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Where the inane meets the mundane

Fumbling around with software – I must be half way through something

I know, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I want to feel bad about that, but life is life. Is with all things in the Mundane, there’s no exciting reason for my absence. I haven’t been traveling, or kidnapped by foreign (read: ALIENs) to work on a secret project that will be the salvation of mankind, only no one will ever know because they will never realize how close we came to falling into the great abyss from which the sleeping, tentacled demigod Phobos slumbers, dreaming of the day he will smite us.

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Nope, none of that. Mostly, it’s just a question of work. A common refrain, I know, but the deep truths are like that. That said, and while the last few weeks haven’t been very productive (re: day job trumps side job), somewhere along the line I have made some progress. The current WIP is a few words under 72k. You’d think that was a sign that I was winding down, but alas, it does not appear to be so.

I thought I would finish writing this book at around 60-70k words, truth be told. But as I wrote, I realized that if I stopped now, although I’d resolved a few major story lines, I’d leave a lot of cliffhangers. A quick poll among writer and reader friends made it abundantly clear that that would be a Bad Idea™. So I had to take a deep breath, see where I was, and re-evaluate just where I was headed next. Part of that re-evaluation was the understanding that I’m still a ways away from being done.

Meanwhile, I got back edits of Chrysalis from my copy editor, the amazing Bryan Thomas Schmidt. What Bryan sent back was amazing, awesome, and in depth. I’ve taken some time to go through the first half of the edits – typographical and style fixes – but now I need to wrestle with the second half of his notes, suggested weak spots in the narrative. I didn’t used to think I could switch gears like that, working on two very different novels at once, but I find it’s a lot like reading multiple books at the same time. It takes a few minutes to settle back into the right mold and gel, but it’s smooth sailing from there.

Of course, with work being overwhelming and stunting my creative drive lately, I find myself with too little time to make a dent in words, so I do what I do best – get frustrated with the tools I’m using. I’ve had a long, long love/hate relationship with Scrivener. It is the best thing since sliced bread, except when you really want a buttered roll, and then its a struggle to make it work.

Take the edits I got back from Bryan. While there was a separate document discussing content, the bulk of the edits were inline suggestions and comments in the docx I sent him. Scrivener was great about exporting that docx, but when it came to re-ingesting it it failed me miserably. I knew from the start I couldn’t re-import it to update what I had (wouldn’t that be grand!?). But it turned out I couldn’t even import it as a secondary document without losing a lot of Bryan’s work.

To give a frame of reference here, I’m the kind of person that likes to work with one set of tools from start to finish as much as possible. Sure, best tool for the job, but when the job is writing, I like there to be consistency. Having to work through suggested changes in one program, then import it into another to work on commented text, then apply that to the living document was…ew.

And so, the return of markdown editing in my life. I’ve bounced back and forth between writing markdown (a formatting language, not a tool) and using Scrivener, but this last experience really set my course. When I write in markdown, I can transform my document into anything (including docx). When I get a document back with comments and suggestions, I can use pandoc to seamlessly transform that docx back into a markdown document, with tracked changes and comments intact. As if that weren’t appealing enough, using markdown (a plain text formatting syntax), I can edit in any editor that can handle plain text. That makes every document usable on every platform without any work.

Which is a really long way to say I just spent all of Saturday morning tweaking my (g)vim setup to look amazing while editing markdown documents. As an added bonus, since I’m storing my document on Google Drive, it’s available to my Chromebook (and there are some great text editor apps for the Chromebook). As a big fan of Jamie Rubin‘s automatic wordcount tally scripts, I don’t even have to do anything extra – md files are already processed. I just have to write, wherever I want, in any editor I want.

OK, enough procrastinating. I should get to working on the new book. And editing the last one. And doing stuff of monumental nature.

Scrivener for iOS, part 2: the Awesome

Yesterday, I brought up the problems I had while testing the new Scrivener for iOS. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about how great it was.

The in-app keyboard is awesome. Yesterday I lamented typing in the app isn’t ideal on an old iPad. Your fingers may be large, pudgy sausages like mine, but that’s ok, because the Scrivener in-app keyboard has the means of moving between words and characters so you don’t have to be able to pinpoint where you put your finger perfectly a thousand times until it’s right. I know I said typing with it is a pain, and I stand by that, but the actual on-screen keyboard as a unit is great.

Word progress is maintained between apps. Assuming you follow the synchronization mantra – sync from your desktop, synch onto your device, synch when you’re done, then synch again on your desktop (it really isn’t as onerous as it sounds) – you are in for a treat. In addition to the expected – words transferred! Structure changes reflected! Profits!! – you will also be delighted to see that your word counts (if you’re tracking) are maintained. Progress made on the go will be carried over to your desktop. Of course, this works best in a scenario where you are moving from one environment to the other in the course of your working, but still.

