How to (90% Automatically) Track Scrivener (Mac or Windows) Word Counts in Beeminder #amwriting

url-minder
Markos Giannopoulos posted a great article in his blog, Tracking writing goals: Scrivener + Dropbox + Beeminder. His is an excellent way to track word counts from iOS Scrivener if iOS is all you use—but as Mr Giannopoulos notes, the word counts will be higher than true. That’s because all the files Beeminder will be counting are RTF files—which contain formatting information that Beeminder will happily include as words you wrote in addition to the real words you wrote.

If you have either Windows or Mac Scrivener, and you’d like a truly accurate count Beeminded (almost) automatically, read on.

This technique uses the External Folder sync capability of Mac and Windows Scrivener (available in the Windows version since the release of iOS Scrivener) and Dropbox—independently of iOS Scrivener sync. I tried to use Google Drive, but was unable to get word counts through to Beeminder. Sadly for iCloud Drive fans, I couldn’t even get iCloud Drive started.

Is this technique any easier or more accurate than always compiling a plain text version of your project whenever you’d like to update your Beeminder word count (as Mr Giannopoulos also suggests in his post)? If you don’t often add new text documents to your project, and you usually close your projects, then my technique can automate tracking accurate word counts via Beeminder. If you add a new text document or three daily, or you leave your project window open for days, compiling to plain text may work better for you.

I’ll be describing:

  1. How to set up an External Folder sync to Dropbox that will contain all and only the Scrivener files (in a particular project) that you want to Beemind.
  2. How to add those files to a new goal in Beeminder.
  3. How to Beemind any new Scrivener files you may add to your project and want to track in your existing goal.

Setting Up External Folder Sync for Beeminder

First of all: If you’re using Dropbox to sync with iOS Scrivener—this is completely separate. Don’t use the folder you use to sync with iOS Scrivener for this. ANY other Dropbox folder will do.

Filename caution: Once you start Beeminding a text in your Scrivener project with this technique, changing its name inside Scrivener will break its Dropbox link. You’ll need to fix the link in Beeminder to keep your word count accurate.

  1. To make this work, you’ll need to have the Dropbox app installed on your Windows or Mac computer. This will put a “Dropbox” folder on your hard drive. That’s the place you’ll be telling Scrivener to sync with.
  2. Make a new folder somewhere in your Dropbox folder (that isn’t where you sync iOS). I suggest you name it something obvious like BeeminderWordCount or MyProjectWordCount.
  3. Open your Scrivener project in Mac or Windows Scrivener. Consider the documents you want to Beemind. If it’s just all the text documents in your draft folder, great! Otherwise, I suggest you decide on a keyword for the texts you want to Beemind (“WordCount” or whatever you prefer) and assign that keyword to the texts you want to count.
    1. If you’re using a keyword, search for that keyword and save the search as a collection. Usually the collection has the search term as its name, so in my example, the collection would be named “WordCount.”
  4. Now select File > Sync > With External Folder…
    You’ll get a dialog box like the one on the right (or above.)

    1. Click the “Choose…” button and select the folder you set up in step 2.
    2. Tick the box for “Sync the contents of the Draft folder.”
    3. If you’re using a keyword search collection as in Step 3.A, tick the “Sync only documents in collection:” box and select your search collection from the dropdown menu.
    4. Make sure the “Format for external Draft files:” dropdown has “Plain Text” selected. This is what’s going to make your word counts more accurate.
    5. CAUTION: Do not tick the “Prefix file names with numbers” box! This option prefixes numbers to the text filenames in Dropbox to show their position in the Binder. That might cause several file name changes in Dropbox every time you moved a file within your project, breaking many Dropbox shareable links. You’d then need to update those links in Beeminder to keep your word count accurate.
    6. Tick the “Check external folder on project open and automatically sync on close” box. This is what’s going to make updating the Beeminder count (almost) automatic.
    7. Finally, click the “Sync” button. Your sync is now set up, keeping plain text copies of the files in the folder you’ve set up for Beeminder to count.

Whenever you quit Scrivener or close your project, the synced files will be updated automatically. If you don’t close your project ever, you can update those files by selecting “File > Sync > With External Folder Now.”

How to Set Up Your Beeminder Goal

  1. Go ahead and start your goal in Beeminder, using URLMinder as your data source.
  2. You’ll come to a page with a place to insert URLs for Beeminder to track for word count (see right or above.) In a fresh browser window or tab, open Dropbox.com.
  3. In your browser, in Dropbox.com, navigate to and open the folder you created in Step 2 of “Setting Up External Folder Sync for Beeminder” above (EFS for short). You’ll find a folder inside named “Draft.” Open that “Draft” folder.
  4. Now you’ll see a list of the texts that you added to EFS in EFS Step 4.G. For each of those files:
    1. Copy a “sharable link.”
    2. Return to the Beeminder page and paste the “sharable link” into the URL list box. Be sure to tap “enter” after each one.
  5. Now you have a list of the texts you’d like to word count, each separated from the next by an “enter.” Go ahead and finish setting up your Beeminder goal.

