i(Pad)OS Handwriting Update: Apple Scribble #amwriting

Illustration of using Apple Scribble
Apple Scribble works on iPads compatible with Apple Pencil

It’s been a while since I reviewed the state of i(Pad)OS handwriting. Part of the reason for my recent purchase of an Adonit Note+ was just so as I could check out Apple’s new iPad handwriting input, Scribble.

Apple Scribble

I’m a big handwriting input fan. I wanted to like Scribble. I really, really did. I tested it with Scrivener and Ulysses, as well as Bear, Pages, Word, Notes, and Google Docs.

Folks, it is not ready for prime time.

Scribble’s fine for short text messages, data entry fields, and the like—text fields that don’t wrap. At least it’s no worse than hasty keyboarding. I’ve seen posts on the Scrivener forum that suggest it’s useful in pure editing mode. People find its ability to select by circling text a big help, and if you’re only substituting one word for another its quirks aren’t as challenging. But attempting to write a paragraph longer than one line drove me to screaming frustration, then back to WritePad in short order.

Scribble recognises handwriting well. It also recognises fast—too fast, and I can’t slow it down. So then I have a stray mark that may or may not be a letter, and may or may not be the beginning of a word I was trying to write. Convincing Scribble to erase any stray mark I accidentally make is an exercise in futility. I can’t erase a single letter, only an entire word. Undo in that case undoes too much—all the text I’d written since I started Scribbling. I can pop up the Scribble keyboard, but I find that I need it so often I just need to leave it open. If I’m going to do that why not just use a handwriting keyboard to begin with?

In order to use Scribble inside text that wraps, you need to have really tiny handwriting that will fit inside a normal line of text. If you stray, your writing will “scratch” over text you’ve already written in the previous line or the next, erasing it. I used the Undo button so much just trying it that I did more undoing than writing. Other possible solutions are zooming (not possible in Ulysses), enlarging the text, or triple-spacing lines, but the last two I’d need to revert later when I switched back to typing.

I could restrict myself to only adding text to the end of a document—but even that didn’t work for me. There was never enough space at the bottom for me to write without deleting, not even in Scrivener or Ulysses with typewriter mode turned on. (Yes, I have big handwriting. I don’t know how other people write so small as to be able to fit their signatures on the tiny spaces available on most forms.)


While Scribble is fine for short text messages and data entry in online forms, I still recommend handwriting keyboard apps for significant text entry in editing and word processing apps. The keyboards avoid the space available problem simply by providing a dedicated data entry area. An added benefit is that they’re also usable on iPhone.

If you’re one of the folks who prefers to use a note-taking app, then copy-and-paste large batches of recognised handwriting, you can give Scribble a try, but I suspect you’ll prefer your current method of working.

My recommended handwriting keyboards, in order of my personal preference:

  1. WritePad I (iPad) / Penquills (iPhone): Each takes time to set up to recognise your handwriting well, but I find the ability to remove mis-recognitions and typos before committing text to document to be a plus. (I prefer the “continuous handwriting” setup, in which I write over my previously recognised text to commit it to the document and start a new recognition, to the “recognition delay” setup, which is more like Scribble: The text is recognised and committed automatically after a configurable delay.)
  2. Selvy PenScript: The current handwriting keyboard most like the late lamented “MyScript Stylus”. It’s my favourite of the “automatic entry” handwriting keyboards (i.e., your handwriting is recognised and automatically committed to the document after a brief delay, like Scribble, WritePad/Penquills with recognition delay enabled, and MyScript Stylus). The recognition delay is configurable (I prefer a slightly longer delay) and alternate recognitions are provided so you can correct mis-recognitions immediately with a single tap.
  3. Mazec: It recognises English handwriting. However, it neither automatically commits your handwriting after delay (Scribble, Selvy PenScript) nor does it permit continuous writing by writing over the previously recognised text (WritePad, Penquills). No, you have to tap Enter after every recognition. It also recognises far fewer languages than either of the other two options. I suggest trying it only if neither of the first two options suits.

Adonit Note+ Stylus Review #amwriting

Adonit Note+ Stylus image

I finally gave in and bought an “Apple Pencil compatible” stylus, the Adonit Note+. Why this and not a genuine Apple Pencil 1st Generation for my iPad 6th Generation?

