Writing: Marked and Scrivener Revisited…

Hey all! This will be a short one. A few posts ago I had a write up about an Alfred workflow I wrote that opened your Scrivener .proj files in both Scrivener and Marked simultaneously.

After I published that post, many of you pointed out (including Marked’s very own Twitter account) that with the right preferences checked off, simply dragging and dropping your Scrivener project file into Marked should accomplish the same result. I totally agreed with this sentiment, but I apparently found a bug that was preventing me from doing so: dragging a Scrivener project file to Marked in the dock did in fact open both Scrivener and Marked but, for me anyways, Scrivener the app would open but the project wouldn’t. Long story short, I detailed the issue to the Marked account on Twitter and was assured that the bug would be fixed in a future release of Marked.

Well, today Brett Terpstra (Marked’s developer) announced the release of version 2.3 of his software and, true to his word, the issue has been resolved! So, if you own Marked and didn’t want to pony up for the Powerpack that Alfred offers, you once again can drag and drop Scrivener project files into Marked on your dock. Both apps will open simultaneously with your cursor blinking in Scrivener; waiting patiently for any Markdown you want to throw at it.

Scriv2Marked

Much, much gratitude for the fix and the prompt response when I brought it up!

If you create content in markdown in Scrivener and don’t use Marked? You are absolutely missing out. I whole-heartedly recommend it. It’s worth your hard-earned cash and I am not ashamed at all to admit that I don’t even come close to utilizing all that it can do. I use it daily and can’t imagine writing for the web without it. It’s grown with me and my ever-changing workflows .

I am betting it will do the same for you.

Writing and Tips: Creating a Custom Project Template in Scrivener

One of the most requested posts I’ve seen in the comments section of this site has been for me to do a write-up on how to create a custom project template in Scrivener. It’s something I honestly had never thought of doing until I started blogging in Scrivener using Markdown and MultiMarkdown. After using that system for a bit, I realized quickly that I’d want the exact same setup for the next year (and the year after that). Without a template, I’d have to recreate everything in that project layout from scratch.

It was the first time I’d encountered a situation in Scrivener where I needed the initial layout of a project (folders, metadata, doc templates, etc…), to be a repeatable affair. Sure it’s easy enough to start a new project and recreate everything (easy, yet time-consuming), but wouldn’t it be great if I had a boilerplate starting point that did it all for me?

Luckily, as always, Scrivener makes creating such a setup quite easy.

One and done.

At first, I thought I’d use a previous project that was ideal for my needs and create a template from that. Good idea right? But then I realized that when you create project template in Scrivener, it takes literally everything in that project and adds it to the template.

In short, I’d get the bits I needed, but I’d spend even more time deleting the stuff I didn’t.

So, to avoid that situation, you need to to start a new project with zero content in it (I used Scrivener’s blank template). From here, you need to recreate only the skeletal structure of the elements that you are going to reuse moving forward. In the case of my blogging system, I only wanted the basic structural elements that I knew I’d need year after year. So that meant the folders for the months, useful, but generic meta-data, a doc template with pre-filled Markdown in it that I use in every post, and anything else that I’d recreate next year.

Once you have all of that set up, it’s time to create your template!

File > Save As Template… not File > Save As…

I remember striking out initially, while looking for this option under the “Save As…” and “Export” sub-menus under “File”. But I quickly saw the magical “Save As Template…” option and all was well.

Save As Template

Once you have your template structure in order. Head up to “File” and then look four options up from the bottom to find “Save As Template…”. Go ahead and click that.

This brings up a “Template Information” window where you can name your template, give it a description, assign an existing Scrivener category to it and even give it fancy custom icon so that it stands out the next time you create a new project.

Choosing A Custom Icon

Once that’s all sorted, click the “Ok” button and you’re done. Easy peasy.

Now you can either save the boilerplate project to add to it later or, if you feel confident that you nailed it on the first try, you can delete it. Don’t worry. You won’t lose your work. The template is safe and sound in Scrivener’s “Application Support” folder on your hard drive.