You’re done! Be sure to close your project or choose “File > Sync > With External Folder Now” in Scrivener each day to log your word counts to Beeminder.

How to Beemind new Scrivener files

One of the joys of Scrivener is the ability to break the stuff you’re writing into small chunks so that the text never gets overwhelming. But that means adding a file, which means adding another file to the list that Beeminder tracks.

I wish that I could tell you that Beeminder will automatically start counting new text files that appear in your EFS folder—but it won’t. It only monitors individual files. So whenever you add a new text to your Scrivener project that you’d like to have counted, you’ll have to add it to the URL list that you created when you set up your goal.

First, if you’re using a keyword search as in EFS Step 3.A, be sure to add the keyword to your new file(s).

After you close your project (or choose File > Sync > With External Folder Now), the new file(s) will be added to your EFS folder.

From there it’s pretty easy—just go to the “Settings” area of your Beeminder goal and scroll down. You’ll find the URL list there. Follow Step 4 above to add your new URLs to the list. But—you will need to remember to do this for every new file you want counted. (This is the other 10% of the “90% automatically”.) But if you were doing this in any other writing software you’d still have to remember to add new files unless you kept your work in a monolithic plain text file.

That’s it! Happy word count tracking!

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Scrivener for iOS ― Research Workflow @ScrivenerApp

No Scrivener option here. What the heck?

No Scrivener option here. What the heck?


You’ve installed Scrivener for iOS—and you decide to make use of Scrivener’s research facilities. You’ve found a web page in Safari that has exactly the information on 19th century animal control practices you’re looking for. You tap the export (share) button…

And don’t find Scrivener listed. What the heck?

The fact is that you can’t do this in desktop Scrivener either. For the most part, Scrivener has only ever been able to import a file that already exists as a separate thing. The web page you’re looking at isn’t a file, exactly; it’s a set of instructions on how to display information that lives in several different files at its web address, the URL.

“Nitpicky geek!” I hear you say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

On desktop Scrivener, you’d copy the information, and paste the (text) portion into a file in Scrivener. Or you’d copy the URL and then in Scrivener’s Research Folder “Add Web Page” to save the page as a .webarchive file, and then save that file in your project. Possibly, you’d print the page, and use the “Save PDF to Scrivener” option (I don’t know if that’s available on Windows, but it’s a common Mac dodge.) You might save the text to Scrivener’s Scratch Pad.

There is no way to print to a PDF on iOS, and iOS Safari doesn’t save .webarchive files. There’s no resource in iOS for other apps to use to create .webarchive files. Scrivener for iOS doesn’t have a Scratch Pad. You can still copy the (text part of the) information and paste it into a text file in Scrivener. But if you want to keep the formatting, images, etc. you’re going to need to take a separate step or two, and use some extra apps.

General Approach

The most convenient way to stuff research into iOS Scrivener is by creating a PDF from a webpage. You’ll send the URL from Safari to an app that can translate the page, and save it in PDF form, and from there export it to Scrivener. There is even a benefit to the intermediate “create a PDF” step. At the point before adding the PDF to Scrivener, you can stop and edit or markup your PDF with any of several PDF editors. I personally don’t use any of these and so can’t recommend one, but you do have the option to add this step to your workflow.

The following three workarounds are available free, and result in a PDF that you can add to your research folder directly, or after markup if you so wish.

If you’re not a Dropbox hater, you may like my current favorite,

The Dropbox Method

First, be sure you’ve installed the Dropbox app on your iOS device (the app isn’t necessary for Scrivener syncing, just a Dropbox account, but the app is needed for the rest of this research capture method.)

When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Save to Dropbox.” (If you don’t see this, tap the “More” button on the bottom row of actions, and turn it on.) Select a folder on Dropbox. Any folder. It doesn’t have to be your sync folder; in fact, it’s better if it isn’t. I have a folder set up quite separate from my sync folder, named simply “Scratch Pad,” that I use for this. Dropbox will save a nice PDF, with a header including date and URL, and return you to Safari.
2016-07-26 15.29.35
When you’ve finished your research, import the files into your Scrivener project from Dropbox by tapping the Import icon in the toolbar beneath the Binder.

