Scrivener: a Great Tool for Professional Bloggers

Update: See my latest thoughts on Scrivener on the FreelancerFAQs blog.

I think I’m in love! In the past month, I have completely changed my blogging workflow. That’s because I have discovered the joys of using Scrivener. Originally a Mac tool, Scrivener is software for writers. It’s now available for Windows, and that’s the version I’m using. I’d heard about it before but figured it was only for novel writers. Boy, was I wrong! Although I wasn’t sure how it would work for a professional blogger, I found an article by Thaddeus Hunt (one of my new go-to sources for Scrivener information) outlining how he was using Scrivener for blogging. I used his example to set up a draft project to work with and have found it the most useful new tool I’ve tried in a while.

Scrivener -

With Scrivener, the idea is that you create a project file for a particular writing project. This contains all the information you need for that project. For novelists, that means creating chapters and sections and keeping track of characters and locations, but how would that work for blogging?

Setting Up Scrivener for Blogging

Using Thaddeus Hunt’s article as my guide, I set up a project for the current year, with folders for each month, into which I put documents for each post I work on. That covered client work. I added folders for my main blogs, and another folder for unassigned ideas. That took care of the initial organization. The next step was to plan some posts, and Scrivener worked well for that, too.

Scrivener has a number of ways of looking at the content of your project. When getting started, the corkboard view, which shows index cards, is a great planning tool. As I agree pieces of work with each client I go to the cork board for each month and add a file card which contains the title and description. That becomes my working document when I am ready to write the post. Later, documents can be dragged and dropped into different folders or dropped on top of an existing document to create a sub-document.

Scrivener corkboard view

Meanwhile I use the research folder to store client briefs, information on personas, links to useful statistics and anything else that’s relevant. Unfortunately, the built-in web page import hasn’t worked that well for me, but I’ve worked around that by creating research documents and including links there. It means that everything I need to write efficiently is in one place.

Drafting a Blog Post

When I’m ready to draft, I go back to my usual writing process. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate first drafts to save my wrists. I was disappointed to find that I could not dictate directly into the Scrivener window as I was able to do with Windows Live Writer, my previous blog drafting tool of choice. However, since Dragon makes a dictation box available I was able to use this to dictate text for transferring into Scrivener. That worked well.

Scrivener blog setup
The default Scrivener interface has three panes. The left one allows you to navigate among documents; the middle one is for reading and editing; and the left varies depends on the buttons you select in the bottom menu. That’s where I generally show the synopsis (to guide my drafting) and the meta data. The meta data section allows you to assign a label and status (each with a colored icon) to each piece of writing, with some defaults built in. I added a status of “done” to the defaults, and added “delivered” and “live” in the label area. Thinking about it, I’d probably be better off making these statuses, but for now they work. You can use these labels and statuses to color code the left navigation pane and to tag content in the corkboard view. My use of this is still evolving and I’m now considering returning to completed posts and adding the final title and link to the index card in case I need to find it later.

Search in Scrivener

While we’re talking about searching, Scrivener allows you to assign keywords to each project, and I’ve adapted this feature for blogging. If you go through the Scrivener tutorial (something I highly recommend) you will see that the software has a very powerful search features and the keywords are an important part of this. As I cover many of the same topics for a range of blogs I have found it helpful to create project keywords for some of those topics (such as analytics, content marketing, social media and SEO) as well as labels for the particular clients. Each document receives a client label and a couple of topic labels so that I can easily find content later.

That’s just one of the reasons why Scrivener rocks for content organization. There’s also drag and drop document management which means that if an article deadline changes, I can easily drag it into the appropriate folder and have it in the right place. A look down the left side at what is queued up for the month gives me a running tally of what I should be writing. Since starting this review, I’ve refined the process and now include the due date and client initials in the file name. This means that I can see at a glance what I should be working on.

Exporting Your Work

Once a post is complete, I have several options for what to do with it. Scrivener has a very powerful compile feature (it’s the little blue arrow in the top menu), but I have learned the hard way that you have to be careful to select only the documents you actually want to get ready for publication. If you want to export an HTML file, the best way to do that is to use MultiMarkdown for formatting. Jenn Mattern provides a useful cheat sheet in her review (which is a must read if you’re a blogger) – and there’s another cheat sheet on Asian Efficiency that I’ve also found helpful. When you get it right, you end up with a file that you can send to your client or open and upload to WordPress. One thing I’ve had to do is edit links manually where I want them to open in a new window. I’m sure there must be a way to do this in Scrivener but I haven’t found it yet.

You can also export documents and projects to PDF, Final Draft (useful for scriptwriters), Open Document format and other formats. Other options include copying text out of Scrivener into another file (such as Windows Live Writer or Word).

While I was wrapping my mind round blogging with Scrivener, I also spent time working on my new ebook. I tried several options, but still found the process of getting it ready for Kindle a bit cumbersome. That’s probably my issue, as I know thousands of writers have done it successfully. I did learn, though, that if you download Kindlegen, you can compile your ebook in fewer steps. I’ll keep working on it and try again with my next book. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Scrivener Advantages

For me, the biggest advantage of Scrivener is organizational. I’ve been moving all my stray ideas and unfinished work into Scrivener because it’s so useful to have everything in one place. It imports Word files easily and you can add images and other related info either to the research folder or to the project document. My organizational method not only keeps everything together but gives me a virtual to-do list and a searchable archive of all my work which on first trial works a lot better than searching my writing folder on my Windows PC. If you’re looking for another option, check out Jenn Mattern’s free Scrivener template for those managing only one blog.

From a security viewpoint, Scrivener also works well. Scrivener automatically saves every file in rich text format, so I no longer have to worry about losing edits. I recently had to put this to the test after a 10 second power outage, and was able to recover everything but the sentence I’d actually been typing. Since I’m paranoid, when I complete a job I copy the latest file from Scrivener into my client folder and give it the post name (Scrivener saves them with a number for some reason). I’ve also added the Scrivener folder to my online backup software so all client work is automatically backed up.

Sure, I’d love to make links work the same way as in Windows Live Writer without having to use MultiMarkdown, but that won’t stop me from continuing to use Scrivener. The more I learn about it (from places like the Google+ Scrivener Users community), the more I like it. It’s now an important part of my workflow, setting me up for a streamlined and productive blogging year.

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