above, I’ve also turned on an option to show the title of a file while in the Scrivenings view. You can toggle this convenient option on and off in the Menu by going to Format > Options > Show Titles in Scrivenings.


The middle Group/View Mode button brings up the Corkboard view.

The Corkboard is used to simulate the experience of a real-life corkboard. You can organize and edit multiple documents using a card-based interface. Snap the cards to a grid or move them around freely (depending on your settings). The size of the cards can also be changed. While it doesn’t have the infinite flexibility of a real-life corkboard, I find that the digital Corkboard is faster to use, especially if you’re making large structural changes.


You might outline a story using the notecards, rearrange the order of scenes by dragging and dropping them, or view all of your sketches in one place for a high-level overview. Fill the front of the index cards with text, or replace the text with an image.


The last Group/View Mode button brings you to the Outliner, which allows you to see all your documents and metadata in a structured list.


View your entire manuscript in the Outliner, or drill down into a specific folder for a narrower view.

The columns and data you see in the screenshot above are completely customizable. Add or remove columns by right clicking on the column headers (or clicking on the arrow to the right of the column headings) and selecting the new column you’d like to add from the list that appears. You can also find these options under the Menu by going to View > Outliner Columns in the Menu.

That concludes our tour! Are you feeling a little better now? I hope learning the vocabulary and seeing the interface broken down into its component parts makes you feel more comfortable in the program. There’s a lot to get used to for a new user, so I suggest taking a little time to explore the interface on your own. Get acquainted with the Binder and the Toolbar, especially, so that you can follow along in the next chapters.

Click here for the next chapter in the series.

About Matt Herron

Matt Herron is the author of Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice. He has a degree in English Literature, a dog named Elsa, and an adrenaline addiction sated by rock climbing and travel. The best way to get in touch with him is on Twitter @mgherron.

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