PROS:

  • You don’t have to open another app to get your research into Scrivener; just Safari, and Scrivener.
  • It’s academic-friendly. Your PDF will have a header with date and URL, needed for academic research.
  • If you’re using Dropbox to sync with, you already have a Dropbox account, so adding the Dropbox app to your device is the only prep you possibly need to do.

CONS:

  • Well, it’s Dropbox. Some people don’t like Dropbox. De gustibus non est disputandem.

The iBooks Method

When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Save PDF to iBooks.” The page will be saved, with a neat footer detailing the URL for the information and when you downloaded it (again, important for academic research.) Then go back to Safari and continue with your research, saving PDFs to iBooks as needed.

When your research session is done, go to iBooks and email each PDF to yourself. In Mail, open each attachment, and tap the Share button. Now, you should see “Copy to Scrivener” as an option. Tap it, and the PDF will be added to your open Scrivener project. If you like, you can now delete the original PDF from iBooks.

PROS:

  • Always available on every iOS device
  • Capture includes date and URL

CONS:

  • This interrupts your research by taking you to the iBooks app; you have to switch back to Safari.
  • Requires using two different apps besides Safari to get the document into Scrivener.

If you are an Evernote fan, have Evernote on your iOS device, and have both Evernote and Scrivener on your desktop machine, you may like

The Evernote Method

When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Evernote.” Evernote will clip the page and save it to Evernote in its usual fashion. When you have access to your desktop machine again, print the note to “Save PDF to Scrivener.”

PROS:

  • This method also captures date and URL.
  • The information is saved in Scrivener for use while writing, and in Evernote for other uses. If you’re an Evernote fan, it’s a plus.

CONS:

  • The information is duplicated; if you mark up or add information to the document one place, you’ll have to remember to update it in the other as well.
  • It requires getting access to Scrivener on desktop or laptop, which may not be practical.

This used to be my favorite, BIS (Before iOS Scrivener), when my research had to go into Evernote in order to be available on iOS, but I’m re-thinking that now.

Other Options

There are tens of little apps, free to cheap, whose purpose is to stuff things like web pages into PDFs. More pop up on the App Store all the time, like mushrooms after rain. It may be worth a dollar or two to you to avoid the iBooks hassle, if neither Dropbox nor Evernote is to your liking.

When choosing such an app, be sure it will show up in the Safari actions menu so that you can seamlessly save your finds. It also needs to support “Open in…” in order to get your PDF into Scrivener smoothly.

Here are two I’ve tried:

URL2PDF – Web to PDF Converter by Paulo Freitas

URL2PDF in the App Store

$0.99 USD. It’s just what it says. Turn this on in the bottom row of your Safari export options. When you choose it, you’ll be taken to the URL2PDF app, where you have a lot of options to format your PDF output to your taste. ( It does interrupt your research to go format the PDF, though.) Convert in the app. Export from URL2PDF to Scrivener (or your markup app.)

PDF Converter – Save Documents, Web Pages, Photos to PDF by Readdle

PDF Converter in the App Store

$3.99 USD. It has the capability to convert URLs and much else besides to PDFs. This extra flexibility comes at the price of no formatting options, unlike URL2PDF. Your research will NOT be dated and URL stamped inside the generated PDF.

Turn this on in the bottom row of your Safari export options. When you choose it, your page will convert; you’ll have a choice of returning to Safari or continuing to PDF Converter. Open PDF Converter to export to Scrivener (or your markup app.)

Scrivener for iOS — Best Practices for Syncing @ScrivenerApp

2016-07-14 11.57.44

Learn to love it — Scrivener’s “Syncing with Dropbox” screen

You’ve just bought Scrivener for iOS! Yay! You’ve downloaded it to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

The first thing I suggest you do is carefully read and work through the Tutorial project that’s included with Scrivener. Especially I suggest reading the “Syncing” section carefully, and setting up your Dropbox sync folder to your satisfaction. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Urgent update 20 July 2016 11:49 AM PST:
There’s enough confusion about this on the Literature and Latte forums, that I’ll mention it now — do NOT use the “Sync with External Folder” option in either Mac or Window Scrivener to move your project to Dropbox for iOS Scrivener! That’s for lesser editors, not iOS Scrivener. For iOS Scrivener, just move your entire .scriv project (looks like a file on Mac, like a folder on Windows) to the folder inside Dropbox that you’ve chosen as your sync folder. Or copy it, or use “Save as…” from the File menu.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post…

Are you frustrated because sync seems clumsier than in other iOS apps you’ve used, or because it’s not on [insert favorite cloud service here]? I get it; while it’s better than trying to use the older External Folder or Index Card syncing facilities from Mac to iOS, it’s still hardly a set-and-forget service. (Index Card in particular was a challenge…) If you’re curious about the technical reasons it’s the way it is, and in particular why it’s not on iCloud, I suggest reading the post Scrivener for iOS: Syncing on Literature and Latte’s blog.