Let’s Take It For a Spin!

New Template

Now all you have to do to use your new template is start a new project in Scrivener. Select the category you assigned to it and choose your custom template. Once the new project comes up, you’ll see all of that beautiful time you just saved!

Prefilled Layout

Now go have a tall libation. You’ve earned it! :)

Writing and the Web: The Editorially Review

Editorially.com logo

UPDATE 02/13/14: I am absolutely bummed to hear that these super-talented developers are closing the doors on this exceptional project on May 30th, 2014. Read more about why here.


Here’s my original review:

I spend a good amount of time on this site reviewing native text editor apps and I do so for good reason; generally, they simply work better, are often more stable, and they allow you to save/edit your work in a more convenient fashion via key commands (command S is way quicker than hunting and clicking a save button on a web page’s UI, for instance).

That’s not to say there isn’t a place in my workflow for web apps. I do occasionally use the web-based counterparts to the native apps I have at my disposal, but that usually is only if I am not at my personal computer. In short, if given the choice between Evernote on the web or Evernote on the Mac/PC, or iWork’s Pages on iCloud.com versus Pages locally, I’ll always go the local/native install route.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of web apps becoming the norm in the (probably very near) future, but up until this year, there really hasn’t been anything I’d have taken a chance with writing a post or short story in. I don’t think I’d ever trust long-form writing to a cloud-based service, but short form? Definitely, if something captured my fancy.

And it just so happened that an online editor did.

Enter Editorially.com

PC Layout

Editorially.com accomplishes so many things well that I am starting to wonder if they jacked into my brain specifically.

Editorially is a web-based text editor app for writing on and for the web (or offline too as it turns out, more on that below). Aside from a pleasing and intuitive UI, it’s feature set is what ultimately bowled me over. Here’s the laundry list of things that you get when you sign up for an account:

  • Baked in support for Markdown syntax (it’s supported beautifully and inline). If you’ve visited here before, you’ll know I’ve got a soft spot for MD and MMD and if you do too, you’ll quickly discover just how much Editorially was literally made with it in mind. Be sure to check out their Help page, it’s all kinds of useful.
  • Autosave. It autosaves constantly without lag and pretty much in real-time. I can’t stress how important (and impressive) this actually is. And if you lose your connection during an autosave? It’ll save a copy of your draft in your browser’s cache (modern browsers only). I mean, how cool is that?
  • Collaboration. Got a piece of writing that you want someone to edit or proofread? Editorially has you more than covered with inline comments, track changes with check-in-check-out editing. It’s quite simple for you to invite people to comment, discuss or even take control and edit your files! Give a person a control of your document and they get preoccupied and leave it locked? Not a problem! Ask for control back and if the document has been idle for over 60 seconds, it’s back in your hands.
  • Versioning. You can’t have collaboration without versioning. Editorially knocks this out of the park with a version created with each autosave. You can also diff and compare versions as well as add notes to specific versions to reference in the future. Cool in a browser? Yes. Helpful in making your forget you are writing in a browser? Definitely!
  • Activity Feed. Wondering if your editor/s checked and edited the document you invited them to view? Look no further than the handy built-in Activity Feed. It’ll tell you who edited what and when, as well as provide timestamps for when your document auto-saved.
  • Different Publishing/Export Options. A recent update gave folks the ability to post their markdown to WordPress (.com and self-hosted with Jetpack enabled) or to archive a copy of your work to a folder on Dropbox. I used both for the very post you are reading right now. Both export options worked flawlessly.
  • Other import and export options. But wait! There’s more! Currently you can start a new document by importing a plain text file (.txt, .md, or.markdown) and it’s even more robust in the export category allowing you to export to many file formats including .html, LaTeX (.tex), Rich Text (.rtf), Word (.docx) and even ePub (!?!). I do wish there was a PDF option but, frankly, I’m shocked a web app can do all of this already. That all said, the developers at Editorially are cooking up even more export options in the future and I can always export locally and print to .pdf easily enough.
  • Responsive Design. Somehow the folks at Editorially.com made their site and all of its functionality fully responsive. This means it’s thoroughly usable on a pc, tablet and yes, even a damn smart phone. As web developer and a writer, I seriously can’t believe they pulled it all off. It’s a joy to use and a sight to behold. Even if you don’t end up using their services, you owe it to yourself to check this site out on every screen you can find. If only to see the future of the web/web apps and how high the bar’s been set.