  • I’ve been using Adonit products for years now. I’ve chosen graphic and notetaking apps based on their compatibility with Adonit’s pressure sensitivity and programmable function buttons. Why give up that capability?
  • I finally saw a video review of the Note+ that made clear the fact that the Adonit really can work exactly like an Apple Pencil so far as basic drawing and tilt are concerned. This opens new apps to me for Pencil-based handwriting and drawing.
  • I already have accessories (like clips) for Adonit products.
  • The Note+ (USD $69.99) is already less expensive than the Apple Pencil (USD $99-129). Adonit’s Black Friday special made the price irresistible.
  • The Note+ is compatible with any iPad that will use either a Gen 1 or Gen 2 Apple Pencil. If I were to someday switch to an iPad Pro, the Note+ will make the jump with me.

So, how does it perform?

Apple Pencil compatibility: I’ve tried Apple Pencils in the Apple Store. I can’t detect any difference in performance between the Apple Pencil and the Adonit Note+. Both have lag-free response. Both detect stylus tilt & respond identically. The Adonit uses its own Bluetooth-connected pressure sensitivity as opposed to Pencil’s method, but my apps already interface with it.

The major difference I can see is in charging method. The 1st gen Apple Pencil charges off the iPad’s Lightning connector, and the 2nd gen off a magnetic charger on the iPad itself. The Adonit Note+ uses a USB-c charging cable. I’ve never had a problem with an Adonit stylus running out of change during the day no matter how much I use it, so I see this as a non-issue.

I concede that possibly if you’re in meetings or classes all day taking handwritten notes, this might be a problem. But at a minimum of $20 savings over an Apple Pencil, you can afford a cheap external battery charger. If Adonit’s claim of 1 hour of use for a 4 minute charge is close to accurate, you won’t need anything very powerful.

Adonit Pressure Sensitivity: Some Adonit-capable apps (example: Tayasui’s Sketches Pro) force use of Apple Pencil features instead of Adonit features with the Note+. Of those that support the Note+, I found that connection was a bit tricky (Hint: tap the pointwards function button just before you press on the connection circle.) But yes, in general Adonit pressure sensitivity and function buttons work just as I expect in Adonit-capable apps. Here’s a current list: Adonit Recommended Apps.

Recommendations: If you just want an Apple Pencil replacement and don’t use pressure sensitivity or tilt, I’d suggest the Adonit Note. At USD $49.99, it’s half the price of an Apple Pencil 1st generation, and should serve just as well. It you already have an investment in apps that support Adonit pressure sensitivity, the Note+ should get you the Apple Pencil compatibility for line drawing and tilt in addition to your current capabilities—but be sure to check Adonit’s current app list.

2020 NaNoWriMo Post-mortem #amwriting #nanowrimo

12,050 words.

It’s better than last year.

I was affected by the Great October 2020 Evernote Disaster. The rollout of Mac Scrivener 3.2 (which quickly became 3.2.1, and the numbers are still spinning) didn’t help. To top it off, my poor Macbook Air 11 is in intensive care (surgery for its failed battery is scheduled at an Apple Genius Bar next week.)

Nonetheless I managed to chug through 5 chapters. Onward!

Nimbus Note v. Evernote: The Review #amwriting

Nimbus Notes logo

Evernote Logo


Nimbus Note is a serious competitor to Evernote, particularly the latest (as of 21 November 2020) versions of Evernote’s clients. It is faster, and has 90-95% of Evernote’s feature set available. However, it does not possess nearly as many integrations as Evernote, neither to web apps nor to Mac/iOS apps. If a stand-alone note database works for you, Nimbus may be your Evernote replacement. If you depend heavily on Evernote’s many integrations, however, you may need to search further.

Feature Comparison between Nimbus Notes and Evernote:

(Reference: Nimbus v. Evernote Comparison on the Nimbus website, as well as Compare Plans, from the Evernote site. I’ve left off business plans and free plans—the free plans are closely comparable, save Nimbus has no device limits, preferring to limit the total number of notes in its free plan. So this table compares individual paid plans—apples to apples, as it were.)

