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Published Science Fiction Author and MLP G4 fanfiction writer. Like my work? Buy me a cuppa joe or visit my patreon!

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Scrivener, iCloud, and Me · 2:47am May 18th

A scrivener is a writer. Like me—though I prefer author or novelist. Here, I'm discussing capital-S Scrivener, the manuscript authoring package available for Windows, Mac, and iOS. First, context.

Everything I've written on this site I authored in Pages, an Apple product. Though the wonky magic of iCloud, I am able to sometimes write on the Mac, more often write on my iPad Pro, edit and correct on my iPhone (often while walking or doing my morning stretches), and occasionally touch up or export using iCloud Web Pages on Windows. It is an amazing writing tool and a good-enough layout tool for most everything I do. Basically, I can use it on all my platforms. So why am I looking at a new authoring package? Funny you should ask.

One word, iCloud.

iCloud is the syncing mechanism built into the Apple ecosystem. It's 98% reliable. Sounds good? Nope.

By my talley, that means 1 in 50 times that I move between platforms, I find a sync issue. This typically manifests as one machine uploads to the cloud, but another machine doesn't download it. This occurs with good connectivity on both devices. I can even upload and download other iCloud files. I have a file named "force upload" that I add or delete a character from to do this. Occasionally this unsticks the file, though sometimes not. Eventually it syncs. That' good, right? Not so much.

The bad part is that there is no notification of out-of-date, or that iCloud isn't syncing. I usually start editing not realizing I have a previous version. If I edit around the document, all bets are off. (I keep each full novel in a single document.) If I start at the end, especially if it is a new chapter, I often don't notice. Sometime later, Pages pops up a version sync alert, offering me the version that didn't sync from the other device (until now) and the one I've just edited.

Pages has no facility for comparing versions.

If I have change tracking on—I rarely do—I can save both versions, then use find changes and manually migrate between documents. Otherwise, I have to use my six-decades-old brain to remember what I wrote, often having been in a Zen-like fugue.

This makes me want to throw the machine at the wall... but it is too expensive. (Apple, remember?)

Less infuriating is syncing sometimes fails during editing. I'll be working in a document and I get the sync pop-up. It identifies two files, both on the same device and usually with the same hh:mm time stamp. Seconds would be useful here, but that would probably scare the unsophisticated users—as if a sync error wouldn't make an elderly parent have a heart attack. This would be easy to fix if I knew which file was the one I was working on. I'd just keep that one. I end up picking one, then adding what I just wrote or fixed if I guessed wrong. And, if that isn't enough...

I often travel with my iPad, writing while another drives. I have a hotspot on my iPhone that I pay good money for. When I connect the iPad to the iPhone hotspot, it works. I can surf. I can download files from iCloud. What I can't do is upload. Yes. You read this correctly. Let's say I have no WiFi at my destination; I'll need to use the hotspot on the Mac, but I can't download the version I edited on the iPad. This might be a feature to prevent using up a hotspot allotment. I have 25 GB allotment in mine. Yes, I talked to the geniuses at Apple.

Working. As. Designed. They did not say so, but I suspect that there is a switch that prevents uploads on cellular, which using a hotspot on an iPhone implies, and that switch is surfaced on the iPad only if you have a cellular iPad.

I don't. And. "One more thing..." (That famous Apple phrase.)

There is no sync-now or refresh button for iCloud on any platform. This makes no sense. I'm usually told to log out of iCloud and log back in if something fails to sync. Really?

For all these reasons, I am trying a different solution: Scrivener. It now works on iOS, Windows, and MacOS. It uses Dropbox to sync. I have never ever had a sync issue with Dropbox, which I have used from the early days of the service. On the free tier.

That's a minor problem. Scrivener uses only Dropbox to sync. The free tier provisions three devices, and I need four, for which the monthly tariff is $11.99. I rarely author on Windows. I figure I can copy the whole project if I need to in emergency situations. I deauthorized Dropbox on Windows and authorized it on my iPhone, allowing sharing between it, the iPad, and Mac for free.

I also have the free tier of OneDrive with four times the storage. I moved my Dropbox directories into my OneDrive so I can access them on Windows.

Yes. I did that. Scary. Experimental.

I'll continue next time with how that works out (so far so good), and my experiences using Scrivener as an author.

Comments ( 3 )

My condolences, it sounds like quite a mess.

I like Apple stuff, but I just have a Mac Mini and a PC.
Been a Mac user and PC user for years though now it's mostly PC.

I wonder if you would be better off with some sort of home network drive that's in your house, but you could access it from elsewhere? And yeah if your house burns down, you lose you data.
But maybe a hybrid situation might help?

Maybe sync all of your stuff locally to a drive and have the drive sync to ICloud.
This way, backups to ICloud can just worry about one source instead of many.

Just a suggestion.

Author Interviewer


Steam has a way less than 98% syncing success rate, but they also added a sync button, making sync fails a moot point :B step it up, Apple!

I've thought that maybe I ought store my Pages files in Dropbox. I didn't do that because of the three device limit and annoyance of the price to upgrade when I already pay for 2TB of iCloud. Now that I also use OneDrive (30GB) with Dropbox (6GB) as a subdirectory in OneDrive, I really should try that.

However, I am attracted to Scrivener. As I test my Mac trial of Scrivener, I will blog about the attraction as an author. I had to buy the iOS version to test syncing. The result is promising.

I might forgive Apple if I could just press a Sync button and receive an "iCloud could not download all your updated files. Try again later," message. Certainly, Pages should make an inquiry on iCloud to see if a newer version of the file exists when you open it.

Pages autosaves to allow collaboration on multiple devices and by multiple users. This is a front-line feature! Unless device A always failed to autosave to iCloud, iCloud knows there is changes. If a ping on device B fails to iCloud, it should warn. If it finds the user's files is modified but cannot download, it should warn. Were I Apple, I'd be embarrassed to own this hot mess.

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