Edit Mac Scrivener 3 With iOS Ulysses, Part 3: Setting Up Sync #amwriting

Scrivener and Ulysses CAN get along

Articles in this series:

Part 3: Setting Up Sync

Introduction

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.

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 before proceeding.

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

Notes on iCloud Drive, Dropbox, iOS, and Ulysses

The good news is that this process is completely independent of whether you choose iCloud Drive or Dropbox for your sync location. Use whichever you like; I won’t distinguish between them in the rest of this article. However, as of this writing, there are only two other cloud services that I know will work: Working Copy or Secure ShellFish. Ulysses may add another, but hasn’t done so yet.1 You don’t need to have Dropbox installed on your iOS device or devices, however, so that if you’re using a free Dropbox account, your iOS devices won’t count against your three-device limit.

Preparing Your Laptop or Desktop Computer

Dropbox Prep: You must have Dropbox installed on your Mac, so that you have a Dropbox folder available on your hard drive or SSD.

iCloud Drive Prep: None needed, really, other than turning iCloud Drive on in your System Preferences.

Create a Sync Folder for Your Project

We’re going to use Scrivener’s “External Folder Sync” feature to set up sync with Ulysses. The initial setup must be done on the Mac, and mostly from your Scrivener project. External folder sync is a project-based feature, so you’ll need to set up sync separately for each project you want to edit with Ulysses.

If you’ve never used External Folder Sync before, please review Section 14.3, “Synchronised Folders”, in the Scrivener Manual.

  1. In Finder, somewhere inside your chosen cloud service’s folder, create a new folder with the name of your project (hereinafter referred to as “MyProject_Sync”.) I’m not going to tell you how to organise your cloud service’s folder—create inside the cloud folder wherever it makes sense to you.
  2. From this point onward, we’ll be working in Scrivener with the project you want to sync open. First, let’s set up our export options to work with Ulysses. Use the menu item Scrivener→Preferences… and move to the “Sharing” panel. In the “Sync” tab, turn on the option “Convert text inside (()) and {{}} to inline notes when using plain text.” Turn this on, because it will let us use Scrivener’s inline annotations and footnotes as we discussed in Part 1 and in Part 2. The panel should look like this:
    Scrivener Preferences dialog shows turning double parens and double braces ON for External Folder sync
  3. In Scrivener, choose the menu item File→Sync→With External Folder… . You’ll see this dialog:
    Option-by-option illustration of how to set up Scrivener External Folder sync for Ulysses
    Let’s take each option and see how best to use it with Ulysses.

    1. “Sync files in this project with external folder:” – Click the “Choose…” button here, and you’ll get the standard Mac Open File dialog. Navigate to the folder MyProject_Sync you created in step 1 above, and with that folder selected, click the “Open” button. You should see the path to your folder appear in the text box.
    2. “Sync the contents of the Draft folder” – This is your work-in-progress. Turn this ON.
    3. “Sync all other text documents in the project” – This would be all your notes that are in text documents, your front matter, and your back matter. If you’d like to be able to review these files in Ulysses, turn this ON, otherwise leave it OFF.
    4. “Sync only documents in collection:” – This is how you limit what gets synced. If, for example, you want your notes in Ulysses but don’t want your front and back matter, set up a collection (See Section 10.2, “Using Collections”, in the Scrivener manual) that contains all your Draft documents and only the Notes documents that you want to be able to see in Ulysses.2 Choose that collection from the dropdown menu and turn this option ON. Otherwise, leave it OFF and everything gets synced. You can always change this later if you change your mind.3
    5. “Prefix file names with numbers” – this is up to you. If you turn this on, there will be a number (representing Scrivener Binder order) at the front of each file name when you look at it in Ulysses. By then setting Ulysses to sort by file name, you can see all your documents in their Scrivener Binder order. I find this very useful indeed, and always keep this option on, but decide for yourself. You can always change your mind on this.
    6. “Take snapshots of affected documents before updating” – I strongly suggest leaving this ON. This Scrivener option is what will let you quickly recover from any accidental formatting loss from Ulysses. Once a week, I use the Documents→Snapshots→Show Snapshots Manager dialog to clean up automatic snapshots I no longer need. Learn more in the Scrivener manual, section 15.8, “Using Snapshots.”
    7. “Check external folder on project open and automatically sync on close” – I recommend leaving this ON. This is where the automation happens on the Scrivener side of things. You’ll need to remember to close your project when you switch to Ulysses for the day, or whenever. If this just isn’t going to happen for you, there’s a setting for that – in Scrivener→Preferences, “General” panel, “Automatic Quit” in the sidebar. Choose an auto quit interval that’s not so short that it will annoy you but not so long that you’ll be typing away in Ulysses before it happens.
    8. “Import new non-Draft items into” – This needs a bit of explanation. (If you’re not syncing your notes and such, this won’t apply to you.) Any new document you create in Ulysses that you put into the Draft folder in Ulysses will show up at the bottom of the Draft (or Manuscript) folder in Scrivener, and you’ll need to sort it into your project structure. But if you do sync notes, this lets you choose which folder any new note you make will appear in Scrivener. The Research folder is a good option.4
    9. “Format for external Draft files” and “Format for other external files” – Ulysses can’t read Scrivener “.rtf” files any more than Scrivener can read Ulysses’ native format (“.ulyz”). The format that both can read and write is “Plain Text” with extension “md”. Set this up here.
    10. “Automatically convert plain text paragraph spacing” – Turn this OFF.5
  4. Re-check your settings, then click the “Sync” button. Scrivener will write out Markdown files for all the documents you included in sync. They’ll appear in two new folders, “Draft” and “Notes”, that Scrivener creates inside the folder you created in Step 3.1 above. If you’ve decided to sync a lot of files, this may take a while the first time.
  5. Close your Scrivener project! We’re moving to Ulysses at last!
Connect iOS Ulysses to Your Sync Folder

