Scrivener is well known for being a great writing tool for novelists, screenwriters, and long-form non-fiction writers, but when my friend mentioned she used Scrivener for poetry manuscripts, I was intrigued. As a poet, I’d always used Microsoft Word, with quite a bit of frustration. I usually write first drafts by hand in a notebook, then type them in Word, and save multiple files of subsequent drafts. The biggest problem was putting together a poetry manuscript. I would copy and paste each poem into one big file, which became unwieldy. It was especially tricky to keep track of subsequent versions of poems once the big file was created; each time I edited a poem in a single file I’d have to remember to update the main manuscript doc as well. I’d also have to save multiple versions of that main file with different types of front matter depending on where I was sending the manuscript (some places want acknowledgements, some don’t; some want a title page with contact info, some without; etc.). And worst of all, it was really annoying in Word to try to mess around with the order of poems in a manuscript––cutting and pasting them throughout the main doc, and then manually updating the TOC.
Once I took a look at Scrivener I immediately could see the benefits of using it for a poetry manuscript. I spent a chunk of hours one afternoon going through the main tutorial, and then started using it and figuring out how to make it work for a poetry manuscript. It isn’t always easy, but Scrivener understands the writer’s need to organize and re-organize pieces of text, to categorize pieces of text in certain ways, and that’s why even while Scrivener sometimes gets confusing it’s actually fun to try to figure out how to make it work for you.
These tips will be useful to you if you already use Scrivener and have gone through the main tutorial. Here are my 10 favorite ways Scrivener is useful for a poetry manuscript:
1) Reorder poems
This is a simple but brilliant function. Reordering is something most poets do constantly while working on a manuscript. When I first starting using Scrivener, I imported all my poem files from my current manuscript and dumped them into a “binder.” Now that each poem was living in my Scrivener binder as separate documents, I could easily drag each document and reorder the manuscript to my heart’s content. I keep all the documents for the manuscript in one folder with the manuscript title. When you’ve found the current order you like, you send the group of documents to “compile,” where you can export it to an RTF or PDF. Whenever you create a new order you like and want to save, you just “compile” it again (but see below in #2 about updating the TOC each time you reorder). No more cutting and pasting individual poems within a large Word doc!
2) Create and Modify a TOC
To create a TOC in Scrivener, you select all the documents that you want to include in the TOC, go to “Edit” –> “Copy Special”–> “Copy Documents as TOC.” Then you open a new document and paste. The TOC will format itself, and create poem titles based on the document names (so be sure to name those documents based on the poem titles). This is all in the main Scrivener tutorial. The TOC will not automatically update every time you move around or delete a poem, so you have to re-do the TOC every time you change the manuscript order. I don’t mind this, because it still takes out the hassle of creating a manual TOC in Word.
You may find there are some wonky issues that come up when creating a TOC in Scrivener in general, depending on what program you export the manuscript to, but these problems can be solved with a little help from the Internets (I won’t reiterate those issues here, as they aren’t specific to poetry manuscripts). 🙂
3) Switch Between Different Versions of Front Matter
This is super helpful when you need to use different versions of front matter based on a press’s or contest’s specific requirements. Some presses want to see acknowledgements or a title page with contact info, some don’t. I created two versions of the front matter, and when I’m ready to compile the manuscript to send off to a contest, I have the option to choose the front matter I want to include. And thankfully, the front matter doesn’t get included in the page count, which was something I couldn’t figure out how to get around in a big, single Word doc.
To create front matter, add a folder called Front Matter outside the manuscript folder. Create the documents within the folder, i.e., Title (with contact), Title Only, TOC, Acknowledgements, Epigraphs, etc. Create a second folder, which I call Front Matter2, with the desired documents. During compile, choose the front matter version you want!
For each document in Scrivener, you can assign a status, i.e., first draft, revised draft, final, etc. You can easily create your own statuses as well. On the right-hand side of every document is a section titled Synopsis, General, and Document Notes. In General, you’ll see Label and Status, which both have drop-down menus where you can choose or edit the labels. If you click on the drop-down menu in Status and click “Edit,” you can manage your classification system, or meta-data. I like to classify poems in the following way: Published, Maybe, First Draft, Revised Draft, Done.
5) Include or Exclude Specific Poems
As you probably know, a manuscript is never really done. Sometimes it’s “done enough” to start submitting (which is where I’m at right now), but you’re still tweaking along the way. I might have submitted my manuscript to a few contests, and then later was like––why did I include those five or ten poems that weren’t really good enough? (okay, that actually did happen, and continues to happen every time I look at the manuscript anew). These are poems I’m just not sure are worth keeping, but maybe at some point I can revise and salvage them. But I don’t want to include them in my current manuscript submission.
