Scrivener docs linked to InDesign


I’m starting a new, long technical manual that will be completed in InDesign. I would like to create the text content in Scrivener, because a) I need tight control on the outline, down to the finer details, and b) I have to continue working at my office and at the client’s, and I would like to do it with my easy-to-carry-around iPad.

I’ve been trying with the great markdownID plugin for InDesign, to import markdown text documents exported from Scrivener. This works great, since the plugin creates paragraph styles that I can easily replace with my own design. Not everything is covered (notes and tables are not there), but most styles are there.

However, there is no way of linking imported text, since this type of import relies on the plugin and cannot be a ‘live’ updating document. Once the Scrivener document is imported, all edits have to be carried on in InDesign. There is no way of continuing in Scrivener, as if it was an external editor for InDesign.

[EDIT: markdownID can be applied to already imported text. So, one can place the files exported from Scrivener as linked text, and use Scrivener as an external editor. Formatting has to be applied each time, but for text with light character formatting this would not be a major issue. Inline images are another story.]

The other obvious idea would be to export RTF documents instead of markdown text, and have linked text still editable in Scrivener after importing in InDesign. But, since Scrivener does not support styles, this would only export text attributes, and not styles. You will see text attributes in Scrivener and InDesign, but these would have no structural meaning.

I wonder if some sort of metadata could help. Style metadata would not be applying text attributes and formatting to text in Scrivener, but paragraphs would be associated to a metadata string, that would be recognized by InDesign as an RTF style. I’m sure this cannot work, but I’m asking, just in case this is a ‘forgotten hole’ in the exporter.


Since Scrivener seems to do a great job with markdown export, for example adding the dreaded double-carriage return to end a paragraph, I guess plain text markdown is the right exchange format.

How to show graphics? I guess I could have a png draft in Scrivener, a clear descriptor next to the draft using the MD image link format, and then easily place the original, full size picture based on name when in InDesign.

Scrivener is a drafting tool. I have to admit that I will have to abandon it once my files are in InDesign. It is the same I have always to do when exporting to Nisus Writer. Sad, but it is like saying ‘bye’ to a good friend that will still be there at the next trip.


Still, after one more day experimenting with Scrivener + Marked 2 + InDesign, I’m not convinced this is the best way to work. My manuals are not typigraphic art, however they are a strong mix between content and visual presentation. The long confidence with printer shops have caused permanent damage on my idea of book.

I guess the main issue is balance between text parts. My text is usually essential, minimalist, and made out of clearly separated blocks:

  • Introductory explaination of the feature.
  • Reasons to use it.
  • Steps to accomplish a task.
  • Tables listing the options.
  • Hints and caveats.

Writing plain, flat code, with no visual separation between blocks, seems a bit confusing to me. I never know if one of the parts is running too long and breaking the page’s karma. Having worked for decades with PageMaker and FrameMaker, I’ve grown accustomed to think at the same time to what I’m writing, and how. The final result has to be a book, not a manuscript. They are not the same thing.

As it happens when switching to new tools with new possibilities, I’m flattened by too many options. I know the following:

  • InDesign has awful outlining features. Either you limit structuring to chapters in the Book panel, with no finer information, or you break down to the separate sections, then ending up with an unreadable, long flat list of titles in the Book.

  • Renaming chapters in ID’s Book is apocalyptic. There is no Rename feature. You have to rename the file, then relink it in the Book. Renaming chapters and sections happens everytime, but ID designers are unaware of this.

  • Scrivener has strong Markdown export features, but no visual representation of Markdown at all. You can work with two levels of visual representation (a ‘real’, ‘diacronic’ one only appearing in the separate Marked window after a delay, and a ‘virtual’, ‘synchronic’ one applied with Text Presets in Scrivener, but irrelevant when exporting the documents to InDesign, and only useful to give the visual separation I was talking about).

In any case, it appears there is no agile, realtime writing and formatting tool that can at the same time allow the same text manipulation fluidity of Scrivener, and the same realistic display of the finished book as in InDesign. What I must decide, now, is which aspect of my work I should privilege.


Again, just thinking aloud.

Markdown is very problematic when coming to tables. Technical manuals usually have lot of them. MMD tables are fine for small cells; but running over three words per cell makes tables unreadable in the source code. Marked 2 does a good job of pre-visualizing them, but - again - I don’t feel comfortable in working with this sort of a split brain (half in the editor, the other half in the renderer).

I’m starting to think that going through Nisus Writer could a better idea. Tables are not overly “nice” in Scrivener, but they do work. I would write in RTF in Scrivener, apply unique formatting via Formatting Presets, compile the selected documents, then use Nisus to select uniquely formatted text and apply paragraph and character styles to it. Then, I can simply load the styled text to InDesign, and it should be automatically formatted, with no need of additional edits.

Just trying.


On a second (third, fourth…) thought, maybe I could follow a double path:

  • Using Scrivener’s Formatting Presets to allow a clear representation of the document’s structure while writing.

  • At the same time, using the MMD syntax in Scrivener, and reformatting the imported text throught the markdownID InDesign plugin.

I would have a double level of preview: styled text in Scrivener will give a quick catch on title levels; and Marked 2 will warrant markdown coherence when needed. So, I will be able to focus on the Scrivener document, with the easy help from Marked 2 to check the details.


Ouch! Obviously, I cannot preserve text formatting if syncing with the iPad – since it is not yet supporting RTF[1]. The only thing I can do is exporting the Scrivener document(s) I have to work on, edit it as markdown/plain text on the iPad, then reapply text formatting then it is back in Scrivener.