For each iOS device you’d like to use with your new Scrivener sync folder, you’ll need to set up Ulysses to use Ulysses’ own External Folder feature. (It’s unfortunate that it uses a similar name to the Scrivener feature, because it’s really quite different.) If you’ve never used Ulysses’ External Folder capability before, I suggest you review its tutorial on the Ulysses website.

  1. Tap the gear icon in your Ulysses library panel.
  2. In the Settings popover, tap the Library item.
  3. Connect Ulysses to the sync folder:
    • If you’re using iCloud Drive or some other non-Dropbox cloud service:
      • Tap on the “Add from Other Location…” item. You’ll be taken to the Apple Files app interface.
      • Navigate to the folder you created in Step 3.1 above. You’ll see the new Draft and Notes folders inside, but be sure the top level folder “MyProject_Sync is selected.
      • Tap “Done” in the upper-right corner. You’ll be taken to the folder settings panel.
    • If you’re using Dropbox:
      • Tap the “Add from Dropbox…” item.
      • If you haven’t connected Dropbox to Ulysses before, sign in to the Dropbox account that you saved your sync folder to.
      • Navigate to the folder you created in Step 3.1 above.
      • Tap the “MyProject_Sync” item at the bottom of the panel. You’ll be taken to the folder settings panel.
  4. In the folder settings panel:
    • Change the icon if you like.
    • Sort by title if you like (to take advantage of your Binder order numbers.)
    • Set “Read and Write Markdown Files” to ON.
    • Set the “Default File Extension” to “.md” to match what you told Scrivener.
    • Turn “Create Reference Links” on if you like (I don’t, but it’s a matter of personal preference. Review CommonMark if you don’t remember the difference.)
    • Turn “Always use Fenced Code Blocks” ON. This will make using code blocks to mark off styled text in Scrivener much easier.

Repeat the above for every iOS device you want to use to edit your Scrivener projects, and for each Scrivener project you want to edit.

There you are! When you want to work on iOS Ulysses, close your project on your Mac, or use the menu item File→Sync→With External Folder Now. (You can put this in Scrivener’s toolbar if you like.) When you want to incorporate your changes from Ulysses, open the project on your Mac or again use File→Sync→With External Folder Now.

A Warning About Document Titles/File Names

Are you letting Scrivener automatically name some of your files? Scrivener External Folder Sync produces long, long filenames in that case, like this: “068 I opened the sitting room drapes and settled myself into my own armchair. I... [85].md

That final “[85]” is Scrivener’s internal file ID and without it, your changes won’t get synced back to your original file. Instead, you’ll find a new document with your changes.

