23 January 2012

How to sync Scrivener with any text editor (and go mobile too)

I’ve just spent the last hour or so transferring all the bits and pieces of my second novel into Scrivener, the popular writing app for Mac and Windows.

This is not my first time using Scrivener. After hearing lots of great things, I first gave it a try early last year. In the end, I felt that using one app to do all of my writing didn’t quite fit with how I work. It seemed too restrictive

I like to make notes on the go with Simplenote and have it sync to all of my devices (laptop, iPad and iPhone). I also like the simplicity of using plain text files in apps like TextEdit or iA Writer, again with documents synced to all of my devices via Dropbox. For me, flexibility is really important.

Scrivener seemed fantastic for those who write in the same place and on the same computer, but not for someone who likes to move around a bit more. I now know that I was wrong, and that with a little setting up, Scrivener can be used alongside any text editor and in any location.

Using Scrivener with any text editor

At its heart, Scrivener is a word processor. It provides a blank page for writing on. But it has many other features too, which although very handy for some writers and might see them use Scrivener for every element of their writing, for me they can occasionally get in the way.

That’s why I wanted to find a way to separate the two elements of my work. I wanted a way to organise my novel, make notes and store research in Scrivener, but be able to use another writing app to do the actual writing.

This is completely possible. Scrivener has a fantastic sync feature, which I discovered via Dave Caolo’s excellent instructions on how to set up Scrivener to work with the iPad app, PlainText.

It works by taking your one giant .scriv file and separating all your Scrivener documents into separate files in a folder called ‘draft’. To set that up, your first task is to choose where on your hard drive you’d like that folder to go.

Use the menu as follows:

File > Sync > with External Folder

From there, you’ll see a dialog box and the option to choose a ‘Shared folder’. Do exactly that, making sure that you’ve got the option to ‘Sync the contents of the Draft folder’ selected. Once you’ve chosen your folder, hit ‘Sync’ and you should end up with a ‘draft’ folder full of text files in Rich Text Format (.rtf).

You should now be able to open and edit those files in any text editor on your computer, from Microsoft Word to Notepad on a Windows PC, Pages to Byword on a Mac.

However, note that when you next open Scrivener, your work will not sync automatically. To make sure that you’re working on the latest versions of your documents, you’ll need to repeat the process described above.

Head to:

File > Sync > with External Folder.

Hit ‘Sync’ again and all should be well.

Go mobile with Scrivener and Dropbox

You know all about Dropbox by now, right?

If not you should rectify that situation immediately. It’s a brilliant tool for any writer who wants to have their work available wherever they are across different computers and devices.

Dropbox works by creating a folder on your computer that syncs with the cloud. Because it’s so good, many other apps have implemented a ‘sync with Dropbox’ function to allow users to sync data between their desktop and mobile devices. And that’s exactly how you can use it to go mobile with Scrivener.

Essentially, you need to follow the same process as before. However, there are two very important differences.

First, instead of choosing to create your ‘draft’ folder in any old place on your hard drive, you need to put it somewhere within your Dropbox directory. Second, you should change the format of your synced files from .rtf to plain text (.txt), as it’s the simplest, most universal format and what most mobile apps use.

You can change to .txt from the same dialog box as before. It’s at the bottom under the ‘Format’ heading and ‘Format for external Draft files’. Choose the Plain Text (TXT) option and again, hit ‘Sync’.

This time you ‘draft’ folder’s contents will be synced to the cloud via Dropbox and the files will be in Plain Text format. All you need to do now is find a text editor on whatever mobile device or tablet that you happen to own that allows you to sync files with Dropbox.

My particular favourite is PlainText, which I use on both my iPhone and iPad. It works seamlessly and allows me to open, edit and save my Scrivener documents without any trouble at all. It’s like magic.

How I’ll work in the future

Using the methods described above, I intend to use Scrivener as the place where I organise my novel. I’ll keep everything in there and I’ll never have to spend hours trawling through Word documents again. It will be the font of all knowledge.

But I will also use other text editors when it comes to the writing itself, which means I will hopefully avoid the temptation to tinker with Scrivener’s many settings and lose myself in research when I should be writing. Best of all, I’ll be able to make notes and continue working when I’m not at my laptop.

I’m really impressed with what Scrivener can do and now I’ve found its capacity to sync and be mobile, it may well become my very best writing friend.

35 Comments

  1. Wow! Thanx for doing all the heavy lifting. Very useful.

  2. Yvonen

    this is great. Thanks a bunch. I had no idea

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Yes, it would seem from the feedback that this technique doesn’t yet work for the Windows version of Scrivener. Apologies – I assumed it was a universal feature. I’ll update the post asap.

  3. Cip Petersen

    Too bad it doesn’t quite work that way with the windows version… No sync… I’m sad…

  4. What an interesting way to use Scrivener! I can’t do it with my windows version, but I like the concept. I do most of my drafting on an alphasmart Neo and then upload the text into Scrivener where I do all my editing and revising. I love the organizational aspects of Scrivener and consider it my main writing program.

  5. Great info, Iain. I am working with an editor who works on a PC (I’m a Mac person). Is this the method you’d recommend for my ed. making comments and suggestions on my Scriv doc? I want to approve or rework as needed so it seems like this would work but I’m pretty new to Scrivener, though a huge fan. If there is some other “review/comment” method, would you mind weighing in here? Kudos here for easy-to-understand tip!

  6. Jen

    Any suggestions for RTF files? I use Scrivener and Dropbox but I can’t find an app that can open AND edit RTF files AND sync to Dropbox. Frustrating. Can’t believe Apple hasn’t solved this by now. :P

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      I’m not sure to be honest, although I’m not sure it’s Apple’s fault that all these text editors love their plain text formats. I don’t have it, but maybe try the Pages app for iOS? Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

    • I know this is more than a year later but there are several apps on ipad/iphone that can do RTF. I use both Byword and Textilus. Textilus is pretty adept at RTF. Its Dropbox implementation leaves a bit to be desired though.

  7. Do you know how to make this work on the Windows Pc version? I do not see a “Sync” function in my file menu. =-(

    I cannot figure it out Lain

  8. There is no sync in the Windows version -but you can certainly save as the scriv file to the dropbox folder. When I try to open Plaintext though the app immediately shuts down again when it sees the sciv file – so I have no idea what the problem is?

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Hi Lissie

      PlainText and most other text editors on iPad can only read .txt files, so it won’t recognise the Scrivener document type and that’s probably the problem. When you save to Dropbox, you need to make sure you save out as .txt

      That said, if syncing isn’t part of the windows version, I think you need to tread pretty carefully and have good version control!

      Iain

  9. Katherine

    Iain,

    I’ve been using Scrivener on my imac and plaintext via dropbox on my iphone for about 8 months with no problems. But one has happened. No matter what I did, I noticed that a change on the imac would not make its way to the iphone. Is there a minimum amount of words that need to be changed that you know of?

    Katherine

  10. Андрей Воскресенский

    Although, there is no “sync” function in Windows, scrivener saves the project folder in any place you tell him to. So you simply save whole folder inside of your dropbox folder, after that go to files->docs subfolders. Inside you’ll find some .rtf files named with numbers. Those are your scenes. Edit them in any text editor you’d like (MS Word, or for example, Kingsoft office for android users) – and you’re good to go.
    Don’t rename the rtf file – i suggest you’d make some external index of what is the number for each scene. Not totaly intuitive, but grants you needed degree of mobility)
    (And sorry for possible language mistakes – english is not native :( )

    • Scot

      Excellent tip. Thank you!

      I’m going to be Scrivener-less for a few days :( so this route is great to know about.

    • Moses

      Thanks for the collective guidance here.

      Does anyone know why files are duplicated, not true duplicates, one is just a shadow, see http://cl.ly/image/242e2J1b343q

      I am also trying to Sync Scrivener with Simplenote -I am aware this posting is now veering off theme- and on every attempt Scrivener tries to download all my notes and does not give me the opportunity to pick notes in my Scrivener project to sync with Simplenote. Any thoughts, suggestions welcome. Thanks

  11. Charlie

    For those who are wondering… you can only do this on version 2 which is still only available on Mac(I think the Windows version is 1.6) :-( As much as I love this software and want this option I’m not buying a Mac for it :-D

  12. GabrielBerlin

    Very helpful! Will use this as my (desktop/mobile mixed) workflow.

  13. Dianne

    Latest plaintext update no longer allows me to sync newly edited plaintext (from Scrivener) files on my iPad with Dropbox. Any tips?

    • Heather Ordover

      I just switched to a new app called WriteRight–working perfectly with plain text/ Dropbox sync. And I LOVE the app–has the best autocomplete-synonym-antonym-idiomatic substitution ever. Amazing little thing. (And does it in English AND Spanish, too!)

  14. T

    Worked a treat! thanks a lot

  15. Miffed

    Dropbox and scrivener do not mix – so don’t access scrivner files when they are in dropbox and work on them or you will end up screwed. We lost 6 months of work in 2013 and had to recompile file by file to get some of our work back as dropbox syncs every few seconds and caused file conflicts which then resulted in scrivener not running properly and eventually it crashed and permanently corrupted some of the files.

  16. elektrikgypsy

    I’m still really hoping for the official Scrivener mobile app for iDevices, but I’ve had good results syncing IndexCard with it via Dropbox. It functions well enough, and I’ve even been moving text between Evernote and IndexCard before chucking that back to Scrivener to arrange it all. However, it can get a bit confusing, and I do worry about losing latest versions of writing, or getting lost in duplicates. It’s one of the reasons I’ve clung to copying text to Evernote so it’s backed up all across the net. I would definitely recommend the combination of IndexCard and Evernote for putting a novel together, even without the big Scrivener end of things.

  17. yt

    So … 2 years have passed. Does this technique work yet for the Windows version of Scrivener?

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