Tag Archives: Gwen Hernandez

Guest Post: Gwen Hernandez on Scrivener

Back when I had just started to take my writing seriously, I started using a program called Scrivener to assist in helping me get a bit more organised (something I desperately needed!). At one point, I blogged a list of software I found useful, and mentioned Scrivener. Gwen was kind enough to pop by my blog and comment and we have been chatting ever since.

Gwen has built a reputation as one of the foremost experts on Scrivener, if not the foremost (she wrote the official Scrivener for Dummies!), but she is a very talented and successful author, too. To mark the release of her latest book, Blind Ambition, I asked Gwen if she wanted to do a guest post. Instead of just an ad for her book, Gwen has given us great starter’s guide to what I consider one of the best tools available to a writer (I couldn’t have written Backcountry without it–which I will cover in a  post of my own).

If you check out her blog you will find a whole lot more great advice for writers, which she make available for free. If you find this post helpful, or the others on her blog–or even just want a great read!–I’d encourage you to check out Blind Ambition and support Gwen’s writing.

Getting started with Scrivener

Are you fascinated by other authors’ writing processes? I am. I goggle at those who write ferociously detailed 80-page outlines, and empathize with those who start with the seed of an idea, or snippet of dialog, and tiptoe into the unknown. When crafting fiction, I’m somewhere in between.

I write in Scrivener—a word processor on steroids that lets you store your manuscript and all supporting materials (e.g. research, notes, pictures, web pages) in one place—which is flexible enough to accommodate any writer’s method.

Here’s a quick breakdown of my approach for writing my latest romantic suspense, Blind Ambition, and the Scrivener tools I used to support it.


Even though I tend toward the pantser/seat-of-the-pants-writer end of the spectrum, I’ve learned that there are certain things I must figure out before I get too far into my story. The goals, motivation, and conflict for the hero, heroine, and antagonist. Internal and external conflict for the main characters. The basic turning points, and some idea of what type of final showdown I want to have. Much of it will change, but I need something to write toward so I don’t get stuck.

For all of these elements, I create documents within my Scrivener project, which I add to and revise frequently (and then eventually forget about once I’m into the story enough).

Here are some other things I set up for my project before I start writing (these can all be saved into a project template to use for future projects of the same type).

– A Productivity document where I track my daily word count (if any) along with notes on what I worked on in the story (e.g. edits through a certain scene, brainstorming). I use Scrivener’s Project Targets feature to count the words I’ve added, and track my progress toward the overall manuscript word count goal.

– A Backstory folder where I keep scenes that will never go into the final manuscript.

– An Unused Scenes folder to store deleted scenes—or parts of scenes—that I might want to mine for content later on.

– Four Part folders in which to organize my scenes. This keeps me within the three-act, four-part structure I use, without forcing me to consider chapter organization yet.

– I change the Label field to POV (point of view). When I create a new scene document, I can apply the correct character tag to it. With the colors turned on in the Binder (Scrivener’s table of contents for a project), I can quickly see which—and how many—scenes are in each characters’ point of view.

– Usually, I modify the Status field to help me track the day of the week in which a scene takes place. For Blind Ambition, which had a short start-to-finish timeline, I just put the day/time right into the title of each scene document instead.


Writing on the computer can be distracting. To get into a single-tasking mindset, I use Scrivener’s full screen (PC)/composition (Mac) mode. Full screen/composition mode hides everything but the document you’re working on (though it provides access to meta-data), and allows you to change the background color, or add a background image to customize the experience. My book mostly took place on a fictional Caribbean island, so I used a jungle image from St. Lucia to stay in the “mood” of the setting.

Research gets stored right inside my project, and links for websites or documents that I don’t want to import go into Scrivener’s References section. I use the project notes section to keep a quick-view list of characters, locations, and companies, along with their vital statistics.

When I can’t think of the perfect witty response for my character, I need to research when the sun sets on July 12th in the Caribbean, or I can’t think of how to get my hero out of a jam, I leave a note to myself right where I need it in the text, using either annotations or comments. That way I can keep writing beyond that point without fear that I’ll forget to go back and fix it.


The first thing I do before letting my completed (yay!) manuscript sit for a few days or weeks (but who has the patience/time for that??) is address the annotations I left for myself during the drafting phase.

For my first-pass read through, I compile (export) my manuscript to an EPUB file and go through it on my iPad. A book looks different in book format than on a computer screen and I catch a lot of little errors.

I take notes in iBooks and refer to them when I’m ready to make changes. Before I start revisions, I change either the Label or Status field to keep track of what I’ve done for each scene. The Label field is handy because of the color coding capability, so if you need a quick visual for which scene needs your attention next, I’d go that route. I create a value for each stage of edits to apply to a document when I’ve completed that stage.