Changing hearts and minds…

As amazing as the above list of functionality is for me to recount, what caused me to pause and smile the most whilst using Editorially was it’s ability to make me pine for the functionality and usability found in a web app, to be in my native apps. If you write in Markdown, Editorially is a no-brainer. Hell, if you simply write for the web (or simply write), there is no reason why this couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be your go-to editor. My wife and colleagues and I use this to collaborate and edit each others work.  Furthermore, I am not ashamed to say that I use it sometimes just because it’s a joy to use. It represents a paradigm shift in my eyes. I really do think it’s the future in many ways.  In fact it wouldn’t surprise me at all if local installs of Office suites are extinct in a couple of years after using Editorially for a few months.

I wouldn’t have thought that a year ago, but I do now.

Obviously I’m a fan…

Clearly I’m smitten with Editorially and all they’ve accomplished. But don’t take my word for it. Go and sign up and give it a spin. At the very least I think it will change your stance on what web apps are capable of today, you sure can’t beat the price (spoiler alert: it’s free) and at best, it’ll give you a very capable alternative to mix things up in your writing workflow. I love it and I am willing to bet that you will too.

Writing: Scrivener as a complete Blogging System

About a month after I used Scrivener to finally finish a novel I started years ago, I got the idea of trying to use it as not only a staging area for posts here on my blog, but also as an infrastructure and archive of it as well. My system is admittedly quite basic, but I thought I would share it as it’s become critical and amazingly helpful since I’ve set it up. I figured the more basic it is now, the easier it would be for you all to adopt; modifying it to fit your needs.

Here goes…

Each Project is a Year

Project Year

Start a new project in Scrivener (File > New Project or shift-command-N on the Mac), choose a project template (whatever you are used to), and change the title to the year you are writing in. I originally thought I would call it “Posts” but, for me anyways, it quickly became too unwieldy and chaotic. I wanted this system to be simple yet powerful, not muddied with years of content.

Each Month is a Folder

Folder Month

I chose to break my posts into months but it would be just as easy to make each folder a site topic or category. I personally like months because I can generally remember about when chronologically I wrote a post. Also, if I search my blog and find it, it makes the post that much easier to find in my Scrivener project.

This is also a great opportunity to shift to corkboard view and add notes to each month so that you can either see what you wrote about at a glance, or maybe attach a note about a life event that occurred that effected your writing at the time. It’s up to you (obviously). Sometimes I don’t add anything, but I am glad I have the option when I do.

Believe it or not, this is the core structure of my blog writing system in Scrivener – a project is a year, a month is a folder.  Once this is set up, open the month you are currently in and create a new document.

Each Document is a Post

Document Posts

Here’s where your writing comes in. You can keep it simple and write the entirety of your post, save it, and then copy and paste the text into your blog of choice. Or you also have the opportunity to leverage Scrivener to its fullest! A lot of folks use Scrivener for short and long form writing and they should, there’s nothing out there that is better for that. But one of Scrivener’s secret weapons is its ability to export MultiMarkDown into clean and precise html. Which is perfect for a blog’s built-in text editor.

If you are familiar with markdown syntax, it’s a huge shortcut for exporting your writing easily into perfectly formatted html code (what your browser reads and translates into a web page). If you are interested in learning it, you can find everything you need to know right here. The learning curve is far from steep and it could save you a ton of time going forward.

