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I intend this to be a rolling review, to be amended and expanded as I learn more about this excellent program. Scrivener is the first truly free form writing tool I have ever used: it has freed me completely from numbering exercises and chapters, sections, and subsections, and so on, because Scrivener does this on ‘Compile’ and inserts these elements only during this process. And because it has an academic/technical bent, the production of reading lists, indexes, and all of those other technical things that readers need is extremely simple compared to standard wordprocessing programs. To quote the great James Woods in the brilliant (and under-rated) film The Hard Way, “ You’d have to tie my tongue to your tailpipe and drive over 1,000 miles of broken glass” before I would even consider using Microsoft’s Word to do this kind of work (and would probably say ‘No’, anyway!).

The writing and production of a vbook requires a tight integration of visual elements. And I mentioned that simply being able to see all chapter and section headings in a ‘Binder’ view simultaneously with the text of the section that I am working on has already tightened up the consistency of term use considerably. In Stretching, mindfully there will be something like 1500 photographs, and perhaps 50 embedded videos. In the three books that I have written to date (including three full rewrites of one of them) I was never able to compose the words while being able to look at the photographs placed in their proper position in the text. The process of laying out the book was always a second order process and it always occurred after I had committed to the final draft of the text. As a result, I feel that the text descriptions of what the photographs depict is not sufficiently tied together.

As well, in laying up a complex book where the text speaks directly to photographs and illustrations, another problem is the actual physical layout on a page which is bounded by the size of the paper you intend printing on. It is an extremely difficult process to be effective within this constraint—how many books have you seen talk about an illustration which is ‘overleaf’? With the  vbook, or PDF, format though, this is no longer a problem because the virtual paper on which you’re working can be infinitely large. For the first time I will be able to place text precisely opposite the referred-to photograph or illustration.

It must be noted that Scrivener is a heavily text-oriented software. It has a relatively rudimentary capacity to handle visual elements, relying more on tags which pull the original visuals from another folder during the compile process. Because I want to see the actual images while writing (and recall that, for me, writing can take place on literally any continent on the planet) I need to have access to the original visuals—but that’s more than 7GB of data. Enter Media Pro.

Media Pro was a piece of Microsoft software that Capture One Pro 7 (a top end Raw image processing program) bought for the purpose of being its “DAM” (digital asset management) tool. I do not find it particularly elegant, graceful or flexible, but I have worked out a way of making it do what I need. The original problem was that when I pointed Media Pro towards the approximately 2,200 photographs that comprise the originals, it went to work and produced a catalogue and one that respected the folder structure too (there are 22 folders of images, reflecting the various times and places of their shooting). I loaded this catalogue up to Dropbox (my initial approach to being able to see what I need to see wherever I am in the world).

The problem was that when I tried to click on a thumbnail and bring it into Scrivener, all I got was the various tags that format the thumbnail inside Media Pro (and some of the EXIF data) and not the thumbnail itself. Worse, when I tried to click on the image filename, Media Pro would not  let me copy that because the software could not see the original (the MP catalogue being located up in Dropbox) and as a result presumed the file was missing, or locked. The final problem was that the Extract Metadata command within Media Pro does not have a keyboard shortcut—to get this info. I would have had to go into a dropdown menu and navigate to that command, and that would have been an exceptionally difficult and time-consuming solution (not to mention RSI). Worse still, Media Pro does not allow new keyboard shortcuts to be created.

I had a bit of a brainwave and realised that if I made a second set of originals (but thumbnail size), and uploaded that much smaller set of originals up into Dropbox and then made a new Media Pro catalogue from that second set, Media Pro would be able to “see” the originals, as both the catalogue and the thumbnails would be in Dropbox—and I was hoping that this would allow me to copy the thumbnails directly into Scrivener. This works perfectly (simple drag and drop) AND I can copy the file names as well. The beauty of copying the file names to underneath the thumbnail is that when I compile the final text, both the thumbnails and the file names will be in the right place and Cory, who will be laying up the vbook in Arizona, can simply use those file names to pull the original visuals from his own database of images which I will have transferred to him via WeTransfer, a great (and free) service. As an aside, this is the reason why good database management always has discrete filenames and that should never be overruled.

In a similar way I will be able to use stills from the videos as their placeholders, too; similarly the illustrations. Now back to Scrivener: because this software is completely free form, and I do not need to commit to the structure or order of any of the elements until just before the final compile, I am now completely free to work on the book elements in any order I wish, and that now includes the visual elements, as all are contained within the smallest Scrivener container that I am using, the section.

After discussions with both Jon (my friend who is one of the co-owners of XOU in Sydney and Cory, Coach’s tech guru in Arizona), we have decided to lay out the book in InDesign, because this program allows the different forms of the book that we propose to be output from the same basic layup. (This eventually will include Kindle and iBook versions, too.) Cory will be using a very simple format for the the vbook but he will be using exactly the same text, images and illustrations. On completion of the vbook, he will simply pass that ID file to John who will then reformat/redesign the book for the print on demand version, which will be organised in a completely different way. As mentioned in a previous post, the vbook will feature video and the short text description on page one and perhaps multiple pages with photographs and text as the second and consecutive pages and then an all-text format for the deeper material, to be revealed ‘on demand’. The ‘print on demand’ (POD) format however will reverse that order essentially and there will be no video—by “reversed” I mean that the POD version of the book will resemble Stretching & Flexibility or Overcome neck & back pain much more closely, because it will have to be printed on physical paper, with the constraints mentioned, and in a traditional book format, with front and back matter, and so on. And the POD layout will be a much more difficult process, too, because each page has the physical paper size constraint—but at least Jon will have the vbook for reference!