Confessions of a writing tool addict—good intentions paving the way

“I know it's here somewhere...”
“I know it’s here somewhere…”
I’ve written a few times about some of the issues I face being a packrat who comes from a long line of packrats. One of the manifestations of the behavior is that I collect things, but not all of the things I collect are the sorts of things most people think of as collectable: keyboards, headphones, iPods, dictionaries, typewriters… and word processing programs. In a sense, my predilection for downloading and trying out new word processors is not unlike the way that many writers and artists and such like to try out new pens or buy new notebooks or sketchpads. You’re always looking for tools that will make some of your job easier, or are just nicer to use. And in the case of things like paper or pencils or brushes, they do get used up or wear out periodically, so having replacements already handy can be a good thing. When I see a cool-looking mechanical pencil, for instance, there isn’t much harm in picking it up and at least considering buying it. One of the pencils I already own might break, or get misplaced, right?

Software programs don’t usually work that way, but the non-rational part of my brain doesn’t quite get that. So seeing a review of a word processor that extolls features that appeal to me has the same effect on that impulsive part of the brain that makes me pick up a new pencil or pen or pocket notepad when it catches my eye in the store.

Many apps offer free trial versions, so it is literally a matter of just clicking or tapping a few times on my phone or laptop, and the next thing you know there’s a new word processor installed on my iPhone or iPad or Macbook Pro. And I will play with it for a bit, maybe find some things I like about it. If it works well and is cheap, well, I might buy it. If the free version has no time limit, I may just leave the free version on indefinitely.

All of that sounds mostly harmless, and it usually is. But…

If it’s a tool that really is fun to use (and this happens a lot on the iPad and iPhone), I will start doing all of my incidental/impulsive writing in it. An idea strikes me on the bus? I pull up the note taking or word processing app that I’ve been using lately and start writing. Most of these programs save the data in either my iCloud or Dropbox, so in theory I can’t lose the work. And it will be easy enough later to transfer the new scene I just wrote into an appropriate Scrivener project later.

I do all of my serious writing in Scrivener, and have for a while. It’s more than a word processor: it’s also a project management tool, with lots of great features for organizing notes and research information within the same virtual workbook as your novel or story collection what have you. And the whole reason I do all my work in Scrivener in the first place is because several years ago I read a glowing review of the software, which included the fact that not only did the software have a 30-day free trial, but it wasn’t 30 calendar days. It only counted a day if you actually opened the software and did it on a particular day. So you could spend part of a weekend fooling around with the new tool, then close it and go back to your usual software for a week, and then when you had some extra time the next weekend, open it up again, and see that you still had 27-28 days left in the trial.

Once I was hooked on Scrivener, I was all in. I started moving projects from my other word processors into it, and I haven’t regretted the decision now years later. But Scrivener isn’t necessarily the best tool to use for taking semi random notes. And until recently, there wasn’t a version for the iPad/iPhone. So for a long time I did all of my on-the-go writing in an app called WriteRoom for iOS. It was simple and not buggy and worked well. But I had to manually copy and paste text from WriteRoom into Scrivener, and there wasn’t really any way to read an existing Scrivener file on the go using WriteRoom.

So for a few years I tried various iOS apps that had ways of sort-of integrating with Scrivener. One option that Scrivener offered to facilitate this was a feature where Scrivener would export Rich Text copies of all the scenes in a project to a Dropbox folder whenever you closed Scrivener on the Mac, and when you re-opened the file later, it would check that Dropbox folder and offer to import back in any scenes that had been edited externally. This allowed me to revise and extend scenes using all sorts of word processors on the phone, and the information would automatically get back into the file.

But I also set up separate Scrivener files for NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, which I use to motivate me to work on big revision projects. The motivation is hitting that word count every day, and the easiest way to track that is to do all my work in a single Scrivener project. With the intention of copying all of the revised scenes back into the parent file.

Isn’t there an old proverb about good intentions?

I’m babbling about all of this because I spent a good chunk of this weekend being really frustrated on my edits of the first novel, because there were complete new scenes I have written and many scenes I have revised since the copy editor and my two beta readers went through the complete draft… which I couldn’t find. I thought they were in my main project file. A lot of my revisions were in there. Two new scenes were in there. But not all.

Because of the way my brain works, I’ve also been working on the sequels to this novel at the same time that I’ve been revising. This would drive some people crazy, but I find it helps a lot with my decision making on how to fix some things in the first book, because I know that certain things are in the future. Anyway, there were scenes for subsequent books that I knew I had written in part because they were related to scenes I was fixing in the first book? And those scenes weren’t in the projects where they belong, either.

This sent me searching through folders in Dropbox and all of those projects with names like “CampNanoApril2015” and the like, looking for scenes, and copying them into the novel they belong in…

I was grumbling at myself a lot while doing this. But then I remembered that it could be much worse. That, in fact, it used to be much worse. Because I used to do all my incidental writing and such in physical notebooks… whatever notebook I happened to have with me at the time.

At least this way, I can use the search feature to look for all the files containing a certain phrase. It’s a little easier then flipping through pages and digging round in closets or my desk or whatever trying to find a particular notebook.

So, improvement, I guess?

2 thoughts on “Confessions of a writing tool addict—good intentions paving the way

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