Tag Archives: productivity

My Writing Software Setup–Syncing, Backups, Etc

I spend a lot of time thinking about software and how I can use it to make my life better + easier.  That includes the various ways I could set up my writing workflow.

I’ve been using this system for a while now and it’s worked well for me.  I realized that others might benefit from what I’ve come up with, so here’s an overview.  In addition, I hope to hear from others, as maybe I could be doing something better.

Since this is an overview, I won’t go into too many details on each piece of the system, but instead will focus on how I make them all play together.  First will be the problems/considerations, then the dramatis personae, and then how I hook them together.

Problems That Need to be Solved, Considerations to Address

  • I work on both a desktop and a laptop and need my files to be available on each of them.
  • I also need backups.
  • The more of this backup stuff that’s automated, where I don’t have to think about it or remember to do it, the better.
  • My data shouldn’t be locked away on someone’s server. If the company disappears, or decides to freeze my account, my work could go with it, and That’s Bad. An example of this would be Google Docs.
  • This one is very specific to my personality: I don’t want my prose floating around on the internet until I publish it.  I know that the chances of someone actually caring about my stories enough to steal the drafts is essentially nil, but I just can’t seem to get past it. Consider it deeply-rooted in my primal past, like fascination with fire and the urge to run away from large predators.

Word Processor / Composition

I use Scrivener for Mac.  Love, love, love this program.  Can’t say enough good things about it.  I’m also a fan of Ulysses, but I think Scrivener works better for most writers.  This is where my writing happens.

Syncing

Dropbox is like mana from heaven.

  • Short version: keeps a directory of files synced across all your computers.
  • Long version: once it’s installed, anything put into this Dropbox folder on your computer will be uploaded to their servers.  When you install Dropbox on a second and subsequent machines, the software will sync all changes to everything in that folder across all of them.  Plus, you can access all your files from their website, as well, and also via mobile phone apps.  Their free account can store up to 2GB, so there’s no reason to NOT be using it.  I use this program for darn near everything that I don’t consider private: PDFs I need to reference/read, lists I write, and files I need to keep handy all the time, like book covers, book blurbs, and my profile / headshot images.

Please note that if you want to sign up, if you use my referral link (here), we both get extra space for free.  That’d be nifty.  If you’re not comfortable with that link, you can find them here: Dropbox

Encryption

I use TrueCrypt for this.  Don’t let the website or software scare you–it’s fairly simple.

  • You create a Truecrypt file on your hard drive, the size of which is the total space you want to have.  This acts like a container for everything you want to encrypt.
  • The program lets you mount the file and use it like any normal drive–it’ll appear in your drive lists like a USB stick or, for Mac people, works just like a *.dmg file.
  • You do your thing, and when you’re done, you just unmount the file.  Truecrypt handles all the encryption+decryption in the background.

I’m purposefully skipping over some of the mechanics behind how Truecrypt works because it doesn’t matter for this explanation / usage.  If you have questions, please ask.  I’m happy to go into more detail.

Putting It All Together

  1. I created a Truecrypt file on my hard drive, inside my Dropbox folder, and named it “WritingNotes”.  I initially allocated 5 MB, because I know that text barely takes up any space, but I’ve since moved to a 100MB file because I forgot to account for the overhead of programs like Scrivener.  They do more than just store plain text, so of course the files will be bigger and I used up my space fast.
  2. Dropbox will do its magic and upload it to the Dropbox servers. Don’t worry about when this happens.
  3. Mount the file (ie., turn it into a usable drive) with the Truecrypt program:
  4. Now create a new Scrivener project and save it to the Truecrypt “drive” you just mounted.  Mine is the “untitled” drive in the device list and you can see some of my *.scriv projects:
  5. Do your thing, and when you’re done working, close Scrivener and unmount your Truecrypt file.
  6. Sit back and enjoy your beverage of choice while Dropbox uploads all your changes.
  7. Now or later, go to computer #2 and wait for Dropbox to finish syncing.  Mount your Truecrypt file, open up your Scrivener project, and bingo, there are your changes.

Edit 2012/05/04: You can right-click on the mounted drive and rename it to something more appropriate, like “WritingNotes”.  It will keep this new name each time you mount it, and this change will also propogate across to your other machines on your next Dropbox sync.  I tested it and didn’t have any data problems.

Reasons Why This Works Well and is a Good Thing

One of the key things here is putting the Scrivener file inside of a Truecrypt file.  Programs like Scrivener store their information in packages / folder structures, and syncing software can wreck havoc on these, to the extreme extent that your file is corrupted and unopenable.  Once you mount the TrueCrypt file, Truecrypt “locks” the file and keeps hold of it, and Dropbox knows that the file is still busy and so doesn’t try to sync it.  This, and the fact that as far as Scrivener is concerned, your file is still local on the computer, is what prevents your Scrivener file from getting corrupted.  I’ve been using this system since August, 2011 and haven’t yet had any difficulties (cue suitable superstitiously-related activities).

This system works because it uses the interwebs to sync your stuff, but none of your text is “out there” on the Internet: even if someone broke into your Dropbox account, the encryption happened before the file ever left your computer.

