Software Week #2a: Another Way to Sync With Scrivener

Later in this exciting series, I plan a comparison of various cloud-based sync systems-- Mozy, Dropbox, SugarSync, etc -- plus the built-in sync features available in an increasing number of programs. For the moment, a bonus supplement to the previous item about using SugarSync to keep files from the great writing program, Scrivener, synchronized across a range of computers.


This is from a screenwriter named Magnus, who spells out the way Dropbox accomplishes the same end. It relies on a Dropbox feature that I'll say more about later on -- its use of "aliases" on the Mac, or "shortcuts" in Windows, to sync files that are not part of the main Dropbox folder. (Sugarsync can work with any folders on any machine; for now, Dropbox can't do that.) If you want to skip ahead for details of why the "alias" approach works, see Dropbox explanatory pages here and here. The trick that Magnus explains below also works well because of another Dropbox trait for later discussion, its use of "binary diff" files. But that's for another time. How-to tip from Magnus, plus bonus explanation of how he uses his iPad to write, is as follows:

Working as a screenwriter, I find Scrivener indispensable in the first, sketchy and chaotic phase of outlining and fleshing things out. As well as in organizing and writing the scenes for the first draft. Also for rewriting so it can take me up to 3-4 drafts before I export to Final Draft and to my final polishing there.

Like many others, I work on several machines, different devices - and I have a syncing tips of my own. A very simplistic and convenient set up:

1. I have Dropbox installed, and I create the initial Scrivener project in a suitable folder within Dropbox's hierarchy of files.

2. An optional step is to then create an alias of the project file to place in the logical spot in you local file structure. Then close the Scrivener project in Scrivener, and manually open the alias. (Since Scrivener automatically opens projects you were working on last time, this is a way to make sure that Scrivener opens the alias next time.) Repeat the alias process on other machines, if you want the alias system.
3. Now you're actually done and the syncing is also done. Every time your project is saved, either automatically by Scrivener or by you, it is synced with your Dropbox account. I.e. 'the file in the cloud' is updated.

4. When you open the project on another machine, the changes are reflected since your Dropbox folder is synced with the cloud. The only thing you have to remember when switching to another computer is to wait a short while after you switched it on before you start Scrivener. So the local Dropbox folder has time to update. But since Scrivener is small text files, this is very quick.

I use this setup with my regular work laptop that I bring to my office, my desktop at home and with my MacBook Air which serves as a backup laptop, slash the laptop on the go when I don't want the bulk of the regular one. Or, rather, this used to be my setup:

This summer I have been replacing the Air with my iPad a lot. With the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, it's an excellent writing machine and so slim that you can bring it everywhere without even feeling the weight of it. One sad thing though: Scrivener is not out for iPad, and Keith [Blount of Scrivener] says it won't be. :-( My solution to that is tied into the above described syncing scheme and another writing tip:

There is Scripts Pro and Pages for the iPad, and both of them work great. Obviously they don't give you the same overview (hence Scrivener!) but when I am out and about, I usually just work on one particular scene or two that day.

1. Before escaping the office, I take a screenshot of my Scrivener project and put it in the Dropbox folder. Sometimes I export chapters/scenes as text files and put them there, too.

2. Using the Dropbox app on my iPad, I can now get reminded of the structure/see the overview from the screenshot. And/or open and read text files as needed.

3. In Scripts Pro or Pages (depending on what format I'm writing in) I hack away, and when finished I use the apps' built in 'mail document' function. From I have obtained a 'mail in' email address to my Dropbox account (Dropbox themselves doesn't do that feature) and - voilá - when I get to my laptop, the stuff I wrote on the iPad is now in my Dropbox folder!

I have tried this approach and confirm that it works. But I haven't used it for months and months, as I have the Sugarsync process mentioned before, to be sure in my bones that it will keep me from losing any data. Will run both processes in parallel for a while, for compare and contrast.