Warning and Confirmation: The Value of Plain Text! I Should Have Known Better!

I’m sharing this with the hope that it may save others a great deal of frustration and time. What I’m about to share is not specific to the apps I mention—it applies to most things that are text based. I’m sharing this although it is a bit embarrassing because I should have known better.

I’ve been using Ulysses for a while for my writing, including a rather complex long book project. Although I like Ulysses, writing in markdown (MD) is not a pleasant experience. Moreover, Ulysses lacks features that make a long complex project easier. Examples would include built in outlining features, the ability to create unlimited folders/groups, adding reference files, and many more. So, I decided to try Scrivener again—either by using an external markdown folder or the native RTF. I decided to try the latter. For three days I was pleased. The program worked well, I had more features and flexibility. Syncing with DropBox for writing on the iPad worked well—until this morning.

I was up this morning at 4:30 and spent many hours refining several chapters. Then it happened—the sync to an external folder failed. Scrivener would freeze at 11 of 97 documents and a few minutes later Scrivener froze completely. My only solution was a restart but sync would still stop working. I deleted and reinstalled Scrivener—twice. I rebooted my MBP. Nothing worked. So, I decided, to be safe, to export my files. That also would not work.

So, I ended up painsstakingly copying and pasting the chapters that were changed back into Ulysses, forcing me to redo citations, footnotes, etc. Some formatting carried over but not all of them.

This taught me a lesson that I thought I had already learned, or should have—the safest way to protect one’s work (besides the obvious backup) is to use plain text/MD so that files can be opened by nearly any editor/app.

I’m not trying to convince anyone to use a particular app or even necessarily to use plain text but perhaps my experience provides a cautionary tale for others.

I for one am now fully and unequivocally committed to plain text and using MD. You may want to consider doing so as well.

If I ever change from this commitment you have permission to shoot me! :slightly_smiling_face:

Now, off to catch a plane….


Also, apps that work with text files usually use the filesystem to store everything there. That’s why I stopped using Evernote and refused to go the Apple Notes way. Using MD on a synced folder is the way to go.

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No. Your follow up posting about the third time being a charm would be too much fun to read.

A separate set of lessons might also apply … Routine, incremental backups and assembly-line approaches matter. I keep my larger LaTeX documents (e.g. study guides) for my courses split into sub-folders (by topic) and sub-files (by input: equations, exercises, problems, examples, …). If something I am using fails at some point, I only have that piece to recreate. Then I run my assembly line compiler. Then I back up.



Unfortunately, writing in markdown with the same features and abilities as something like Scrivener often requires quite a bit more setup. I can string together pandoc, scripts, links, terminal commands, etc, and that’s a perfectly productive flow for me, but the majority of people would be better served investing that time in the actual writing…

I have plans to build something like a “simplified Scrivener based off of Markdown” or something to that effect but that’s a gargantuan project that probably won’t be done for a while.


Did you turn on automatic backups on Scrivener ?

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Yes and I saved all of work and even have snapshots. I can and did recover information. The problem is that the program is inexplicably freezing and will neither export nor sync. Nothing changed from several days ago when I decided to give Scrivener another try. I should have known better in that I had moved from Scrivener to Ulysses a while ago. I should have just left well enough alone. I now will! :slightly_smiling_face:

There’s a forum for Scrivener - https://forum.literatureandlatte.com - it would be worth reporting the issue or looking for similar experiences.

I will and I’ve contacted support but this experience has made my commitment to plain text firm.

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How about an update @Bmosbacker ?
You mentioned elsewhere that tech support helped resolve this?

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Certainly. The Sync with External Folder command is intended to allow editing of Scrivener projects with tools other than Scrivener. It is not to be used for synchronization with iOS Scrivener. I made the mistake of linking the Dropbox folder on my computer with Scrivener’s External Folder Sync. This mistake caused my syncing issues. Once I disabled the External Folder Sync everything worked fine.

