Devonthink and Scrivener?

I’ve a question for those who are using Devonthink for writing. I have read the threads over on Literature and Latte with some use examples where people suggest using Devonthink as a place to put all their research which doesn’t fit into Scrivener and then do their writing in Scrivener, but many of these folks are the same ones who seem to have another program for everything under the sun and wind up running Scrivener to shuffle about their cards on the corkboard, Pages for their own output, Word for output to everyone else, Devonthink for research, Cyndicate or NNW for their RSS, VoodooPad for their wiki, Yohimbo for their quick notes, Tinderbox for their brainstorming and Notebook for lord knows what.

I’m already awash in so many different programs that I could spend the entire day launching all of them and then I inevitably forget what bit of information is where. This method is not working for me very well and I am looking to simplify. I don’t so much understand how the folks who juggle 10 different applications which all overlap one another, manage to use all of that to accomplish anything. I start loading all that up one after the other and it feels like I’ve done a full day’s work by just going through all that, never mind trying to understand what half the programs are doing or doing more then scratching the surface of what each one offers, except for the very simple apps which look like they are somewhat pointless if you’ve got a single heavy duty one.

As there any folks here who either use Devonthink and Scrivener together in a complementary fashion, or Devonthink alone as their writing environment?

I’d love to hear some insights about how best to combine these two, or if you only stick with Devonthink how do you go about setting up your environment? It seems simple enough to set up all the functionality that Scrivener has with the exception of the corkboard. Everything else including drafts and versions looks like it could be set up in Devonthink without too much of a hassle. Am I correct in this theory or would I be better of sticking with mixing Devonthink and Scrivener together?

I appreciate any insights!



I use both DT and Scrivener. It seems to me that they are different tools with different purposes. Although DT has writing tools, Scrivener’s are a lot better (examples: Scrivener’s saving routine, its full-screen—cleverer than DT’s—its dual-pane for writing and editing), and although Scrivener can store research material, DT’s database management tools are self-evidently better than Scrivener’s. (And very large quantities of research can certainly slow Scrivener up.)

Of course DT can be used for writing—as, say, the historian Steven Berlin Johnson famously does—and, equally Scrivener can be used for storing quantities of research material, but it seems to me slightly perverse to do so. In the two roles that are central to composing long-form documents, research and writing, I’d prefer to use the right tool for the right job. Horses for courses, as the saying goes.

So, as, I suspect many people do, I store my research in DT and then drag key selected pieces into Scrivener’s research folder—the work of a moment. Scrivener’s dual-pane view then allows me to draft with the research alongside.

I do have one or two other applications for outlining—again, a different job—and in addition up till now I’ve used MacJournal for “snippet collection”. With DT’s new Sorter taking over this role, I think I’ll concentrate more on Scrivener and DT. They are two excellent tools for specific jobs and as far as I know have no exact equivalents elsewhere.


Edit: here’s a simple workflow I’ve developed for long articles, based on something Steven Berlin Johnson wrote. Obviously its usefulness depends on what you’re writing and how much research you’ve gathered:

  • gather your research in DT
  • develop your outline in Scrivener’s Draft folder, with each section a sub- folder
  • copy that outline into Scrivener’s Research folder, so each section is a sub-folder
  • drag-and-drop the relevant key pieces of research from DT into the appropriate section sub-folders in the Research folder
  • review and move around as required to ensure the outline flows
  • get writing!

I came to this post trying to answer the questions how many groups I may need or want to have in my databases. I felt like I had too many groups…but in actuality, I will not be searching my groups via visual inspection of them but through DevonThink’s search and AI features…and the more fine-grained my groupings the better the results? Anyone?

In regards to the message above regarding Steve Johnson’s book writing process. He does not actually write the book in DevonThink. But he does have the information from the chapter’s sorted:

"And the added bonus here is that Devonthink has a wonderful feature where you can take the entire contents of a folder and condense it down into a single text document. So that’s how I launch myself into the actual writing of the book. I grab the first chapter folder and export it as a single text document, open it up in my word processor, and start writing. Instead of confronting a terrifying blank page, I’m looking at a document filled with quotes: from letters, from primary sources, from scholarly papers, sometimes even my own notes. "

From: … e-a-b.html


Hugh’s workflow is very similar to mine. I would just add that DevonThink, because it can handle such large volumes of data, is a much better choice than Scrivener as a long-term data repository. I might write about a single topic area many times. If I keep the data in DevonThink, I don’t have to remember whether I last saw it in connection with Project X or Client Y.

Conversely, Scrivener’s project focus makes it a much better choice for all the bits and pieces of writing I might generate in connection with a large project. There are outlines, drafts, large chunks that might need to be moved from place to place, and so forth. Most of these have little value once the project is finished. If I kept them in DevonThink, they’d just add clutter – I’d have to wade through four or five different versions of my own work every time I searched on a relevant topic. With Scrivener, everything is neatly in a “box,” where I can ignore it unless I actually need it.