Scrivener iOS NotecardsNotecards like you wanted them. There are plenty of apps that offer a means of using notecards on your iPad or iPhone, and a few of them even synch into Scrivener. But as far as I know, none of them let you move back and forth easily – it’s all about importing and exporting. You have the power now to move cards around and have it immediately affect your project (well, as immediate as dropbox synchs on both devices). While notecards are not my thing – and I’ve have the piles of physical and digital ones to prove I’ve tried them – if they are your ideal method of organizing, you are going to love this. There is something about being able to physically move cards around and have it automagically affect your project that is just liberating.

Editing my way. Writing, it turns out, I do best on a computer, with a lagless keyboard in front of me. I’d probably sing a different story if I was using a faster, more powerful iPad and there was no lag with my bluetooth keyboard. When it comes to editing, though, my ideal method is to be able to hold the story in front of me, either as a print out or on a device, where I can make notes, make edits, etc. Scrivener for iOS gives you that. Load your entire project, scroll through it, make changes, fix mistakes, take notes, and it’s all in your project. No transferring, no duplicating from one format to another. It’s done. And it’s as awesome as you think it might be.

Would I recommend it? Mostly, with a leaning towards an all out yes. If you are on old hardware and looking to do content creation, you might want to think a little bit more on it. Then again, if you are on older hardware, it’s not a bad option. The iOS app will let you create new projects, export them to different formats, and do most (but not all) of the things you can do with the desktop app.

More importantly, it’s Scrivener on the go. If Scrivener is the way you work, this is a welcome extension. It wasn’t a replacement for me, but it was a welcome way to let me work on the go. Isn’t that what we all wanted in the first place? Look for it tomorrow, July 20, in the Apple Store! Not using Scrivener for you’re writing yet? Give it a whirl – they offer a 30 day trial of the desktop app, and really, that’s the best way to know if it’s right for you.

Scrivener for iOS, part 1: the meh

Later this week, Scrivener for iOS will be hitting the Apple Store. After years (and years) of holding out hope and using makeshift solutions, we will finally have Scrivener on the go. For Scrivener users, this is a great opportunity, something we’ve all longed for for a while. The last few months, I’ve had the privilege of being a beta tester for the app, so let me share some impressions. Today, I’m going to talk about the meh’s I experienced with the app.

The Meh

Breaking with tradition, but let’s start with the meh in order to get it out of the way right away. My device for testing was an old iPad 2. This is pre-retina, pre-bells, whistles, or features. It’s an iPad that has served me well, and with any luck will continue to do so for a long time. Scrivener for iOS was built for modern hardware, which could make it a little funky at times. Sometimes fonts are grainy (solvable by zooming, but you should be aware). While the app is by no means slow, there were occasions where it took a second to respond. Nothing repeatable, so the delay could have easily been in my imagination as on the screen.

Dropbox sync is great, but there are times it can be annoying too. If you start up the app already in a document and want to sync, but forget to completely exit the project, you will find yourself in a loop where it wants to exit the project to sync, but it only seems able to go back one level. So if you were in a sub-sub-sub folder, it could take a few tries before the app has backed out far enough that it can run the synch with dropbox. On the same note of synchronization, I have found the conflicting copy resolution to be iffy. Even when you resolve the conflict, if you don’t take steps to delete the files created because of the conflict it will just repeatedly warn you of conflicts. As I type this I realize that’s a bug I should have submitted. Ack.

Scrivener binder in iOSThere is no outline mode. If you work like I do, haphazardly and in no repeatable fashion, then you know being able to work with the outline is great for those times you have a quick idea you need to shove in, or you want to rearrange some things on the fly. It’s ironic, I know, that as a pantser I miss the outline feature, but while I don’t do outlines, I do use notes and structures. Being able to switch over to outline mode real quick to arrange things, or get a glimpse of structure, works for me in a way notecards and binder views don’t.

The biggest meh, though, is that it turns out typing on a screen is not ideal. Being an older iPad 2, external keyboards tend to show lag over bluetooth (even at my mediocre typing speeds, its noticeable when you type a paragraph and it doesn’t show up until 30s later). Screen typing is fine for quick edits, but for writing long blocks of text on the B.A.R.T., it was a pain. This was the first time I’d attempted long text blocks on the iPad in a long, long time, so this was as much my not enjoying the general experience as anything specific to Scrivener. I found it cumbersome and hard, and frankly, it slowed me down immensely to be tapping on glass to make words. I’d joke about first world problems, but since I’m complaining about writing software on a tablet, I’m pretty sure I’ve already passed that bar a long time ago.

These are my complaints, trivial as most of them are. Tomorrow, I will take post part two of this article, highlighting some of the features I think deserve a shout out. See you then!

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