The problem is that Ulysses can’t handle such a long filename, and will truncate it to something like: “068 I opened the sitting room drapes and settled myself into my own ar.md” It loses Scrivener’s file ID (“[85]”) and thus confuses Scrivener on the return trip.

My workaround is to edit the filename myself, to “068 [85]” (in the first line in the Ulysses sheet) before editing anything else in the file. Scrivener is perfectly happy with that, and my changes are synced normally. Another solution would be to name all your files yourself in Scrivener with somewhat shorter names.

If you accidentally have a file ID truncated, all is not lost. You’ll find the “new” document at the bottom of the Draft folder in your Binder. You’ll be able to tell that it’s not connected to the original when you’re doing your “return from sync” check because you won’t see any snapshots in the Inspector for it. Take a deep breath, and find the original in its place in the Binder. Now, you’ll do manually what External Folder sync would have done:

  1. Make a snapshot of your original (“Real_File” in this example), naming the snapshot whatever you like. (“Lost_ID” for this example.)
  2. Open the new version from Ulysses (“Duped_File” in this example), select all its text, and copy to the clipboard.
  3. Return to Real_File, select all its text, and paste in the text from Duped_File.
  4. Compare the text you just pasted to the Lost_ID snapshot, restoring formatting if you need to.
  5. Move Duped_File to the Trash, and then delete it from the Trash (so you won’t get confused in future). You don’t need it any more; you’ve incorporated your changes into the original and have a snapshot of that original before changes.
Best Practices
  • Avoid using Scrivener features for things that Markdown and Multimarkdown plus MMD→Rich Text compile can do. Lists, tables, images, external links, italics, and bold text are best done with Markdown features rather than with Scrivener.
  • Remember to mark paragraphs containing Scrivener styled text, Scrivener internal links, or Scrivener-inserted graphics when you add them in Scrivener.
  • Avoid editing paragraphs containing Scrivener styled text, Scrivener internal links, or Scrivener inserted graphics with Ulysses.
  • If you can’t remember to close your projects so that Scrivener writes out changes (or use the File→Sync→With External Folder Now command), use the Scrivener→Preferences→General “Automatic Quit” option.
  • When you return to Scrivener after editing with Ulysses and External Folder Sync gets run, you’ll be shown an Updated Documents list in the Binder area. I suggest checking each document against its most recent snapshot in the Inspector, to spot any formatting, image, or link loss and correct it quickly before you forget! (Read more in the Scrivener manual about using snapshots in section 15.8.) This seldom takes long and is good insurance.
  • To keep project size and backup time lower, once a week use Documents→Snapshot→Show Snapshot Manager in Scrivener, after you’ve checked your most recent Ulysses updates. Delete older “Pre-Sync External File Version” and “Pre-External File Sync Overwrite” snapshots. Your own caution and experience will be your best guide as to how to balance project size, sync speed, and safety.
  • Be aware of your Ulysses filename length. If a filename ends in “…” before the ID number in brackets, edit the filename in Ulysses to contain only the ID in brackets and the front Binder order number (if you’re using it). This will prevent the file from getting disconnected from its Scrivener original.

  1. You could as easily be using Scrivener for Windows, and this workflow would still work on the iOS side. I’m not addressing this for two reasons: First, I don’t have a Windows device so I can’t address Windows-specific Scrivener procedures. Second, using Ulysses on iOS has its own limitations (not unlike iOS Scrivener.) There are certain preferences that can only be changed in Mac Ulysses—and Ulysses does not have a Windows version, nor is it likely to in future. All my directions will assume that you are using Mac Scrivener. 
  2. I use a saved search for this. I added a keyword, “SYNC”, to the files I’d like to have in Ulysses, searched for that keyword in Project Search, then at the very bottom of the project search context menu, saved the search as a collection. I don’t have to adjust the collection, just add the keyword to each new file as it comes back to Scrivener. There are many other ways to set up project searches that may work well for you. Read more detail in the Scrivener manual, section 10.2.4 “Saved Search Result Collections” and section 11.1, “Project Search.” 
  3. Perhaps this is a good place to talk about Scrivener folders. You might be tempted to eliminate your folders from the files you’ll be syncing – there’s no text in them, right?