Executive Summary: Nimbus has clearly built its feature set around competing with Evernote. Its table has an exhaustive list of tiny features which it has but Evernote does not, but unaccountably misses some features Evernote has that it lacks. (I’ve dropped a vast number of lines from the table that simply said Evernote-Y, Nimbus-Y.) Here are the high points:

  • Nimbus doesn’t support handwriting indexing. This is a bummer for me, but Evernote’s handwriting indexing is hardly of any use if I can’t use Evernote.
  • Nimbus does not yet support PDF annotation. Of course, that’s why you have Evernote Skitch…
  • Nimbus has more restrictive upload/traffic limits than Evernote, but then it’s also cheaper.
  • Nimbus has more table support than Evernote, and table-based database capabilities which Evernote lacks.
  • Nimbus “folders” are equivalent to Evernote “notebooks.” Nimbus can nest folders, but Evernote can’t nest notebooks.
  • If you want to share a thing that was a notebook in Evernote without sharing your entire database, you’ll have to put it into a separate workspace in Nimbus.
  • “Nimbus Capture” is a browser-based technology. At least on Mac, the equivalent is “Evernote Helper” which is accessed via the menu bar. Evernote Helper is easier to access, but is more limited in what it can capture.
  • Nimbus can embed video in a note, which Evernote can do only by attachment.
  • In general, even at the individual paid level, Nimbus is more oriented towards collaboration than Evernote. Collaboration features that in Evernote are reserved to Business accounts are available in the Nimbus Pro Plan.
  • The editor differences boil down to “Nimbus has block editing and Evernote doesn’t.” This is no longer true with the new Evernote clients, but since those clients are unusable as of this writing, who cares?
  • I find the web clipper browser extensions comparable, despite Nimbus’s bragging about how theirs are better.
  • The “Sharing and Security” differences add up to some of those collaboration features I mentioned above.
  • Nimbus’s table to the contrary, Evernote has many key integrations in the Apple and Web universes that Nimbus simply lacks.
  • Nimbus supports several education privacy compliance standards that Evernote evidently does not.
Nimbus Note v. Evernote Features Table
Premium Plan (Evernote) Pro Plan (Nimbus)
Monthly Pricing (USD) $7.99 $4.99
Annual Pricing (USD) $69.96 $24.99
General Features
Team Members (Including Owner) Unlimited Up to 5
Total Notes You Can Store Unlimited Unlimited
Monthly Upload/Traffic Size 10GB (upload) 5GB (traffic)
Total Workspaces 1 Only in business version 5
Support Access 2 Email and Live Chat Priority Support
Note Taking and Complementary Products
Image Capture 3 Y Y (Nimbus Capture)
Video Capture N Y (Nimbus Capture)
Screenshots Y Y (Nimbus Capture)
Screen Recording N Y (Nimbus Capture)
Folder and Subfolder Hierarchies Only folders Y (Unlimited Nesting Levels)
Workspaces N Y
Color Coding N Y
Commenting N Y
Spreadsheets N Y
Databases N Y
Password Protected Public Sharing N Y
Note Editor Capabilities
Outliner / Table Of Contents N Y
Insert Quotes N Y
Convert Table Into A Simple Database N Y
Insert Date and Date Edit (Calendar) N Y
Insert Date Reminders In A Note N Y
Tables and Database Features
Create Rows and Columns Y Y
Duplicate Tables N Y
Duplicate Columns N Y
Hide/Show Row Numbers N Y
Set Column Names N Y
Sort Columns N Y
Insert Dates And Edit (Calendar) N Y
Insert Ratings N Y
Web Clipper Capabilities
Clip Page Fragments N Y
Clip Images Only N Y
Save Yahoo Emails N Y
Edit Clipped Content Before Sending To Note-Taking Service N Y
Create Tasks N Y
One-Click Page Saving N Y
Sharing and Security
Access Permissions N Y
Sharing Permissions N Y
Editing Permissions N Y
Real-Time Editing N Y
Real-Time Collaboration N Y
Server Backup and Restore N Y
Education Compliance
FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) N Y
COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection) N Y
CSPC (California’s Student Privacy Certified) N Y
iKeepSafe (Privacy Compliance Organization) N Y
i(Pad)OS Shortcuts app Y N
i(Pad)OS Widget 4 Y N
WatchOS App Y N
Zapier.com Y N
iOS URL scheme Y N
Many iOS, PC, Mac, Android, and Web apps including but not limited to Noteshelf, Daily Notes, and Spark Mail. See the Evernote App Center for a somewhat complete list. Y N
Google Drive 5 Y Y (Embed)
YouTube Y Y (Embed)
Vimeo N Y (Embed)
Github N Y (Embed)
Google Map N Y (Embed)
Typeform N Y (Embed)
Figma N Y (Embed)
Twitter N Y (Embed)
Invision N Y (Embed)
Other Features
Live Chat Y N
PDF Annotation Y N
Screen-to-Text Recognition (OCR) 6 Y Y
Document Search and Image Recognition Search for text inside images, PDFs, and Documents

