NaNoWriMo Talk 2020

I’ve been using Scrivener (lately the windows beta) for years now. It certainly feels convoluted at first. But it syncs with my Ipad and that’s what I need even though my ipad keyboard is broken and I can’t get a new one because my ipad is too old.

I’ve tried a bunch of other editors before settling on Scrivener. What I like about it is that it helps me with the outlining process and keeps chapters apart and cuts projects into smaller more manageable chunks. It certainly has a few issues with formatting and usability and the darkmode is fiddly to configure.

As a software developer I am used to work with big development environments like Eclipse that allow me to work with the project in a variety of ways and maybe that is another explanation why I favor Scrivener over other things because it reminds me of that. I actually considered modding Eclipse into a writing tool for a while.

I have a bunch of other tools that help with specific tasks that come up in certain phases of the writing process. I experimented with a bunch of tools (including Ulysses) but the main one that I use is Scrivener.


I used Scrivener for a few years until I actually tried to convert the Scrivener file into something “usable” (PDF, epub, whatever), at which point it become multiple layered nightmares riding on a bigger, meaner, more useless nightmare. I ended up having to spend a whole day CTRL-C and CTRL-Ving the entire document into Word.

Which is what I use now. I liked Scrivener for some of its functionality, but I realized I could do the same thing with a few folders and separate Word documents, and that’s what I use now (one document called “Whatever-Title Characters”, another called “Whatever-Title Setting”, and then the main document itself). Very useful when doing series work, since I can copy those documents over to the new title.

I use jEdit for converting Word into HTML (for ePub formats), Calibre for converting HTML into ePub (and Mobi when I did Kobo books, which I no longer do since I was getting 1 or 2 sales, at most on a format that took twice as long as Amazon), and Word Templates for Print-on-Demand books on Amazon (the template is actually quite good, although the Table of Contents is a little fiddly).


I actually tend to just write things in Word. I’ve not really explored anything else. I’d be interested in your recommendations.

For bigger projects (like the Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve somehow ended up trying to write) I break chapters up into different documents for manageability. For fiction and everything else, though, I don’t tend to bother.

I buy virtually all my books from Kobo, since I have one, and only from Amazon if it’s the only option. Everything, ahem, mysteriously loses its DRM when I register it in Calibre anyway…


I don’t know about Kobo as a sales platform, but my physical device is quite happy to display epubs.

For bits where layout matters, LibreOffice (formerly Apache OpenOffice (formerly OpenOffice (formerly StarOffice))) Writer. It’s huge and clunky and has eleventy million features I don’t use, but it will read and write MS-Word formats.

But if I can get away with it, I write in LyX, which is a sort of front-end to TeX. It’s a highly responsive editor (*office always feels a bit sluggish), and someone wrote a Tufte-book layout template for it, so that’s what I use when e.g. I’m rewriting some boardgame rules. (E.g. my Firefly Big Damn Rulebook which aims to cover all the rules from base game, expansions, FAQ entries etc., in one document. And, @agemegos, that’s one of the few documents I print out, because I’d rather have a paper copy at the table than an electronic one.)

If I don’t need even that much control of the layout, I tend to work in emacs, either org-mode or markdown.

So if I’m putting together an RPG thing I may have a separate org-mode file for each NPC or organisation, then they gradually migrate into the official document.


In all seriousness, I use MS Pocket Word on a Dell Axim Pocket PC. I like the feeling of poking it, and it’s comparatively easy to carry. Have written at least 100k words on it.

Otherwise I use Word. Used to use notepad, but word is easier to read and autosaves. Dunno what other features are so important that someone would pay for them :man_shrugging:


I have an old (2012?) Macbook Air I use for most of my writing, and a backup cheap-as-snot ACER of some variety that I use as a school laptop.

I think it may be time to update the Macbook. I definitely need to replace it before it dies because I have a lot of stuff on there that isn’t anywhere else (nothing irreplaceable, but a pain in the butt if I do lose it). Originally I couldn’t afford anything better… I still can’t, but I can at least get something newer.

