Using Scrivener with writing critique groups

I belong to a few writing critique groups and find them to be incredibly valuable. In fact, I’d wish I’d joined some of these groups before I sold a story. It might have taken me less than 14 years to make that first sale. On the chance that you’ve never been involved in a critique group, they go something like this: you submit a story to the group, the group reads the story ahead of time, then you all meet up and discuss the story in detail. Often times you’ll get written comments back on the story and even line edits.

Since I use Scrivener for all of my fiction writing, I’ve found ways that it makes it very easy to manage the critiques I receive from my various groups. The techniques I use vary slightly depending on the group. In the Arlington Writers Group, which is a larger group, I make use of some custom folders to manage the comments that I get. The group is too large to manage them all as comments in the document. However, for my smaller group (four people including myself) I make heavy use of Scrivener’s snapshot and commenting features.

Let me explain how I do each of these.

Using Scrivener for large group critiques

First, of course, I’ll have written a story in Scrivener. When I feel it’s ready to send out to the group, I’ll compile the document into proper manuscript format, using Scrivener’s Compile function. I love this feature because I don’t have to worry about the formatting. Scrivener already knows the format and can take what I’ve got an format it for me, leaving me to worry about things like plot and character. I export it as a PDF because the group is so large you never can tell what word processing software people might use.

Eventually, my story will be put on the schedule for review by the group. Before I leave for the meeting, I do two things:

  • Add a document to my Critiques folder in my Scrivener Project. The “Critiques” folder is part of the story template that I created for my projects. All of my projects have this folder. (They also all have a Deleted Scenes folder.) This folder is outside the story section. I call the document “Arlington Writers Group”. It looks like this:

Scrivener

  • I synchronize my project with SimpleNote, using Scrivener’s built-in sync feature. When I do this, I make sure to select the new critique document. I do this so that I can take notes on my iPad when I am at the meeting. Note in the screenshot below under Other Text Documents, my “Arlington Writers Group” document is selected.

SimpleNote

During the meeting, I take along my iPad (which also has a PDF version of my story that I can refer to). As people are discussing my story, I capture the notes in my SimpleNote project, in the “Arlington Writers Group” file. That looks something like this:

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When the critique is all over, I will often get back manuscripts with more notes and line edits. The notes I will add to the critique file, and the line edits I will make directly in the draft, if they seem worthwhile. Of course, the next time I sync my project with Scrivener, I have the notes that I captured from my iPad imported into my project. Very convenient and no need to cut and paste.

Using Scrivener in my smaller critique group

In my smaller group, there are only four of us and so it is easier (and often useful) to capture comments inline with the manuscript. To do this, I make use of Scrivener’s commenting feature. After the small group meets to critique a story (and during the meeting, I take notes exactly the same way as I did in the example above, only using a different document to capture the notes), I will do two things:

  • I capture the critique itself in a separate document within my critique folder, giving the document the name of the person who gave me the critique. (In our smaller group we often give written critiques in addition to the discussion and line-edits.)
  • I take the notes I get from the line-edits in the manuscript and enter them as comments into Scrivener. I highlight the text in question, create a comment, and then paste the critiquer’s comment into that note. I also color-code the comments based on who is giving me the comment so I can easily tell one person’s comments from another.  So for instance:

Scrivener

As you can see (in the enlarged image) the highlights in the document are color-coded the same as the corresponding comment in the comment window. Once I have captured all of the comments, I will take a snapshot of the document and then start working on the next draft, incorporating those comments that I think are worth using into the new draft, and removing the comments as I address each one.

And on a subsequent draft, I simply repeat the process.

It should be noted that this process is different from using Scrivener’s revision mode. Mostly what I am capturing are comments. Line edits I do directly without worrying so much about seeing those revision.

One of the nice things about this is that I can get through the entire critique process without having to print anything out, and that helps with my goal of going entirely paperless.

Oh, one more useful feature for critique groups

In some groups (as in my small group) you might know well ahead of time when you are suppose to provide a story for critique. I know for instance that I have a meeting in late July at which I am supposed to present a completed draft of my story. Since I estimate my story will be around 12,000 words, and I know it needs to be finished by July 14, I can enter that information into my project targets. Scrivener will then tell me how much I need to write each day in order to make my target and deadline. And if I miss a day or write more or less, those targets are automatically updated:

Screen

I’ve found Scrivener to be incredibly valuable in the critiquing process. Just as Scrivener makes it easy for me to focus on writing by not worrying about formatting and organization, it also lets me focus on the details of a critique without worrying about how the information is going to get back into my project. It is almost seamless and it gives me more time to spend improving my stories from the feedback I get then fiddling with lots of paper and lots of cutting and pasting.

Previous posts on using Scrivener:

7 thoughts on “Using Scrivener with writing critique groups

  1. This is a neat idea that I haven’t thought of. I sync Scrivener to PlainText, which looks almost exactly like SimpleNote. But I’ve been converting the docs that I send to crit group to PDF and marking them up in Noterize (great app if you haven’t tried it), and then typing in changes to Scrivener. Taking notes into PlainText would streamline things a bit more. On the other hand marking up PDFs gives me that “working on a printout” feeling that I’ll catch different things.

  2. All I can say is, jeez that guy who commented on your story in color-coded yellow, was a pain in the butt. Did he like anything?

  3. Elizabeth, if I am giving a critique to another group member, I convert their manuscript to a PDF and then mark it up on my iPad using GoodReader. But for my own stuff, I like having everything in one place without having to do lots of cutting and pasting which is why I use SimpleNote. (I imagine the process is similar. I chose SimpleNote mainly because the Scrivener folks recommended it.)

  4. I’ve sometimes done crits by marking up PDFs, but only when I didn’t have time to print. One group uses printouts and one uses .docs with track changes (which I can view but not make in my iPad’s word processor, at least at the moment).

  5. I’m new to using Scrivener on the PC. I guess the PC version doesn’t have the “Comments” feature yet. From your screen capture and what you describe, that’s a 5th view in the inspector. I only have 4. For now I’ll have to use ghostnote annotations, which are much klunkier than the Comments appear to be. But am I missing something on how to access Comments? (I’ve looked for over an hour!)
    Thanks for your site!

  6. Richard, you know, I’ve never used (or seen) Scrivener on Windows, so I can’t really answer your question. You might try pinging one of the guys on their website (or via Twitter). They are usually very responsive.

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