Okay! You’ve selected a folder (or decided to use the Apps/Scrivener default folder) on Dropbox. You’ve maybe synced a copy of the tutorial project to it. Here are my suggested best practices for syncing.

Dropbox Hygiene:

  • Keep your sync folder clear! Everything in that folder gets downloaded to your iOS device, and there’s no point in taking up space on your device for files Scrivener can’t use. Only the Scrivener projects that you want to work on in iOS Scrivener and a few adjunct files (fonts, format preset files, and compile appearance files) should live there. If you’re like me, you’ve got a ton of Scrivener projects and an elaborate filing system already set up. I’ve chosen to move my active work-in-progress (WIP) projects to the sync folder, and keep aliases to them in their usual spots in my hard drive’s directory. Cluttering your sync folder will make your initial sync longer and uses space on your iOS device’s storage.

Mac and Windows Scrivener Setup and Projects Setup:

SkitchBoth
In the Backups section of Preferences:

  • Turn on Automatic Backups, and check the “Backup before syncing with mobile devices” option. If hard drive space is a problem, turn on the “Compress Automatic Backups” option and set the “Only keep… xx backups” limit to a number that won’t overwhelm your space.

In the Import/Export section of Preferences:

  • Turn on the “Place documents affected by sync into a ‘Synced Documents’ collection” option.
  • If you like, turn on the “Automatically show the ‘Synced Documents’ collection after a sync” option.
  • I recommend against the “Take snapshots of updated documents” option. A copy of any conflicted document will always get saved in a “Conflicts” folder, and if you have your automatic backups set as above, you have a backup of your entire project before sync as well. Those unneeded automatic snapshots will start slowing up your downloads and taking much space on your iOS device if you do a lot of back-and-forth between iOS and your Mac or PC.

General changes you may want to make to your project (Optional!):

  • Keywords and custom meta-data can’t be accessed in iOS Scrivener. If you use these a lot, you may wish to store that information in your synopses or your document notes instead.
  • Project Notes also are not accessible to iOS Scrivener. If you’d like to have these available on your iOS I suggest making a top-level folder called “Project Notes” and moving all your project notes files to ordinary text files kept there.
  • Get rid of any snapshots that you don’t need. The old means of syncing Mac to iOS in particular resulted in a lot of automatic snapshots being created. These will get synced to iOS Scrivener but aren’t accessible there, and so will take up your device’s storage space and slow down your initial sync.

iOS Scrivener Setup:

Go to the iOS Settings App. Yes, that’s right, the main settings app for your device. Scroll down your list of apps and tap on Scrivener. There are many options in here that just aren’t discussed in the iOS Scrivener tutorial. Feel free to play with them, but for smooth syncing there are a few you’ll want enabled.

settings

  • First, Tap on Syncing and Sharing to reveal the options we want.
  • Be sure that “Auto-Detect Changes” is set to ON. This means that you will always be notified on the Projects screen if there are changes you need to download to your iOS device.
  • I suggest setting “Sync Projects on Close” to Always. This option makes saving your work back to Dropbox almost automatic.

You have some choices with “Warn if No Wi-Fi.” (This lets you limit cellular data usage without turning it off completely.)

  • If your data plan is generous and you’re not worried about running through it, choose “Never.” Now, every time you close a project your changes will be uploaded to Dropbox automatically, by Wi-Fi if available, and via cellular data if not.
  • If your cellular data plan is moderate and you need to worry somewhat about overage charges, choose “Over 10MB.” Now small changes (such as an afternoon of typing text) will be synced automatically as above. If you’ve accumulated more than 10 MB of changes (such as several big PDFs added to your research folder) and you’re on a cellular connection, Scrivener will display an alert that will let you wait on your upload until you’re within reach of Wi-Fi.
  • If you need to count every byte of bandwidth, choose “Always.” If you’re on Wi-Fi, changes will be synced automatically. But, if you’re on a cellular connection, you’ll always see that alert that lets you wait until you’re on Wi-Fi. If it’s critical that your changes get uploaded to Dropbox now, you can go ahead and do that via cellular data anyway.

Workflow Suggestions:

  • Always, always close your project before switching devices! On Mac or Windows, that project is both saved and synced to Dropbox by closing its window. On iOS, navigate back to the “Projects” screen. You’ll invoke the “Sync Projects on Close” option, and your changes will be uploaded to Dropbox with minimal intervention on your part.
  • When leaving your Mac or PC, wait to be sure that Dropbox has finished uploading your changes! This isn’t a problem on your iOS device, as the “Syncing” screen will stay visible until Dropbox is done, but checking your Dropbox app on Mac or PC to be sure that “Up to Date” is checked, will save — not your data, you can’t lose that — but your time to resolve conflicts.

