The Writing Tools I Use: A Quick Introduction to Scrivener and Evernote


In this video I want to show you the writing tools that I use most often when I’m researching, drafting and writing essays. We’ve talked a lot about an ideal writing workflow, and I want to show you how I use these tools to implement this workflow.

The writing tool that I use the most is Scrivener. The tool I use the most for collecting and organizing research materials is Evernote.

Let’s start with Scrivener.


Scrivener is a writing application that’s been around since about 2006, originally for the Mac but there’s now a Windows version. It was designed to support the writing workflow of authors of various types, including novelists, screenplay writers, fiction and non-fiction essayists, just about anyone who writes long-form, structured documents.

The program has a ton of features and it wouldn’t be helpful to run through them all here. But I’ll show you the key features that are relevant to the kind of writing workflow that we’ve been discussing in this course. Just to review, this workflow emphasizes two principles:

1. Synchronized outlining and draft writing modes

… where changes in the outline of a document are reflected in the draft text, and vice versa; and …

2. Easy access to research materials while writing

… so you can easily refer to documents or websites or videos or whatever research materials you may have, while you’re writing.

Let’s see how Scrivener implements these principles.

Here’s what it looks like when you open up a new, blank document. The sidebar on the left is called the “binder”, and it comes with three folders, a “draft” folder, a “research” folder, and a “trash” folder.

Sections of your document will go in the draft folder, that’s where you assemble the actual text of the document you’re writing. You can add either folders or individual text files. Here I’ve added a text file. You can title it, and any text that is typed into the editing window is part of that text file.

I’ll build a dummy organizational structure, so I’ll add an introduction, three sections in the main body, a conclusion. And each section will contain three sub-sections. Right now this is a flat structure, it’s all at the same hierarchical love, but you can drag and drop any text file into another text file to create any kind of hierarchy you want.

We can move the sub-sections inside the main sections, and now we’ve got something that looks like a hierarchically structured outline.

Now, when we click on file in the binder, we can edit the corresponding text in that file in the text editor. To illustrate the synchronization between outline and draft writing, let’s look at a document that adds some content to these sections.

Now we’ve rewritten the titles of these sections, and we’re looking at pie recipes, cake recipes and cookie recipes. And we’ve got three different pie recipes in the pie section, three cake recipes in the cake section, and so on.

These look like they’re all separate text files, and they are, that’s how Scrivener stores them. But we can look at the whole document at once by selecting all of the sections in the binder, or by selecting the top level folder and clicking on the “scrivenings” view button in the top toolbar. Now we see all the text elements displayed in one file, separated by a grey line to visually indicate the transition from one section to another. But these line separators aren’t part of the document, so don’t worry about them; you won’t see them in the final version.

The cool thing is that I can edit the text in this view, anywhere in the document. So I can work on my draft like I would in any word processor. But I can rearrange sections in the draft just by dragging and dropping the file names in the binder. So I can move “cherry pie” above “apple pie” in the binder, and when I look at the draft document again, the cherry pie section comes before the apple pie section.

If I want to add a new sub-section I can. Let’s say I want to add a fourth pie recipe. I can just click and add a new section, label it “pecan pie”, and drag it into position, and I can now add content to that new section.

This is synchronized outlining and draft writing mode, and Scrivener implements it really well. There’s also a dedicated outline view in Scrivener, which you can access if you click the outline view button in the toolbar. You can do a number of cool things in this view, but I won’t get into that here.

Before we go on, we should talk about how you’re going to print or export your document. This is a topic that throws a lot of people who first use Scrivener, but the key idea is that Scrivener wants to separate as much as possible the act of writing and the act of formatting for publication. When you’re in draft mode you want to focus on the content and not on formatting details.

What Scrivener does is it has a separate export stage which it calls “compiling”, and at that stage you can specify how you want the document to look. You can export it to a variety of document formats, but you can also export to a variety of formatting and style presets. So for example, the same document can be exported to a plain text file or a Word file or a pdf file or an ebook file format if you’re creating an ebook. You can also print write from the Scrivener and it’s easy to set things up so it looks like a standard formatted essay document.

But I don’t want to get into the details of how to use Scrivener to compile and export, my main concern here is to show you how Scrivener can support our ideal writing workflow. So with that said, let’s move on and talk about how Scrivener handles research materials.

The folder at the bottom is labeled “research”. You can create new text files and folders and put them in this folder, and you can organize them in any way you want. But what’s really cool is that you can import just about any file type into this research area, and it becomes a part of the Scrivener document. So you can add pdf documents and Word documents and images and even audio and video files, into this research area. And importantly, you can also add web pages. Clicking on the item lets you preview the file in the editing window.

