Outgrowing Scrivener

I used Scrivener to write my first two ebooks. It’s extremely good at what it does. After an hour’s setup, I had my whole project neatly organized into chapters, topics, sub-topics and more. Research was at hand and easily referenced or updated. Each time I launched or quit Scrivener, I felt a nice surge of satisfaction. “I’m on top of this project,” I thought. The problem came when I received my first draft back from my editor.

Prior to sharing that initial draft, I exported the document to .doc and enabled changes tracking. That’s a must, as the copy editor, technical editor and I must practice strict version control and communication. It also means that Scrivener is out of the picture.

It’s a huge bummer, and something that I’ve complained about before. As soon as I export the first draft, I don’t touch Scrivener again. The meticulous organization, tagging and research are out the window, as the project now exists as that Word document.

This week I’ve started a new project without Scrivener. The whole thing will start and end in Word. The outline lives on a couple sheets of paper, and research is spread across a notebook and a text file.

I hate to let it go, but I can’t justify spending an hour or two setting up a project that I’ll be forced to abandon within a few weeks.

My Scrivener workflow problem

I love Scrivener. It’s my go-to software for large writing projects. Scrivener makes organization easy, from chapters to research. However, I can’t figure out how to use it when tracking changes with an editor.

I’m currently collaborating on a book on Lion. As I complete each chapter, I export it to Word, enable Track Changes and then turn it in for copy editing, technical review, etc. It comes back with notes, I make revisions, re-submit and so on.

At that point, I never touch Scrivener again, because it can’t (at least as far as I can see) track changes the way Word can. That’s unfortunate on one hand, because it’s a super piece of software, and a real nuisance on the other, as my careful organization is lost when the project becomes a single Word file.

If you know how to work with Scrivener while tracking changes with an editor or other party, please let me know. I’d love to figure this out.

Simple, mobile text editing

Something that should be simple has me confounded. Suddenly we’ve got a surplus of simple text editors. Notational Velocity, Simplenote, PlainText and Apple’s own TextEdit hardly represent the beginning of what’s available, and each deserves a thorough examination. For example, spend an hour with TextEdit and you’ll begin to see what it’s capable of.

The problem is that I’m a nerd, and as such feel compelled to check out any system that might be better than one I’m using.

Let’s start with what we know. I know that I love PlainText. Why?

  • It’s beautiful
  • Dropbox support
  • I can create files on my iPad and edit them in TextEdit on my Mac, and vice versa
  • Tidy folders appeal to the neat-nick inside of me

What don’t I like?

  • It works with Scrivener but does weird things as well, like create oddly-titled folders that you are not allowed to move or rename ever under penalty of death
  • It won’t open any plain text file in my Dropbox, only those in the designated directory

The other problem is that I can’t easily find a file created in the PlainText folder from the Mac OS Finder. That requires opening a Finder window, navigating to the right folder, double-clicking the file. [1. Yes, I know there are significantly worse things in the world, like cancer, social injustice and Tim Allen movies.]. But it’s still bothersome. For that reason I’m tempted to use Notational Velocity and Simplenote, but I don’t like the Simplenote web app. I’m not keen on its looks but more importantly, it dumps everything into a single pile. My brain needs folders.

Fortunately, I found this post from CMDComma explaining how to use Notational Velocity to sync with the PlainText folder on Dropbox. It almost works for me. The problem is that, as I said, I’ve got several folders within the main SimpleText folder, and NV makes you choose one. So, I’ve made a “NV” folder within the SimpleText folder. But that’s just added another layer of complexity.

Hopefully, I’ll be discussing the whole mess with Myke and Terry on tomorrow’s episode of The Bro Show, as they’ve been kind enough to oblige me. Believe me, I’m keenly aware of the irony here. Dead-simple text editing has got me befuddled.

Blogging with Scrivener, TextMate and Markdown [Updated]

Here’s a great post from Chase Reeves, in which he describes how he blogs with Scrivener, TextMate and Markdown. I’ve been using Scrivener for a while now, but only recently added TextMate and Markdown. I’m going to adopt Chase’s workflow with one alteration.

Instead of copying the HTML from TextMate and pasting it into a browser-based compose window (he uses Posterous in his screencast), I’ll copy my Markdown post from Scrivener, open a Markdown blog post template in TextMate (via the Blogging Bundle) and then publish with Control-Command-P.

In fact, I’ll see if I can create an Automator workflow to further automate the process, even though it’s pretty quick as it is. In the meantime, check out Chase’s post.


I’ve gotten several comments and questions about this setup, which I’ll address here. First of all, I’ve learned the hard way that composing blog posts in a browser is a bad idea. Unexpected crashes, network outages, etc. can destroy your hard work. So I’m after alternative desktop software.

Many of you suggested MarsEdit. I’ve tired to get into it several times without success, but I couldn’t tell you why. After much prompting from Brett, I downloaded TextMate, mostly to take advantage of his Blogsmith Bundle for TUAW blogging. It’s so obscenely useful that I couldn’t imagine working without it at this point. Bundles add a tremendous amount of functionality to TextMate, and Brett’s work is a prime example of that. It’s a huge time-saver.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a large writing project since November with the help of Scrivener. While TextMate is the race horse, Scrivener is the meticulous jockey who ensures that everything is in order before hitting the track. I’ve begun using it for organizing long posts on TUAW and 52 Tiger. I can’t publish directly from Scrivener, but that’s OK, as publication isn’t its  job.

TextMate might seem like overkill for blogging, but I’ll argue that’s not the case. The time-saving benefits of bundles can’t be overstated. For my personal blogging, I use Brad Choate’s Blogging Bundle [1. Here’s an overview screencast.] and this Markdown plugin for WordPress. [2. Incidentally, if you like writing in WordPress’ compose field but still want to use Markdown, check out Brett’s WordPress plugin for doing just that.] Once a post is pasted into TextMate, I can do so much more with it than simply publish, including saving local copies, drag-and-drop image upload, etc.

Lastly, don’t forget that I’ve set up Scrivener to sync with PlainText for the iPad for cloud-based, on-the-go editing of works in progress.

I’ll admit that I am bothered by the copy-and-paste step, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. If you have any other questions or comments about this workflow, please let me know.

Scrivener and PlainText for iPad

I’ve been using Scrivener for several weeks now, and was thrilled with how easily it synchronizes with PlainText for iPad, my favorite iOS text editor. Here’s how to set it up.

First, create a folder within PlainText’s directory in your Dropbox. [1. I’m still waiting for the day when these apps become less picky about their location.] Next, go to File > Sync in Scrivener and select With External Folder. A new slip appears. Navigate to the folder you created on Dropbox. Be sure to select Format External Drafts as plain text. Finally, hit sync and you’re done. Now updates made with Scrivener will appear in PlainText and vice versa.

There are some caveats to remember. First, sync isn’t automatic. You must manually initiate a sync via Scrivener’s file menu on your Mac. Second, you can’t change page titles in PlainText; doing so will mess things up in a big way. Finally, only your copy is synchronized, meaning no reference material on the iPad. Still, this setup works when you have the time and inclination to write and only your iPad.