How to use Scrivener to keep a recipe book

A new use I found for Scrivener (see my overview) lately emerged from this rediscovered passion of mine, that is cooking. Whenever I want to redo a recipe I don’t know very well, I find myself fighting my way through piles of chaotic handwritten recipes, badly organized bookmarks and website history and emails, srolling through the few recipes books (actual ink and paper books, mind you) that I keep in various places of my flat (and no, not only my kitchen, which is already crammed with ustensils). Half the time I find myself phoning my mother to learn how she does it. She is, after all, the one who taught me the taste for nicely cooked meals and when  I cook dishes from my childhood I’m invariably disappointed that they don’t taste like I remembered.

So recently, while I was backing up my work files through dropbox (more on that later) and installing Scrivener on my wife’s new iMac to make sure the backup worked, all the while cooking my first ever muffins to bring to our neighbourg’s party, I thought: hey, wouldn’t it be easier to use Scrivener’s ability to handly multiple files in the same metafile and its keyword+label+searchbox combo to store all my recipes in one place? The corkboard and outline views could be of tremendous help when I’m not inspired and don’t know what-to-c

ook-tonight. That’s the perk of using a software like Scrivener daily: you begin to see new uses for it, ones you’d never expect at first. Try doing that with Word.

So here I am, immediately storing that muffin recipe and a couple ones I use frequently. I stopped there because we had to attend the aforementioned party but in just a couple dozen clicks, I had a pretty functional scrivener file that I intend to update as soon as I get more time or find new recipes. Here’s how it works:

Under Draft I created two subfolders: one for salted recipes, one for sweet ones

In each of these folders, I’ll create one subfile (sorry I never even tried to learn the lingo, I think they’re “scrivs”)  for each recipe where I just jot down the ingredient list and the instructions. I add pictures to see what I’m heading for and to render the recipe livelier.

Then come the keywords

At the moment I have keywords for base ingredient (flour, eggs, etc.), type of dish (entrée, main course, dessert, party dish), how it is cooked (raw, oven, pan…) and where it comes from. So I can now use Scrivener’s search functions to find me recipes out of the ingredient I have at end or the appliances I can use, or if I’m in the mood for Tex-Mex or Asian I can search for that, too.

Labels and Status

I have labels for the time it will take me to make the dish (from under 10 minutes to more than 2hrs). I made sure to tint icons with label color and I ordered my recipes from quickest to longest so depending on how much time I’ve got, I know what color(s) to look for. I also have status stamps that show if I’ve already tested the recipe, if I’m pleased with it or still experimenting. These might change if I find a better use for the stamps.

Which brings us to synopsis cards that I mainly use in Corkboard view. On these I write a quick description of the dish, I develop the “time” infos (by stating precisely how much prep time and how much cooking time) plus any remarks I need to make for my future self or anyone using this recipe book besides me.
I haven’t thought of any use for the Research folder yet but I can imagine at least one: experimenting. That could be where I’d store my own creations but that’s another story yet to be written.

Now, with dropbox, which is a fine over the cloud storage service, I can access my recipes from anywhere with a mac and scrivener. I will also export the recipes as .pdf in order to access them without Scrivener handy. Far less efficient but still useful.

In the features I still need to add, there’s linking to recipe websites, of course but this takes time and will come in its own time.

For those of you who might want to give it a shot, here’s the template (along with the 4 first recipes). Just unzip the file and run the Installer, it will add itself to your other Scrivener’s templates magically. It’s mostly bilingual but some parts are still only in french right now but I’ll try to make a full bilingual version once I’m done with all my other writing. In the meantime, you’ll have to tweak it a bit yourself. Sorry about that.

Scrivener overview: The best crafting tool I found so far

Tim Ferriss, author of the great great great life changing book “The 4 hour workweek” twitted this morning, asking for people who knew about to give him the pros and cons of the app and compare it with Evernote. Unable to reach him fast I took the time to write a sort of really quick review of the app. Being unreachable makes it so that people will take initiatives like this one. What could have been a “Scrivener is the greatest crafting tool I’ve ever used” tweet became a 1300 words long overview of the app. that I decided to post here for all to enjoy.

I cannot recommand Scrivener too much to anyone dealing with the craft of writing.

[FrenchVersion] Pour les francophones: ceci est un aperçu de l’excellent logiciel de construction de manuscrit/projet/articles/etc. Scrivener. Je l’ai écrit suite à un tweet de Tim Ferriss, auteur de “La Semaine de Quatre Heures”, que je ne saurais trop vous recommander. En substance, Scrivener est l’outil parfait pour organiser les différentes versions d’un texte, ses éléments de recherche, prendre des notes, tout ça dans un unique document et au sein d’un logiciel doté d’une foultitude de fonctions toutes plus utiles les unes que les autres. Et tout ça pour la modique somme de 40$ (~30€).[/FrenchVersion]


@TimFerriss Hi Tim, I work with Scrivener mostly for screenwriting and boardgame reviewing. I discovered your awesome book, about a week ago. It helped me put light on the boredom I experienced even if I had reached my dream of being a pro writer and gave me the motivational boost I needed to put some longing projects into action. So for that, thank you!


First, let it be known that I’m not a user of Evernote. I only discovered it thanks to your WordPress conference, two days ago, and haven’t yet given it a thorough look.


Ok so here’s a bit of backgroung story about me and the needs I needed Scrivener to cover. It should read fast but you can jump directly to the bolded sections for a list of pros and cons.

