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.

Text Input Methods: Comparison

Image courtesy of Ambro at
Image courtesy of Ambro at
One thing I was taught at dear old Mother Technology [mumble] decades ago: Always take measurements.

Handwriting recognition feels faster to me. Dictation (speech recognition) feels incredibly slow. On-screen keyboard typing feels awkward, and I find my tendency to reverse letters on output frustrating when I use a Bluetooth keyboard. But that’s just subjective impressions — Real Engineers get Facts.

I’ve therefore run a one-woman experiment: What is the best way for me to get words out of my head and onto, well, some medium readable by someone else? When evaluating these results, please keep in mind:

  • I’ve had a typing course and lots of practice, but I’m no speed demon. In a formal typing test I run about 30-50 words per minute.
  • I spent decades Before Word Processors, writing important correspondence longhand either for transcription by a secretary or as a direct communication.
  • These tests were conducted as free-writing: I was “keeping the pen moving” (or keyboard or whatever) — not pausing to think about what I was writing, but also not working from a copy. My intention was to determine the upper speed limit of getting thoughts, however disorganized, from my brain into an externally legible form. Actual writing of a story will go slower than this, as I pause to actually think about what I want to write.
  • Test conditions: For each method, I set a timer for 25 minutes, about as long as I can stand to write in an uninterrupted block. Results displayed are average words per minute. I correct spelling and punctuation as I go from long habit; therefore, speeds reported for handwriting recognition and speech recognition are net of error correction afterwards.
  • YMMV — depending on your handwriting, your typing speed, and your ability to enunciate clearly, you may get different results.


15.5 WPM
19.4 WPM
Handwriting Recognition (WritePad 3rd party keyboard in Index Card app)
9.1 WPM
Handwriting Recognition (Smart Notes app by MyScript)
Abandoned after correcting for 6 minutes with much less than half the writing corrected.
Dictation (iOS Speech Recognition in Index Card app)
18.7 WPM
Typing (Bluetooth keyboard in Index Card app)
27.4 WPM
Typing (onscreen iOS keyboard in Index Card app)
16.5 WPM

As you can see, handwriting recognition stinks as long-form input for me. It can never be faster than my longhand speed, and in fact typing on a keyboard, typing on-screen, and (surprise!) dictation are much more efficient; typing on a keyboard more so than even training a human to read my home-grown shorthand and paying said human to transcribe it.

Despite my love for it, I would be wise to limit my use of handwriting recognition to short texts or emails. If for some reason I want to write and don’t have my Bluetooth keyboard with me, I should either dictate or type on the screen.

And yet, and yet — I still love handwriting recognition.


Actual English cursive writing, good enough to be puzzled through by another human.
Not real Gregg shorthand, but the abbreviated cursive by which I take notes in meetings or classes. I can read it, if I remember what I was writing about (this is why block letter titles and scrawled illustrations exist in my actual notes.) No one else can (which is why I got Ds on handed-in notes.)
On an iPad, either via Bluetooth keyboard or by the built-in onscreen keyboard.
Speech recognition on an iPad, using the Apple built-in dictation capability.
Handwriting Recognition
By one of the two handwriting recognition apps on the iPad which I own. I use my cursive longhand for this.

Hard Drive Failure Cranks Camp NaNoWriMo Anxiety Higher

I’ve blogged several times about my Mac-iPad-Scrivener-Evernote writing system. All goes well as long as each component does its part. But lately, my poor mid-2010 Mac Mini has been running slower and slower. I tried several software fixes — clearing caches, rebuilding indexes, even reinstalling stuff that seemed particularly slow, but the problem kept getting worse. I was frantic, screaming at the poor machine when it took forever to check mail or sync Scrivener so I could work at least a little on my iPad. For nearly a week my Mac was virtually unusable until at last, on Monday, I gave up and took it in to the Apple store.

The verdict of the “Genius” was that the hard drive was rapidly failing. Since I was in for at least a $160 drive replacement bill, I went ahead and added another 4GB of memory for a total of 8GB, a new little external hard drive for backup (the one I’d been using was even more ancient than the Mini) and an 8GB thumb drive to use as an emergency startup disk. My Mac is sprightlier and safer than it’s ever been.

But much writing time was lost to futile attempts to fix the Mac myself, more to the backup before service (It took 5 hours!) and yet more to restoring my system yesterday. Camp NaNoWriMo is only six days away. If I weren’t a big girl, I’d break down and cry right here in Starbucks.

Maybe I will anyway.

Lesson learned: Suck it up and pay the bucks to the IT department, AKA the Apple store, before my system falls completely apart. After 15+ years out of Mac software development, I no longer have the expertise to diagnose and fix it myself. And I sure don’t have the time.

