iOS Scrivener Sync Altermatives, Part 1: iCloud Drive #amwriting

Many Scrivener users want iOS sync to work via iCloud Drive. Desperately. I hear from users on the Literature and Latte forums that they’re keeping their working Mac/iOS projects in iCloud Drive with no apparent problem.

Don’t do it! I also hear users who lose all their writing this way. It’ll work fine—until it doesn’t. Because of Scrivener’s unique “hidden multiple files” project format, the only recommended cloud service for “working” projects is Dropbox. Period.

Nonetheless, I’m going to suggest ways to use iCloud Drive to get work from Mac to iOS and back, and from iOS device to iOS device. These are file transfer solutions, not sync solutions. They’re not automatic. They’re not “transparent.” They don’t happen in the background without you doing anything (once you’ve set it up). If you’re looking for a “set it and forget it” solution, these aren’t it.

What they are, is safe. They use iCloud Drive. You can automate parts of the process. Still with me? Good! Let’s get into the setup.

System Requirements

iOS Scrivener 1.2 or greater
iOS/iPadOS 11 or greater
Mac Scrivener 2 or greater
Any version of MacOS that supports iCloud Drive

For iOS 11:
FileApp
For iOS 12:
The Shortcuts app, and a shortcut as described here: UnZIP and Open In…

Mac – iOS:

Mac side:

  1. First, set up your iCloud preferences for maximum safety when working with Scrivener and iCloud Drive
    1. Open the Mac System Preferences app, and open iCloud preferences.
    2. Next to iCloud Drive, click the Options… button.
    3. Turn off “Optimise Mac Storage”, in the bottom left of the options dialog. This is essential. Scrivener depends on your projects being physically present on your hard/ssd drive. If any portion of a project has to be downloaded from iCloud, you risk project corruption.
    4. For maximum safety, turn off “Desktop and Documents Folders.” This is less urgent than the “optimise Mac storage” setting, but if you don’t need this for other apps besides Scrivener, please turn it off. You will not use this to transfer Scrivener projects.
  2. Next, set up a transfer folder.
    1. Open up an iCloud Drive window. Create a new folder, and name it something obvious, like “Scrivener Transfers”.

    Work on your Mac Scrivener project as you usually do. When you’re ready to stop work on your Mac:

  3. From the File menu, select File->Back up->Back up to…

  4. In the Back up to: dialog, check the “Back up as ZIP File” box towards the bottom of the window. This is essential. Here’s where you make this process safe for your data. By making a ZIPped backup and transferring that, you save your project in a single file that isn’t vulnerable to sync corruption like an unzipped, .scriv project.

iOS side:

When you’re ready to work on your project on your iOS device:

  1. Open iOS Scrivener.
  2. Navigate to your projects screen if needed.
  3. If there are any copies of your project on your iOS device:
    1. Tap the “Edit” button at the top of your vertical projects button.
    2. Delete the iOS copies of the project. This will eliminate any possible confusion by working on an old copy of your project.
    3. Tap the “Done” button
  4. For iOS 12 or 13
    1. Open the Files app
    2. Navigate to the “Scrivener Transfers” folder (or whatever you named it)
    3. iOS 13+:
      1. Tap on the (most recent) backup project. The Files app will unZip the project. Wait until the project is unzipped AND uploaded to iCloud.
      2. Tap on the unZipped project. It will open in Scrivener.
    4. iOS 12:
      1. Create an “Unzip and Open In…” shortcut as described in this L&L forum post: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=287616#p287616
      2. Tap on your zipped project, and select Unzip and Open In… as your action.
      3. After unzipping, select Scrivener as your target. Your project will open directly in Scrivener.
  5. For iOS 11:
    1. Get a free third-party utility, FileApp. (Not the same as Files!!!)
    2. Open FileApp. Tap on the plus icon in the upper right corner. Then tap the import icon in the lower left.
    3. Tap Browse, navigate to your transfer folder on iCloud Drive, and select your zipped project. It will be copied to FileApp
    4. Still in FileApp, tap your project to unzip it there.
    5. Drill down into the unzipped project until you find a folder that has an extension of .scriv (very important!)
    6. Long press on that .scriv folder, then tap the export icon and open your project in Scrivener.

When you’re ready to put away your iOS device:

  1. Return to the projects screen.
  2. Tap the “Edit” button at the top of your vertical projects button.
  3. Select the project you just worked on.
  4. Tap the export button
  5. iOS Scrivener will make a zipped backup of your project
  6. Save to to the “Scrivener Transfers” folder (or whatever you named it) in Files
  7. (Optional) Delete the project from your iOS Scrivener app (select the project and tap “Delete” at the bottom of your screen) If you do this, you can avoid confusion about which version of your project you worked on last.
  8. Tap the “Done” button

Back to the Mac:

When you’re ready to start work on your Mac again:

  1. From the Finder, open the “Scrivener Transfers” folder (or whatever you named it) on the iCloud drive.
  2. Delete the unzipped project—it’s now old
  3. Double click on the most recent zipped version. Rename the unzipped project to something obvious (“My Project From iOS”) and drag it to your desktop.
  4. Go ahead and double-click the iOS version on your desktop to open it. Scrivener will incorporate the iOS changes. Close the project.
  5. Open your old Mac Scrivener project in your usual way.
  6. From the File menu, select File->Import->Scrivener Project
  7. In the Open dialog, select the project version from iOS that you dragged to your desktop.
  8. When you see the “Merge?” dialog, go ahead and select “Import and Merge”. After you’ve checked to be sure your changes made it over, you may delete the iOS version on your desktop (it’s secure in zipped form in your transfers folder.)

Optional Automation

If you’d like to have the “Mac Side” steps 3 and 4 automated, do this:

  1. From the Scrivener menu, select Scrivener->Preferences…
  2. Tap on the Backup icon
  3. Turn on these Backup preferences: Automatic backup, backup on close, backup on manual save, compress backups as ZIP files, use date in backup file names.
  4. Keep at least 25 backups.
  5. Choose your iCloud “Scrivener Transfers” folder as your backup location.

    Now whenever you either close your project, close Scrivener, or use cmd-s to save, a fresh zipped backup will be saved in your Scrivener transfers folder, named so you can tell them apart, ready to be opened in iOS Scrivener. If you don’t think you’ll turn off your Mac, close your project, or remember to type cmd-s, there’s one last automation step:

  6. Still in the Preferences dialog, tap on the General icon and select Automatic Quit. Put a checkmark beside automatic quit, and adjust the interval so that it’s not so short as to be annoying, but often enough that Scrivener will quit (thus making an automatic backup in iCloud) before you pull out your iPhone or iPad to work.

iOS – iOS

iOS to iOS is easier than the above in that we only need to worry about one environment. It’s harder because we have no way to automate any of this. Using this method to transfer files between two (or more!) iOS devices is totally dependent on user discipline to keep versions straight. Be told.

Prepare the Files app

  1. Open the Files app on your first iOS device, which I’ll call D-One.
  2. Next, set up a transfer folder in iCloud drive. Just as for Mac – iOS, create a new folder, and name it something obvious, like “Scrivener Transfers”.

Switching from D-One

When you’re ready to put away D-One, or switch to your other iOS Device, D-Two:

  1. Return to the projects screen.
  2. Tap the “Edit” button at the top of your vertical projects button.
  3. Select the project you just worked on.
  4. Tap the export button
  5. iOS Scrivener will make a zipped backup of your project
  6. Save to to the “Scrivener Transfers” folder (or whatever you named it) in Files
  7. (Optional) Delete the project from your iOS Scrivener app (select the project and tap “Delete” at the bottom of your screen) If you do this, you can avoid confusion about which version of your project you worked on last.
  8. Tap the “Done” button

Starting up D-Two

When you’re ready to work on your project on your second iOS device, D-Two:

  1. Open iOS Scrivener.
  2. Navigate to your projects screen if needed.
  3. If there are any copies of your project on D-Two:
    1. Tap the “Edit” button at the top of your vertical projects button.
    2. Delete the iOS copies of the project. This will eliminate any possible confusion by working on an old copy of your project.
    3. Tap the “Done” button
    4. For iOS 12 or 13
      1. Open the Files app
      2. Navigate to the “Scrivener Transfers” folder (or whatever you named it)
      3. iOS 13+:
        1. Tap on the (most recent) backup project. The Files app will unZip the project. Wait until the project is unzipped AND uploaded to iCloud.
        2. Tap on the unZipped project. It will open in Scrivener.
      4. iOS 12:
        1. Create an “Unzip and Open In…” shortcut as described in this L&L forum post: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=287616#p287616
        2. Tap on your zipped project, and select Unzip and Open In… as your action.
        3. After unzipping, select Scrivener as your target. Your project will open directly in Scrivener.
    5. For iOS 11:
      1. Get a free third-party utility, FileApp. (Not the same as Files!!!)
      2. Open FileApp. Tap on the plus icon in the upper right corner. Then tap the import icon in the lower left.
      3. Tap Browse, navigate to your transfer folder on iCloud Drive, and select your zipped project. It will be copied to FileApp
      4. Still in FileApp, tap your project to unzip it there.
      5. Drill down into the unzipped project until you find a folder that has an extension of .scriv (very important!)
      6. Long press on that .scriv folder, then tap the export icon and open your project in Scrivener.

Repeat the cycle as needed. Enjoy!

Scrivener v. iOS, Part 6 – External Folder Sync Workflow Secrets

Image courtesy of Samarttiw / freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Samarttiw / freedigitalphotos.net

Update 20 July 2016:

Do not use the Mac/Windows Scrivener “Sync With External Folder” feature with Scrivener for iOS! If you are having problems setting up your Mac or PC with iOS Scrivener, please follow Megan M.’s excellent step-by-step instructions at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=53&t=35108&start=15#p217129

End Update

I’m finishing up my “Scrivener v. iOS” series, here. It’s still relevant — despite the hopes of all, both developers and users, Scrivener iOS is not yet imminent, so all the current ways to get work done on your trusty iPad and/or iPhone and get that back into Scrivener are still of intense interest (at least, so my blog stats say.) For reference, earlier articles in the series are:

Scrivener v. iOS, Part 1 — Overall Approaches
Scrivener v. iOS, Part 2 — Remote Desktop Sharing
Scrivener v. iOS, Part 3 — Preparing Your Project for Sync
Scrivener v. iOS, Part 4 — Index Card Workflow Secrets
Scrivener v. iOS, Part 5 — Index Card Workflow Concluded

Please note: All of this synchronization info applies to Mac Scrivener only.

In many ways, the external folder sync feature is the most robust and flexible way to work on your Scrivener project on your iOS device. You can choose any iOS editor, any editor at all, that will work with either .rtf files or plain text files, and also work with Dropbox or WebDAV. The syncing mechanism is flexible enough that if your Mac can see a directory, you can put your sync folder there. This means you can use any general purpose cloud drive system you want — DropBox, WebDAV… and if your iOS editor can access it, you’re in business. You can set up Scrivener to automatically sync your project when you open it, to get changes from your iOS device, and when you close that Scrivener project, to automatically put your changes into the cloud, available for your iOS editor wherever you might be. You can set up a saved search, so that you can automatically include new documents in your sync collection without any hand-updating of a collection. You can even export both your draft for editing and your text notes for reference.

This is all good news, but what’s the bad news? The bad news is that none of your metadata (synopsis, document notes, project notes, keywords, custom metadata and so forth) is accessible at all. You also can’t rearrange your documents, you can only edit them. For me, this is a deal-breaker; I want the visibility into and control over structure that Index Card provides, with its ability to rearrange documents and see my synopses. And yet, periodically I try external folder sync again just because of its superior sync flow.