I’m still firmly committed to plain text. The difference in my approach is that I now understand, as I posted here, that I am able to export/compile from RFT in Scrivener to markdown. I am not locked in. Additionally, I can bulk export or convert RTF files to markdown and/or plain text from many of the programs I’m currently using or I can use DEVONthink to bulk convert my files if a particular app does not have an export to markdown option. An example are my notes in Apple Notes. With the Exporter app or by using DEVONthink, I can bulk convert my Apple Notes to markdown as needed. I have setup a monthly reminder to do just that.

I have the advantages of both RTF and plain text files, I’m not locked into using either. In short, I can have my cake and eat it too. :cake:

PS: I’ll add that one of the nice things about coming to this realization is that I am discovering the convenience of using Apple Note’s Quick Note (QN) and Scan Documents (SD) features. I’m now using QN to compose draft emails that require time and consideration before sending. I’ve always used Drafts for this. I’m now using QN. I draft and finalize the email and when ready, I copy and paste it into Apple Mail and send it. This is nearly as quick as using a Draft Action. The advantage is that I have one less app preloading and running in the background. I still use Drafts for a few things but AN is covering most of what I need. I’m experimenting with using AN’s SD feature to scan receipts and then emailing them to my EA. I have a lot of business meals. I have been using Genius Scan to scan receipts and then emailing them to my EA. Genius Scan is a great app, I have no complaints about the app. But, if AN serves my purpose I again have one less app with which to contend.


Thanks for the update!

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I’ve noticed the live text feature of Notes that allows us to copy the text of a scanned document does not add an OCR layer to the document. The text of the PDF will not be available to someone with a Windows computer, or Macs and IOS devices running older OS versions .

That is good to know but fortunately this does not affect my use case. I only need to get the scanned document to my EA as a PDF who then processes it with the accounting department. This is working well. I can scan the receipt before I leave the restaurant, email the resulting PDF to the EA and I’m done. I also end up with an archive of the receipt in AN where all of my other notes reside.

I’ll add I like the ability to be on my Mac and use the iPhone to scan a document directly to my Mac. :slightly_smiling_face: I don’t use this frequently but it is a nice feature.

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A little OT, but I’m in the process of migrating as much of my digital life as I can out of proprietary file formats and databases into bog-standard file formats stored in human-intelligible directory trees with readily sync-able or shareable folders. This means walking away from many of Apple’s own applications, e.g., Notes, Books, Photos, Music, etc. since they rely on proprietary file types, content buried deep on the hard drive in a library full of folders not intended to be parsed by a human brain, or both. Most of my vast library of digital content lives on attached storage, which makes iCloud drive a no-go, too. I’m even moving away from using DEVONThink databases as places to store content, opting to index the relevant directories instead.


Great uses, and I think I’m gong to make the switch to AN. It would be nice if AN straightened pages after scanning, like Microsoft Lens, but the convenience and excellent OCR outweighs this minor inconvenience. Thanks for sharing!

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I still use some proprietary formats, but I also keep standard format copies of all my data. And I use OpenDocument for my spreadsheets and complex text documents.


I do make it a point to convert Excel spreadsheets that contain important data into .csv files to tuck away in the archives. In some cases I lose functionality, but the data itself is retrievable 87 different ways should I suddenly find myself in a situation in which I can’t open an xlsx file. (To be honest, if I ever found myself in a world where I couldn’t open an xlxs file, I think I’d have bigger things to worry about.)


Ok, it turns out if you set Apple Notes scanning to “manual” you can straighten/crop pages as you go. The quality of the scan is better than I’ve had with other products I’ve used.

To me one of he main advantages of plain text is it can go to multiple destinations. For example Markdown can go into traditional Markdown processors or into my md2pptx (app create slides).

Similarly CSV can go to multiple destinations - such as a spreadsheet or a mind mapping tool (or indeed into my mdpre to make Markdown tables).

The other advantage is the converse: It can come from multiple sources, whether text editor, mind mapping tool, or (a in my case) mainframe programs against z/OS-based instrumentation data.

In short it’s the “any to any” - with the additional editing capabilities along the way.

(Sorry to mention two of my open source projects but they illustrate my motivations for plain text quite well.)

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