— Update —

By popular demand, here are some links to my posts about Macs, Scrivener, iPad and how they fit into my writing universe:

Looking back over my posts, I see that I haven’t blogged much about using Evernote in my writing workflow, just in my GTD implementation. So, a few words about Evernote:

Everything goes into Evernote (EN). If I scribble it on the back of an envelope, I take a picture and put it in EN. I clip webpages, type out plain text notes, make voice recordings — all stored in EN. The only things that aren’t in EN are the actual words of my novel (past or present), scene lists (which live inside the chapter synopses) and a couple of spreadsheets, one of which keeps track of my work hours and the other of which is a partial Martian ephemeris. Those are in Scrivener.

I store everything even remotely writing-related into an EN notebook, called, oddly enough, “Writing.” I use EN tags for the project name (i.e., MyCampNaNo,) Character, Setting, and ProjectNotes. Then while I’m writing on my project, I keep EN open in the background, filtered to the project name. I can quickly switch and search for anything. Even if I misfiled what I’m looking for, I can do an EN search for something that should bring up the document if it’s in EN. Of course, it is in EN if I took note at all.

The advantage for me is that I can take a note and put it into EN with anything — my phone, my iPad, a scrap of paper that I can scan with my iPad later — or even the fancy Moleskine journals which I use when I know I’m going to be doing world-building. I don’t need to have my Mac with me, a good thing because the Mini isn’t portable. (At first I put links to all my EN notes into Scrivener docs that lived in the Research folder there, but that was too much trouble to maintain.) I know it’s contrary to Scrivener doctrine, which has everything related to a project stored in that Scrivener Project, but Scrivener isn’t ubiquitous. EN is.

As a result, when I want to work on my iPad remotely, I don’t have to worry about how to sync my Scrivener notes. They’re all in EN, and they’re always there.


Scrivener v. iOS, Part 5 — Index Card Workflow Concluded

UPDATE 4 January 2018

As of Mac Scrivener v 3.0.x, Index Card sync is no longer supported. The following article applies to Mac Scrivener 2.9 and earlier ONLY.

20140125-094003.jpgOnce again, this is not an ad for Index Card – I would be delighted if there were any competitor that could access as much or more of my Scrivener projects’ structures.

If you’ve followed my blog posts on Scrivener v. iOS, then you’ve set up your Scrivener project, synced it to Index Card, and worked happily on your iPad far, far away from your Mac. Now you’ve got some changes to your project in Index Card, and want to update your Scrivener project.

Once again, no part of the sync process for Index Card is automatic. You must manually go to the Sharing menu in Index Card and select Copy to Dropbox. Be sure the “Export Notes” option is on. Then, from the list of file formats, tap on “Index Card.” You should see an “Uploading to Dropbox…” message. If you get an alert saying, “Existing File,” go ahead and tap “Replace.”

Back on your Mac, you will need to open your Scrivener project, and select “Sync > With Index Card for iOS…” from the file menu. In the popped-up dialog box, click the “Update collection from Index Card” button. That’s it.

Note that you will get no warning whatsoever from Scrivener that there may have been changes in the Index Card version. It is all too easy to work on the iPad in Index Card and forget one of the two steps – either not copy from Index Card to Dropbox, or not sync from Dropbox into Scrivener – and then wonder what the heck happened to your work. If this happens, don’t panic! Just start the sequence from the iPad with the copy to Dropbox, and then the sync from Dropbox to Scrivener. If you have conflicting changes, they will show up in the Updated Documents collection. Since you checked “Take Snapshot before updating main text” item in the sync dialog (you DID check it, didn’t you?) you will be able to merge your changes via the snapshot.

Avoid syncing back from Scrivener to Index Card until you are sure all your changes are saved in Scrivener properly. Conversely, I suggest you sync back to Index Card before working in Index Card again, even if you make no changes in Scrivener. The reason? Scrivener will continue to update all its documents that were changed in Index Card since it last synced out to Index Card. Once again, this can lead to unexpected conflicts. So, the pattern is: Scrivener to Index Card, Index Card back to Scrivener, then Scrivener back to Index Card again.

IN PART 6: Some notes on External Folder Sync workflows.

Scrivener v. iOS, Part 4 — Index Card Workflow Secrets

UPDATE 4 January 2018

As of Mac Scrivener v 3.0.x, Index Card sync is no longer supported. The following article applies to Mac Scrivener 2.9 and earlier ONLY.

20140125-094003.jpgThis is not an ad for Index Card. I get no commission from this. It’s just that as of this writing (12 February 2014) there is no other way to export your structure from a Scrivener project, work on the structure, and update the Scrivener project with the altered structure.