I like Macs. I don’t mind Windows, but I was super pissed off at “Windows S” when it arrived on my new(er) laptop. Dropbox was a nightmare to use, whatever browser comes by default on Windows is awful, and a lot of the controls that are pretty intuitive on a Mac were just more difficult on the Windows laptop.

I took a look at the small PC-like-things you guys listed, and I think that would make me want to gouge my eyes out. I don’t usually struggle with being distracted when I write, and I often need ye olde Wiki when I’m writing anywhere (as well as lots of Safe Searches for “What happens to a body in the vacuum of space?” and “What happens when somebody decelerates too quickly?”). I keep pen and paper near my bed and in my backpack almost wherever I go, but the vast majority of the time I write on that old Mac.

I used to go to coffee shops to write (because stereotypes ho!), but that stopped back at the end of 2016 when I had to get paying work to continue my writing. These days it’s mostly in the basement or on my couch in the living room (better light, worse seating up here). For the last couple of years (2020 excluded), my partner and I would rent a cottage somewhere remote and isolated for a week and I would crank out a novel over 5-6 days (I average about 2-3k words a day most weeks, and on my writing retreats, as I arrogantly call them, I can get upwards of 15k a day). 2020 I wrote a novel in March-May, and have spent the rest of the year editing, revising, and self-publishing (3 novels this year, which is 1 short of my goal for 2020, but, considering the circumstances, I’m okay with falling a little short).


Trust an aging techie: if it’s not backed up, you don’t really have it.


Same. Doesn’t mean I am much better at regular backups.
Because I use Dropbox to share between my computer and my tablet there is a “kind-of” offsite backup but: filesharing services are not a backup because you can still accidentally delete your data and also they can fail or be broken into. (" accidentally delete your data" happened to me with a big cleanup thing of Google Drive I did back when I used it for anything–I got lucky as I noticed it and GDrive had a trash bin back then and I was able to recover almost all the files)

I do semi-regular syncs to a local git repository with Beyond Compare (this has to be separated from the Dropbox because Scrivener Sync does funny stuff) and the git repo is backed up to our NAS2 (NAS1 is only for backups of moving pictures) and when I feel like it to an external hdd and my server. I know I should automate this.

Writing this, I realize I need to both: do better on the backup and maybe maybe think about how much Scrivener really does for me. Mobile git clients suck though. I am not good enough to write my own.

Anyway, Word. Lots and lots of writers simply use Word–or at least that’s what they say when they tweet or do AMAs or make podcasts. Word is the format editors want and use and it’s what you feed into a lot of other backends. Also it has got much much much better than when I first hated it in the 90s.


Once upon a time, at work, I was working towards publication of two years’ work by me and my former supervisor (who had just left the org). There was the original on my stand-alone modelling machine. There was a copy on the hard drive of my networked machine used for e-mails and office productivity. There was a copy in the “backups” folder on the departmental LAN. There was a copy in the “backups” folder of the bureau IT machine, and I got IT to bring a DAT drive on a trolley and make another backup to DAT.

Then I got a tech from departmental IT to come and swap the hard disks of my two machines, which would have voided the warranty if I had admitted doing it myself.

The tech has two little oopsies with wildcards in DEL commands (he was one directory higher than he thought he was, on both my machines). And then he tried to undelete both machines simultaneously with a virus-infected copy of Norton’s.

The Department’s monthly backup had not been done. The Bureau’s monthly backup had been over-written because someone re-used the wrong tape. The backup to DAT I had had done specially had been lost.

I re-installed the modelling software we had bought from the original installation disks. Reconstructeded the modifications I had made to it by typing the FORTRAN code back in from a paper print-out. Recovered my former supervisor’s text and diagrams from a copy in the Publication Section and re-typed his final edits from proof-reading marks on a paper proof of his chapters. And then I reproduced all the modelling results in six months of eighty-hour weeks.

You always have fewer backups than you think you have, even when you take this fact into account.