If access to your outline, synopses, and document notes doesn’t matter to you, the comparative ease of synchronization of external folders may be for you.

I’m not going to recommend a particular iOS text editor, mostly because there are so very many of them! Brett Terpstra has an extensive list of them on his website, with capabilities and drawbacks. There are nearly a hundred editors listed with details, and a cool mechanism for filtering based on the characteristics you are most interested in.

I will venture opinions on four of them: Textilus, Editorial, Matcha and Notability. This doesn’t mean that one of the other 96 might not be the exact editor you end up preferring; it means that these are the only ones in the list that I have extensive experience with.

Textilus is the only editor in the entire list designed to create a .rtf file, edit a .rtf file and output a .rtf file. It has features intended to make it easy to work with Scrivener’s external folder sync. Personally, I find its handling of Dropbox sync awkward, but usable if working with formatted text (beyond bold and italic) is critical to your workflow. [I haven’t tried the new Textilus Pro — but preliminary reviews from the App Store are not promising.]

Editorial is my personal editor of choice right now when I use external folder sync. It recognizes subfolders! a feature that is rare in iOS apps. It has global search — that is, it will search all the files in a given folder for a bit of text, or just the file that I’m currently working on. I find this incredibly useful when I can’t remember the name I gave the protagonist’s grandfather’s girlfriend… Its Dropbox sync is absolutely smooth and transparent — edit a file on iOS and it Just. Gets. Synced. It has a lot of features meant to be used by web programmers, and is extensible, meaning you can write your own commands for it if you are so inclined. It works great just as it’s installed, though. I just ignore stuff not applicable to novels. It works with Markdown — so you will be able to see your italicized and bold text if you use these.

Matcha has many of the favorable features of Editorial. It is also a WYSIWYG editor, so that if you’re irritated by Markdown codes you need never see them there. Its one problem is that files are always presented in “most recently modified” order, rather than the carefully numerical order of Scrivener sync files. [Note that my remarks refer to Matcha, not the new Matcha 3 — which I have not tried.]

Notability is a great note-taking app. It can import and edit .rtf files, which get translated to its own internal format. It also will automatically “back up” all its notes to a Dropbox folder in .rtf format, which could easily be your Scrivener sync folder. However, it’s strictly a one-folder connection to Dropbox, which precludes having your text notes available unless via another app. It will sync your edits to Dropbox automatically, but you must manually re-import your Scrivener edits. It will put any other notes you create into the Scrivener folder, too — which you probably don’t want. If you don’t edit very often on your iOS device, and you happen to have Notability, it’s usable, but I can’t see it as part of a regular workflow.

If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading my article, Scrivener v. iOS, Part 3 — Preparing Your Project for Sync. Unless you are using an RTF editor (rare) you will likely want to set up your project to deal with text only on the iOS side. My workflow suggestions are based on text sync, with Markdown italic and bold in your Scrivener files.