    Well, not necessarily. I often put notes into my folders – they’re just specially tagged text files in Scrivener, after all. Some people put things like chapter introductions or epigrams into them. More than that, though, they’re “markers” – even though they don’t show up as indented in Ulysses, I can use them to show me where I am in my document structure. This is one of those things that’s up to you. Me, though, I sync all mine, even if they’re empty. 

  4. If you’d like to have new Draft files show up in an “Inbox” folder instead of at the bottom of the Draft folder, you can do that. Set up a new top-level folder in Scrivener called “Inbox”, outside the Draft folder. Point this setting to that folder. Then, when you create a new Draft “sheet” in Ulysses, move it in Ulysses to the Notes folder (or create it there in the first place.) On return sync, Scrivener will take those new files, put them in the Inbox folder you’ve set up (along with any new Notes files), and from there you can sort them back into your project structure where they belong, be they draft or notes.

    If you use this option, do use a regular collection to limit your sync rather than a saved search. Scrivener will automatically add new files to the collection. 

  5. This would convert single enter characters to double enters on outgoing sync, and reduce double enters to single on incoming sync. You’ve already done this because Scrivener MMD→Rich Text compile requires it. Turning this on will mess up your documents’ appearance in Ulysses and make it harder to edit in Ulysses and have the results compile in Scrivener. OFF. 

Edit Mac Scrivener 3 With iOS Ulysses, Part 1: Prepping Your Brain (Changing Your Scrivener Habits) #amwriting

Scrivener and Ulysses CAN get along

Articles in this series:

Part 1

So you’re frustrated by iOS Scrivener’s limitations compared to Mac Scrivener 3, and by its old-fashioned (by iOS standards) interface. You may or may not loathe Dropbox, but you’re definitely frustrated by iOS Scrivener’s “stop everything” sync. You look at iOS Ulysses with its slick interface and wonder why you can’t just use it to edit your Scrivener project. After all, you don’t get full-up Scrivener on iOS, anyway…

Well, dear reader, you can! You can have Scrivener and Ulysses sync with either an iCloud Drive-based sync, or a Dropbox-based sync. But—it involves changing the way you use Scrivener, and effort to adapt your existing Scrivener projects. (Sadly, Mac Scrivener itself will need a “stop everything” sync, but you won’t have to start it and it will go by fast.) Still interested? Read on.

What do you mean, “prepping your brain”?

You’re going to learn to work with Scrivener projects in Scrivener while keeping (eventual) editing with iOS Ulysses in mind. No matter how much you do in Ulysses, there will be a lot that you still need to do in Scrivener; Scrivener has far more robust organising tools, and Scrivener’s compiler provides customisable output not possible from Ulysses.

You’ll need a new attitude towards using Scrivener if using iOS Ulysses as editor is to work well for you. You’ll have to mentally “forget about” certain Scrivener features that cause a lot of friction going back and forth with Ulysses. In some cases, you can add these back after you’ve finished your first draft and have moved on to working with beta readers, editors, professors, publishers, etc. Others features will leave your project forever.

This may be your workflow if:

  • You much prefer Markdown-style editing to Rich Text (WYSIWYG) editing. If you love Scrivener organisation tools (Corkboard! Outliner! Scrivenings!) or Scrivener’s output flexibility, but hate its editor, this may be the workflow you’re looking for.
  • Dropbox gives you hives. If you’d much rather have your project on iCloud Drive than Dropbox, yet be able to edit on iOS without copying the project, this may be the workflow you’re looking for.
  • You do most of your work in simple prose. Maybe you use a bulleted list of your acknowledgements in the back pages, or a table of… something in your preface, with a modest title page and an illustration or 3 and that’s about it. If most of your work is straightforward prose, and you like it that way, this may be the workflow you’re looking for.