Oh, and in answer to your comment about people who have an application for every purpose, that’s not me. I’ve tried many of the applications you list, but DTP and Scrivener are the two I come back to over and over.



FYI, if you index/synchronize your Scrivener project into a DT database, you can see - though not edit - the contents of that project.

Many thanks for the replies!

Is there anybody out there who is using Devonthink itself as their writing environment? I like what Scrivener has to offer but would like it even better if I could perhaps stick with a single do everything app, which Devonthink seems to be very close to being. Taking a look at Scrivener I’m not really seeing anything there, that I couldn’t do within Devonthink itself using tags or exclude from search if I didn’t want all those instances of First Draft, Second Draft, Final Draft and whatnot to show up.

I think what I’m asking is are there any example databases for writers within Devonthink? I’m pretty sold on Devonthink itself and halfway sold on Scrivener as a complement, but not completely sure that Scrivener is really doing anything that dramatically different except providing a pre-packaged writing environment, all of which could seemingly be done with Devonthink itself. Am I wrong in this belief and doing myself a disservice by thinking along these lines?

I am clear on not wanting this whole load of additional apps, but I am getting to be very sold on Devonthink itself after giving it a whirl. What I’m unsure of at this point is whether all the extra effort of using Scrivener is worth it, since when all is said and done I still wind up having to export everything to yet another word processor for final output.

Many thanks to all who replied to me! Anybody out there using Devonthink itself for writing? The only major drawback I can see at this point is that the full screen mode of Scrivener is much slicker than Devonthink’s itself, but out of all of the programs I use, I think I like Pages current full screen mode the best.

Thank you!

1 Like

In a word, yes. Scrivener is, by a wide margin, the best writing environment available on any platform. Nothing that you can kludge together in DT will come close. (And I say this as a very happy user of DT.)

It also has a very generous trial period: 30 days of actual use. You’ll be doing yourself a severe disservice if you don’t put it through its paces.


PS On that final export step, it really depends on what your final output requirement is. For most things I do, the Scrivener-generated output is fine.

I think you need to give Scrivener a try, you may also want to take a look at Storymill or Ulysses. All of these programs (and others) have their converts who really love them and believe that each is the one correct choice for anything you want to do.

Personally I know only two people who write for a living, one uses Word, the other one writes novels in Pages and uses a filing system made up of scraps of paper, the backs of napkins and a legal pads. Both usually make the NY Times bestseller list when they release a new book, neither one has ever shown the slightest interest in using “better” writing programs.

I don’t think the application matters so much as what you do with it, though not one person has spoken up yet I’d be surprised if there weren’t people using Devonthink to write books. FWIW Steven Johnson has never said anything about Scrivener like someone up above mentioned, he did write about using Devonthink extensively and putting the results into a word processor as his starting point.

I understand the urge to simplify I have gradually gotten rid of a handful of programs and switched over to Devonthink but I don’t think anybody can give you a answer for what’s best for you, you’re going to have to try a few apps and see what suits you best.

1 Like

Wth the new template function, you can create new Documents for Word, Pages or whatever else from inside DevonThink. If you have to write letters frequently, you could simply put your typical letter template as a .doc file in ‘~/Library/Application Support/DEVONthink Pro 2/Templates.noindex’ and then just create a new file inside the database whenever you need to create a letter. If you have other recurring writing projects you could use this function as well, so you still have everything in one place. For me, using a different app for writing adds less stress than having to collect everything from bits and pieces later on.

I actually prefer to write in DT whenever it is possible, but it depends on the genre. Shorter texts and first drafts work quite well in DT, but once I need footnotes, versioning, etc., I turn to Scrivener or Word.

Besides, the necessity to change apps can actually be helpful: Writing goes in bucket one, Data is in bucket two. The process is similar to offline writing: You look into the pile of books (or note-napkins) when you need information, but you would not write into your books, but on the legal pad, for example. Different apps also help against the unfortunate tendency of DT for screen-clutter: Often I have several DT-related windows, databases and documents open at the same time; another window for writing inside that mess would drive me insane, or at least a bit distracted. The main reason is the handy little app Isolator, which drops a distraction-stopping curtain (e.g. black) in the background of every app you’re in. Thus, when I switch to the writing app, I have a full-screen writing environment, and nothing else.For the seldom cases I want to see the DT window as well, the window can be kept “afloat” . The rest is command-tabbing to and fro, and getting words off my head via keyboard.