  1. Individual Evernote doesn’t need workspaces, because you can share a folder with someone else. The smallest thing you can share in Nimbus is a workspace. 
  2. I can’t see the difference between Evernote’s “Email and Live Chat” and Nimbus’s “Priority Support”. On the other hand, Nimbus’s support is astonishingly prompt. 
  3. Nimbus Capture is browser based. 
  4. Okay, Evernote lost its widgets and Watch app with the update. But if you haven’t updated, these features are still in Evernote. They might return to the new clients! And Nisus doesn’t have them at all. 
  5. Nimbus will embed a lot of file types that Evernote will add as note attachments. 
  6. Nisus doesn’t support handwriting recognition and indexing, which Evernote does. 

The Results Are In: Bear Wins the Evernote Replacement Race #amwriting

Bear app logo
The winner—Bear!

I wrote about considering Nimbus Note as an Evernote (EN) replacement in my last post, and you’ll get the detailed review I promised in my next post. I gave it a thorough trial, but I didn’t neglect to test other possibilities. I tested Ulysses, OneNote, and Bear as well. Somewhat to my own surprise, I’ve settled on Bear.

As an ADHD non-student adult, I have some different needs for a notes app.

  • My primary need in a notes app is not writing-related. As long as typing doesn’t suck, I’m fine. But everything—everything—goes into my notes. Research. Project planning. Grocery lists. I take photos. I scan documents. I clip from the web. I use Siri dictation. I handwrite and scan the images. I seldom actually type a note. In short, I need a lot of different ways to get information in, plus fast, legible retrieval.
  • I’m poor at categorising. I use big obvious buckets—”Recipes” “Writing” “Everything else”—yet sometimes I still miscategorise (I found a chapter outline in my Recipes folder yesterday.) Search needs to “just find it,” fast, no matter where I put it.
  • I have vast amounts of data—2,200 notes and counting, a total of about 2.5 Gb.
  • I need it all the time.

With these priorities in mind, here’s how the candidates stacked up:

  • Nimbus Notes: Web, Mac, PC, Android, iOS. This is the one I ought to have liked best, based on my research prior to testing. Its editor is not bad for a block editor. And it was fast (or faster than EN is now—a pretty low bar). Its price point was apparently lower than Evernote. Nonetheless,
    1. Its pricing is based on total traffic rather than simply on upload traffic. With 2.5 Gb data and three devices to sync, I blew through 5 Gb of traffic fast.
    2. Several of my transferred notes clipped from Wikipedia were illegible, with images overlapping text. I don’t have time to pretty it up just so as to read my research.
    3. Getting stuff into Nimbus Notes was a pain. Its client apps are just not well-integrated into either the Apple universe or the Web app universe. I could have dealt with one, but not both.
  • OneNote: Web, Mac, PC, Android, iOS, and probably others. I gave it a go. It does have handwriting indexing, after all.
    1. It connects well, but only to the Microsoft universe. I visit Microsoft Universe as little as I can.
    2. OMG, its editor sucks! You tap or click accidentally in the middle of the page, and you start typing right there. This is the crap I left Microsoft Word about. Not an editor for someone who prefers Markdown.
    3. Complex Web clippings were also not legible.
    4. It’s very hierarchical. My system of big buckets with minimal differentiation would be hard to implement there.
  • Ulysses: Mac, iOS. I already pay for a subscription, and it’s often mentioned in note apps lists. It will use Dropbox, to which I also subscribe. I love its writing environment. But…
    1. Ulysses is very writing-focused. Getting anything other than writing into it is a pain.
    2. It’s pretty darn hierarchical, for all its tag system.
    3. It’s less well connected to the Apple universe than you’d think. In particular, it has no Shortcuts actions pre-supplied.

