Beyond iOS Scrivener 1.2.1 #amwriting

Back in December, I wrote that I hardly use iOS Scrivener any more, and that remains true.

I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, lately, what with my coworking venue going out of business, and all the coffeehouses being closed (at least for purposes of sitting and writing for long periods.) The time I spent commuting had to go somewhere, and when I wasn’t too depressed to do anything except play video games, I found myself niggling at The iOS Scrivener Problem. (Yes, I know, I could have been productively writing. Still…)

Abandoning Scrivener totally is out of the question for me. I use the Scrivenings view constantly on my Mac, as well as stacked corkboards, the Outliner view, keywords, custom metadata… ad infinitum. (About the only features of Scrivener I don’t use are document notes, scriptwriting, and research. Oh, and the various LaTeX workflows.) I also use Aeon Timeline, and while theoretically I could use AT with Ulysses, I’ve got Scrivener all set up with it.

Ulysses… hmm. What about using Ulysses as an iOS editor for Scrivener projects? I can’t access many of my Mac Scrivener features in iOS Scrivener anyway. I already know and pay for Ulysses (I write this blog on it.) Ulysses has as slick an iOS-style interface as any app going. Any metadata I need to refer to (synopses, keywords, etc.) is available on iOS via Aeon Timeline. My research is already available on iOS via Evernote. I can even edit metadata in AT if I need to and sync it up to my Scrivener project on my Mac.

I’m no stranger to using non-Scrivener editors on iOS. In the Bad Old Days before iOS Scrivener, I used both the Index Card app and the Editorial app to edit my Scrivener projects, using Scrivener’s External Folder Sync feature. It was harder to describe than it was to do.

It’s taken me some experimentation. Scrivener 3 is more complex than Scrivener 2 so there are more pitfalls on the Scrivener side. Also, Ulysses is more complex than either of my old two iOS apps, though that turns out to be all to the good.

Nonetheless, I’ll be posting my new Mac Scrivener 3 <=> iOS Ulysses editing workflow in a series of several blog posts:

  1. Translating Between Scrivener 3 and Ulysses: Ulysses speaks Markdown. Scrivener speaks Rich Text. Rich text has a lot more formatting flexibility than Markdown. This means modifying some things in your Scrivener project, and avoiding certain Scrivener features. I’ll cover what you’ll need to do to your Scrivener manuscript to prepare it to work smoothly with Ulysses’s Markdown. WARNING: You may not be willing to live with these limitations. In that case, this isn’t the workflow you’re looking for.
  2. Setting Up Sync: I’ll reveal the nitty gritty of using either iCloud or Dropbox (dealer’s choice) to sync between Mac Scrivener 3 and iOS Ulysses. I’ll provide detailed sync settings for each app.
  3. Avoiding The Editing “Gotchas”: I’ll tell you how to sidestep the “OMG no!!!” moments, or at least face them with confidence.
  4. Compiling Your Project: I’ll describe the modifications you’ll need to make to your Scrivener compile formats to output your Ulysses-savvy manuscript.
  5. But What If I Don’t Want To Use Aeon Timeline?: I’ll go over some strategies for getting at least some of your metadata into Ulysses. Note that these methods are minimally, if at all, automated. If you update the metadata in Ulysses, you, and you alone, will be responsible for updating said metadata in your Scrivener project by hand. Be told.

The Great Blogging Tool Quest of 2016 (Editorial wins!) #amwriting

Editorial for iOS
Editorial is my iOS blogging tool-of-choice

I have nearly 250 posts on this blog. At a rate of about one post per week, that’s more than four years of posts. Until recently, I’ve used the WordPress browser-based editor to create my articles. Easy-peasy, and the iOS WordPress apps have allowed me to compose and niggle at my posts on the go.

Until I accidentally deleted a post, that is.

It wasn’t a great post. It was from about two years ago, and embarrassingly snarky. But there it was, or rather it wasn’t; I deleted it by mistake and had no backup.