Next up: Scrivener for iOS — How to Resolve Sync Conflicts

Syml v. Editorial — iOS Text Editor Review

Screenshot 2015-12-15 22.14.51I was looking at Brett Terpstra’s iTextEditors list and came across a new entry: “Syml – Minimalist Text Editor for Dropbox.” It bills itself as a Markdown editor, specifically for Dropbox (my cloud service of choice.) It also claims a wonderful new UI. So naturally I dropped a few bucks to check this thing out.

I can’t say it’s a bad editor. The interface is as innovative as it claims — it reminds me of good drawing apps I’ve used. There’s a lot of choices in appearance, including my current crush, Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized color palette. But I filter all iOS text editors through my primary use case, Scrivener external folder sync. And for that, Syml (pronounced “simple” without the “p”) doesn’t hold up.

Syml allows you to sync with an arbitrary Dropbox folder. One folder. No subfolders. And once you set it up, you can’t change folders. So if you start working on a different Scrivener project, the only way you can tell Syml to look at the different sync folder is to unlink from Dropbox, and re-link with the new folder.

Even Textilus and Matcha are more flexible. And as for Editorial, you can link to the parent folder of both your draft and your notes sync folders, or even one level higher, to the parent folder that, say, contains all the sync folders for all your projects, and Editorial will scan your Dropbox for multiple projects, with notes, and download recently used folders with all their files to your iPad while you’re still waiting for Syml to list the contents of one lousy directory.

Yeah, it’s that slow.

For working on projects that essentially are created and maintained elsewhere, like a Scrivener project, the developer’s text editor Editorial, wins hands-down. That’s because almost all development follows that paradigm. If you’d like to take notes in Markdown and have them automatically backed up to Dropbox, Syml may be your thing. It’s just not what I do.

Scrivener v. Storyist – Why I’m Hanging On

It’s a good question: why am I hanging on to Scrivener when I do much of my writing on my iPad? Literature and Latte hope to have an iOS Scrivener version released . . . well, Real Soon Now. In the meantime, I develop ingenious workarounds and leave any number of Scrivener features on the table because I can’t access them from iOS. Storyist, on the other hand, is positioned as an alternative long-form writing program, and it works on the iPad right now. Over in the Scrivener forums, defectors, while not exactly legion, regularly post their disappointment and intention to use Storyist in the future.

I went ahead and downloaded the Mac demo version of Storyist yesterday. I can’t say I’ve given it an exhaustive test, but I have looked at the features that I use the most. Here are my impressions:

  • The overall impression I have of Storyist: It was designed to look like Scrivener when you first open it, by someone who dislikes Scrivener’s complexity, and who really misses WYSIWYG. As shipped, it’s very much aimed at the fiction writer or screenwriter who is submitting to editors or similar gatekeepers. If you want to self-publish, if you want to do non-fiction (Yeah, I did a convention program booklet in Scrivener because I really didn’t want to deal with Word…) you’re going to have to struggle a lot more. There’s no way to do footnotes, for one thing… By getting rid of Scrivener’s complexity designed to support all sorts of long-form writing besides traditional fiction/script submittals, a lot of Scrivener’s flexibility has been excised, as well.
  • I imported a couple of my dormant Scrivener projects into Storyist. I also exported a sample Storyist project to Scrivener. While it works OK, in that all of your body text will arrive at the destination, very little metadata (labels, statuses, keywords, etc.) arrives at either destination. After I got into Storyist a bit, it looks like about two days to massage a NaNoWriMo 50K draft from Scrivener into a form that’s really usable in Storyist, even without a lot of metadata. In short, not something I’m interested in doing unless I’ve committed to switching over.
  • Once there, I found there was no corresponding function to Scrivener’s “Scrivenings” view. If you’re not familiar with the software, this lets you look at any subset of your Scrivener project’s component files as if they were one document, and edit them as such. This is a lot of what I do on the Mac before I head out with my iOS devices – look at a Scrivenings view of what I did yesterday, spot stuff I want to fix (minor stuff – a misspelling here, poor grammar there), and decide where I’m going with it today. I find the lack of a Scrivenings-style view strange in view of the fact that…
  • … a Storyist project is just One Big File. In contrast, a Scrivener project is a folder full of little files. Storyist pretends that there are a lot of little files, each with its synopsis index card, but at the end of the day if you save a “version” before doing some changes, the whole dang Storyist project is saved (oh yes, it uses OS X versioning so as to save space, but still.) With Scrivener, you can save a “snapshot” of a single file. It may seem more confusing, but really, it’s simpler. If you’re only going to play with Scene A, you save a snapshot of Scene A. If you later also add Scene B, and then decide you like the older version of Scene A, with Scrivener you’re good – you can revert Scene A without affecting Scene B. With Storyist, you’re going to have to do some fancy stepping to save out Scene B before reverting Scene A if you’re not to lose Scene B. Blah.
  • Another difference: The Storyist manuscript is conceptually one file within the project, with your chapters and scenes as outline subtopics within. Scrivener has real little files for each scene and chapter. Even though it looks the same in the sidebar, it’s not. Storyist displays the entire manuscript when you click on a scene, with the cursor at the start of the scene you just clicked on. Scrivener opens ONLY the file you click on (or only the files you select – that’s what “Scrivenings” is about.)
  • WYSIWYG v. Compilation. Storyist is WYSIWYG – you’ll have to reformat your entire project if you want to output for print v. epub v. mobi v. Smashwords. By way of contrast, in Scrivener you format each document in the way that works best for you while you’re writing it, then compile to output each format with its little quirks. I think this is one of the “personal preference” features, but the Scrivener output is way more flexible.
  • For a big project, Storyist is noticeably slower than Scrivener.
  • (Further examples exist.)

