Software Week #2: Syncing with Scrivener

Software week resumes (previously here and here). OK, it may not correspond to an actual "week," but it should go through at least seven installments. This one continues the theme of how you can use a syncing program, in my case SugarSync, with programs that store their information not in familiar, standalone .DOC or .PPT files but rather in "bundled" storage units. This time we turn to the writing program Scrivener, which I've used as my mainstay for the past two years or so and about which I've testified before. (Eg here.)


First, about Scrivener itself. It is Mac-only, though as discussed here and here several PC programs approximate some of the features. And, as the designer of Scrivener, Keith Blount of Cornwall, England, explained four years ago in an intellectual history of the program, it shares a spirit with some other PC and Mac programs, including Ulysses. For later Software Week discussion: in what circumstances and for what kind of users would a program like this justify a move to the Mac.

Why do I keep mentioning this software? I've used a ton of word-processing programs over the years, from The Electric Pencil in the late 1970s, through WordStar and WordPerfect and XyWrite and a winsome native-OS/2 program called DeScribe, and Oracle's OpenOffice, and of course the inescapable Word. I've liked some better and some worse, but they're all basically utilities. Scrivener is different in adding an organizational ability. It allows you to work easily with blocks of text -- chapters in a book, items in a list, scenes in a novel, sections of an article -- and view them separately when that is convenient, or together when that is. Keith Blount explains some of the reasoning behind this approach in an interesting video interview, here.  After the jump, comments that appeared in email from a young lawyer who has found the program surprisingly valuable. Also, at $39.95 it's cheap.

But Scrivener stores its data in complicated bundles, not self-contained .DOC files. How do you sync it between machines or back it up to the cloud? Easy.

The conceptual approach is the same as mentioned previously Personal Brain: you rely on the program's built-in capacity to create a ZIPped archive of each "bundle"; you transfer that ZIP file from one computer to the next; you unZip it on the other machine, and you're in business.

Step-by-step sync details after the jump. Plus the lawyer's testimonial; plus an important user note on previously mentioned Personal Brain.

Using Scrivener with SugarSync:

1) Create a Scrivener file (known as a "project") and have its normal storage site be the "Documents" folder of the Mac computer you are working on.

2) When you're done, save the "project" as you would normally, with Cmd-S. But then also create a ZIPped archive of it, for transfer to your other machines. The command sequence is File/Backup/Backup To. Two details are important here: specify the "backup to" site as the "Magic Briefcase" folder, which SugarSync will automatically transfer to all your other computers when they are online. And, be sure to check the "Backup as ZIP file" box. This will produce a file with a time stamp in its name, something like "My Project 2010-09-07" The time stamp means that you can create a series of these archives without worrying about duplicate file names, and you can easily see which one is newest.

3) Go to your other computer,. Using the Finder, move or copy that most recent ZIPped file from the "Magic Briefcase" folder to the "Documents" folder. Conceptually, you're transferring it from the common folder that is shared among the computers, to the folder where you'll work on it locally.

4) Un-zip that file in your "Documents" folder, which will produce a file called something like "My Project.scriv."  Housekeeping detail: if there are earlier versions of that file on this computer, when you un-zip it, it will get a name like "My Project1.scriv." That's fine -- you can just work on that one. But for tidiness, I move older versions of "My Project.scriv" to the Trash (where they're still recoverable) before unzipping the new one.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In