Tool Troubles

Tool Troubles

Living in our techno-age where miracles seemingly arrive in the palms of our hands every morning and get yearly refreshes, it’s awful easy to fall into a zen-like state of belief that nothing will ever fail. Writing, a process that spent millennia vulnerable to drops of rain or a wayward breeze sending sheaves of paper flying through the sky, has seen plenty of those miracles. You’re reading this on one of them right now, and I’m writing through another.

What’s more, I often (however strange this may seem) do this writing on multiple devices and in multiple locales. Perhaps I want to compose a blog post on the phone, or jot down a quick note to myself when I’m using my desktop Mac that I’ll want later when I’m editing dictation on my laptop. The option to have documents available simultaneously across these devices used to require all sorts of tricks (who remembers emailing themselves different versions?). Now, we have things like Google Docs (among many) that sync automatically in the “cloud”. I turn off my phone, turn on my computer, and my work’s right there, waiting for me.

My two primary writing tools are Scrivener and, because I find it easier to organize plots and characters in grids, Google Sheets (its version of Excel). I do try to keep a look out for new miracles, though, and Storyshop, an online app I dabbled with in the past, has been making a lot of effort to build in features and improve usability.

To that end, I figured I’d try typing out my next novel in Storyshop, using the free option, and see how it went. If things went well, the cost for a pro subscription would be minimal compared to the across-all-devices syncing of my full work. Scrivener, for example, doesn’t do this and its file structure makes it uniquely weird to shuttle between devices.

Anyway, things were generally going well until this past week, when Storyshop went into some downtime. I have no idea how long this will last (it’s been a couple of days already). But until they come back up, I have no access to the latest version of my work. On its face, I accept this. Software and servers need updates. In my IT work, systems will go down for hours at a time to get new versions installed.

There are, however, two key differences here:

  1. Communication. Storyshop should have warned us about the downtime – if they did, I may have missed it, but I definitely saw the email notifying me that the site was down. With a bit of a heads-up, I could have downloaded/copied off the latest version and kept on going with another program. Also, being clear about when we can expect the service to return, or why the downtime’s going on would be nice so I can stop having nightmares about the entire file structure falling apart and my beautiful story disintegrating to digital bits.
  2. Writing is a creative enterprise (duh). Getting cut off mid-scene for days is worse than, say, losing access to email. When you’re in the flow, when you’re in a character’s mind trying to figure out how they’re going to save the world and suddenly you’re not allowed back in? For days? It takes time to rebuild that place, to recapture that tone. And, you know, it’s fun. I like having fun and miss it.

That’s the crux here. The future’s brought us lots of awesome things, and Storyshop seems like it’s heading in the right direction, but for now? I might keep using it, but I’ll be saving off every day’s version so I can keep on going elsewhere if it drops down again. Scrivener, locally installed, is always ready for action.

Sometimes, the old ways are better.

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