Aw, heck. I am a self-admitted techno-geek, and if I’ve used a tool for more than six months, I’ve customized that puppy beyond recognition. My Scrivener setups are as personal as my toothbrush. Despite my restricted use of research, keywords, custom metadata, et-freaking-cetera, I use enough of the Scrivener-only stuff to make contemplating a move to Storyist painful. I’m scrubbing Storyist off my Mac, and going back to the Scrivener for iOS cheering section (“Write That Code! Write That Code! Yay SCRIVENER!”)

Scrivener v. iOS, Part 1 — Overall Approaches

KnifeScrivener is the Swiss Army Knife of novel writing programs. Not designed to help a noob with story structure, etc., it is a professional long-form writer’s go-to tool. Scrivener has more features than an Oklahoma bird dog has spots.

That said, it has surprising gaps. One of the most painful is the lack of an iOS (or Android, for that matter) version for mobile devices. Literature & Latte have promised an iOS version Real Soon Now for years. As their last blog entry on the subject was in April, 2013… Well, I won’t hold my breath. As a writer who really loves Scrivener, and who also loves the lightweight freedom of working on a mobile device, my choices are:

  1. Use Scrivener on my desktop Mac via a remote desktop application such as LogMeIn or GoToMyPC. This also works for Windows Scrivener.
  2. Use a patchwork of apps on my desktop Mac and on my iPad to work on portions of my projects on the iPad. This is a Mac-only solution at present.
  3. Bite the bullet and get a laptop. Carry it everywhere. If you’re reading an article about Scrivener v. iOS, you’re likely not interested.

Option 1: Remote Connection
Working remotely is a fair option.

Pros: Every feature of Scrivener is available, since I am in fact logged in to and working on my Mac. If you have Windows Scrivener, this is your only real option. There are remote desktop clients available for Android, as well. This is by far the more versatile solution.

Cons: The various means available to work on a desktop computer from a remote iOS device are, bluntly, kludges (pronounced kloo-jes.) The iPad becomes a giant touchpad, with the various features of a modern mouse simulated by gestures. I find that this option is not practical for long sessions without a BT keyboard for my iPad. Even so, many of the key combos used in ordinary desktop work must still be simulated with a (much reduced) onscreen keyboard. (This is not LogMeIn’s fault, or the fault of any other remote software provider. Apple’s iOS interface to a bluetooth keyboard is limited, and most modifier keys cannot be detected by an app. Since the app on your iOS device can’t detect modifier keys, they can’t be passed on to your remote computer.)

Another problem with this option is that it requires an internet connection, and one with decent bandwidth. Even without sound or video, even with colors dialed back to grayscale and connection optimized for slowness, a remote connection eats data. A 3g connection is too laggy, except at full bars. The WiFi in a typical Starbucks is problematic.

Option 2: External Synchronization
Working with a subset of Scrivener features on an iPad with iPad apps is do-able, and can work well if I respect its limitations, but it has its own problems.

Pros: I can work with native iOS apps. This either eliminates or greatly reduces internet connection requirements. It also means that I can work with interfaces optimized for a touch screen device–no using the iPad as a giant touchpad! I find that working without a BT keyboard becomes more practical, though I still prefer a keyboard for extensive typing.

