For many that engage in novel writing or any writing for that matter, Scrivener is a well-known program. It’s been around for quite a while and has served many of us well. With its availability on both Mac and Windows (as well as Linux for a limited time), pretty much anyone with a desktop or laptop computer has access to it. However, despite its reputation, Scrivener isn’t perfect and it has its share of flaws. The lack of proper cloud support is one of my greatest gripes.
However, I won’t spend ten paragraphs of eloquent prose bemoaning the lack of cloud support in the year 2017 (although I really feel like I could). Instead, I’m going to show you have to work around this deficiency and make use of cloud services anyway, thereby allowing you to continue to use Scrivener in the era of the cloud.
Why the Cloud?
First of all, why is the cloud important? Although the reasons may be different depending who you talk to, for me one of the reasons is about portability. What I write at home on my laptop, I need to be able to edit on my phone or tablet when I’m away from my computer, without having to worry about copying files back and forth. Cloud services can work as that intermediary between my laptop and my mobile devices.
If you have iOS, your problem is already solved to some extent. These days, Scrivener has a native iOS application that lets you write and edit on the go and then sync with your desktop. Marvelous, if you’re an iOS user. I’m not.
Since I’m an Android drone through and through, I, therefore, have had to look for other solutions. This post will delve further into the solution I have found to work for me. Hopefully, at the end of the day, it will also work for you until a native Scrivener app is released for Android (they’re “working on it”, they say).
What you need
To make this work, you need three things.
First things first. If you don’t have Scrivener, go to the website right now and check it out. They usually have a free trial that lets you try before you buy. Here’s the link:
You’ll also need a story handy and readily configured. Use an existing one or use the built-in wizard to create a new story.
A Cloud Account
If you’re online these days, it’s likely you already have a cloud account, whether it be OneDrive from Microsoft, Dropbox, Google Drive or one of many other similar services. The important aspect about my particular workaround is that you need a cloud account that will sync files from your computer, files that then will be accessible from a mobile device instantly. Although I have used all of the above (plus many others), I’ve found Dropbox to work the best.
If you don’t have a Dropbox account, you can use my referral link to sign up. Follow all the necessary steps to setup your local sync folder on your computer as described in the installation process.
An Android Text Editor
The final link in this puzzle is the Android app. You need an app that will allow you to connect to your cloud provider. In my particular case, I’d recommend an app I’ve been using for a while now, JotterPad (read me thoughts on JotterPad here: The Tools of A Writer – Writing On The Go With JotterPad). Of course, any other text editor that can edit TXT or RTF and connect to your cloud service of choice will do as well.
Note that JotterPad requires you to pay for the “premium” option for the Dropbox option to be available. I’d recommend you do it and skip out on one of your Starbucks brews for a day. If you’re serious about writing, it’s well worth it.
The Next Steps
Once you have the three pieces of software, you’re ready to get to work.
The first step, start to write your story. For the sake of this post, let’s imagine you’re writing a story about Arthur Redfinger and The Green Alien (what actually happens to Arthur is, of course, of no consequence for the purposes of this post). Below, Arthur has just landed on an alien planet. The first steps of Arthur Redfinger’s adventures!
To be able to edit Arthur’s adventures on your Android device, you first have to sync the contents of your story with an “External Folder”. You can see the menu option below.
Note: “Sync with mobile devices” is not an option you want to use unless you have the iOS version of Scrivener, in which case there is little point in reading any further. None of the below stuff is likely to be relevant.
Before your first sync will happen, you will need to configure a few things, such as where the files will be saved, what format and so on. So, after selecting Sync > with External Folder as shown above, the following screen will appear:
At the top, you select the path of sync folder. It is important that this folder is within your Dropbox sync folder (or corresponding folder for other cloud services) for the files to be available on your Android device.
Also, change the Format for external Draft files option from RTF to plain text. All other options can be left alone. Then click save.
Next, you’re actually going to sync your files with your Dropbox folder. Simply select Sync > with External Folder Now and you’ll be all set.
Now, you’re ready to shut that computer down, grab those car keys and find the closest coffee shop, Android device and Bluetooth keyboard in hand (the keyboard is not necessary but it does make typing much easier and much faster).
Order your coffee, tea or whatever your favorite brew is, find a table in a corner and setup your keyboard and device. Load up JotterPad and locate the folder you selected to sync your files to. It should look something like this (note that I’m using a JotterPad Beta so actual visuals may vary somewhat):
The top file is the existing story you started writing while the bottom one is another template-generated file that you can also see in the file structure in the first Scrivener screenshot above.
Tap into the file that contains your story. Type away! For demonstration purposes, I only added two new lines, as seen below.
When you’re done, save and return to the file listing screen. Oh, but wait! You just had a great idea for a new scene. Quick! Create a new file in Jotterpad and jot it down.
Yes, there we are, the mystery of the green glob. Save the file and you’ll have something like this in the file listing in JotterPad.
Well, would you look at the time? It’s time to head home. Collect your things, throw away the garbage and head home. Turn on your computer and open up your story in Scrivener.
Note: before you do anything else, give your computer a few minutes to sync all changed Dropbox files. Usually, this seems to happen instantly but just in case. In fact, verify the files have synced to your Dropbox folder and that you see the same ones on your computer as you did in JotterPad.
When you have verified that the Dropbox sync is complete, click Sync > with External Folder Now in Scrivener.
Once the operation has completed, you should see something like the below screenshot. Note that your mobile writing appears as it did on Jotterpad (minus any markdown).
You should also see the fantastic new scene you added at the coffee shop.
If you click back to your regular Scrivener binder, you should also see your new scene added to the list of others in the folder structure. In the case of the below screenshot, the Test Scene is right below Touchdown.
There you have it. You have written a story in Scrivener, used Dropbox to sync with Android, added to your story with JotterPad and then used Dropbox to sync with your desktop and Scrivener.
As you can see, the process is actually relatively simple. I found that once I used it, the only thing I really wish was present was an auto-sync option in Scrivener that would sync any changes when the story was opened. Otherwise, the whole operation worked as a charm.
As I hope I made clear, the cloud provider and the text editor really can be any other software solution that can do what I’ve described above. It doesn’t have to be Dropbox and JotterPad. Nor is this solution exclusive to Android. It could really be used for a variety of solutions. For example, finding a way to sync with Google Drive would be perfect for those that use Chromebooks to write on the go. I just haven’t explored Google Drive’s capabilities to be able to tell whether that’s possible or not. This solution could likely also be used with other iOS applications, should you not have the desire to actually use the iOS version of Scrivener.
If you end up trying the above solution, I’d love to know what you think. I’d also love to know what other software combinations you have found that will do the same. Leave a comment below with any such fun information. Oh, and if you have a good story you have written using this method, I’d love to read it 😉