Scrivener 2.0 and iPad Apps

Scrivener 2.0 and iPad Apps 4

Scrivener 2.0 came out today (it might have been yesterday, but I digress) and my primary interest in the upgrade was integrating my writing between it and the iPad. The good news – great news, really – is that it does work. The “not really bad but I should revise my expectations” news is that it’s a bit of a set up, and it comes with some caveats – some of which are more the fault of iPad apps (for now).

To have this work well (at least how I’m going about it), you need Dropbox – this is really almost a must-have application anyway, so run and get it. I’ll wait here. Ok, got it? No? Well, Dropbox allows for virtually seamless syncing of files between different computers as well as sharing between users. I use it with other writer friends, and when I save a file into my shared folder, they have it on their computers within seconds of me copying it into my folder; when they edit and save my document, I receive that edit within seconds (this assumes small files, fast internet, and your computer on and connected to the net). It’s very slick, transparent, and really just go get it now. The link is above.

So, Scrivener uses Dropbox syncing to move the files between what it sees and the iPad app sees; I’m currently using Notebooks, though PlainText is another good option. Those apps will read a folder within your Dropbox folder (Notebooks creates a folder called Notebooks at the root level of your DB folder; PlainText does the same with a folder called PlainText – neither seem to allow you to customize their locations). You point your Scrivener project file to that folder through a syncing option under the file menu, and that’s about it – that folder is now linked to that file.

The caveats:

1. None of the iPad apps currently use RTF for editing files, but instead plain text. So, yeah, no formatting. It’s not a Scrivener shortcoming, though it’s still a bit of a bummer. I had been using My Writing Nook which also had no formatting, so this is still better. Formatting does seem to be retained within Scrivener itself. I need to read through the manual again to get a better handle on all of this.

2. Scrivener, at least v2.0, does not allow for nested directories when using file syncing; instead, it uses the Draft and Research (Notes) folders that it creates by default in an empty project, and that’s really it for nesting. You can still reorder your text files within these folders, but can’t really organize beyond that.

My work around to this was to create separate main directories for each type of project, and then link an individual Scrivener file to each of these folders. Ex.:

/Dropbox/Notebooks/Short Stories – links to Short Stories.scriv
/Dropbox/Notebooks/Project 1 – links to Projects 1.scriv

As you can have as many folders and Scrivener files as you want like this, doing so allows you to get at least a basic level of organization. Here’s hoping that later updates will allow for nested folders.

3. Syncing – Scrivener automatically checks the folder for changed files each time you open your Scrivener file, but simply making changes to a file without invoking the syncing command does not save your changes to the text files. Edits in Scrivener are stored within it’s own file, and you must pull up the File menu, Syncing command to get it to update the files. This could be smoother, and it’s also very possible that I’ve missed a preference setting to have this happen by default.

I will highly recommend reading the Scrivener manual on File Syncing (chapter 13.2). I know, I know, who reads manuals any more – this one will help, though.

A quick note on Notebooks versus PlainText; overall I think I’d prefer PlainText, but it lacks a word count; this is an important feature for me. Otherwise, it’s interface is very clean, spartan even, and I think that helps to focus on the task at hand. Notebooks isn’t distracting, it’s just more of an interface, but it does have a word count built-in. Neither app has the dictionary and thesaurus built-in like My Writing Nook, and that feature proved handy at times. Notebooks also seems slow to sync (I invoke it manually as well), though that could be due to the number of files I’ve now hooked up between it and Scrivener.

Overall I’m excited about the new features. The issues are minor but do require some consideration (and set up time for the non-nested folders, if your current Scrivener projects make use of folders for organization). I really hope to see a standout iPad app for writing, one that takes on RTF editing (I’m only considering apps that support Dropbox syncing, so it rules out apps like Pages), and of course I’d love Scrivener to support nested folders. None of this keeps me from using it, though – having my “away from the computer” writing automatically land inside my Scrivener projects is just too good to pass up.

4 comments click to show
  • KeithB says:

    Many thanks for your overview of syncing iPad apps with Scrivener. Regarding nested folders, I’d love it to be possible, too (it would be really useful with PlainText), but there are a number of major issues that prevented me from implementing it. The main problems are:

    1) Folders in the Finder cannot be sorted arbitrarily, so if Scrivener tried to update its structure from the Finder, whenever you resynced with Scrivener all your files and folders would be reshuffled alphabetically, or in date order or whatever the Finder order is (unless we forced the user to try to number each folder and file in the Finder, which would be a slog). Imagine how frustrating this would be if you had spent ages organising your binder to find the best order. (And if we implemented nested folders one-way only, users would wonder why structural changes they made externally weren’t reflected in their binder on re-syncing.)

    2) In Scrivener, text documents can be containers of other text documents, and folders have text associated with them. There’s no really great way to represent this in an external file-based folder-and-file structure.

    For these reasons, I went with a simplified “Draft documents go in an external Draft folder, everything else in an external Notes folder” solution. So the intention is to allow you to take documents with you for writing, and not for restructuring (although you can sync to Index Card for the iPad for that sort of thing).

    Hope that makes sense! Thanks again for covering Scrivener on your blog, much appreciated.
    All the best,
    (Scrivener developer)

  • Jacob Ruby says:

    Thanks for the additional info, Keith. I’m sure it’s a common clash between users thinking feature X should be there, and should be simple, and developers who know the difficulties. I’m also sure there’s a good discussion already about this on the Scrivener forums. :)

    Keep up the good work, and I’m excited about Scrivener for Windows for my non-Mac friends.

  • Sylumer says:

    On the 4th of November it looks like PlainText released a version with a word count. I use it on my iPad as my surrogate for Scrivener. Whilst I like the simple view the features you mention in My Writers Nook sound intriguing – I may take a closer look.

  • Jacob Ruby says:

    Yes, the update to PlainText is handy – it’s made it my primary writing app on the iPad and iPhone.

    I followed up this posting with another, where I discussed a few different app options (all Dropbox-syncing apps).

    I really liked My Writers Nook – it’s well worth looking at. As I really want to keep everything tied into Scrivener, I ended up moving away from it, but it’s a good app and has a few unique features.

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