Cons: This is a Mac-only option; it will not work for Windows Scrivener at present. I must set up Scrivener itself to do external sync. I must use a cloud file service that supports nested folders; DropBox is the only option to work with story structure as well as text content. I can only work with a reduced subset of Scrivener features with iPad apps. I must be disciplined in my workflow to avoid the dreaded “I changed this on both my iPad and my Mac! Crap!” situation. It is possible to lose formatting in the translation from Mac to iOS and back.

Recommendation:
I suggest that if you are only going to use your iPad occasionally for work with Scrivener projects, that Option 1, remote desktop usage, is your best choice. It’s possible to work without a BT keyboard for short sessions, and you will have the entire abilities of Scrivener at your command. You need not invest any effort or thought in sync setup. You need not worry about losing formatting or how to optimize your project for synchronization. There are several well-reviewed remote clients in the App Store, some of which are free.

On the other hand, if you plan on using your iOS device in long writing sessions, or far from speedy internet connections, and if you work with a desktop Mac, you may find external sync to be worth the investment in setting up your project for sync and in iOS apps to edit with. Certainly in this case I’d suggest a BT keyboard. I’ll discuss exactly how to massage your Scrivener project for external sync in Part 2.

— Update 16:53 PST, 21 Jan 2014 —

As of today, LogMeIn announced the termination of its free services. Thus, remote desktop options suddenly became a lot less free, although there still are some comparatively cheap options. I’ll discuss a few in Part 2 of this series as well as discussing Scrivener project prep for external sync.

Path of Least Resistance, or Distracted by the Shiny Software. Again.

20140114-191607.jpg
mailbox-logo-big
product_introI am angry with myself. Last week I fully expected to have made substantial progress in making GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) charts for my main characters by now.

Instead, I managed to insert a table to contain the GMC chart into each character’s note sheet. At this point, I was frustrated by workflow difficulties. The app I’d used to edit this sort of thing on my iPad, which will automatically sync with Scrivener in DropBox via Scrivener’s Folder Sync function, Textilus, well — the developers have fallen ill with creeping feature-itis. New features are introduced before the old ones’ bugs are fixed. Further, it won’t handle tables.

I found a new way to edit the character notes on my iPad and have my changes automatically synchronized with Scrivener on my Mac, one which handles everything that Microsoft Word does, because it’s real Microsoft Office. Since Scrivener’s note files are in RTF, an MS Word format, it works perfectly. It’s called CloudOn. It’s a cloud-hosted MS Office installation, free to use as long as you don’t need “pro” features, and I don’t to do character notes. Pros: It’s easier to work with than a LogMeIn connection to my Mac (so I can use Scrivener thereon.) The CloudOn interface is optimized for touch devices, while LogMeIn has to work with the Mac interface, which is awkward for long work sessions. As well, CloudOn takes less bandwidth than a LogMeIn connection. Cons: It needs an internet connection, so I can’t work on the subway. Those “pro” features that must be paid for include such things as printing and clip art. I don’t really need that stuff for Scrivener notes editing, but might become a problem if I need to use it for my volunteer work.

This got me to the weekend, when even workflow progress stopped…

And has not resumed. I got distracted by obsessed with a new email client for my iPad, Mailbox, and have spent two long days revamping my philosophy with regards to email, and also clearing out my backlog of saved email, some of which dated back to 1998…

The philosophy of the Mailbox app is this: Email has three primary purposes: casual communication, a task list (tasks arrive via email), and reference material. Most email clients are set up to deal well with casual communication and with reference material. What they don’t do well is the task list. Mailbox is primarily a task list-oriented email client.

Even though I’m not formally employed, I am a co-organizer of a new year-round NaNoWriMo write-in (the Sherman Oaks Panera Bread NaNoWrimo Write-in.) Also, I am on the Board of Trustees for an international non-profit organization. As a result, tasks are arriving in my inbox. Lots of them. These don’t necessarily take up a lot of time, but I have vast amounts of non-profit reference material stored in my email, and it’s often hard to see what I’m supposed to be doing. Yet, I must be able to tap into that stuff easily during board meetings, which often dredge up issues we dealt with a year ago (or so we thought.)

The main concept behind Mailbox is to keep your inbox clear. The inbox should only contain mails that are actionable RIGHT NOW. Everything else is either deferred (tasks you can’t do right now but want/need to do), deleted (junk, casual conversation), or archived (reference material). The “lists” in Mailbox are not intended to be filing cabinets (found this out the hard way…) but “to-do” lists for specific projects. It also lets you defer emails until a specific time, so that you can schedule tasks.