It also keeps all the text and files on your computer: if Dropbox goes out of business, at worst case, one or more of your computers will have an out-of-date file.  Just figure out which one is the latest and copy it to the other machines manually.  You’ll never be locked out of access to your file.

Another reason why this works is because of backups galore:

  • Scrivener saves a local backup whenever you close the program.  These are stored outside the Dropbox folder, so you’ll always have a copy on whichever computer you were using at the time.
  • Dropbox syncs your Truecrypt file, so you have a copy of the file on each machine, plus the one accessible from the Dropbox website.
  • Dropbox also maintains old versions of your file:
  • For Mac users, Time Machine backs up your Dropbox folder, so that’s a second backup of the file, including previous versions.  Between the Dropbox and Time Machine versions, you should be able to go back and grab a previous copy of the file if it somehow gets corrupted and then propagated to your other machines.

 

Summary

No system is ever perfect, including this one.  But I feel it has a lot going for it and has worked well for me so far.  One of the drawbacks is that there aren’t as many hour-by-hour backups.  I solve that by doing manual backups of my Scrivener project if I’m feeling nervous, and by quitting/unmounting everything to sync to dropbox every so often throughout the day.  I find that mealtimes and/or coffee breaks work well as a benchmark.

Hope it helps.

Quote on Boldness and Actually Starting Something

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'”

W. H. Murray. The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London 1951.

A Subtle Difference In the Way I Write Story Notes

I think I’ve identified which story I’ll be writing next, and have begun fleshing out my notes.  This process allows me to see just how much of the narrative I have figured out and areas that need work.  It was in this process, where I’m still working out who wants what, does what, why, and so forth, that I made an interesting discovery:  everything was couched in terms of “perhaps” and “maybe.”

To my horror (if only my horror had been more horror-like), I saw that I tend to do that fairly often.  Then I deleted all those possiblies, maybes and perhapses, and you know what?  The planning took on a much stronger feel.  It also made me analyze what I’d come up with to determine whether or not it’s any good or if I can do better.  Those “maybes” allow something to sit there on the page, in limbo, neither accepted nor rejected, and so I can never work with the indefinite.  By deleting them and saying, “by golly, this is the way it is,” I’m left to either accept it–and build on it–or come up with something better to replace it.

Writing is a humbling endeavor.  Three books written and I’m still learning all sorts of things.

There’s More To Life Than Writing

It’s easy for me to measure my output–or lack thereof–in pages or words written per day.  But as I mentioned in How Do You Measure Preparation?, it’s harder to do that with things like story research, note-writing, plotting, character-building, and other Very Important Bits of writing work.

The title of this post is a reminder to myself that, now that I’m serious about my work, there’s more to writing than just putting words on a page.  There’s marketing to do, searching for story markets, making story submissions, formatting my work for different platforms (including print editions), and getting my work listed on those platforms.  All of which are important–none of which help with getting words on a page.

I need to allow myself time to do these things and to not feel guilty that I’m “not writing.”

Pay Yourself First

There’s a very common rule in personal finance that says: Pay Yourself First.  It applies in equal measure to goals.

The thinking behind it, financially speaking, is that we can’t waste what we don’t have.  When we pay ourselves first, we set aside our savings before we pay any other bills or spend any money.  It’s priority.  Then we pay bills.  And if, after paying ourselves first, we don’t have enough money for your bills?  Then we have to work harder to ensure we can (and double check our spending habits).  That simple. We’ll usually work harder to pay bills than we ever would to set extra money aside.

When people wait and pay themselves last, they often don’t end up saving at all because there’s nothing left for the last person in line. Do it first, and succeed. Do it last, and fail.

In many interviews with successful writers, buried within talk of their inspirations and so forth will be some variation on a theme of “I got up early every morning and wrote ten pages”  or “The first thing I did when I came home from work was shut the office door and write 2000 words.”  It varies, but usually it’s there.

They paid themselves first.

For a while, I woke up around 5 in the morning so that I could get my work done before arriving at the office at 9.  I felt that my writing was the most important thing to me, and so I would give it the first hours of the day, before the daily routine sapped my brain power and energy.  I paid myself first, and it worked out.  I might have been tired when I came home, but it was a satisfied, content kind of tired, because I knew I’d already accomplished something that day and there was zero guilt involved in frittering away my evening hours via lazy entertainment.  I’ve since gotten off that cycle and need to return to it (a case of “practice what I preach,” for sure.)

There are ways to apply this to any goal.  Want to learn a foreign language? Go over your materials and practice while drinking your morning coffee.  Starting a new business venture?  Do your research before your day job, or block out inviolate evening time before dinner or after-dinner movies to ensure that you’ll do it.  It’s not even so much the time of day wherein your effort occurs as it is your attitude that’s important.

So many goals start with “One Day…” and stay there.

You’ll never find time.  Extra time does not come knocking at the door.  You make time*.

* Or kidnap it off the street, transport it via unmarked van to your residence, and then drag it in to your office… but the former is usually easier and raises less suspicion with authorities and neighbors