This workflow may not be for you if:

  • You’re not going to use Scrivener’s compiler. If you’re not compiling for final output in Scrivener, this workflow may not be for you.
  • You use elaborate list formatting inside Scrivener documents. If you need anything more than web-style bulleted or numbered lists, you may need to adjust them in your compiled output. If this won’t suit, this workflow may not be for you.
  • You use anything but the simplest tables inside Scrivener. Only very simple tables typed in as text in MultiMarkdown format will work well. If you need fancier tables, you may need to adjust them in your compiled output. If this won’t suit, this workflow may not be for you.
  • You need Inspector comments and footnotes (show up in the right-hand column) as opposed to inline annotations and footnotes (placed in the midst of the text itself). If you absolutely need Inspector comments or Inspector footnotes while drafting, this workflow may not be for you.
  • You use Scrivener styles. A lot. Every use of a Scrivener style is a friction point with Ulysses. If you can’t use Markdown instead, your use of styles is widespread, and you’re not willing to consider doing without some of this formatting, this workflow may not be for you.
  • You don’t want to learn or use Markdown and some features of MultiMarkdown. You will need to type Markdown formatting in by hand in Scrivener. If you don’t want to fuss with (Multi)Markdown, this workflow may not be for you.
What this guide won’t do:

I won’t give detailed directions for every single step—or this would be novel-length! Instead I’ll refer you to the Scrivener, Ulysses, or Markdown documentation.

Suggested Scrivener Work Habits when planning on using iOS Ulysses

All of these are habits that will either let your project compile smoothly with the “Convert MultiMarkdown to Rich Text” compile option on,1 make the round trip from Ulysses with less formatting loss, or both. (This article assumes you’re starting with a new Scrivener project, or have already prepped a project for MMD→RTF compile. I’ll cover prepping an existing project in Part 2.)

In general, avoid using non-Markdown formatting as much as practical. The less you have, the less you’ll need to reapply after you edit with Ulysses.

  • Learn Markdown, and how to use MultiMarkdown tables. Visit CommonMark if you don’t know any Markdown—their ten-minute interactive tutorial rocks. Read Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown tables documentation. Scrivener will not help you with this. Ulysses will help with Markdown, but with MultiMarkdown tables, you’re on your own.
  • Get rid of any body or “normal” style. It will cause a lot of friction with Ulysses. (For why, see 1.1.1 below.) Most of your Scrivener work should be in unstyled text. For how to get rid of a body text style, see this post on the Scrivener forum: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=316480#p316480
  • Change your default formatting (“no style”) in Scrivener to block paragraph style—no paragraph indent, and no spacing between paragraphs. Use an extra return to space paragraphs apart. (For why, see 2.1 below. The exceptions are Markdown lists, code blocks, and MMD tables.) To change your default formatting for current and future documents in your project, see this thread on the Scrivener forum: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=62229
  • Don’t bother with making text italic or bold; use _surrounding underscores_ for italics and **surrounding double asterisks** for bold. Use Markdown links for any external link you need. Use Markdown image insertions. (For why, see 1.1.1 and 2.2 below)
  • Use Scrivener-style internal links. As these show up in Ulysses as plain text with no link evident, you may want to use an inline annotation to mark them as links.
  • Use Markdown lists and MultiMarkdown tables if you need any. (For why, see several items below.)
  • Use Scrivener inline annotations and footnotes if you need comments or footnotes. Avoid Inspector comments and Inspector footnotes.(For why, see 1.5 and 2.10 below.)
  • You may need a few styles for things like blockquotes, attributions, centred text, etc. I suggest using an inline annotation in each styled paragraph noting the name of the style.
  • If there are non-Markdown character attributes you need (highlighting, etc.), again you’ll have to use Scrivener styles. Using an inline annotation to tag each paragraph containing these will help you out later. (The other option for styles, particularly if they’re formatting you only use for final output, such as in front and back matter, is just to apply them after you compile, in your favourite word processor.)
  • Make the styles you do use obvious in Scrivener. Figure that you’re going to need to reapply them occasionally. If you never use coloured text even for links, give your character attribute styles a text colour. If you never use highlighting in your final output, give them a background tint. You can deliberately strip those attributes in compile, but the colour or tint will show up in the automatic snapshots that Sync to External Folder takes. Thus, it will be easier to spot and reapply those styles. Even for pure paragraph styles, tagging styled text with an inline annotation will make life easier.

Conclusion

To sync your project with Ulysses smoothly, you’ll need to use Markdown and MultiMarkdown features within Scrivener text documents instead of many of the native Scrivener features. This way of working quickly becomes a habit, but it isn’t for everyone.

