Writing in the Cloud

Writing rising out of some clouds

A couple of years ago I discovered Scrivener, which is a quite wonderful application for Mac and Windows to manage the process of writing. You can gather your research, lay out your storyboard, save and compare drafts, write in an immersive full screen mode, and output to pdf, document and ebook formats using saved templates.

But then a year ago I discovered ChromeOS, which is a quite wonderful new operating system based around Google's Chrome browser, and which takes the hassle out of computing.

I'll talk about ChromeOS another time, but in short I bought a Samsung Chromebook back in January 2013, mainly because I was interested in seeing what the fuss was about. Within a very few weeks it became my primary device, because it was always ready, it was light and it was silent. Pick it up, lift the lid, start typing.

I liked it so much that in September 2013 I bought a ChromeBox, the desktop equivalent, to go with it, and consigned my Windows desktop to the status of 'turn this on only when I have to'.

The ChromeOS devices are intended for use 'in the cloud'. You open and save your documents online. Each document - and indeed your whole desktop environment - synchronises across your devices instantly. You can even have a document open on more than one machine and enter text into it from any of them - you'll see a cursor displayed for each machine connected.

This is great when I'm writing. I can move between the desktop in the study and elsewhere in the house, like to a comfortable chair in front of the fire, seamlessly.

Also, your writing is saved as you type (I'm using Google Docs). I've used autosave obviously in Microsoft Word and other packages, but it all feels smoother and more robust writing directly to my Cloud documents. Google Docs also tracks your version history and allows commenting, and it's easy to switch to an immersive full screen view to get rid of distractions.

But, Google Docs alone is not a replacement for Scrivener, which isn't available for ChromeOS. The closest Cloud equivalent I've found is Scriptito, but development seems to have stalled on that. As it stands it provides a storyboard and section editing, research capture, and output features similar to Scrivener, but is nowhere near as full featured.

So, for now, I'm doing my outlining in the excellent Workflowy app, and simply bookmarking interesting news snippets in the browser. I've looked into Evernote and Pocket for capturing research items, but they still feel like too much trouble to me. I'd welcome any thoughts.

Google Docs plus Workflowy is very good for short stories, but I can see that I'd miss Scrivener if tackling a novel. Scriptito feels a bit clunky for a big project. However, things are developing all the time in the world of HTML5 cloud applications. I'll cover all these in more detail in future posts.

'But,' I always hear someone say, 'what if you lose your internet connection?' It's not a problem. Both Google Docs and Workflowy work fine offline, and synchronise as soon as you get your connection back. I've used them happily on long plane flights.

Is anyone else writing pretty much exclusively in the Cloud? What apps do you use?