Using Scrivener for mystery writing

You can find tons of tips and tricks for how different writers use Scrivener in different ways. The best thing about this application is that it’s so darn versatile. I have no idea how Keith Blount made it so damn powerful. Yes, there is a learning curve. It is completely worth it, however.

One of the things I’ve found incredibly valuable are the Labels and Statuses. Lots of people have lots of theories on how to use these, and to be fair, you can use them for anything, in just about any way.

Here’s how they come in the basic Scrivener project set up. The Labels menu entries have colors and tell you what type of document this is:

Labels menu

The Status menu tells you where you are with this document (To Do, First Draft, Done, whatever):

Status menu

In the Scrivener template I’ve created, I’ve changed these. The Labels menu has colors, and for me colors indicate what stage something is at: beginning, middle, finished, or CRISIS!!!, so my Labels menu looks like this:

My Labels menu

Everything usually gets set to First Draft until I finish a first pass through the novel and discover that half of the scenes I’ve written are missing some incredibly important information or whatever. Then I mark those scenes as To Do. I go through everything again and try to get them to Revised, at which point it goes off to the Editor.

One way to use the colorful edge of the Labels menu is by setting “Use label color in Binder”:

Use label color in

Which then allows me to see how every file in my document is doing:

Binder with labels

I can immediately see what documents are RED (meaning, probably not even coherent) or ORANGE (I did one pass, need to take another look) or GREEN (nearly perfect…or at least you can skip dealing with this for now). Sadly, I’m not even close to Green in my current draft. Sniff.

I can also (with just about any meta-data Scrivener lets you set up) create a Binder Collection of all the documents marked “To Do,” so I can just look at those. But Binder Collections are beyond the scope of this blog entry.

Since I moved the current state of the document into the Labels menu, I freed up the Status menu to really help me arrange things.

My Status menu

Because I have to know what day various things take place on. I continually check the Outliner mode to see that everything is happening on the day it’s supposed to:


In Everybody Takes The Money, one important scene had to take place on a Sunday. So I started figuring backwards to see what events happened on which days and whether I was bunching too much stuff up on any one particular day. (In one draft of ETTM, Drusilla drove to the San Fernando Valley three times in one day, which…no. That got changed.) Seeing the time laid out like this makes me ask: Has enough time gone by for such-and-so to have happened?

Even if I never mention what day of the week it is in the story, I am very aware of what day it’s supposed to be.

One time editor pointed out to me that something happened on a Monday and the effects were already felt by the next day, which she felt was impossible. I actually was aware of that exact story compression because of the Outliner and told her the reasoning behind it. Which made me put a few things in the story to hammer home WHY it was strange but not impossible for these events to have followed upon one another so fast.

I don’t know how other writers use their Label/Status menus, but this is how I use mine for mysteries!

The treadmill desk

My regular cardio routine fell apart in December, for a variety of reasons (the weather, illness, holidays, etc, etc.). This was: unacceptable. Not just because of the cardio benefits (although those are important too), but exercise has improved my life in so many ways that my quality of life actually goes noticeably down if I go too long without it.

I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who would write that sentence either, but it’s completely the truth.

I was reading the Writers Cafe at the KBoards (as I am wont to do), and there was a discussion about treadmill desks. Which I’d heard of before but always sounded kind of wacky. This time, however, it sounded like a great idea. Many people had pre-made desks, and some were do-it-yourselfers who took treadmill A and added desk unit B and made themselves a treadmill desk.

I am not crafty. I bought the LifeSpan 1200RT

Mind you, I didn’t have the room in my office (I had to shove a whole bunch of boxes out — they’re all over the guest room now) and I had to rearrange the furniture that was in there. But I made the room and installed the desk.


 I bought a stand for my MacBook Air to sit on and I brought one of Darin’s old iMacs out of storage to use as an external monitor.

I probably walk for five to six miles a day while at my desk and the best thing about it is, I don’t even think about it. This is exercise I’m getting on top of my running routine and weights at the gym. The key is not to walk fast or try to get exercise (I don’t even know what the top speed on my treadmill is; I’ve never set it over 2.0 miles an hour), but use a nice strolling speed, like you might use walking around town, and use your computer. Like you’re gonna be doing anyhow. 

This is one of the best investments I have ever made in my entire life.

Not only do I get more exercise throughout the day, but I feel better now after a couple of hours at the computer than I did after sitting for a long time. I have terrible posture when sitting and I stand up straight when walking. Also, sitting too much reportedly might lead to an earlier death. Plus, I’ve been sleeping a whole hell of a lot better.

I write, I surf, I chat with friends, I watch videos (check out the headphones in that picture). I have a little fan on my old, sadly neglected desk to keep me cool, even on the coldest days, because walking for a long time makes you sweaty. I’ve had phone conversations while walking.

The key thing to remember is to start slow. It is weird to type and walk, at first. Pick a low speed and work up to whatever feels comfortable. I’ve read a few blog entries where people report walking at 1.0 miles an hour — I can’t do that, much too slow — or working at 2.5 miles an hour (I’d fall over). I do everything at 1.7-2.0 mph. 

If you’re trying to figure out how many calories you’ve burned, the rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile. Of course, this isn’t exactly right: it’s 110 calories per mile for guys, 90 calories per mile for women. (Yup, it’s everywhere, girls.) So when Jonathan Fields reports burning 600 calories over 4 hours of walking while going 1mph…well, that’s not what my math says. But he’s definitely getting more exercise than if he were just sitting there.

Why do I still run if I’m doing several miles a day on my desk? Again, I’m not working hard while on this thing, I’m just strolling. Couldn’t you stroll around a shopping center for hours and hours? I doubt my heart rate ever gets over 120 while using it. It’s just that I’m just doing it for hours. Running is still my intensive cardio, to boost my heart rate, to really work the muscles, and to get that lactic acid going. Also, to get some fresh air and maybe some Vitamin D. 

More exercise >> less, every time.

Honestly, if you’re thinking about doing it and you can swing it, DO IT. The only downside is now I want to spend too much time in my office.

Some people are crafty do-it-yourselfers. They either repurpose the clothes storage unit they bought a few years ago or buy one cheap on Craigslist and made a desk out of it using something like an add-on or their own homemade plywood contraption. The only warning I’ve heard against this is that heavy-duty treadmills built for running have more powerful motors that aren’t built to run for hours at a time at low speeds, and therefore might be more prone to burn out than a treadmill especially designed for daily walking. On the other hand, you weren’t using that thing to begin with, now were you?

The only downside of doing this is that you become a cult member, trying to convince the rest of the planet that they’re missing out. Which they are. And let’s face it, with all of these extra endorphins in my bloodstream, all I can think about is happiness now. Don’t you want in on that?

(Wait. There is one more downside: I want to spend way too much time in my office now. Though, given how much writing I’ve been getting done, maybe that’s not so bad. I kinda wish I had one of these things in the living room to use while watching TV, though.)

A favorite Scrivener feature


Since everyone’s been posting stories about how they use Scrivener (the world’s most awesome writing software), I figured I would join in the fun and post one thing about one of its best features. So there I am, writing along, when I make up a new … [Continue reading]