OmniOutliner and Scrivener

I write just about everything longer than two pages in Scrivener.  It's stability, powerful "compiler", and organizational structure makes writing longer pieces of literature a real pleasure. Additionally, as mentioned previously, I can focus on content rather than formatting.

But before I get to the actual writing stage, I really like to organize my thoughts in broad terms. In the old days, I used to make index cards that carried different themes, and then arrange them on my desk until I was happy with the flow of my work. As long as no one sneezed around my desk, it worked o.k.

Nowadays, I work on the organization of a project in OmniOutliner before I ever open Scrivener. In fact, if I am planning to write anything (again, more than a couple of pages), my first step is to go to OmniOutliner. The workflow I'll illustrate below exports an OmniOutliner outline in OPML format, and then imports the OPML file into Scrivener. This workflow has become so useful and effective, I can't imagine writing without it.


As I work through and organize my ideas in OmniOutliner, I find that I am clearly able to see the flow of the writing. I am also able to edit the headings of a work so that they are consistent in grammar and voice. 

One of the key advantages to using OmniOutliner is the ability to collapse subordinate information to see the larger flow of the writing. I find this very useful when I want to reorganize the work for better argumentation.

Once the outline is complete, it is ready for export. Choose File: Export and give the work a title. On "File Format:", choose "OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language). Scrivener will read this OPML file with ease.


The file is now ready to import into Scrivener. Open a new Project in Scrivener, and choose File: Import: Files.

Select the OPML file that you exported in OmniOutliner, and click "Import"

Now look at the Scrivener project - the entire outline has been drafted into Scrivener, and has the parent-child relationships you established in the outline...

If you are a fan of Scrivener, and you have OmniOutliner, I highly recommend this workflow for writing. There are some key advantages that I find are confirmed every time I use it.

  • Moving these sections around in OmniOutliner is MUCH easier and faster
  • Editing the names of the sections takes a lot more time in Scrivener
  • The speed and ease of use in OmniOutliner proves effective in editing the sections for grammar, voice, consistency, and agreement.

Additional OPML Note

David Sparks has commented on the Mac Power Users podcast that he uses mind-mapping software to organize his ideas. The OPML format is useful for folks who use mind-maps as well - they can be exported into OmniOutliner, and then to Scrivener. One could also export directly from a visual-map to Scrivener, though I really like to see the flow of my plan sequentially, since the final product will be linear.  

Image Credits: OmniOutliner Image -; Scrivener Image -; Happy Face -

Posted on May 25, 2015 and filed under Writing, General.