Recently, I went through my manuscript and started assigning the status “Maybe” to all those sad poems that have been around for a while and just aren’t getting any better. When I was finally ready to sort of let them go, I created a folder called “Maybe poems” and dragged them (kicking and screaming) out of my main manuscript folder. Then I created a new TOC and compiled a new manuscript with just the clean, finished poems from my main manuscript folder. I can always add back any Maybe poems by changing their status and dragging them back in, but they’re going to have to beg.
6) Work on Groups of Poems Based on Status
Sometimes I want to just work on revisions, and it’s nice to be able to quickly find and view just the poems I want to revise. (I assigned the “Revised Draft” status for these poems, because they have been revised and I want to keep revising them. The “Maybe” poems, on the other hand, have been revised but are very close in my mind to being discarded completely or being saved by a miracle). You could get even more specific with the level of draft you’re on or how you want to classify poems by status, of course.
To work on the poems that I think still have a chance at getting better, I created a search for my “Revised Draft” poems. I typed in “Revised Draft” in the search bar, and then chose “Status” from the dropdown menu.
Then I chose “Save Search As Collection” from that same dropdown menu, and, voila, I have a collection of my “Revised Draft” poems. I can now look at them on their own when I’m in revision mode.
I’m also now doing this with my “Done” poems as a way to focus while submitting. These are the poems I’m pretty sure are totally done being revised (I know, you’re never totally sure), and therefore are ready to be submitted to journals. Now I can view them together as a collection and start figuring out where to send them!
I can also do this with the poems that are already “Published” and designated as such, which is helpful for creating and updating an Acknowledgments page. This also allows me to easily count how many poems have been published, reminding me I need to send more of the others out!
7) View Earlier Versions of Poems
Instead of saving file after file of poems, as I used to do in Word, adding a number at the end of each file name to designate the draft, now I used Scrivener “snapshots.” These are easy to use and part of the main Scrivener tutorial. In Scrivener, you keep editing a poem in the very same document for it’s entire evolutionary existence, but you take “snapshots” along the way so you can refer back to earlier versions when needed. This is actually much simpler than looking through multiple Word files to find that one phrase you thought was great and you lost.
8) Use Labels (and Colors!) for Themes
This is fun. Most poetry manuscripts have themes that are threaded throughout. They may not be overt themes as in actual topics, but modes. When I print out and order a manuscript on the floor (which is still a great way to do it, but now that I’m using Scrivener I do it less often), I sometimes use markers to label poems with a particular color. In my current manuscript (which has some pretty clear themes) I have blue for cool/ice/snow-related poems, brown for animal poems, pink for myth-based poems, etc. I’m now using the Label feature in Scrivener to assign these labels to poems with colors. Here’s what some of them look like in Meta-Data (above) and in action in outline view (below).
Pretty! But also really helpful conceptually. For example, do I really want to include those two icy poems side by side? It might work, but I might also consider spreading them out, as I’ve done with some of the other differently themed poems, so as not to have too many similar ones next to each other.
And here’s where you assign the Label on the right-hand side of the screen, like you do with Status:
8) Write Notes on Poems
Sometimes I have ideas about a poem, and it’s useful to write them down in the Document Notes section on the right-hand side of the screen. I never really used to do that before, and because Scrivener offers this functionality, it’s actually influencing my creative process. Sometimes I need to think things through off to the side of the poem, ask myself if the poem fits in the manuscript, or what threads it picks up on, or if I want the title of the poem to reference another poem in the manuscript, etc. You can also write Project Notes as well.
9) Keep Research Close at Hand
Not everyone does research for poems, and it just so happens that for my current manuscript I am doing research (unlike my first manuscript which had zero research). So the Research section of the Scrivener binder is awesome. You can save all types of media including PDFs, web links, video, audio, etc. With the Research section I save articles and pictures, and then use the split screen functionality to work on a poem while referring to the text/picture that is inspiring me. So much fun!
When you “compile” a manuscript to export from Scrivener to RTF or PDF, you can update the manuscript styles all at once. So instead of manually going through and changing the font or title style for each poem, you can focus on writing and revising, save formatting for the end, and do it all in one shot. I won’t go into much detail on all the wonders of the “compile” function, and if you’re already using Scrivener you probably have had the chance to play with this feature. Suffice it to say, it takes away a lot of the headache of formatting a complete manuscript of poems.
I’ve only just gotten started learning how to make Scrivener work for my poetry manuscript. Please comment with any other tips if you’ve tried it! Happy writing!