For example, when I click on this item, it displays a pdf document which I just dragged and dropped into the research folder, and which I browse. For research documents I sometimes create a text file that I associate with the document and use that to take notes on the document, I find this is really helpful for keeping track of my notes.

When I click on this item, it displays an audio file which I can listen to right in the program. I use this feature to type transcripts from audio or video files when I need them.

And these items are links to web pages, which have been imported and which you can browse in the editing window, even if you’re offline. Though if you click on a link in the page it will open the link in your browser.

To add a link to a web page, one of the easiest ways is to just highlight the URL of the web page that you’re browsing, and drag it into the folder, where it takes a few seconds to process the import, and then it will display the web page in Scrivener.

This folder functions as a handy place where you can store and organize your research materials for a project.

Now, what makes this even more powerful in Scrivener is the ability to split your screen, so you can view two documents at once.

Click on this icon on the top right to split the screen. You can load any item into either pane. Click on the top pane to set the focus, and then click a text file in the binder. That file is displayed. Click on the lower pane to reset the focus, and now click on one of the research items, and it’s loaded into the bottom pane. If it’s more convenient you can switch to a vertical split.

So now I can write my draft text in the editor while having immediate visual access to my research source. I can paraphrase or summarize or refer to the source, I can even cut and paste if I want to use a direct quotation.

This is a powerful feature of Scrivener that I use all the time when I’m just taking notes and when I’m writing my draft.

In later videos I’m going to show you how I use these features in action, as I go through the process of writing an actual essay.

But now I want to move on talk about Evernote, the tool I use for collecting research materials, especially when I’m web-browsing.


Evernote is a very popular note-taking and archiving application. There are online, desktop and mobile versions of the Evernote app, and with an online account you can synchronize your notes across all your different devices. There are free versions and paid versions, but I’m not interested in the details of how the program works and everything you can do with it, because like Scrivener it comes with a ton of features that you may never use in your writing. What I want to focus on is how Evernote makes it easy to save notes and web resources, while you’re browsing, and easily find and access those notes later on, when you need them.

If I’m thinking of a writing project, say on dessert recipes, then I can add a notebook called “Dessert Recipes” in Evernote, and that’s where I’ll store my various notes and links on that topic. Here I’m adding this notebook to the desktop version of Evernote.

Now, how do I bookmark a website and add it to this notebook when I’m browsing? The easiest way is to use the web-clipping tool that installs in your browser toolbar. It installs automatically in Safari and Internet Explorer when you install the Evernote desktop app on a Mac or Windows machine, but the clipping tool is available as an add-on or an extension for Chrome and Firefox too.

Here I’m using Google Chrome, and the elephant head icon indicates that the Evernote web clipper is installed and ready to use.

So when you come across a web page that you want to save for future reference, like this wikipedia page on Desserts, you click the elephant head and a screen pops up that gives you some options for how and in what notebook you want to save the page.

I can save the whole article, or a simplified version of the article if it has two many widgets cluttering it up, or save a selection, or just bookmark the page, or I can take a screenshot and save that.

So if I want to save this article in my “Dessert Recipes” notebook I can do a little search to find that notebook and tell it to save in this notebook, or I can just tell it save to my inbox and I can organize the note later.

Now I can access this note from my web-based account or on any of my devices. If I open my desktop app and click the “sync” button, it will import any recently added notes. And the note appears.

This is how I collect and organize resources while I’m browsing. I may not have Scrivener open, I might just be browsing YouTube on my mobile phone, but if I find a link that I want to save, I can save it to my Evernote account, from my phone, and forget about it until I need to come back to it later.

When I’m read to start writing I can go through my Evernote notes and import the ones I want into my research folder in Scrivener. I usually just do this by re-opening the note in a browser and dragging that link into Scrivener, but there are other ways of importing Evernote links.

You can see what a nice workflow this creates. I don’t need to have Scrivener open all the time, I can do my web browsing and researching whenever the mood hits, and then I can import those notes into Scrivener and have ready access to them when I’m actually writing.

To sum up, the writing workflow that I’m looking for is one that allows for synchronized outlining and draft writing, and easy access to research materials while I’m writing. Scrivener is the main tool I use for implementing this workflow. Evernote is handy for collecting and organizing research materials when I’m browsing the web or making notes to myself, and it works well with Scrivener in that it’s easy to import these notes into the “research” folder in Scrivener when I want to start writing.

In the next few videos I’m going to show you how I use Scrivener to set up and follow a structured approach to essay writing.