Workflow details:Screenshot 2015-12-10 13.27.12

  1. In your Dropbox, or in your Webdav drive, set up a folder to receive your Scrivener syncs. This must be an empty folder when you start.
  2. In Scrivener, set up a search to find all the files you’re going to want available in iOS. This can include text notes — characters, settings, and the like. Be clever about it — I search on labels I’ve set up. Scene, Chapter, Notes, Character are all possibilities. Save the search and name it something clever like Auto Sync.
  3. In Scrivener, choose File> Sync> with External Folder…
  4. This and following steps refer to the “Sync with External Folder” dialog box. First, choose the empty folder you set up in Step 1 as the shared folder.
  5. Turn on all the options in the option section. Then select the saved search you created in Step 2 as the collection to “sync only documents from.” This enables you to add a new scene or note, label it, and have it automatically show up in your sync. You can modify your saved search to sync only a subset of your documents, and again it will automatically sync correctly.
  6. Be sure to keep the “Take Snapshots…” and “Check External Folders…” options on! These are what make the process both automatic and safe. The snapshots ensure that even if you foul something up on the iOS side, your Scrivener original document is still available. The “Check External Folders…” option makes this all automatic on the Scrivener side.
  7. Set up your file types and file extensions. If you’re going to be using an RTF editor, choose “.rtf” as your file type, and “rtf” as your extension. Otherwise, choose “plain text” as your file type. If you’re using a Markdown editor on the iOS side, set up either “md” or “markdown” as your extension. Otherwise, “txt” is safest.
  8. Finally, if you’re using either Markdown or plain text, check the “Automatically Convert Plain Text Paragraph Spacing” box. When you’re editing on iOS, put two returns wherever you want a paragraph. They will be converted to whatever paragraph formatting you’re using when your edits return to Scrivener.
  9. Click the “Sync” button. Close your Scrivener project.
  10. On the iOS side, navigate to the sync folder you set up with your iOS editor. You’ll find two folders inside it, “Draft” and “Notes.” Find the documents you want to edit, edit them, and make sure they are written back to Dropbox or the Webdav server when you’re done.
  11. Voila! When you open your project in Scrivener, the external folders will be checked for changes and you’ll be asked if you want to sync. Do so, and your changes are saved in Scrivener. Scrivener will create a special collection, “Updated Documents,” so that you can check your changed files.
  12. Now edit in Scrivener all you like, and whenever you close your project, your changes will be synced to the external folder. Repeat these last two steps as often as needed.

Have fun with your external folder synchronization!

Why Handwriting on the iPad? (Or why the loss of Penultimate bugged me.)

2015/01/img_2529.pngI’ve mentioned that I have had several handwriting apps on the iPad, but not how I use them, or perhaps more importantly, why.

Firstly, paper is my nemesis. It absorbs everything I want to keep track of into a formless mess, and then taunts me with the knowledge that what I want is in there, somewhere. My response has been to move to digital records as fast as my personal technology has permitted. I became accustomed to stylus input during several years when I used Palm OS devices. Handwritten documents just stick in my brain better than typed ones do. After I switched to an iPad, the lack of handwritten or drawn input was painful. I once sketched on my Palm, and used it for quick hand input when I wanted to take notes now and worry about accurate typing later. So, one of the first things I did after getting my iPad was to find some handwriting and sketching apps for the iPad and buy a cheap stylus.

The quick input function was taken care of nicely by MyScript Memo. I still use this free app from MyScript Labs for taking down contact info quickly. If I’m lucky I can even export my recognized scribbling as text. If not, then I can export as an image and type the information later. It launches fast and gets me writing (without having to watch what I’m doing) as quickly as finding a notepad and pen. But as a sketching app, it stinks. It doesn’t sample your strokes very often, so my drawing comes out jerky and angular (as does my handwriting.)

I’m not very demanding of digital sketching. Think sketchnoting–doodles and illustrations during meetings to augment written notes. If I want to do serious digital artwork, I go to my Mac and use GIMP. So while I’ve acquired iPad sketch apps such as Sketchbook Pro and the Adobe free apps, truthfully my handwritten note apps serve that purpose better for me.

In fact, with Evernote I don’t need much handwriting translated to typed characters. As long as I can get my scribbling into Evernote, it’s searchable, and for a lot of things that’s all I need. For these reasons, I had moved both my notetaking and my journal to Evernote’s Penultimate. Hence, the panic when Penultimate was trashed. I was looking at going back to paper journaling and paper notes to be photographed into Evernote; now, with Noteshelf, I can avoid that. It doesn’t matter how poor my writing is–Evernote will be able to recognize something, and I’ll be able to search. I can take the scribbled, illustrated, largely illegible to anyone but me, notes I prefer electronically and avoid paper altogether.

Handwriting recognition–using handwriting instead of typing, either on-screen or using a Bluetooth keyboard, has until now been a pipe dream for me. Apple was and remains opposed to pen input for iOS on principle, and did not support third-party on-screen keyboards until iOS 8. Even back in the “good old days” of Palm OS, my experience of handwriting recognition was negative. I had to learn a new handwritten alphabet, and even then the recognition process was far too error-prone. It was frustrating–I gave up and went back to typing. As far as recognition on my iPad went, the recognizing apps (other than the limited MyScript Memo) just didn’t fit my workflow.

