Of Draft (draftin.com), Scrivener, and Beeminder — or, Nerdly Editing Tools?

Screenshot 2016-02-28 12.34.02Draft is an online document processor, a web app with the stated goal of doing for writers — at least — what code version control does for developers. I haven’t yet used their paid services, nor their collaborative features; this review is of Draft as a document editor only.

Draft uses Markdown, and saves plain text files on its own servers. Rather than list its extensive feature set, I’ll let you read Draft’s documentation. I am most interested in its ability to sync to Dropbox and its ability to interface with Beeminder. As always, my primary interest is “How can I use this to expand Scrivener?” In this case, it’s secondarily, “How can I use this to manage my productivity in Beeminder?” As a result, my perspective on Draft is — how does it compare to using a plain text or Markdown editor on iOS, with Scrivener’s External Folder Sync function?

My baseline comparison is Editorial, my preferred iOS Markdown editor. I like Editorial for its fast sync to Dropbox, its ability to sync to multiple folders without my having to manually intervene, its ability to edit offline, its ability to sort a file list the way I want it sorted, and its simple interface.

Draft doesn’t show up too badly, here. I can edit offline (Draft only saves the fifty most recently edited files for offline editing, but that’s not a very restrictive limitation) and iOS browsers seem to handle most of Draft’s interface just fine. The only thing I really need to do from a desktop is to be certain that I’ve uploaded all the files I’m going to want for the present to Draft, as the upload interface won’t handle a long file list properly on iOS. I was a little put off by the lack of file sorting options at Draft’s root level, but all I need do is import my files into a Draft folder, and I have sorting options available. Editing and typing work just fine from either Safari or the ICab Mobile browser.

The one thing that spoils Draft for me as a tool to, well, create a draft, is that its Dropbox sync is one-way only. Once you import a file into Draft, the software assumes that you’re only ever going to edit it on Draft again — that you won’t make any changes with, say, Editorial, or Scrivener, or any other tool except Draft. So, while my Draft edits sync back to Scrivener just fine, my Scrivener changes do NOT sync back to Draft automatically. I need to re-upload to Draft documents within a Scrivener project that I’ve edited with Scrivener since I uploaded them to Draft the first time.

Bummer. That pretty much ended my interest in Draft as a primary writing tool. Even the fact that my word count in Beeminder would be automatically updated couldn’t get me past that one.

But hold the phone — now I’m entering editing phase. Presumably, the time for writing large blocks of prose is past, and the time to tweak, to add a few words, delete a few, change a few, is here. Draft begins to be more interesting — because it can measure my editing productivity.

When Draft interacts with Beeminder, it sends the total of words deleted PLUS the total of words added for the day. For you math freaks, it works with the absolute values rather than try to net the number of words written. It reports, instead, the number of words changed — a much more useful metric for editing. Now, Draft’s other services — automatic simplification, copy editing, collaboration — start to become more interesting. And it still works just fine as a tool to add a new document to my Scrivener project, just as Editorial did.

At this point, I’m testing Draft to see if it will become my tool of choice for editing. I’ve marked things in my Scrivener project as “In Edit” status, and I will treat those as locked in Scrivener. I may modify the file names so I’ll see that they’re in edit in Editorial and not edit them there, either. I’ll have to update my structure documents in iThoughts (a detail I’ve neglected in trying to get a draft out) but that’s all to the good; it’s about time I updated that stuff, especially character and setting notes.

Cool. This should be interesting.


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