My Big Scrivener Fail (And How to Avoid it!)

Scrivener is a writer’s best friend. It’s an app that’s sorta like Microsoft Word, but tons better. Scrivener made it specifically for authors, and it has so much more functionality and usefulness than Word that it’s hard to compare the two programs.

I’ve written my last three novels using it, and have even started using it for non-fiction articles, even ones that aren’t especially long, that need the organizational magic that Scrivener brings. It’s become an indispensable part of my writing workflow.

But when I first started using it, I made one huge error that almost caused me to stop using it. I wanted to talk about that and keep others from making the same mistake I did with Scrivener.

In one of my previous fantasy novels, “99 Days,” I was new to working with Scrivener. So I worked the way I always worked in Word: create a new document and start typing away. Stop typing when you write “The End.” Rinse. Repeat.

The Slowdown

But as I continued to write and my book got longer and longer, Scrivener started slowing down. And the more I wrote, the slower it got, to the point that it was unusable. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, or if the app had been corrupted, or what. All I knew is that it simply took forever to get the words I was typing to show up on the screen.

I reached out to the Scrivener people, and after some trial-and-error, I found out what the problem was. A simple fix, and it had to do with my fundamental misunderstand of what a “document” is in Scrivener, and what it is in Word.

The main Scrivener interface
The main Scrivener interface.

Defining ‘Documents’

Take a look at the screenshot above. What you see is the main interface where you do most of your writing. Taking up the bulk of the screen is the text (BTW, it’s the opening chapter of my fantasy novel “The Anointed”).

Notice how in the window at the top it says “Chapter 1”? This is the name of the “document.” Sound simple? Yes, but it’s important to remember.

In Scrivener, it’s typical to make a new document each time you start a new chapter. So, to start Chapter 2, I did a simple “Cmd-n” on my Mac keyboard (Ctrl-n for PCs), and it created a new document, which I named “Chapter 2”). See below:

Creating a new document in Scrivener
A new document’s been created, and I’ve named it “Chapter 2”.

I haven’t written anything yet in it. The key thing to remember is that this is a brand-new document; it’s not a continuation of Chapter 1 or any previous documents I might have created. It’s completely self-contained, and not related to any other documents I’ve created.

But I treated the Scrivener document in “99 Days” exactly like a Word document: one extremely long file. I wasn’t breaking up each chapter into its own document, because I didn’t do that in Word. I assumed Scrivener worked the same way.

Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do

It doesn’t. And because I wrote the whole thing as one document, the app got slower and slower. I won’t bore you with the technical details of why; just know that when a single Scrivener document gets too long (as in many, many thousands of words; it won’t start slowing for awhile), performance starts to drop.

For some reason — probably how dense I am — I never got that concept until I was nearly ready to give up on Scrivener. I’m glad I didn’t, because I love the program.

So remember — break up your chapters into separate documents, and stay happy!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *