On the road with Scrivener, Simplenote & iPad
Last week, my family spent four beautiful, mostly unplugged days in the bayou in Louisiana. Because I am the early riser in our family, I wanted to take advantage of that alone time while the boys were sleeping to make progress on a couple of long writing projects I have in the works. In the past, that would have meant packing a bag full of legal pads and pencils or dragging along my ancient laptop. This year, I wanted to keep stuff to a minimum, so I decided to experiment. I took only my iPad, outfitted with an external keyboard. The result was better than I expected, and I learned a few new tricks for using my iPad and laptop together productively.
In addition to my iPad, three tools made my Great Bayou Writing Experiment a success:
- The afore-mentioned external keyboard (Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2 with Built-In Keyboard and Stand). Writing and editing my work was a breeze with this full-featured keyboard, which is almost as comfortable as the keyboard on my laptop.
- Scrivener. Scrivener (software for writers) allows me to chunk long writing projects into smaller, manageable pieces. Pieces of a project are stored in a “binder” and can be rearranged with drag-and-drop ease. I’ve been using Scrivener for about a year and haven’t even begun to tap the potential of this product. Unfortunately, Scrivener is not an iPad app. It resides only on my laptop. Fortunately, with a little research, I found another tool that works with Scrivener and made this whole experiment possible.
- Simplenote app for iPad. Simplenote syncs with Scrivener, letting me edit files using the Simplenote app while traveling and then update the project in Scrivener later.
How It Worked
Before I left home, I synced my Scrivener project with Simplenote, uploading all of the files I thought I would work on to the Simplenote server. My project currently has about 50 individual pieces, but I only uploaded the 20 or so that I thought I might reasonably get to during the week. Simplenote uses the first few words of a document as its file name, so I took the precaution of adding numbers to the beginning of each file to keep the pieces organized.
Simplenote is as easy to use as any word processor, but it has some limitations. The big one for me is that it is a straight text app and doesn’t allow for italics or bold or other types of formatting. For my experimental week, that wasn’t a problem, but I could see where it might become annoying.
During my early morning creating sessions, I modified about a dozen files from my Scrivener project—adding text, deleting text, re-writing text, or making notes for more extensive edits in the future. I also added several files to integrate into the project once I returned to my laptop. I labeled the additions (using “27a” to indicate the file fell between 27 and 28, for example) so I’d know where to drop them in the Scrivener binder.
When I returned home, I fired up Scrivener and went through the syncing process again, re-integrating all of the pieces I worked on during my week away into the main binder. I also moved the new additions (27a and the like) into their proper places in the project.
The result was fantastic, and I now know I can move back and forth between my iPad and laptop almost seamlessly to finish this project, making the project much more portable. Whenever I have a few minutes—track meet, orthodontist, wherever—I’ll be able to continue writing.
All in all, I was really satisfied with the amount of writing I was able to accomplish with these tools and my iPad. One thing I wish I had done before leaving home: I should have installed Simplenote on my iPhone, too. A couple of times when I left my iPad behind while we were out and about, I had ideas I needed to capture before they faded away forever. Because I didn’t add Simplenote to my iPhone, I ended up typing the ideas using the Notes app and then copying and pasting to Simplenote later. (Why didn’t I install Simplenote when I realized I needed it? Because I couldn’t remember my account information. D’oh.) Anyway, I’ve now remedied that situation for next time.
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