See, stories like this are sort of why I haven’t bothered to backup my computer…

That stated, I have Dropboxed ‘most’ of my stories (it should be all of them), and Google Drive’d a bunch of others. That stated, I don’t think I’ve ever done an official backup of this computer.

I probably should. I’m definitely jinxing it by not doing it now. I’ve lost my gaming PC a few times, and nothing of value is ever really lost (thanks Steam!), but yeah, my writing one would be a blow.

$1,300 for a new Macbook Air. Definitely money I don’t have… but maybe I’ll throw in an external hard drive while I’m at it? You can backup to those, right?

(Have I mentioned I’m a bit of a luddite? Technology and me have never really gotten along… this from a guy who used to design satellites… most of the software we used when we were working with JPL was Windows 95-compatible… and used serial ports… sigh)

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Make multiple backups of any password that the thing requires. I’ve got an Apple thing with a funky name that combines a wireless base station and a big backup drive. But it turned out when I lost the hard disk on my last iMac that the only copy I had of the password for the backup was on the hard disk that had failed. I got all my files back from Google drive, but that’s not what’s important.


Can’t have too many backups

Ulysses uses iCloud. It does a backup hourly for the last 12 hours, daily for the last 7 days, and weekly for the last 6 months. And I do a manual backup to google drive myself if I’m working on something.


Well at least writing doesn’t generate quite as much content quite as fast as photography. If you do nothing else get yourself a good quality usb stick to store your writing files on.

If your phone has a thunderbolt port (dont know aboit others), I have a usb stick that I can also stick into my phone via the usb c port and so i can copy stuff to the phone from there easily which would give you another device.

Along with dropbox and gdrive it is probably fine.

I totally get not wanting to bother/deal with the complexity of all this. Never forget that the likes of Roger and myself have worked in the tech field for a while and even I do mot have a strategy in place that works automatically…


And I’ve only had my current régime for a few years.

(Each machine backs itself up to the NAS every day, the entire machine image but with lots of deduplication. NAS backs itself up to the other NAS, including all the other-machine backups.)


Years back, I started librarian training at a university. In my first week they explained that a hardware failure had lost several months of loan records. Luckily they paid a specialist IT firm to do daily, weekly and monthly backups of the library database, and someone had definitely checked that these backups were in fact being done.

Anyway, that’s why every staff member spent an hour per day just walking the shelves with a barcode scanner manually confirming what books were still there. They may still be doing that.


I mean, this is going to sound silly, but does anyone have a story about a backup actually working?

My old job had the same thing. Multiple servers that fed into backups on multiple other servers. Never helped. If something went wrong, it always resulted in the loss of weeks, if not months, of work.



One of the reasons I now do rsync-based backups rather than some efficient custom format is that the vast majority of the time I want to retrieve one or two files, not an entire machine image. What lands on the backup server is not a great big tarball or whatever, but simply a bunch of files, the same filenames and locations as on the original machine. So if I want something back I just copy it directly from that server.


I have dozens of accounts both personal and professonal. When done right, even simple things like the following are “eh, sure, no problem”

*[company CFO]: “Hey, [pillbox], I had 10+ years of family photos on my desktop and I just accidentally deleted it. Can you put them back on my desktop?”

*: any resemblance to an actual company CFO is not a coincidence


Well, in my day to day “working” = “the data is there”–why do we tell stories of the “catastrophes”? Because those are the ones we remember. As I stated above I had to retrieve stuff from the GDrive trash once but other than a server breakdown (which shouldn’t have been as bad as it was and is not quite pertinent here as it was a hardware problem that should have been compensated by the second harddrive and I messed up sys-admining) I have never actually lost significant amounts of data, almost everything was a near miss.

In software development, we use versioning systems (rcs, cvs, svn and now git) and I have more than once recovered stuff from there that I had accidentally deleted or overwritten. It can be quite a bit of work to figure that out but especially with git you can do crazy things to recover the state before the mess happened.


When the backup works there is no story worth telling.