I don’t use DT as a primary writing environment. Not that I couldn’t, just that I choose not to because of the UI. For me, it’s just not a comfortable writing environment. However, it is a superior research and data collection environment and so like many others I use it to acquire, store, and ponder the research material I later use in articles, stories and books. I write in Scrivener mostly, especially for anything other than brief business communications, because it suits the way I think and write. And, I believe writing style will be the deciding factor for a lot of people. If you write in a non linear fashion or prefer your research immediately at hand with the same program, Scrivener’s features do a brilliant job of supporting that workflow. If you write (at least non academic writing) in a straight line, i.e., point A to Z in your story arc, then it probably doesn’t matter if you use DT, Word, Pages, Mellel, Nisus et al. A word processor is a word processor; your decision probably will rest on the UI you find most attractive and accessible. For me, the flow is DTPO (research), Scrivener (writing w/pertinent research imported or linked from DTPO), and output to a word processor. As Katherine said, it would be difficult to replicate Scrivener in DTPO, but why would one try? The two programs play very well together and, in my opinion, that’s because each is tops in what it does best. FWIW.

I’m a full-time writer (30 years) and writing teacher.

I’m one of those people who use everything. :slight_smile: I wrote software reviews for computer magazines, so enjoy trying software.

These days I primarily use DTPO, Scrivener, TextMate, Word (yes… :slight_smile:), Pages (to turn Word docs into PDFs), Tinderbox…

My workflow:

  • Articles start in DTPO, in a Drafts folder. When done, they’re added to an Articles 2009 folder in DTPO;

  • Ebooks and books start in Tinderbox and DTPO (for thinking and brainstorming), then move to Scrivener, and finally to Word (so I can add screen shots and other images, then to Pages to be turned into PDFs;

  • Copywriting starts in Tinderbox, moves to DTPO and then (maybe) to Word if the client wants it;

  • For blogging (I have LOTS of sites and blogs): ideas are stored in Tinderbox. I write drafts in my Drafts folder in DTPO, then transfer to MarsEdit for final formatting, adding images, and uploading to blogs;

  • For websites: Tinderbox, DTPO, Curio, RapidWeaver (for old sites created in DreamWeaver 8 I now use Coda.)

I should add that DTPO as my primary app is a new innovation for me.

Formerly I used Scrivener, Curio, Tinderbox and EagleFiler for research and ideas, and Bento as my de facto database.

However, since I couldn’t instantly find stuff because I have so many Finder folders of ezine, ebook and article files, I started indexing relevant Finder folders in DTPO, then over the past month have made DTPO my primary app.

Going forward, I’m sure I’ll find new ways to streamline my workflow in DTPO and Tinderbox…

I use DTPO as my main research hunting and gathering program because it’s robust and flexible.

When I’m ready to start organizing material, I copy pertinent chucks and paste them into OmniOutliner, because I love having an Outliner in which to move things around, collapse and expand, etc. (I could do a version of this in DTPO, but I prefer a dedicated outliner for the ability to see as much as I want at the same time.) I sometimes even start writing in OO.

But when it’s time to seriously write, I go into Pages.

Uh? Why not either directly exporting them to PDFs (may depend on the Word version), or just going to the “Print” dialog and then selecting “PDF - Save as PDF”.
I absolutely see no reason for using another program to only convert Wordfiles into PDFs.

Care to list a few that are for public viewing?

You have my utmost respect for your having learned and become a user of Tinderbox. I tried it years ago but it was way beyond me.

I can’t comment on Scrivener (I tried it a year back, it looked nice but was not flexible enough for me. I also felt that Scrivener would not scale up for big projects). But I can tell you, what I do with DTP.

Smaller projects, especially lyrics and musical works are DTP only – but that’s not the interesting stuff where DTP plays out its true strength. My big novel project is where DTP shines although I don’t do the the actual writing in DTP but in Mellel because I need styles, cross-references and footnotes and I like Mellel’s Auto Titles feature.

So here is some of the interesting things I do in DTP:

  • Find and research things in my written text:
    I import the actual text exported from Mellel as OPML back into DTP. This is a manual step I do every few days (I wish I could script it but Mellel has no AppleScript so far). The result is a group with parts and chapter as subgroups and each scene a document. With DTP’s search tools I quickly find whatever stuff I need: Where is the scene where they first talked about something? List all scenes where two characters meet. Get all scenes where a certain character appears (very handy for rewrite when I like to check consistent behavior of secondary characters). Most of the things I could find in Mellel to, but I have to jump from hit to hit and don’t get a search list with all matches. The point is to have the whole novel broken down in scenes in DTP not as bulky long text in one document.