Believe me, I’ve tried.

To use Index Card, first buy it from the App Store ($4.99) and install it. Then link it to your DropBox account. In your Scrivener project, follow the directions in the manual for setting up Index Card Sync. You’ll need to set up a collection containing the documents in your project that you want to sync.

Workflow secrets for the setup:

  1. Give the collection you intend to sync a short name (I use “IC”). Since your Index Card file will have both the name of your project and that of the collection in its filename, keeping the collection name short will help you see the whole name when you view the filename in lists.
  2. As you work on your project in Scrivener, you will probably be adding documents, changing document names, changing folder names, and so forth. I find it helpful to have an automatic collection set up to contain all the files in my manuscript and my notes, which I call “IC Sync List” I create this by searching for labels such as “scene chapter character notes,” and saving the search results as an automatic collection. When you add, remove, or rearrange stuff in Scrivener, the “IC Sync List” will automatically change to reflect your new structure. When you’re ready to sync to Index Card, first empty your IC collection, then from the IC Sync List collection select all documents and add them to the IC collection. (Index Card Sync won’t use an automatic collection. Pity.)
  3. None of your nested folder structure will make it to Index Card. If you use folders within your manuscript, I find it helpful to sync them to Index Card anyway. I put a tag in the synopsis of each folder (a simple “@” character works for me) to let me know in Index Card that the document is in fact a folder. Then, in IndexCard, the “@s” are markers that will break my project into sections and make it easy, for example, to move a scene from Chapter 3 to Chapter 17.

Actually syncing from Scrivener to Index Card is deceptively easy. Choose the menu item “File>Sync>With Index Card for iOS…”. In the dialog, select the collection you’ve set up for Index Card from the drop down menu. Check all the options! Then click the “Create or Update Index Card File…” button. In the Save File dialog box, navigate to the /DropBox/Indexcard folder and click the Save button. If it says there is already a file with that name, click “Replace.”

Workflow secrets for the Scrivener sync to Index Card:

  1. Don’t edit the filename in the Save dialog. Scrivener and Index Card may get confused as to where the information belongs.
  2. Exit Scrivener or close the project immediately after syncing. This simple discipline will prevent nearly all editing conflicts.
  3. Watch the DropBox icon on your menu bar. Wait until the icon shows a green checkmark before proceeding!

There are two ways to open your project in Index Card. The first is to open your DropBox app on your iOS device, and select the .indexcard file in /Dropbox/IndexCard. The use DropBox’s Open In… feature to open the project in Index Card. Or, you can open Index Card, tap the Projects button, tap the DropBox icon, then select your project. In either case, if you get an alert saying that the project already exists, just tap Replace.

Workflow secrets for opening your project in Index Card:

  1. Open DropBox and mark the IndexCard file as a favorite. Marking a favorite file is permanent, and DropBox will always try to keep the file up to date on your device. If you forget to open your project in Index Card, and you want to start working during your hour-long subway ride, marking it as favorite may save your bacon.
  2. Open the project in Index Card on your iOS device before you leave on your journey to wherever. DropBox favorite status is not as reliable as might be hoped.

Once you get your project into Index Card, what to do? The good things about Index Card are the corkboard, where you can look at and work with your overall structure, and the card editor, in which you can not only write the text for a scene, but you can also swipe to the next scene (or previous one) to work on that, or for reference before you swipe back to the card you’re working on. If I have a few scenes that are my day’s target, I can get right to work, or I can go to the corkboard to arrange and re-arrange scene order.

Workflow secrets while you’re working inside Index Card:

  1. Never duplicate a card! Scrivener puts hidden tags inside each card and gets horribly confused about which card is which. You may lose your old card (a pain; you’ll have to reconstruct it from the automatic snapshot in Scrivener.) You may lose your new card. (A bigger pain. You’ll have to go back to Index Card without syncing from Scrivener, copy and paste info from the duplicated card into a brand new card, then kill the duplicated card.) Better just to make a new card to begin with and
  2. Turn on the “Long Text Field” option in Index Card’s settings. This will let you edit the main text of your scene as well as its synopsis and notes.
  3. Don’t bother with stacks. Seriously, don’t. None of the Index Card stack structure will make it back into Scrivener, and the next time you sync to Scrivener and back to Index Card it will all be lost. I will occasionally tag chapter headers with a color (easier than looking for my little “@” characters) if I’m going to be working in Index Card a long time without syncing up. But that will be lost, too, so I seldom bother.