Bear (Mac, iOS):

I didn’t want to like it because it uses iCloud sync, which I despise. Yes, I’m an Apple customer and was an Apple developer off and on for 25 years and I loathe iCloud. There, I said it. Not sorry.

  • Yet, Bear uses a real database back-end. Wow! The Bear folks don’t try to roll their own. Further, they don’t try to hide their technology from the Unwashed Masses. Already I’m impressed.
  • Its editor… is nicer in some ways than Ulysses’ editor, mostly because it sticks closer to Markdown. It could be a bit more flexible about colour and font, but overall a B+.
  • All my old notes are perfectly legible (even though tables I use a lot will get some cleanup.)
  • Its tag system is more flexible and less hierarchical than even Evernote’s.
  • Retrieval is fast and accurate. It slows down some on my iPhone, but that’s understandable with 3 Gb of data to troll through.
  • It’s well connected to the Apple universe. I’ve had no problem getting stuff in.

Is Bear perfect for me? No. Nothing’s perfect. Old Working Evernote would be closer (because I’ve spent 7 years leveraging it) but I’m not likely to get it. Given that, Here’s my Bear wish list:

  • An alternate cloud service, either their own or Dropbox. Probably not practical, but if iCloud stops working (as it did last year for a few weeks when Catalina was released) there’s nothing the folks at Bear can do about it except try to keep the customers calm and wait for Apple to… uh, stop being distracted and fix it.
  • Search inside images and PDFs.
  • Index handwriting.
  • iOS search inside notes. My web clippings are often l-o-n-g. Mac Bear does this already.
  • Connection to web automation services like IFTTT and Zapier.
  • Just a smidgen of collaboration. The ability to share a single tag with one other person would do.

But overall, I’m happy with my choice.

A Rant About Block Editors: WordPress, Evernote, Nimbus Note, et.al. #amwriting

What is this obsession with block editors recently?

Everybody and their sibling is rolling out a block editor with great fanfare. They slice, they dice, they make julienne fries…

They deny the concept of plain text, nor do they use OS-level rich text support, so they’re slow. (Nimbus Note concedes the possibility of plain text, but puts it in a code block. Seriously.) They purport to be rich text but severely limit the options of rich text, which doesn’t seem to make them any faster. You can move blocks around by dragging, which… what? Saves you the step of selecting before dragging? And like any modern rich text system I’m familiar with, the formatting codes (Which are there behind the scenes. Believe me.) are hidden, making it difficult to control what formatting I want to use.

I’m sorry. Give me Markdown in whatever flavour instead.

The Great October 2020 Evernote Disaster, or Nimbus Notes Ascendant #amwriting

If you haven’t upgraded your Evernote apps lately, for the love of anything you hold sacred, don’t.

Evernote Logo
Don’t update this!

Evernote did it again.

What did they do—again? They completely re-wrote an app that was working fine and made it unusable, while losing features.

When did they do it before? Their handwriting note app, Penultimate, was re-written in 2014, rendering it almost unusable and losing some functionality permanently.

… And what have they done now? In October, they released completely rewritten versions of their primary Evernote client app for every supported platform (see Unlocking Evernote’s Future.)

iOS is unusable. It takes 20 minutes to display a (large) plain-text note. Mac is unusable. I can’t select more than 50 notes at a time (I have a database of 2200+ notes. No more than 50? Really?) The iOS version no longer has a widget. The iOS version also lost its Watch app. (Full disclosure: I don’t own an Apple Watch. But if I did, I’d be furious.)

If the history of Penultimate is any guide, the apps will actually be usable by about April 2021. But it may take longer. I can’t do without my writing research, my personal notes, my brain that long. And some functionality may never return.