*UPDATE* 09/27/13 – If you are interested in getting Scrivener setup to export MMD markup, I posted a companion piece to this post walking you through how to do so.  You’ll find it right here.

Markdown Export

Of course if you are not into learning that kind of stuff, that’s cool too. You don’t have to. A lot of blogging platforms handle copy and pasting text from word processors into their WYSIWYG editors quite well now, parsing your pasted text into HTML the best that it can. Still, the clean code that Markdown generates eliminates a lot of guess-work (and potential html clean up when a blog editor translates your text incorrectly) and I am immensely grateful that the kind folks at Literature and Latte had the foresight to see a need for it from their customers.

Ok, enough about my love of markdown! There are other tools you can leverage that cater very nicely to blogging. Many of these I am sure you are already familiar with, but I figured I’d hit them anyways.

Word Targets

Word Target

When I blog I like to set a word count target. Generally in Scrivener this is a goal for you to strive for, but with blogging it’s particularly great to know when you should start wrapping things up or stop completely and jump into edit mode. I like to think of it as the warning track on a baseball field giving you a heads up before your run head-long into a wall, or in the case of blogging, becoming too verbose.

Synopsis and Document Notes

Synopsis Notes

I often like to use the coveted right column in Scrivener to add notes, reference external links/topics, or even other posts that this post is linked to on my blog… just about anything else that is useful to you the author, but not necessary for your readership.

It’s a little extra work for you, but helpful at-a-glance down the road.

Corkboard View For Your Posts

corkboard view

This is something that, once you use it, you are always giving yourself a high-five in the future for doing so. I can’t tell you how many times this view in Scrivener has saved me from digging into pages and pages of text to find that one post that I wrote about topic “X”.

On each card, I add the date it was posted and a very brief synopsis. Make it part of your workflow, you will not regret it.

ProTip – if you do utilize Scrivener’s right column and fill out the synopsis field, the cork board view uses that text as the content displayed on the card.

Meta-Data

metadata

I may be getting a little too much “in the weeds” on this one but, I thought I’d throw it out there nonetheless. As you add more and more posts, you may want to consider assigning meta-data or “tags” to the content you produce. This will help organize your content a lot more efficiently and make it all infinitely more searchable in the future.

Start with broad topics and then hone in from there.

Many of you won’t need this, but Scrivener does such a bang-up job of its implementation of it, I thought I’d mention it.

What You End Up With

As with my long-form writing, Scrivener provides me with a one-stop-shop writing platform for my blog. If it could actually export to my blog (WordPress), that would be amazing! But don’t let that tiny quibble keep you from trying this idea out. With a little bit of groundwork applied up front, you get all of your writing organized and searchable, post by post, month by month, year by year.

One last perk? Exporting a project and getting an entire year’s worth of posts in pdf or epub format. Flipping through a retrospective of the last 365 days of your creative life is surprisingly satisfying to view on a tablet or even printed out if you want to feel the literal weight of your work.

Sort of like a yearbook for your blog! Only without the awkward interactions of asking for classmates to sign it. ;)

Writing: My Writing Setup Part 2 – Hardware

I touched upon this in a previous post but, as that post was focused on the software I used, I thought I’d expound a little more on my writing setup from a hardware level and why I chose the setup that I did.

I’ve taken a very minimalist approach to the hardware I use in my writing nowadays. I used to have a 13in MacBook Pro and that was WAY more hardware than I needed for 90% of what I do with a computer everyday. I considered selling it for one of these, but even that seemed like overkill. So when the last iPad came out I was then convinced that I could whittle things down even further, go even lighter, even more portable. So I did what a lot of people in the tech and writing field still consider to be unthinkable: I traded in the laptop for a iPad.

