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.