Unfortunately, Mailbox, while great in some ways, is still a work-in-progress in others. Specifically, it does not deal well with vast (>500) numbers of archived emails. So, I’ve spent the first part of the week here combing through sixteen years of saved emails, deleting many, reorganizing others. I’ve reorganized my Mac Mail folders to support easy search of archived material. Now Mac Mail, and the built-in iPad Mail, are now used only for research. Mac Mail handles semi-automatic classification of newly archived mail. As well, I’ve reorganized my accounts so that Mailbox can handle all my vast collection of email addresses. And I’ve suppressed the damned automatic notifications and red icon badges (I turned off sounds years ago) — I now refuse to be interrupted by tempting banners or red app dots on my iPad or Mac. I have a set time each day to deal with new mail and deferred tasks I’ve scheduled in Mailbox.

So now, with volunteer work relegated to its proper place, I’m looking forward today to actually filling out some of the character sheets I’ve stuck empty charts into…

Writers’ Tools

I may be a writer and actor by choice, but I was a techno geek for far too long for me to ignore the tools I use for writing.

20121212-131426.jpgIt’s been nearly a year since I gave up on the dear old DataChugger LD and asked for an iPad for Christmas. In the two years since I posted about the LifeDrive, the Internet (in particular electronic publishing) had been moving on, and the LifeDrive had stayed put. Software was no longer being updated. I couldn’t buy new books from my favorite authors to read on it any more.

My first thought was to get an iPod Touch (the monthly bills for an iPhone being in the “You gotta be kidding!” range), but the iPad won my heart in the Apple Store with its amazingly light weight and comparatively large screen area. Hubby generously gifted me with an iPad 2 for Christmas 2011.

I have not regretted my choice. My old books from the LifeDrive have moved over to Nook, new ones have been acquired on Kindle, both of which have iPad apps. The mobile hotspot I’d gotten to feed Internet to the LifeDrive works just as well with the WiFi-only iPad.

But then, in May 2012, I decided to take another whack at writing with Camp NaNoWriMo in June. I’d also replaced my ancient Mac with a new Mac Mini two years ago– which meant that I had NO tools to write with, as my Microsoft Word was too ancient to run on the newer Mac.

This resulted a great deal of flailing around, and acquisition of free and cheap software for the Mac and the iPad. (How happy is she? As happy as a geek on a software buying spree.) Here’s my current suite of tools.

Hardware:

  • Mac Mini with max memory available in 2010
  • 32Gb iPad 2 WiFi only
  • ZAGGkeys SOLO Bluetooth keyboard. (Can’t do serious writing without a keyboard. Sorry, Apple.)
  • Novatel 4260L mobile 4G LTE hotspot.

Software:

  • Scrivener. This Mac program is amazing. All the frustration of trying to build a REALLY LARGE document in Word, or any other word processor is gone. It even claims to remove distractions with its “composition mode.” (Ha. Might work for you. My brain creates its own distractions.)
  • Textilus. This IOS app (iPad side) lets me write on the iPad and sync with Scrivener without chewing up my data allowance. It is not the polished tool that Scrivener is, but it does what it does reasonably well.

Network services:

  • Dropbox. Without this free cloud service, using my iPad to write would be hard; iCloud isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. All my files are on their server AND on my Mac, AND available to my iPad. This is the substructure that enables Scrivener and Textilus to be in sync.
  • LogMeIn.This is a free (for what I want to do, at least) remote desktop service. If what I want to do absolutely cannot be done on the iPad, I fire up LogMeIn, connect the iPad client to the server installed on my Mac, and do it from my Mac. Wherever. (Note: it only works well if a 4G connection is available. It will work over 3G, but is ssslllooowww, and drops a lot.) While I can write without this on the iPad (and had to, while I was in the Sierras), it makes life easier. In fact, with this and a bluetooth keyboard, why bother with a laptop? Your tablet or smartphone will happily pretend it’s your desktop computer for those things that a tablet/smartphone can’t do. Yet. The only drawback: it tends to use a lot of data on my data plan.

Things I tried that didn’t really work for me:

  • Open Office. This free Mac Microsloth Office replacement is awkward, and even slower than the original. It is usable for small projects. I use it for spreadsheets, mostly.
  • QuickOffice Pro HD. Nothing wrong with it, as MS Office tools for the iPad go, and I use it for spreadsheets, letters, etc. But– it won’t edit files from Scrivener without losing formatting.
  • Index Card. This iPad app syncs with Scrivener and allows you to structure (outline) stuff in much the same way as Scrivener, but while the ordering part of the structure is transferred to and from Scrivener, the hierarchy is not. Also, no formatting available for main text you write in IndexCard, and it loses formatting from Scrivener. I spent too much time duplicating effort.

That’s the lot. Oh, there are all the usual wonderful widgets on my iPad, and on my Mac Mini, but these are the ones I use for writing. Other writers: What do you use?