Nimbus Notes logo
Consider switching to this (or anything besides Evernote, really.)

So I’m moving on. Enter Nimbus Notes. It’s fast. It has many of (old) Evernote’s features. It’s half the annual subscription price. It can import notes from Evernote, if you export them in .enex format.

The problem is that exporting Evernote notes in .enex format only happens in the Mac/PC Evernote apps. And at 50 notes at a time, exporting would take forever (see above.)

So I uninstalled the New Broken Mac Evernote, and went back through my Time Machine backups (you do use Time Machine on your Mac, don’t you?) and restored Old Working Mac Evernote. I’ve exported my notes, and will be building my Nimbus Notes database today. Expect a Nimbus Notes review soon.

Edit Mac Scrivener 3 With iOS Ulysses, Part 5: Aeon Timeline—Scrivener—Ulysses Workflow #amwriting

Scrivener and Ulysses CAN get along

Articles in this series:

Part 5: Aeon Timeline—Scrivener—Ulysses Workflow


In Part 1 of this series, I talked about changing your Scrivener habits in order to edit with Ulysses, eventually. In Part 2, I talked about changing your existing project so that it compiles with the Scrivener “Convert MultiMarkdown to Rich Text” (MMD→Rich Text) compile option ON, and so that it syncs as smoothly as possible with Ulysses. In Part 3, I discussed setting up sync between Ulysses and Scrivener on either Dropbox or iCloud Drive, and best practices going forward. In Part 4, I discussed some simple methods to refer to your Scrivener metadata (or outline) while working in iOS Ulysses.

If you’re new to my articles on how to edit Scrivener projects with Ulysses, please review “Is this workflow for you?” in Part 1. I strongly recommend you make the changes to your existing Scrivener project that I suggested in Part 2 and set up sync as in Part 3 before proceeding.

Workflow with Aeon Timeline

An Aeon Timeline (AT) timeline that’s synced with your Scrivener project already has much of your Scrivener metadata in it. Further, you can both view and edit that metadata on your iOS device by opening your timeline in iOS Aeon Timeline (or on iPads, by putting AT in a split-screen with Ulysses or in a slide-over panel.) You’ll need to have AT installed on both your Mac and on iOS for this to work.

I don’t recommend this workflow if you don’t want to use AT for, well, a timeline. In order to sync your Mac Scrivener project with AT, you’ll need to actually build a timeline with at least relative dates for your texts (called events in AT). It’s a lot of effort if you don’t want to work with a timeline. In that case, you’ll be ahead by compiling your metadata to an outline document, as I described in Part 4. Besides, while AT is not expensive software (as such things go) it’s not free either, and you’ll need to buy both Mac and iOS licences for it.

So let’s assume that you already use AT and have a timeline for your Scrivener project set up and syncing. You are syncing title, synopsis, label, status, keywords, and timeline-specific custom metadata (start date, end date, location, and arc.) The only Scrivener metadata that’s in your project and not in your timeline are your Inspector document notes and maybe non-timeline custom metadata.1 How do you integrate your AT timeline with your Mac Scrivener—iOS Ulysses workflow?

The key to understanding this workflow is that AT syncing happens on the Mac. You can’t sync your Scrivener project with your AT timeline on iOS, even if you have both iOS Scrivener and iOS AT installed. The only way to get your changes from iOS AT into your Scrivener project (or vice-versa) is to open your timeline in Mac AT and sync with your Mac Scrivener project.

  1. Be sure your AT timeline is available on iOS. If you’ve always used your timeline only on Mac, you’ll want to move it to a cloud service folder—your Dropbox folder, your iCloud drive, Google Drive—that you can access with the Files app on iOS.
  2. Sync your project with your AT timeline. This happens on Mac, and your Scrivener project must be closed before you can sync it with your AT timeline. This is not a problem since you want your External Folder Sync to happen before you move to iOS anyway. Close your Scrivener project, which will execute External File Sync, then sync your project with your AT timeline as normal.
  3. On iOS, open your timeline in iOS AT. Open Ulysses and start working on your draft. When you need to refer to your metadata (outline), switch to AT, or put AT in a split screen with Ulysses. If you want to edit your outline, go ahead and edit the metadata in iOS AT. You don’t need to do anything special to make your changes available on Mac. You can work on your timeline too, if you want.
  4. When you return to your Mac, sync the changes to your AT timeline with Scrivener project before you open your project in Scrivener. AT will write the changed metadata back to your project.
  5. Finally, open your project in Mac. Your metadata changes are already in place. External File Sync will run, incorporating your changes from Ulysses.