I’ve therefore been playing with various offline blogging tools for the past six weeks, in addition to recording my iOS Scrivener workarounds and writing fiction. (Yes, I have been writing fiction. Honest.) I’ve been looking for tools that meet the following criteria (in rough order of their importance to me):

  1. Posts are stored on Dropbox or other cloud service (Google?) in a format that will let me change tools at will—preferably a widely-used dialect of Markdown. PHP Markdown Extra (used by WordPress) would be ideal, but MultiMarkdown would work for me, too.
  2. The tool set enables me to work both on my MacBook Air and on my iOS devices.
  3. These tools let me have the kind of control over post format that I’ve enjoyed with the WP classic browser tools.
  4. The tools help me keep my posts and research material, such as it is, organized.
  5. The tool set permits me to publish directly to WordPress.
  6. Said tools are dead cheap.

I haven’t been able to meet all six criteria, but I’ve come close. All but four of the tools I investigated were ones I’d already had on hand because of iOS Scrivener investigations. Three of those had free trials available.

For editing and publication on the iOS side, I’m using Editorial. This app is one of the best $10 USD I’ve ever spent. I haven’t been able to get it to upload graphics yet1, but posting Markdown to WordPress is one of the many Python scripts available for this expandable wonder. Since it publishes Markdown, once I get my image set up the way I like, it stays that way. It’s not perfect; it’s not compatible with any cloud service except Dropbox, and it doesn’t support iOS 9.x multitasking. Still, it serves my persnickety purposes.

For storage, I’m using Dropbox (free level). It’s all Editorial uses, but it’s already well-integrated into my workflow so it’s no hassle.

For a research database, I’m using Evernote (premium level). It still has the virtues that first recommended it to me: It’s available everywhere, it searches everything it’s got, and it accepts an astonishing variety of input. I use it for everything else; why not this?

For editing and publication on the Mac side, I’m using TextWrangler (free), Marked 2 ($9.99 USD), and copy-and-paste to the WordPress browser editor. Oh, well. Most of my blogging is done on the iPad, anyway.

For the record, here are the tools I tried and rejected:

  • iA Writer. iA Writer insists on translating Markdown into HTML before publishing to WordPress. This means I can’t use WordPress’s proprietary shortcodes (which look like Markdown, but aren’t.) The HTML translator chokes on the stuff, so I have to go into the WordPress editor at least twice to get my images to display the way I want. If I weren’t so picky about how my images are displayed, I might have been able to use it, but—I am picky. Very picky. My tools have to deal with that.
  • Byword. Yeah, I spent the $10 USD to check this out. See iA Writer.
  • Blogo. Fails criterion 1 above. In its free version, it is merely an alternative to the WordPress app or browser editor. In its subscription version, it’s more oriented to the writer who has many blogs to update. It uses its own proprietary cloud service, and saves only a limited number of posts. To be fair, it’s not intended as an archive, but as “One app to blog them all.”
  • MarsEdit. Another “One app to blog them all.” This one is Mac-only. It doesn’t meet criterion 1, either.
  • Scrivener. Yes, there is a writing task for which I find Scrivener unsuited. Try not to faint. Some of the folks on the Scrivener forums had used it for blogging with success. So I tried it, but getting my posts out of Scrivener’s native rich text format and into WordPress.com while satisfying criterion 1 was an exercise in frustration. To be fair, Literature and Latte have never claimed Scrivener to be blogging software, and have neither WordPress publication now nor plans to add it in future. Besides, using Scrivener for a blog post—even with 240 other blog posts recorded—feels like swatting a fly with a cannon.
  • Ulysses. Ulysses (demo for Mac) is closest to what I really want in an offline blog editor—closer than the solution I chose. It uploads graphics but doesn’t do captions or alignment, so I would still have to tweak with image display, but at least Ulysses wouldn’t sabotage my efforts afterwards. I rejected it partly on its closed iCloud storage format (its Dropbox integration doesn’t have the features I want), partly on my intense dislike of its proprietary Markdown dialect, but mostly on its comparatively hefty price tag. I don’t need to sink $70 USD into yet another long-form writing solution—which also feels like swatting a fly with a cannon. Besides, despite its “distraction-free environment” I tinker with its interface even more than I do with Scrivener’s.

  1. In order to do my images the way I want (uploaded with captions, alignment, and other metadata, with the WordPress identifier as well as full display code returned), well, heck. I might even do what I swore never to do again, and learn Yet Another Programming Language (Python). Probably not, though. 

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.

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.