Now with the advent of third-party on-screen keyboards for iOS, I can use handwriting anywhere, and with much better recognition than I ever got from Palm OS. My preference is WritePad for iPad, for its multi-word recognition and input. (I started out using PhatWare’s Penquills iPhone utility, but a very patient tech support person pointed out that on iPad, that third-party keyboard capability is available in WritePad. NOT WritePad Pro–and in plain WritePad, I must say it’s well-hidden.) I seldom need to hand-correct as usually the phrase I mean is one of the alternatives that WritePad offers. My writing is so horrid if I rush it, though, that I am more often erasing strokes because even I can’t read them. Or the words are as badly misspelled handwritten as typewritten. This causes amusing results when recognition tries to figure out what I just wrote (but hey, autocorrection for typing is just as amusing…)

So yes, I may end up returning to typing for long sessions of word production. It will likely be faster, simply because my net typing speed exceeds my net longhand speed even on paper, and recognition and its associated errors must slow handwriting down. But a stylus is much more portable than a Bluetooth keyboard, and can be used in situations where typing on the iPad screen with both hands isn’t practical (like in the driver’s seat of my car while I’m waiting for a customer.) And my longhand speed exceeds my one-finger typing speed under all circumstances.

iPad Handwriting Nirvana Arrives!

2015/01/img_2526.pngYes, you’re seeing that image correctly. That’s a handwriting input line in an ordinary iPad app–my favorite, Index Card.

The miraculous utility that makes this possible is called Penquills, and is a new product from a long-time player in iPad handwriting recognition, PhatWare. I’ve had their top-of- the-line handwriting-driven word processor, WritePad Pro, for years, but I haven’t used it much. That’s because it outputs files in HTML format only–not much use to someone using Scrivener.

But at last, I can use handwriting as input to any app. To prove it, I’m writing this blog post on my iPad using Penquills.

It’s not perfect. Yet, it’s already better than Graffiti was on my old Palm LifeDrive. It’s learning fast, too. So, I will be able to handwrite my novels in Index Card or Editorial. Who needs to type?

Penultimate 6.0 — A Handwritten Software Fiasco

Screenshot 2014-11-17 20.29.48I spent 30 years in the software development industry, leaving before I wrote a mobile app, alas. But the tale of Penultimate 6.0, Evernote’s latest revision to its only in-house handwriting input app for iOS, is a classic tale of software acquisition disaster.

I got heavily into the Evernote (EN) ecosystem in February. I got all of EN’s free apps for the iPad, and deleted most except for Evernote itself, and for Penultimate. It was a cool little hand-notetaking app, with a zoom-and-drift handwriting interface that was unique as far as I know. You zoomed in on your page, turned on drift, and the “paper” would scroll under your finger or stylus at your writing speed. Handwritten notes were easier to get into EN with Penultimate than by photographing a piece of paper, even the fancy Moleskine/Evernote notebooks. So, if I needed to handwrite and didn’t need/want real paper, Penultimate was a good tool. I have two other handwriting apps on my iPad, and have tried half a dozen more. I’ve used the others for special-purpose stuff, but I kept coming back to Penultimate for basic handwritten input. Still, I was always nervous — EN had bought Penultimate from its original developer, and hadn’t put a lot into updates. I was afraid it would be abandoned, like Evernote Hello.

No more. The Penultimate user community is up in arms over the unusable complete rewrite that Evernote unexpectedly foisted on us on Thursday 11/13/14.

Some of it is just quality assurance issues: Crashes. Pen response time lagging unusably. Glitches in drawn characters or objects. This is stuff that you’d expect from a major overhaul. If it were just that, I’d grit my teeth and wait.