I won’t lie, it hasn’t been the easiest transition but, to be honest, it hasn’t been that bad either. I actually only find the setup to be irritating in the most small and unexpected ways. But the cool part is, is that there are always ways around any issue or hurdle I’ve come across so far. Do I miss my laptop? Sometimes. That’s unavoidable. There are still some instances where I have no choice but to seek out some morerobust hardware to do some heavy lifting. But, in all honesty, it’s been shocking at how much I don’t have those situations pop up.

Bar none the iPad’s been amazingly capable.

So! With out further adieu, here is my current hardware setup for writing (and a ton more)!

  1. An iPad – (2012, 3rd generation)
  2. A stand (TwelveSouth’s Compass)
  3. Apple’s bluetooth keyboard

iPad SetupiPad Setup side view

There are plenty of alternatives out there that I considered, BUT, I already owned a spare Apple bluetooth keyboard and I had no interest in spending the extra cash involved in buying an alternative.

The good news is, purely by circumstance and not experience, I actually ended up prefering my setup to a clamshell-based iPad case for a variety of reasons. Here are the Pro’s and Cons!

PROS:

  1. Because the keyboard isn’t attached, I am not handcuffed to being a set distance away from my iPad. I can sit as far away or as close as I want. It also helps with ergonomics if you have issues with that. Separating the keyboard from the screen really affords a lot of customization. Me? I typically have the keyboard on my lap and the iPad on the stand on the table in front of me. It’s just more comfortable for me that way.
  2. The particular stand I bought allows for some natural adjustment of how the iPad sits on it. So there’s some good angle adjustments you can make to make sure you are not Quasimodo-ing over your screen. The free standing nature of it all gives a great amount freedom to place things where you want. It accommodates you rather than the other way around.
  3. The 2012 iPad’s screen resolution. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard all about the wonders and spectacle (including unicorns) of the most recent iPad’s screen resolution but, I gotta admit, it’s pretty damn glorious and way nicer on eye strain than the models before it. If you can spare the extra scratch, I highly recommend it. Especially if you plan on spending a good amount of time in front of it. Think of it as an investment in your ever faithful eyeballs. :)

CONS:

  1. Everything’s separate and in individual pieces. No, I’m not crazy. I know I just extolled the fact that separate pieces are my preference. But it’s also one of my setup’s greatest weaknesses. An “all-in-one” setup is easy to grab, throw in a bag and go. It’s definitely more convenient. But in this case I chose my own comfort over ease of use. When you get to your writing location with an all in one setup, you put it on the table, open it and get to work. With my setup, you sit down, take out the stand, unfold and set it up, place the iPad on it, take out the keyboard, turn it on, sync it to the iPad and then get to work. In short, it’s definitely something to consider.
  2. Stand weight. As much as love my stand, the TwelveSouth stand is woefully hefty. Some might argue that the ruggedness is a strength and testimate to the quality of the product. It’s hard to argue against that but, I’d prefer a stand that was WAY lighter and made with the same quality. I haven’t found one yet, but I’m definitely on the hunt.
  3. Battery life. A bluetooth keyboard needs batteries and, in return, crushes the battery life of your iPad as well. So, wireless convenience definitely comes at a price. And packing extra batteries or a charger can definitely be a drag.

So no doubt, there is a good bit to consider and there definitely isn’t what I’d call a silver bullet solution. Like many things, it all comes down to your life and your preferences. For me, my setup definitely outweighs the inconveniences that are packaged within. They suck up mere minutes and only add a little extra weight to my bag. Does it successfully replace my laptop? Yes, for me it does. But please remember that I predominantly write, check email, Twitter, and browse the web. I do occasionally code but not at a rate that would necessitate anything above my memory and a basic text editor. So, in short, this setup works for me, but it may not work for you! Don’t get suckered into the latest round of “ditch your laptop for an iPad” propaganda. It’s a romantic notion for sure, but it definitely doesn’t accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. Not yet anyways.

Hopefully you found this useful! Hit me up up on Twitter if you didn’t or have something to add! I would genuinely love to hear it! I think a lot of folks are curious about this situation. I know I was!

Hope you all had a good week,

Tad