Appendix: What Happens in the Scrivener ↔︎ Ulysses round-trip—and in MMD→RTF compile

  1. Ulysses round trip effects:
    1. Any paragraph that you edit with Ulysses will
      1. Lose its formatting. Italics, bold, underline, and other character attributes will disappear from Scrivener. Indeed, any change from Scrivener’s default style (font, font size, alignment, etc.) will be erased.
      2. Lose Scrivener styles. Any style you truly need will have to be reapplied.
      3. Have Inspector comments and Inspector footnotes (linked notation) stripped out.
    2. Scrivener-style lists will show up as code blocks inside Ulysses, with only one level of indentation. If you edit them, your list formatting will be lost for the items you edit. (see above.)
    3. Scrivener-style tables will just show up in Ulysses as a series of paragraphs. Once again, the table’s formatting will be damaged if you edit its cells in Ulysses.
    4. Scrivener-style image insertions and external links are invisible inside Ulysses. If you edit their paragraphs, they disappear (see above).
    5. Scrivener ((inline annotations)) and {{inline footnotes}} do show up in double parentheses and double braces, respectively, in Ulysses. You can add new comments and new footnotes by enclosing comments in (()) and footnotes in {{}}.
    6. Scrivener internal links look like plain text. MMD-style internal links are ignored.
    7. MMD tables in Ulysses will look like plain text with some vertical bars thrown in, just as they do in Scrivener. You can edit them just the same as you would in Scrivener.
  2. MMD→RTF compile effects:
    When compiling a document in Scrivener with this option on, first the MMD→RTF translation is done, then styles (if any) are applied, and finally the compile layout formatting is done. In practical terms,

    1. Paragraphs separated by only one “enter” are compressed. You must type “Enter” twice between paragraphs in order for the Scrivener MMD processor to recognise them. The exceptions are Markdown lists, code blocks, and MMD tables.
    2. Non-Markdown character formatting is stripped. Underlines, highlighting, strike-through and more will vanish in the compile. If you absolutely need any of these in your output, you’ll need to use styles for them.
    3. “Inline” Markdown definitely comes through. Italics, bold, external links, and images all end up in the compiled output if they are designated in Markdown in the text.
    4. Markdown lists and MMD tables appear in the compiled output as well.
    5. Scrivener lists show up as a series of paragraphs with hand-bulleting or numbering. Indents are lost.
    6. Scrivener tables appear in the compiled output as a single massive collapsed paragraph. No “table-ness” survives.
    7. Markdown and MMD “blocks” in general do not pass through compile intact. They are wiped out by the section layouts unless they are styled. This includes both code blocks and blockquotes.
    8. On the other hand, code blocks surrounding Scrivener styles are absolutely essential to retaining things like intra-paragraph tabs during compile. Without code blocks, tabs don’t survive the MMD→RTF process long enough to be styled.
    9. Strangely enough, MMD-style footnotes have formatting problems.
    10. Scrivener-style external links disappear.
    11. Scrivener inline annotations and inline footnotes work just fine.
    12. Scrivener-style internal links compile just fine.
    13. Compile ignores Dividers (four hyphens).

  1. You can get by without using this compile option, but at the cost of having to do much more “fixing” of your edited files in Scrivener when you get them back from Ulysses. In my opinion, it’s not worth it. 

Scrivener v. iOS, Part 3 — Preparing Your Project for Sync

4walls-bigScrivener Mac has two methods of external synchronization. They are not mutually exclusive. You can use one for part of your project and the other for another part of your project; or you can use one method for one remote session, and the other for the next.

Both methods of sync allow you to automatically make a backup (snapshot) of any edited document before changes from external editing are applied. I strongly recommend enabling this option! When (not if) you have accidentally edited a document both on your iPad and on your Mac, this will enable you to reconcile the two versions. It will also help you restore accidentally lost formatting.

Both the methods of sync have limitations: Neither allows you to work with keywords, statuses, revision levels, nor with custom metadata, with Inspector comments, with Inspector footnotes, nor with your folder structure. You may lose Inspector comments and/or footnotes if you edit a document. You can’t get at project notes. There are (usually) limitations on formatting available for body text within your documents. Index Card sync only supports DropBox; you can use any folder-based cloud service with External Folder sync, but that means iCloud is out.

First, let’s talk about the pros and cons of either External Folder Sync or Index Card Sync.