But there’s more. No more drift adjusting itself to your writing speed — the major advantage of the the app (in my opinion) is just gone. Poof. No more landscape input, either. That’s a deal breaker for me, as well. I take my iPad out of landscape mode only under duress (i.e., to use an iPhone app or an insanely great iPad app. Penultimate was never insanely great, and now it’s just insane.)

A lot of people are also complaining about the removal of pages within the notebooks — now a notebook is just a long scroll of scribbling rather than a paged book. This one doesn’t surprise me, though. Those pages were never supported over in EN; they came over to EN as a series of images — not even numbered images. Now you just get one long continuous image both in Penultimate and in EN. Yes, your handwriting is still scanned and put through OCR and indexed, but it doesn’t help much in a long notebook.

I never depended on that, though. I kept my Penultimate notebooks short, sensing after 30 years’ experience that if a software company doesn’t support a feature in its premier product, it won’t last long in auxiliary ones.

As well, you can’t store your work in Penultimate any more; you have to use EN to save your work. Folks who had notes only in Penultimate found that those notes were — just gone. Again, I am not surprised — EN is in the web services business, not the app business. If something doesn’t cause people to use their web service, it serves no purpose for EN. I feel for the stand-alone users who lost all their notes, but… well… it was inevitable. EN does not make money from you storing your work on your iPad alone. Still, EN could have warned its users that stand-alone notes were going away. They didn’t.

I’ve come out of the whole business pretty clean; I managed to re-install the old Penultimate, convert all my notes to PDFs, and upload them in that form to EN. I’m now playing with other handwriting apps, and mourning the zoom-and-drift writing feature. I have two handwriting apps — Notability and Noteshelf — that will let me upload to EN. Notability has the better interface, but Noteshelf has tighter integration to EN. I may spend another few bucks and try GoodNotes as well, even though I was unimpressed back in 2013 when I gave its free version a try.

Blah.

—– Update 11/18/14 12:30 PM. I’ve settled on Noteshelf for its tighter Evernote integration. Noteshelf notes go to Evernote as images rather than as a PDF, which is the only option in Notability. Also, if I make changes to a note, Noteshelf will update that note automatically in Evernote; with Notability a changed note goes to Evernote as a new note and I have to go back through and cull versions by hand.

I’ll also be investigating (cringe) Microsoft OneNote. If it’s even available for iOS (I don’t know) maybe it’s worth a shot. It’s hard to trust a company that is, bluntly, ignoring customers’ data loss issues.

—– Update 11/19/14 11:41 AM. I did a little digging on Google and LinkedIn. It is as I suspected: the original developer of Penultimate left Evernote’s employ in July, just over two years from Evernote’s acquisition of Penultimate. Now, I don’t know this happened, but I saw it go down three times as an employee of acquired software companies:

  • Original developer gets two-year contract as part of the acquisition deal.
  • Original developer and new owners see the future of the software differently.
  • Original developer leaves acquiring company as soon as he legally and decently can.
  • Several months after the developer’s departure, a new “version” of the software is released, containing not one line of the old software’s code.

If this scenario is the one that has gone down at Evernote, then the old incarnation of Penultimate is dead, dead, dead. Evernote will never revise it, nor re-release it as an alternative. There may be legal issues; there are almost certainly technical issues that the current development staff don’t understand and can’t ask the old developer about any more. They may re-develop some elements of the old software (and probably will, given the outcry) but not one hexadecimal digit of old Penultimate will ever be re-used.

Too bad.

—– Update 11/21/14 10:15 AM
Evernote issued a handsome apology on 11/19/14. To me, though, it was significant that

  1. Penultimate 5 isn’t coming back despite the unusable update.
  2. Data loss is still being awkwardly ignored.

I still like the Evernote cloud service, and nothing has been lost or compromised from their cloud, but at this point I don’t trust their app development process. If I can use a third party app to do what an Evernote app does, I will.

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.

Beauty.

Musings on Franklin Planner, GTD, life, the Universe, and everything

Once upon a time there was a system called Franklin Planner. Back in the 80’s before even PDAs were dreamed of except by brain-fevered science fiction authors, the concept of having Goals, Planning to meet Goals, and having Everything in One Place was thought of by Hyrum W. Smith, who developed the Franklin Planner (FP).