AnnotationAfter my first pass, I compile the manuscript to a Word document. When it comes back from a beta reader or editor with corrections and comments, I open the Word document on one screen and make changes in Scrivener on the other. If you don’t have two monitors, you could use one large monitor, or view the document on an iPad or tablet loaded with the Word app.

To keep from losing my original version of a scene, I take a snapshot before making any changes. This lets me roll back to the original, or copy and paste good material from an older version if I later change my mind about my edits.


Once the final manuscript is done, I use Scrivener to create EPUB and MOBI files for online retailers, as well as the PDF version of my book for CreateSpace (currently only the Mac version supports alternating margins and headers/footers, i.e. facing pages).

In this phase, annotations are helpful for marking parts of the book that I think would work for marketing excerpts. And I create a file to store different-length versions of my book’s description/back cover copy.

Scrivener for DummiesAs you can see, Scrivener is more than a virtual notebook for storing everything you need to write your manuscript. It’s like a project manager for getting the book done. And, if you have a laptop, it’s fully portable.

That’s the super-condensed version of how I used Scrivener to write Blind Ambition. I’d be happy to answer any questions about my process or Scrivener. Thanks to David for inviting me to his blog!

Gwen Hernandez was a manufacturing engineer and programmer before she turned to writing romantic suspense. She’s also the author of Scrivener For Dummies and teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world. She loves to travel, read, jog, practice Kung Fu, and explore the Boston area where she currently lives with her Air Force husband, two teenage boys, and a lazy golden retriever.


Wednesday Writers: Gwen Hernandez

I first came across Gwen Hernandez when I was looking for tips on using the excellent Scrivener writing software (see my post on writing tools for the Modern geek here). Her blog was easily the best resource around but, even after I had found the information I needed, I continued to follow her blog. As well as being a wonderful person to know, Gwen has done all sorts of fascinating things in the name of research for her writing, and her website can be counted on to be both entertaining and informative. Here she talks about getting back the joy that made us start writing in the first place.

Thanks so much to David for inviting me to Ebon Shores today! He didn’t give me a specific topic, so here’s what’s on my mind…

When I started writing about three years ago, it was nothing but pure joy. My ideas came to me at all hours of the day, and if I was out, I couldn’t wait to get home to write. I wanted to write for publication, but I didn’t know any other writers, didn’t read blogs, wasn’t on Twitter, and just let the story drive me.

That was before I knew what I was doing. Years of studying craft, learning about the industry, getting feedback, and attending conferences improved my writing dramatically. But somewhere along the way, that spark slowly dimmed.

I still wanted to write, and I still had ideas, but sitting in front of the computer had become a chore at times. Writer’s block was common. Insecurity over whether I was “doing it right” ruled. My internal editor had me rewriting scenes, openings, and whole plot ideas over and over again.

I started books and stopped halfway through, sure that something was wrong with the story, but not knowing what. I struggled with how to ditch the stress and get back to the joy that had driven me early on.

Then something unexpected happened. I got a contract to write Scrivener For Dummies. *insert happy dance*

To find out how that seemingly out-of-the-blue event happened, click here, but what’s more important is what happened after I immersed myself in technical writing for hours on end.

After taking an extended hiatus, my creative brain resurfaced. Now that I don’t have so much time to focus on my romantic suspense manuscript, the scene ideas are flooding in.

You’re probably not surprised. If you’re like most writers I know, inspiration strikes when you’re not looking for it. Driving the car, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, walking the dog.

For me, it’s usually while I’m running.

Maybe the real problem–in addition to that infernal editor that only NaNoWriMo knows how to banish–is that I was so involved in building my story that I thought of little else. I didn’t give myself the mental space I needed for my brain to work its magic in the background.

And I was trying too damn hard.

Now that I’ve been forced to focus my attentions elsewhere, the spark is back. So, in the midst of trying to meet my deadlines for the Scrivener book, I’ve also been fitting in some “fun” writing again.

I just have to remember to keep it that way.

How do you get back to the joy when you lose it along the way?

While following her husband around for his Air Force career, Gwen has worked as a programmer, a business school instructor, and a manufacturing engineer, but now she’s finally doing what she always dreamed of: writing. She spends her days trying to silence her left brain and coax stories of romance and suspense from her creative side. She also shares her love for Scrivener–a.k.a. the world’s most awesome writing software–with other writers through online classes and her forthcoming book Scrivener For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, fall 2012).

When not writing, she’s usually reading from an eclectic selection of fiction and nonfiction, but she also loves to run, explore the local area with her family, travel, and practice martial arts. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband, two heroes in training, and a (really, really) lazy golden retriever.

You can find out more about Gwen at www.gwenhernandez. com