Glorious Dulles International Airport

20130717-123559.jpgPermit me to take a paragraph to grouse:

My brother-in-law’s funeral was yesterday. Today I am sitting in Dulles International Airport, Washington DC. Our return flight to Los Angeles having been delayed due to weather, we have re-routed, and will not arrive at LAX until 9:30 PM. I am emotionally fatigued, physically stressed, and my word count is anemic. This is NOT what I had planned for July!!!

Thank you for listening. I feel a little better now. On the plus side:

  • I am not so far behind that I can’t yet finish on time.
  • I am in MUCH better shape as far as organization of my writing is concerned than I was in November.
  • I will have some time here in the terminal, as well as flight time, to get some words in a row.

Regarding software systems issues: Scrivener (Mac) to/from Index Card (iPad) synchronization is far from automatic, but is the only method to get my entire work in progress over to IOS in one lump for intensive production. Using the Markdown syntax for italics and bold, rather than using them directly in Scrivener, makes the plain text editing in Index Card acceptable (if that’s the only fancy formatting you do.) It was easy to make that global change in Scrivener. If I want my daily word count to correctly update in Scrivener, it helps to create several blank text documents in my Scrivener project, sync them to Index Card, and be sure I use those rather than creating new cards in Index Card.

I am still struggling with Aeon Timeline. Great tool, but not designed for my workflow (Write first, organize second.) As for Index Card IOS, the best I can do to work with AT is to record time/date and character list in my Scrivener synopsis (which shows up in Index Card), and remember to update them while working in Index Card. Getting the data into Timeline once I’ve synced my work back to Scrivener is still a mostly manual process — copy and paste dates into Scrivener’s AT metadata fields, sync to AT, then hand-enter character connections.

Camp NaNoWriMo, Day 12

I did get a few words done on my novel today, but basically I’ve just broken down. The brother-in-law passing, the trip from California to Virginia for the funeral, the need to both pack and come up with a systems strategy to keep writing even though I’ve depended heavily on my desktop Mac– my brain is spinning out. I just now sat down and cried because I dropped a bottle of Tylenol.

So Hubby quietly got me the Tylenol and some water (I love that man!), helped me figure out what to pack, and now I’m looking at how to physically keep writing. I don’t have a laptop — I’ve been using a remote desktop app, LogMeIn, on my iPad to use the Scrivener app on my desktop Mac for all my writing.

That ain’t going to work on an airplane from Los Angeles to Richmond.

Solving this is critical to my peace of mind — a software developer for decades, if my writing system isn’t serving its purpose, I can’t just ignore it and write longhand for a few days. My brain will peck away at the systems problem and refuse to think about getting my heroine and her swain into jeopardy and out. I will be fretting about getting to Frys for that needed doohickey, or searching the App Store for the perfect tool, and I won’t be either paying attention to my grieving relations or getting my word count plumped up.

So, yeah, I’ve put in some work on the systems problem today, and I think I have a solution hammered out. It involves the Index Card app for iPad, Scrivener, and one of Scrivener’s capabilities I’ve hitherto ignored, to wit, its ability to use MarkDown codes. I’ll be testing my solution at two different LA write-ins tomorrow, to the tune of 5,000 words (I hope.) I’ll keep you posted.

Writers’ Tools, Revisited

I have been forced to re-think my toolkit while starting my revision process. During NaNoWriMo, story structure was something I would deal with… later. Now I find myself wrestling with a 50K bear, and tools I had put aside for November are making a reappearance.

I am old-fashioned enough to want a physical paper manuscript to mark up, but a recent shoulder injury made lugging a half-ream of paper to Starbucks impractical. So… I printed my manuscript in classic MS format to a PDF and then stored it in DropBox. I then marked up the PDF in Notability, stored it back to DropBox, and proceeded to kill a small tree by printing out that half-ream manuscript.

Now I have come to the point of wanting to be able to move my chunks of story around. While Scrivener lets one do this with relative ease, I found myself longing for the column mode of Index Card for iOS. So I re-installed that sucker, and now I have a timeline view of my novel, chapter by chapter.

I know, I know, theoretically I should have worked out the structure before spewing out 50K words. Doesn’t seem to work for me. Maybe as I get more practice at this it will be more helpful to do it first.

So, my list of post-NaNoWriMo tools so far:

  • Notability. (iOS) Very useful for marking up PDF docs as if they were on paper.
  • Index Card. (iOS) Great for working with structure — and the ordering of the chunks does get transferred back to Scrivener, although the hierarchy does not. So, I’ve started using this for outlining, and simply will not update Scrivener until I’m 90% done. It’s just not a tool for me to use to grind out word count.

And my toolkit would not be complete without…

  • Starbucks. (iOS) Sine qua non. Gotta get away from the house to write, most days. Where else can I get a chair and table for the day, free WiFi, and people to interact with/observe for $1.75? They even have coffee.
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