Paralysis by Analysis: My Writing Tools Dilemma (resolved?)

I’ll be the first to admit, I have a short attention span. Some may brand it as a touch of ADHD, others impetuousness, others a lack of focus. It’s probably a bit of all three, with a sprinkle of impatience thrown in. I do believe it’s helped me in the business world – as in, get to the point, I have other things to do – and it’s made me value efficiency above most all. However in writing, it is most certainly a hindrance. One of those nasty drawbacks to being impatient and my strong desire for efficiency is my never-ending quest for the best writing tools. And it’s paralyzed me. I know I’ve spent a metric crapton of time on trying new tools and methods out, looking for the “a ha” moment of THIS IS THE WAY TO DO IT. So nothing gets done…

Time to narrow down the focus. A good carpenter never blames his or her tools, but a good writer shouldn’t worry about those tools – they are really secondary to the work at hand, which is creating a story.

As many of you reading this may know, I’m a big proponent of Scrivener, and have been since day one of my career. Every published work I’ve written has been written, noted, formatted, and created in Scrivener, right down to exporting the various ebook files. It’s a crazy powerful tool, and one I’m not sure I could do without, except for one fatal flaw which has reared its head in my busy worklife over the past few years: no mobile app. There have been rumors for years; there’s a cottage industry in online forums of discussing when and where it will be released, but so far, nothing. And since I physically need to remove myself from the dayjob workspace to get any writing done (I don’t attribute that to lack of focus; instead that’s a “if I’m sitting here, I’d better be working an paying my bills” attitude, which is not a bad thing), I’ve been bouncing around on Scrivener alternatives, hoping to find the magic solution.

I’ve got a Mac desktop, Chromebook laptop, iPad, and iPhone. To date, I’ve tried the following:

  • Google Docs – Specifically to use the Chromebook, but it’s unwieldy, gets bogged down with larger files, and still has a lot of quirks when offline
  • Writebox – Nice distraction-free web-based editor, but very limited file management capability (only one doc open at once, no note file, etc.)
  • WriteRoom – Not much different than Writebox
  • Apple Pages – Very nice word processor, far more capable as a page layout application than Word, but like Google Docs, gets unwieldy with one long document
  • LibreOffice – Yep, installed Linux on the Chromebook on an external SD card to be able to run an office program offline. Sheesh…
  • Simplenote – Nice cross-device syncing, decent file management, but very simplistic
  • Evernote – Very good cross platform compatibility, comprehensive file management, great for note taking including files/photos/web pages, but can be slow
  • Scrivener – The end all, be all, but only works on one device, the Mac I’m trying to avoid
  • Storyist – A program very similar to Scrivener (just Google “scrivener vs storyist” and you can settle down with a pot of coffee for a day full of reading), but with one massive advantage: an iPad app.

And that’s probably not even a complete list. You see, here’s the deal. I’ve come to the realization I need to consolidate my workspaces and tools. Keeping the Mac for work (mentally when I sit down at my desk and see the monitor, I’m in dayjob mode – no escape), and keeping the writing totally separate. And with the power of the iPad plus a slick little Bluetooth keyboard case I have for it, it appears the Chromebook is going to be the odd man out. It’s a great little machine – very portable, light, killer battery life, nice keyboard – but it’s got limits. The only applications that I can use for writing are either stripped down writing environments (nothing wrong with that, but I guess it’s not my style) that sometimes have offline issues, or full-on Google Docs, which taxes the poor little guy beyond his capabilities when the manuscript gets too long. And neither of those options give me any kind of file/chapter/scene management, or character/plot/timeline note capabilities. (Probably putting the poor little guy up for sale soon…)

Click to enlarge

Storyist for OS X

Which brings me to the iPad, and Storyist. I’ve used it in the past; matter of fact, several incomplete WIPs sit in there as we speak. It’s got a lot of the same capabilities and features as Scrivener, like scene/chapter separation and management, index cards, outlining, character/plot/etc note sections, and so on. (It does have one personal drawback, in my opinion: though it has separate chapters per se, it’s still just one long block of text that looks for the hashtag character to separate chapters, which can get sloppy if misplaced, and ongoing word count is hard to determine based on chapter at a time.) It’s smooth, quick, light, flexible, and fits how I work, just like Scrivener. What it has all over Scrivener is the iOS app, and when used with DropBox, enables syncing of the projects across my Mac/iPad/iPhone.


Storyist for iOS

With a Storyist project, I’m able to view/modify/edit/add to/blah blah blah from basically anywhere. No more copying/pasting from one app into another; no emailing myself a text document I worked on at Panera; no more wondering which app had my most up to date work. I can make notes in the Notes folder (imagine that!) from the iPad or Mac (or even the iPhone if on the go), and it’s perfectly synced with one tap*. It’s still a little complex of an application for quickie adds, so I’ll supplement it with Evernote (which again is on all my devices), but the whole of the project will be housed in Storyist.

* Storyist 3.0 is currently in beta testing and they promise “zero tap” syncing, which will be nice to not have to remember to sync before typing, ending up with those dreaded “conflicted copy” notifications. Plus 3.0 is adding iCloud support, so I can relegate DropBox back totally to the dayjob.

I know Scrivener has Simplenote syncing capability, but to me it was just too many steps and not perfect; I found myself still copying/pasting just to be sure. I don’t want a middleman just to sync, I lose efficiency. Scrivener won’t be going anywhere yet, as I still plan to use it for final formatting (its ebook export is excellent), and if the writing gods ever smile upon the company and an iOS app is born, I’m all in. But for now, I’ve decided it will be Storyist + Evernote, all the way.

I think.


UPDATE: It seems the fine folks at Literature & Latte (creators of Scrivener) would like to throw some more doubt on my newly-acquired sense of focus!

I won’t get my hopes up…but I’ll be sure to stay tuned…


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