That’s it! There’s no chance of sync conflicts between Ulysses and AT—Ulysses can only edit main text, it can’t change metadata. AT can’t edit main text, it can only affect metadata.


  1. If you still want to refer to those document notes as a compiled outline, as in Part 4, just modify your compile section layout to only include your title and your document notes. If you have custom metadata that’s not timeline data, you could include metadata if you like. What you won’t want is your synopsis—that’s in your AT timeline. 

Edit Mac Scrivener 3 With iOS Ulysses, Part 4: Dealing With Scrivener Metadata #amwriting

Scrivener and Ulysses CAN get along

Articles in this series:

Part 4: Dealing with Scrivener Metadata


In Part 1 of this series, I talked about changing your Scrivener habits in order to edit with Ulysses, eventually. In Part 2, I talked about changing your existing project so that it compiles with the Scrivener “Convert MultiMarkdown to Rich Text” (MMD→Rich Text) compile option ON, and so that it syncs as smoothly as possible with Ulysses. In Part 3, I discussed setting up sync between Ulysses and Scrivener on either Dropbox or iCloud Drive, and best practices going forward.

If you’re new to my articles on how to edit Scrivener projects with Ulysses, please review “Is this workflow for you?” in Part 1. I strongly recommend you make the changes to your existing Scrivener project that I suggested in Part 2 and set up sync as in Part 3 before proceeding.

If you need a review of Markdown, and of MultiMarkdown tables, you can find them here:

What is Scrivener Metadata?

For this series, I’m assuming that you’re using Mac Scrivener to organise your work: You use the Corkboard, the Outliner, collections, keywords, labels, and and so forth to give you information about your project.

Metadata is defined as “data about data”; in this case, I’m referring to data both about each document, and about your project. Each document in Scrivener potentially has these metadata items:

  • A title
  • Created and modified dates
  • A label
  • A status
  • One or more keywords
  • A synopsis (plain text)
  • A corkboard image
  • An Inspector document note (rich text)
  • A section type
  • An “Include in Compile” flag
  • Document Bookmarks
  • Custom metadata

In addition, the entire project has:

  • Project Bookmarks (which refer to in-project notes as well as external references.)

As of this writing, even iOS Scrivener can access and edit only a subset of these:

  • Title
  • Label
  • Status
  • Synopsis (plain text)
  • Corkboard image
  • Inspector document note (rich text)
  • “Include in Compile” flag

So far, we’ve managed, in Part 3, to transfer the project notes to Ulysses (any text in the project that isn’t part of your draft.) Let’s see about the others.

Referring to Your Outline

You can do better than iOS Scrivener does here, as long as you don’t need to edit your outline on iOS. (But we’re assuming that you want to organise in Mac Scrivener, so this should work fine.)

For our purposes, the “outline” means most of the metadata you can view in your Mac outliner view (title, synopsis, label, status, keywords, custom metadata) plus your Inspector document notes. Sorry, but corkboard images, section type, document bookmarks, and the “Include in Compile” flag won’t make it over. To begin:

  1. Use File→Compile… The compile dialog will open. Illustration of outline compile setup
  2. Set up a compile of your entire draft. If you don’t want some of your Draft outlined (for example, I outline only to the Chapter level, not to individual scenes), set up a collection that contains only your outline documents and filter your draft to include them only.
  3. Pick a format from the Compile for: list. I’d suggest either Multimarkdown (poorer formatting but you can view the outline directly in Ulysses) or PDF (better formatting for document notes, but you must view it split-screen (iPad) or separately (iPhone) in your favourite iOS PDF app.)
  4. Select your compile format (Markdown Outline for Multimarkdown, Full Indented Outline for PDF.)
  5. Assign your Section Layouts. Choose the same “outline item” layout for all your section types. (e.g., all Decimal Outline Item or all Bulleted Outline Item, or some other item type depending on what’s offered in the compile format you picked.)