  • Outlining the whole stuff
    This is mainly the usual stuff you would do with any outliner: writing down POV, Place, Characters, date, time and action). Each scene is a note, grouped for each chapter/part. I stuff additional notes in there as well as draft snippets. I replicate relevant things from other places in the relevant chapter group too and I cross-link the written text.
    With the magic of Smart Searches I can easily create any sort of overview: list of all scenes at a certain location or a single POV. I can hunt down characters even across multiple story lines in the background (ever read a novel where someone appears on stage who only yesterday was a few hundred miles north and neither planes nor trains were invented jet?).
    Most of that works without bothering much about being systematic or precise in your notes. DTP will find what you need.
    Only if you need exact hits (or sort) on names and dates of a scene you need to develop a clear scheme. I use a predefined header at the top of each scene note separated by a special token from the rest of the text. Then I can search for “something” BEVOR MyToken and I am sure to get the right hit. I also use some AppleScript magic to collect the scene date and place from the header and put it in a sortable format in the URL for to sort my search results.

  • Documentation of every character, places, events, background, maps etc

  • The benefit of having all together:
    Having documentation, outline and the text in one place together gives me the option to search and cross-link everything. With wiki links I get each place and character name underlined and linked without doing anything. I see at once, when I don’t have a database item for a person. And if I am not sure whether the hair colour is right, it is a simple click on the wiki link and I am there.
    When searching I get all things with one run: what I actually wrote about a person, what I noted about him/her in the character notes, the scenes they appear, background events where he/she is involved. And I can easily jump further to his/her hometown, relations and so on.


I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to give me their insights and replied, thank you. This is a very helpful place! I have a demo of Scrivener and the program is very inexpensive, it’s not the cost of the program which is next to nothing in comparison to Devonthink Pro Office or Word it’s more trying to sort out my own workflow and the environment I want to do most of my work in.

@angela22 you make my brain hurt :wink: I have tremendous respect for being able to understand all those programs, but a honest question would be are you really using all of them or do you like launching a lot of programs because you like launching a lot of programs :wink: Using Pages to generate PDF files seems a little I don’t know, pointless? Does Pages make a PDF in some special way that every other program on the Mac doesn’t?

@Patrick Kroupa you meet the most interesting people on the DevonThink forums :slight_smile: If that’s really you, whatever are you doing here? :slight_smile:


I also have the first 4 and would love to know where I could download the other 3 :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

@Johannes thank you so much for your very detailed reply! You posted so many useful techniques to experiment with.

Also thank you Hugh, Maak and JRPars for giving me realistic examples of how I might want to work with DevonThink and Scrivener together.

I am experimenting with Scrivener and it does look very simple and set up for writing in comparison to DevonThink and I will give it a try, but I’m honestly not seeing anything that isn’t present in DevonThink itself. First draft, second draft, all of that looks like it could be made very quickly with the DevonThink tools.

Is there anywhere on this site to download a sample writer’s database? I haven’t found that, I’ve also found that most of the tutorials are for the previous version of the program?

If there’s anyone who would be willing to share a empty copy of their writing database, or even some screenshots how they set up their environment I would be most grateful. I do understand that may be a personal thing, so no problem if nobody wants to do that, but I do think that DevonThink could use a few examples of a database set up for different kinds of writing.

Thank you all so much!

Several reasons, the primary one being that I want clickable hyperlinks in my PDFs. :slight_smile:

If you use the Print dialogue you don’t get active hyperlinks…


Um yes… I really do use them all. But not all at the same time. :slight_smile:

I spend all day at the computer, and every project requires different tools at different stages.

For example, when I’m generating ideas, I use Tinderbox and Curio…

Once a project is just about complete, I use Photoshop and Curio to develop graphics. (I can search image databases via Curio.)

For blogging, I use DTPO and MarsEdit… I’ve just written a couple of blog posts, and I have seven programs open.

You use the tools you need to use to get your projects completed as quickly and as professionally as you can. With any luck, a GREAT tool makes you more creative too.

Re Pages; it creates PDFs with clickable hyperlinks. This makes the PDF much more readable for my audience, so it’s worth the extra step.

Since Pages is also a page layout program, I use it when I create lessons for e-courses, to make the lessons easier for class members to use…

Every tool I use has its place. I wish there were one do-everything program, but there isn’t one. :slight_smile:

You might want to have a look at the Scrivener tutorial. Off the top of my head, Scrivener features with no good DevonThink analog include:

  • Full screen mode
  • Corkboard
  • Outliner
  • Split window view
  • Several different kinds of writing-related metadata-- including document status, document notes, and document synopsis – all of which is readily visible
  • Better tools for document merge/split/rearrange. DT has these, but Scrivener makes it much easier to try out several potential arrangements.
  • Better tools for document output, including export to other tools
  • Project wide search/replace. Very handy when “Mike” becomes “George” in the middle of chapter 6.


1 Like

Katherine’s list is good. I’d add to it an automatic frequent-saving routine (alongside normal back-ups), and “snapshots”, a handy way of “freezing” a document before you make changes to it. Saved my bacon a good few times.