Put everything in here, he said. Keep your contacts, your calendar, your to-dos all here. Paste in or hole-punch your photos and documents. Proudly strike off things you’ve decided to Not Do. Assign everything a goal-based priority, and then stick to that priority.

One of the nice things about the FP system was the fact that you made notes right on the day pages. You wrote down your phone calls, checked off your to-dos, made meeting notes, scribbled character info for the novel you were (not so much) working on in your spare time… it was ALL there, and you manually cross-referenced it every day as part of your 15 minute-or-so planning routine.

With the addition of contexts, voila! We have Getting Things Done (GTD). Or at least, so it seems to me.

Many snippets of information that are important to me, and many that aren’t, are in my iPad, in one app or another. The immediately actionable things are in Pocket Informant (PI3). But I’ve missed the all-encompassing comfort of the 2-page Daily Journal, with its notes integrated right onto the calendar and to-do list. I’ve tried and tried to simulate the sucker, and moreover, to have it be available on my Mac and my phone as well — anywhere, on any device, on which I happen to be working. Calendar — works great, thanks to Google. To-dos — work great, thanks to Toodledo. The Journal Page… not so much. Not as an integrated, permanent record. And forget about goal-based planning (which didn’t really work for me when I was employed. My goal then was simple — to keep my job until I was so burned out that I didn’t give a flying f**k, which happened about once every 4 years if not sooner.) Now I have a goal (publish a novel!), and no obvious way to do goal-based planning.

And until I started reading about GTD, I’d forgotten the other aspect of FP, which was that everything you thought of to do, every-freaking-thing, was to be written down in your undated lists. This was to get it out of your head, and onto paper, so you could review it every once in a while to see if you still wanted to do it, or if it still needed to be done, and if you could move it to a dated list or delegate it or otherwise get it off the back burner. But there was a back burner, right there in your paper binder which often seemed glued to one’s fingers —

Rather like an iPad.

Now the “back burner” is scattered. Some of it’s in my email. Some of it’s in my head. Some of it’s scattered around my house in what I think of as visual cues, but which in fact is clutter — stuff that needs repair, or to be taken to the dry cleaners, or to be meditated upon so as to figure out what the heck it is — but it’s something, and was important at one time or another or I wouldn’t have put it on the table I pass every day…

I miss the zen of the FP back burner. When I was using FP the way it was designed to be used (a brief period of about two years, maybe less) my house and my brain were both less cluttered. I’ve tried putting all that back burner stuff into PI3, but PI3 doesn’t seem to keep it out of my way. Maybe I’m using it wrong… but as a record of daily events, PI3 doesn’t cut it.

GTD has the concept of “Someday,” which is similar to FP’s undated lists. That’s in its favor, though it seems to me that it’s a reinvention of the wheel. But there is no comprehensive, cross-platform system that records as well as keeps a calendar, manages to-dos, and keeps that backlog of undone stuff out of your way until you’re ready for it. GTD itself is a methodology, not technology — and in my brief investigation of GTD, I’ve found as many implementations of GTD as there are to-do list apps. None of them has that integrated calendar/notes/to-dos. I found some app imitations of FP out there, but cross-platform is not in their vocabulary.

Anyway, I’m not going back to paper — I’ve tried that before, but the convenience of computerized repeating events and to-dos is too seductive. And I need those electronic reminders popping up in my face and blatting their offensive klaxon-like alarms. FranklinCovey doesn’t seem at all interested in selling their system as apps (that went out with Palm OS.) They’ve got a web-based version. My, my. Can you spell “cop-out,” boys and girls? I knew you could.

So yeah. I’m hacking up an app-based implementation of Franklin Planner principles for the twenty-first century. I refuse to actually write an app (I am bored with learning Yet Another OS — no interest there); instead I’ll be putting together a system, somehow. I’ll let you know when it’s done.

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.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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…