If we only wanted titles and synopses, we’d be done and could compile now. But to include the rest of our metadata, we must edit the section layout we picked.

  1. Click on the pencil icon in the preview of the section layout.
  2. Click “Duplicate and Edit Format” in the alert box that appears. This will take you to the Compile Format Designer. How to add metadat to an outline compile in the Compile Format Designer
  3. In the Compile Format Designer dialog, check all the checkboxes except “Text” for your selected layout (its name will be in bold.) This will get all your metadata (title, synopsis, created and modified dates, label, status, keywords, and any custom metadata) as well as your Inspector document notes compiled into your outline document.
  4. Click “Save” to save changes and return to the main compile dialog.
  5. Click “Compile” to compile your outline.
  6. When your compile is finished, you’ll see a standard Mac save file dialog. Name your outline file, and save it to your chosen cloud service, outside your project sync folder.
  7. If you produced a Markdown outline, open iOS Ulysses and add it to your external files. Don’t add it to one of your project external folders!
  8. If you produced a PDF, open your iOS PDF app and open the outline with it.

N.B.: You may find that the full outline document is pretty hefty (my current work-in-progress has an outline of 8,000 words, including all synopses, document notes, and metadata.) Further, if you compiled to a Markdown outline and imported it to Ulysses, Ulysses will (helpfully, it thinks) put the whole thing into a code block (because Markdown code blocks can be made by indenting with a tab at the start of every line, rather like an outline.) Ulysses then becomes pretty darn slow. To speed it up, put your cursor below the code block, and tap your delete (or backspace) key once. The entire code block should be selected. Tap the delete/backspace key again, and Ulysses will (slowly) remove the code block tag so that your outline becomes a normal Markdown indented list. Be patient: it took about five minutes for that 8,000 word outline. After this, Ulysses will be much speedier.

Editing Your Outline

It’s easy to say that you should wait on metadata changes until you’re back at your Mac and use Scrivener. But if you’re like me, you won’t remember your changes that long. If this is the case, I suggest you put Yet Another Inline Annotation™ at the top of your text in Ulysses (just surround it with double parentheses ((like this)) .) Date it, and note the changes you want to make to your metadata. When you sync with Scrivener and check your updated documents, you should see your annotation so that you can make the needed changes to your Scrivener metadata. After that you can delete the annotation if you like.

Dealing with Bookmarks

Bookmarks… just don’t transfer well to iOS. Not even iOS Scrivener will give you access to them. But if you must have some of them available, here’s some strategies. All of them require some effort on your part, and some may require maintaining two lists, one for Mac Scrivener and one for iOS Ulysses. You’ve been warned.

  1. If a bookmark refers to a document on your Mac only, there’s nothing to be done. There’s no way to access that while in Ulysses or on iOS in general. All you can do is move it to the Web or a cloud service so you can access it as in Step 2, below.
  2. If a bookmark refers to a document on the Web or on a cloud service that you have access to (your website, iCloud, Dropbox, Evernote, etc.), you can put a link to it in a text document within your Notes. If you choose to do this, I’d suggest taking these out of your project or document bookmarks—having to maintain the list in two places risks forgetting to update one or the other.
  3. If a bookmark refers to a text document inside your project and it’s synced to Ulysses, you can add it to Ulysses’ Favourites list. This will require maintaining both the Mac Scrivener bookmarks and the Ulysses Favourites list, with the risk of updating one but not the other. Or you may choose to move the document to the Web or a cloud service and follow Step 2 above.
  4. If a bookmark refers to a non-text document inside your project (web archive, image, PDF, etc.) again there’s nothing to be done other than export it to the web or a cloud service and add it to your list in Step 2.

My own strategy has been to keep all my non-text research in a cloud note service (Evernote, but OneNote might serve as well.) Rather than building bookmark lists, I use the Evernote app on Mac and on iOS to refer to it. This way I avoid the whole issue. (Some Scrivener users whose research use is heavier than mine use DEVONthink and its iOS companion app. I haven’t tried it so I can’t say how well it works, but many academics swear by it.)

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