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Scrivener is an outlining and word processing app for writers. It’s especially suitable for large creative projects like a book or screenplay. It helps me organize and structure my thoughts, research, notes, and more as I gradually piece together a larger work.
I’ve been using the Mac version for many years, and I’ve been very pleased with it. It has way more features than I need, but the features that I do use work solidly. I like the flexibility of it, and the interface does a reasonable job of balancing accessibility and complexity. There’s a little bit of a learning curve at the beginning, but a good tutorial walks you through it. Afterwards with a little practice, it’s easy to settle into a more personalized way of using the software.
I create a new Scrivener doc for every large creative project. This is where I work through all aspects of a project, including the initial concept, the intended transformations, the offer, the launch, the marketing, the content, the delivery, the bonus material, and more. Every piece of the project has some representation in the associated Scrivener doc.
I have detailed Scrivener design docs for each course that we’ve published so far: Deep Abundance Integration, Submersion, and Stature. Each of those design docs would be 100 to 200 pages if I were to print them out.
Here’s an example of what my left Scrivener sidebar looks like for the Stature design doc, just to give you an idea of how I structure the outline. There’s a bit more that’s not shown as the outline continues, but this is most of it.
If I click on any of those items, it opens up the relevant part of the larger document that contains the details in a separate window pane on the right side, so it provides instant access to all the details. So it’s like each piece of the outline has its own associated text document.
Here’s an example of what the right window pane looks like, from the Overview section of the Stature course:
What I like about Scrivener is that it provides an expandable and collapsible outline structure, so I can delve into any one part of a project while hiding the other details. I can also click and drag these outline elements and move them around.
This is especially nice for jumping around a lot during the design phase, when I might get a random idea that I may wish to capture while working on some other part of the doc. Then can I click over to the appropriate section, add the idea to process and integrate later, and then return to work on the previous section. Sometimes early in a project, I’ll have a separate capture section, where I collect ideas to process later.
I don’t just use these docs to outline and create the course content. I use Scrivener to work through all of the relevant decisions for a large project. I spend a good bit of time clarifying the purpose of the project. I work through how it’s a win for the participants, a win for me, and a win for the world. I anticipate objections and decide how I’ll address them. I carefully decide what bonus content to create to provide a more well-rounded package. I go over the offer again and again, refining it till it looks really solid. I consider different pricing options.
Many weeks and often months of work go into the project before it’s ready to launch – there are just so many decisions to be made. A launch that looks smooth and simple on the front end is usually way more complex on the back end. If it looks simple, that’s because of all the careful thought that went into simplifying and improving the alignment. People don’t see all the alternative ideas that were considered, evaluated, and rejected along the way.
Some parts of the larger doc are like journal entries where I go over my reasoning for making certain decisions. Then if I ever feel doubtful about a choice later on, I can review my reasoning and see if it still seems sound or if I want to update it. This keeps me moving forward and prevents running in circles while still allowing room to make improvements to earlier ideas. It also gives me an archive where I can look back on previous decisions and see why I made them as I did, even years later. This helps me unearth my own best practices and learn from experience, especially after I’m able to assess the long-term feedback and results of a project.
As this larger document gets filled out, the overall project takes shape. It’s a lot of work to create this type of doc, but it gives me good progress visibility on how far along I am, and it ensures that I attend to every important detail. Most importantly, it helps me anticipate and address potential risks.
Risk reduction is a big reason that I invest so much in creating these design docs. There are lots of things that can go wrong with a launch, and it’s much better to anticipate potential problems early and develop plans for dealing with them. My design docs often include multiple options and contingency plans in case my original plans don’t quite work.
I probably put the most effort into designing the offer. The quality of the offer is the most sensitive part of a launch and the biggest risk in my opinion. It’s where I see many friends endure failed launches – their offer just didn’t land well with their audience. This is why I prefer to invest in co-creating the offer with my readers and especially with previous course participants. When I start seeing some interest and enthusiasm, I know the offer is becoming more solid. Much of this involves picking the right topic and the right transformations to focus on, so people can expect to gain real benefits from going through a course. It’s all about helping people move the needle forward in their lives.
I’ve found that a good way to choose topics is to focus on the relationships we all want to improve. Each course focuses on a different relationship dynamic in our lives. Deep Abundance Integration works on improving your relationship with abundance, money, and even with scarcity. Submersion seeks to improve your relationship with reality, including your relationship to past traumas and painful experiences. And Stature seeks to improve your relationship with yourself, including the relationships between different parts within you to create more synergy and reduce inner conflict and resistance. Our next course after Stature will delve into your relationship with work, especially the creativity and productivity aspects – there’s already a design doc underway for that one.
I think this level of thorough preparation is one reason that all of our course launches have gone very well, not just financially but in the deep satisfaction that people have been gaining and the happy emails about the results people have been achieving.
The launch and development of a major personal development course may look like ease and flow to some, but there really is a tremendous amount of careful thought and detailed consideration that goes into each decision, often long before the launch. Stature’s design doc, for instance, was begun in early 2018, almost two years before it actually launched. It went through several iterations before it converged to the point where it was ready to launch.
I also maintain separate Scrivener docs for Conscious Growth Club, for ongoing marketing and business strategy, and for my overall goals and plans. So I don’t only use these docs for courses and launches.
I often come up with more ideas that I can implement, so these Scrivener docs are good for capturing those “someday / maybe” ideas as well. For instance, I worked through the idea of hosting a free webinar during Stature’s launch week, but I just didn’t have time to work it in, so that had to be cut. However, by documenting the idea in the design doc, I could potentially transplant it into a future project, thereby benefitting from the work I’ve already put into this idea.
Moreover, design docs serve as a nice record of what worked and didn’t work. After a project is fully done, I conduct a postmortem to review what worked, what didn’t work, and what could be improved for next time. Then for future projects, I can keep doing more of what worked (without forgetting) and do less of what didn’t work.
I like to incorporate at least one new idea into each project, and then if it works well enough, I can continue doing it for future projects. It takes a lot of time and energy to develop and implement a new idea, but it takes a lot less effort to repeat the implementation of a good idea that worked before. For Stature, for instance, the new idea was to invite people to connect in a launch Facebook group. It worked well enough that I decided to keep the group open even after the launch finished in mid-January. People who are going through the course are still actively sharing their progress and realizations in the group. I wouldn’t say the group is super active, and a lot of my readers don’t like Facebook, but it was relatively easy to implement, and it provides a nice extra channel to interact with some of the people going through the course.
Each time I develop a new course, I begin with the previous project’s template, and then I can refine it from there. So this gives me an evolving skeleton template to carry over from one project to the next. Just carrying over the structure of the previous project helps to capture the wisdom accumulated thus far, and it makes egregious mistakes less likely.
Perhaps the main benefit of these design docs is that they help me focus. A course and its launch have so many pieces that I can’t keep all of the details in my mind. So I use Scrivener for my go-to capture and design system. This frees my mind to let go of the pieces that I know are already recorded, so I can focus on considering options, making decisions, and moving the project forward instead of being worried that I might forget something important.
Even though these projects are a lot of work, I really do enjoy the creative process. I like Scrivener’s nice touches like how it provides a choice of icons for different sections of a project, so it looks more visually appealing. Dark mode looks nice as well. When I find an app appealing, it reduces friction and makes it easier for me to want to engage with it.