Creating and Using Scrivener Collections

(This post assumes you’re already using Scrivener. If you haven’t made the leap yet, check out my post “5 Reasons You Should Be Using Scrivener.”) 

If you’ve been using Scrivener for any period of time, you know that the column on the left, the one with the all the files and folders that make up your story, is called the binder. What you may not know is that there are several layers to the binder.

These are called Scrivener Collections and they can be super useful for organizing your work in various ways without messing up your draft. Let’s explore.

Open Collections

To reveal your collections, click the little purple file folder at the top left of your window next to the Binder icon.

Scrivener Collections

Then, to create your first collection, click the little + symbol next to the word “Collections.” Your binder will disappear (don’t worry) and you’ll get something that looks like this:

Scrivener Collections

Name your collection by clicking on the highlighted text and typing in whatever you’d like. This is easy to change at any point so don’t stress.

How To Use Scrivener Collections

As the name Scrivener Collections would imply, these folders allow you to collect pieces of your project in one place and play with them a little, without messing up your project.

One example is rearranging the timeline of a story. My second novel (still in early draft stages) jumps around in time. In my binder I have it organized as I intend it to be read. A chapter from the 1700s, followed by a bit from the 1900s, then a chapter set in the 1800s. Frankly it’s kind of a mess right now. I’m not even sure it’s going to work. But that’s how I like it (for now). But sometimes it is helpful to see it arranged chronologically.

I created a collection called “Chronological Order” to experiment with.

To fill that collection, I click back to the binder and highlight the content I want to move to the collection. Then I click the little wheel icon at the bottom of the binder.

Scrivener Collections

From the pop-up window, I select which collection to move the files to:

(the astute observer will notice that these screen grabs are actually not my WIP, but rather a popular novel that I’m borrowing in the hopes that everyone has read it by now and I’m not spoiling anything)

Now, in the Chronological Order Collection, I can move things around, just to see how they read in a different order:

Notice that, in the collection, the left column is blue. This is to alert you to the fact that you are not in your binder anymore, but are instead working in a collection. You can change the color by clicking on the little box next to the name of your collection at the top there.

Two Things To Know

  1. You can move things around as much as you want in your collection and NOT CHANGE the order they appear in your binder.
  2. Any changes you make to the actual content WILL CHANGE what is in your binder. So if you’re reading along in your collection and correct a typo, it will be also be corrected in the binder.

If you delete something from a collection, it will also be deleted from your binder. That goes for whole folders as well. But don’t panic. If you accidentally delete a folder, it will be in your trash (at the bottom of the binder), and you can retrieve it until you do an official “Empty Trash” which I’m not even going to explain how to do, because you just never should.)

A Few Practical Applications

As I mentioned, I like to use this to read my story through in chronological order.

I’ve also heard people say they use it to pull one character’s story apart from the main narrative. If you have a novel that has two perspectives, you could have it all laid out in the binder, then have a collection where you separate out each character’s POV to check the consistency of their narrative.

You could use it to track themes.

Or maybe there’s an object in your story that changes hands a lot. You could pull out the scenes with just that object and track how it moves without the distraction of scenes that don’t address the object.

Like most things in Scrivener, you can experiment without fear of breaking anything. So have fun, play around. And let me know how it works for you. I’m always curious to hear how different people use the various functions in Scrivener.

Shameless self-promotion

In a few weeks, I’m teaching a session on Scrivener at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena. If you’re in the area (or would like to come soak up some of our fabulous fall weather) check it out:
And let me know you’re coming. I would love to meet up for coffee. Cheers!

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