When I am at home in my office, I do all of my fiction-writing on my MacBook using Scrivener. It used to be that when I was away from my office, I took my laptop with me, but after getting my iPad last spring, I decided to leave the laptop at home and do my writing on the iPad. The trick was, how best to sync my Scrivener projects with my iPad.
For a while, I synced my Scrivener projects with SimpleNote, which had a nice app for the iPad. But over time, I found three problems with the process:
- SimpleNote didn’t have the clean screen editing I was looking for. It’s maximum font size was too small for me.
- The way the files are organized is a bit confusing.
- SimpleNote’s cloud system is proprietary for its editor.
Maybe it’s just me, but I felt there could be improvements in the process. So I went about looking for a really good text editor for the iPad and what I came up with after a fairly exhaustive search was Elements by Second Gear. Elements has the font sizes I want, the clean screen look to it, and it synchronizes with Dropbox–which means I can make it sync seamlessly with Scrivener.
Why is font size so important to me?
When I write on the iPad, I use an external BlueTooth keyboard–the very same keyboard I use when writing on my MacBook. This is so that the feel of writing is the same, even if the screens are different. But I am also more comfortable if the iPad isn’t sitting right in my face. I like setting it back a bit, and it helps to have font size that I can still read easily while I work.
Having just returned from a 10-day vacation in which I wrote using nothing but my iPad, I thought I’d share the process in case anyone else was interested. Here’s what I did:
1. Create a project in Scrivener
This is straight-forward, and particularly easy with the SFWA Short Story template I created. Nothing special here.
2. Sync the project with an External Folder
Here is where things get interesting:
- You will need to install Dropbox and have a Dropbox account for this to work
- The external folder I select is a folder within the Dropbox folder on my MacBook. See the screenshot below for a sample of the settings I use:
- Note that the folder that I’m syncing to (first red circle) is my Dropbox folder. Any files saved and changed here will automatically be replicated to Dropbox.
- While the screenshot doesn’t show it, I usually check the “Check external folder on project open and automatically sync on close” checkbox. This ensures that I don’t exit without syncing first–something I’ve done before, much to my dismay.
- Finally, the format for files in the external Draft folder has to be set to Plain Text as Elements does not read RTF files
- Click Sync and you’re all set
Those steps need to be done once per project. Once they are done, you can access the project in Elements on the iPad.
3. Opening the project in Elements
Elements is a Dropbox based tool. When you first install it, you configure it to work with your Dropbox account. Then when you open it, you are presented with a list of the folders and text files in your Dropbox.
I organize my projects by folder on Dropbox, so I select the folder that I want to work with, drill down into the Drafts folder of that project, and select the file I want to edit. Once you are in edit mode, you get a nice clean screen to work with. It is especially useful to have an external keyboard so that the digital keyboard doesn’t clutter your screen. With my large font settings and wide margins, here is an example of what my Elements screen looks like on the iPad:
Clicking the Information icon on the top-right of the screen will give me a word-count for the document, which is a useful feature. I can now add text, edit or otherwise update the file and my changes are automatically saved to Dropbox. If I go back into the project in Scrivener, my changes will be reflected when the Project syncs with the external folder (which is why I check that extra box in the first screen).
Over the course of my vacation, I found this an easier process than what I did with SimpleNote. I also found Elements to be a better text editor, in terms of its flexibility to my needs.
There are a few things to be aware of:
- This works well for syncing between Scrivener and any text editor you would use via Dropbox. But it doesn’t let you sync a project between two versions of Scrivener. Save yourself some time: I already tried that.
- You are dealing with plain text files so any formatting you put into Scrivener will be lost when it is synced to plain text. Since I use very little formatting in my stories and let Scrivener generate the manuscript this is easy for me to work around. When I’m working on a draft, when I want to underline something, I ‘ll _use underscores_ like that, instead of actual underlining. I do the same in Elements. Once I’m back in Scrivener and ready to produce a final draft, I replace those underscores with underlines.
- Elements is not free. I think I paid $4.99, but it is well worth it. It’s the only text editor I use for fiction writing on the iPad now.
- Scrivener will eventually be available for the iPad, in case you want to hold out for that version. In the meantime, I think the combination of Scrivener, Elements and Dropbox works very well.