I’ve been using Scrivener for two month now. I used it for the sake of developping a videogame universe for Ubisoft. Before I found Scrivener I used Freemind for mindmapping and Microsoft Word for text editing. But I wanted to find an alternative to MSWord since it bugged too often and was very slow. Plus I ended up with litteraly hundreds of .doc files with all my notes, drafts and research. This is something I hated and that concurred to making MSWord bug and slow down since, needing my notes, I opened half a dozen files everytime I used the app. Needless to say the stress it built plus the time it wasted were huge. Also, MSWord isn’t really good for navigating through parts of your work while you’re writing it. Let’s say I’d be writing a script. The way I work, I need to be going back and forth throughout the scenes all the time to tweak things. Or if I’m writing a novel or an essay I never do it in a linear fashion and I need to be able to add chapters, etc. easily.


I used to work on my scripts with Montage and my novels with Storymill, both by Mariner’s software and they solved most of my problems: one file for all the subdocs (research notes, but not versions) and ease of navigation through different views of the script. Part of the automation process didn’t work very well though and I spent a huge time in word manually reformatting what the app had autoformatted. Plus they’re filled with bugs that hopefully don’t affect the work but slow the process of creating down. A lot.

Then I came upon Scrivener. There’s a 30 day demo where you can use the software as much as you want and then decide if you want to buy it or not. I played with it 2 hours and decided it was the perfect tool and bought the license (which, at 40$, is really reaaaalllllly cheap). I haven’t opened Montage or Storymill ever since. I still use MSWord alternatives such as Bean or Mellel for viewing single documents and editing or TextEdit for fast typing stuff I don’t need any research or drafts for (such as to-do lists, thoughts of the day, writer’s training…). I didn’t quantify my gains with Scrivener but I’m pretty sure it at least doubled my efficiency and lessened my stress about as much as I’m just a few clicks away from any info I need and I don’t even have to change files to refer to my research or old drafts.


How I use Scrivener

I created about ten .scriv files, one for each of my writing areas even if I suspect I’ll merge some of them into one big .scriv file because I tend to open them all at once and that disctracts me. So I’ll have something like: comicbooks.scriv; blog.scriv; animation.scriv; games.scriv; moneymaking.scriv; general_research.scriv and some project specific scrivs for bigger projects such as an animated series I’m currently developping called Cave Canem that has its very own cavecanem.scriv.

I’m a fond user of folders as they tend to help me save time. So I’ll create folders and they’ll help me find the files I need faster and reorganize my work in a glitch. For example In Comicbooks.scriv, I’ll name my folders after spectific projects and subfolders after categories (characters, outline, drafts, etc.), in games.scriv, since I review games monthly, my folders are named after months. Then in every folder I can create files and folders as I see fit, reorganize them, compare them, tweak them, colorlabel them, etc.



Scriveners split view

Scrivener's split view with labelcolored pins in the Corkboard




I mostly use Scrivener to keep all my files relating to the same topic in the same place. I can then easily navigate from one to the other, edit them as soon as an idea strikes me without having to open a new file, search for the place to edit, save it and go back to the previous file. I can do all that in just a few clicks without ever losing focus on my current file.

I need to refer to research docs a lot while writing and Scrivener makes that super easy thanks to its split view.

Labels work great. You can define as many colored labels as you want and you can then color the icon of the files in your sidebar to quickly see which belongs to what category/issue/topic.

There’s a nice built-in scratch pad that you can set to stay on top of all your apps, making it easy to copy-paste stuff and send it to your Scrivener without changing windows. I wish there was a hotkey to make it popup over whatever app I’m using instead of just having it float above all the time.


My mostly used features:

– Labels

– Splitview

– Corkboard (allows you to see your project in an index card form, very useful. Labels can be reflected in that view, too)

– Scratch pad

Some features I like:

You can assign keywords to your files, which works great to search for issue related files.

In splitview, you can play videos, audiofiles and display pictures, .pdfs, or any text file while you’re typing a text. The pause/play control is only one key combination (cmd+enter). Great for quoting, transcripting, taking notes…

There’s a cool “snapshot” feature that allows you to save an image of your work before modifying it so that if you’re not happy with changes you made you can always go back to the previous version. Why is that good? You don’t keep all drafts in your way, they don’t appear as files either in your .scriv file or on your hard drive but they’re still there if you need them.


So pros:

– All your files in one

– Split view allows you to open two documents at once and navigate in them independantly

– The ease of manipulating sub files, reorganising a work, outlining a story etc.

– The color labels to easily find related files, view in one glance if your topics are balanced in your whole work, etc.

– Ease of use, intuitive design (lot’s of hotkeys to learn, though but nothing that will take more than one day of use to remember)

– Lots of options for labelling, keywording, categorizing your files and a comprehensive search engine

– Fast and reliable

– Autosaves whenever you’re idle. I never thought I’d lose the habit of cmd+Sing every thirty seconds but I did in less than a week

– Super cheap

– Great full screen mode, with scalable opacity

– Great “index card” view, with synopsis of your files, status and label. Makes it easy to overview and rearrange your draft.

– Bonus: if you want to write a screenplay, there’s a template for formatting it and it works great.



– It’ not a text editor. It’s a tool for crafting. You’ll need another app for the final appearance of your text

– .scriv files are huge and it’s next to impossible to email them

– Auto reformats by default when you “compile” your draft, making you do extra clicks to keep your set format. Not a good thing when you’re dealing with 100+ files.

– Scrivener is not made for cowriting and sharing files. Splitting work could turn out messy.


So here you go, it’s a very quick overview of the app. I hope it helps you.



Scrivener is a Mac only Application that you can download HERE