  • Index Card Sync Pros:
    • You can sync your synopses.
    • You can sync your document notes.
    • You can sync document order.
  • Index Card Sync Cons:
    • It is plain text only. You can, with preparation, preserve or add boldface, italics, inline annotations, and inline footnotes. All other formatting (blockquotes, lists, etc.) will probably be lost if you edit a document containing them. Embedded illustrations go bye-bye.
    • All Index Card syncing is manual. You must manually sync with DropBox both before and after a planned Index Card editing session.
    • It is limited to DropBox for syncing services.
  • External Folder Sync Pros:
    • It can be automated. When you set up External Folder sync, you can specify that you want to automatically sync changed files to your sync folder when you close your project, and automatically check for changed files and offer to sync when you open your project in Scrivener again.
    • It can sync files in either RTF or plain text. If you’re lucky, with RTF you may be able to preserve the formatting of your documents.
  • External Folder Sync Cons:
    • All you get to edit is the document body text. No structure information (ordering, synopsis, document notes) is synced.
    • The format preservation promised by RTF syncing is largely an illusion. There are damn few RTF editors for iOS that can work with non-iCloud services (essential), only one that I know of that requires no internet connection, and none is truly complete.
    • You must use a folder-based cloud service for this to work, one that your chosen iOS-side editor also supports. DropBox works, and works well. iCloud is out of the question.

So. It looks like this is a good fit for you. You’d like to work on your project on your iOS device during long subway rides or during your weekly backcountry day hikes. You’re working on something that doesn’t have illustrations, tables, lists, or other non-supported formatting. What do you need to do to your Scrivener project?

I’m not going to cover the actual sync setup. This is well-covered in the Scrivener documentation. They also have a pretty good video of the sync process.

First, I suggest you eliminate unnecessary formatting in your Scrivener documents. If the Compiler can do a bit of formatting for you, let it! Go to Preferences, Corrections panel, and turn off “Use smart quotes.” I also turn off “Replace double hyphens with em-dashes” and “Replace triple period with ellipses.” The Compiler can add these back when you do any output.

Second, to avoid computer confusion remove smart quotes from your documents as well. Select all the documents you plan on syncing (or, heck, just every document you’ve got in your project) and put the editor into Scrivenings mode. Now select all the text. Then, from the format menu, select each of the following items:

  • Convert:Quotes to Straight Quotes.
  • Convert:Bold and Italics to MultiMarkdown Syntax
  • Convert:Inspector Comments to Inline Annotations
  • Convert:Inspector Footnotes to Inline Footnotes

Now you will find that text that used to be Bold is now surrounded by double asterisks like this **Bold**. Text that was once Italic is now surrounded by single asterisks (*Italic*.) I suggest that you use these indicators for Bold and Italic from now on as you work, both in Scrivener and on your iOS device.

You will also find that if you had Inspector comments or footnotes, they are now embedded in your text inside bubbles. These will show up in synced plain text documents as being inside double parentheses ((Inline Annotation)) or double braces {{Inline Footnotes.}} When you edit plain text documents on your iOS device, you can add annotations or footnotes by putting them inside (()) or {{}}. Double brackets [[another Scrivener doc]] can be used to add internal links.

If you’d like to have your project notes available on your iOS device, don’t use the Project Notes feature. Instead, make a folder for project notes similar to the Characters and Places folders, and put project notes there as ordinary documents. You can sync your project notes docs (and your character and place notes as well) right along with your story documents. Especially if you’re using External Folder Sync, make use of Inline Annotations. You’ll have these for reference when you’re editing your documents on your iOS device.

If you would like to work with your story structure on your iOS device, your only choice available is Index Card. Here are my suggestions to make Index Card more valuable:

  • Anything you would be tempted to use as a keyword (for example, character or place names) for easy search, just list it in your synopsis instead. Scrivener has a fast synopsis-only search, and those names will also be available in Index Card.
  • More generally, put into the document synopsis anything you would like to have visible at a glance while looking at a display of all your documents’ index cards. Draft status, goal/motivation/conflict/resolution, a brief scene description — anything that will help you to understand what’s in the doc without actually looking inside. Scrivener provides lots of ways to tag stuff, but if you want to see it easily in Index Card, put it in the synopsis text.
  • Use inline annotations or document notes for any material you’ll want to refer to easily while working on your main document text. These will be readily available while editing your document in Index Card.

In Part 4: Scrivener v. iOS — Workflow Secrets