[1] Or try with Textilus, that I really dislike, but could be a solution for this type of task. Let’s see if I can use it for this.

However you look at it, this issue is more complicate than Rubik’s cube.


Well, trying to summarize my findings. Without a clear solution or an easy decision.

Scrivener-iPad-ID Use Cases

The User (Writer) will write a Technical Manual in Scrivener, edit parts of it on the iPad, and finish the layout work with InDesign. To make the project open to collaboration and exchange, the Writer will work on separate documents corresponding to the separate sections. For ease of navigation, the separate documents will be organized as an outline in the Binder. The Writer will rely on visual formatting for easy identification of section levels while browsing the project. A common exchange format will be used to interface between Scrivener, the iPad and ID. Support for advanced formatting (tables, internal and external links) is required.

A-B) Separate sections

A-B.1) Scrivener organizes RTF documents (corresponding to separate sections) in an outline-like structure called the Binder. The Binder allows for easy bird-eye overview on the project's structure, detailed analysis, and quick and easy document rearranging.

C) Visual representation

C.1) Scrivener can apply text formatting via the Text Formatting Presets; it does not feature Text Styles corresponding to text structure levels (H1, H2…).

> Request C1: Implement RTF Text Styles. 

C.2) There is no visual representation of marked text in Scrivener (like, for example, in [url=]Ulysses III[/url], [url=]Texts[/url], [url=]Write[/url], [url=]ByWord[/url] or [url=]Editorial[/url]). Scrivener relies on an external visualizer (Marked 2) to show a formatted preview.

> Request C2: Implement visual representation of markdown ([url=]MMD[/url], [url=]GitHub[/url]) formatting codes. 

D) Exchange formats

D.1) Scrivener and the iPad can exchange data in TXT format. Some text editors allow for easy representation of markdown formatting codes (ByWord, Editorial). Most of them can replicate the Binder with a list of documents (but only the now dismissed [url=]WriteRoom[/url] allows for simultaneous view of the 'Binder' and document). Only a few apps can interface with the RTF format ([url=]Textilus[/url], [url=]CloudOn[/url]).

> Issue D1: When exchanging data in TXT format, all locally-applied formatting are lost.

> Solution D1: Rely on markdown pre-visualization (not natively available in Scrivener; [url=]Marked 2[/url] is required). On the iPad, use ByWord or Editorial for pre-visualization.

D.2) Scrivener and ID can exchange data in TXT, RTF and DOC format. Markdown support is allowed via Jongware's [url=]markdownID[/url] plugin for ID. RTF and DOC formats are read directly by ID, but the lack of Text Style support in Scrivener requires third party converters. The only one I'm aware of ([url=]Scrindesign[/url]) does not fit this User's needs.

> Issue D2a: When exchanging data in RTF/DOC with Scrivener, Styles are not preserved.

> Solution D2a: Do text processing in [url=]Nisus Writer Pro[/url]. This solution is only viable if text formatting is preserved in Scrivener.

> Issue D2b: Text formatting is not preserved when exchanging data in TXT with the iPad.

> Solution D2b: Since editing text with the iPad removes formatting from Scrivener documents, you have to manually reapply formatting before processing in Nisus Writer Pro.

E) Advanced formatting (tables, internal and external links)

E.1) Simple, single-line tables can be written in markdown (GitHub, MMD extension), and converted by markdownID. Multiple-line cells are difficult to read while editing as marked plain text.

> Issue E1: Multiple-line cells cannot be written in any version of markdown.

> Solution E1: I would suggest adding a way to make multiple-line cells, by splitting each table row into separate lines containing a single cell each, and indicating the line's following with a mark like '->'. A table could then be written this way:

| First Column Heading ->
| Second Column Heading ->

Thirs Column Heading
First Row, First Column Cell ->
First Row, Second Column Cell ->
First Row, Third Column Cell
Second Row, First Column Cell ->


E.2) RTF tables are not converted by markdownID. They can however be read by ID when importing an RTF/DOC file.

E.3) Inline images are saved by Scrivener into DOC files. They are not saved into RTF and TXT files. In any case, embedded images are to be avoided in ID, and linked images are to be preferred. Using the markdown '![Name/description of the file](path/link)' syntax seems a sufficient indication to manually import the image into ID.

E.4) Internal/external links, like hyperlinks or cross-references, are immediately converted by markdownID.

Thanks for letting me know about markdownID. For those who are interested, it can be found here:

I don’t know if it’ll apply to your particular situation, but for tables, you can simply enter them in one of the standard text formats (i.e. tab for a new column, return for a new line). Then use the Convert Text to Table option in ID’s Table menu. You can even apply a particular table style at that time. It’s not automatic, since you’ll have to do each one manually, but you’ll probably have to do that anyway to get the formatting right.

Oh, and you might start each table with a search term like XtableX to make it easy to find each one.

Dear InklingBooks,

You are perfectly right: links are needed in my previous message. I’ll add them to help who is investigating on this matter.

As for tables, my problem is that I don’t always have simple ones, like this one:

Status Sound
On Heard
Off Not heard

But also something like this:

SPLIT button indicator Left Hand (Lower) Right Hand (Upper)
Off (full keyboard) No Lower Sound (track) Up to three Upper Sounds (tracks) assigned to the full extension of the keyboard
On (split keyboard) A single Lower Sound (track) assigned to the left hand Up to three Upper Sounds (tracks) assigned to the right side of the keyboard

Writing densely populated cells this way is not very easy. Probably, the best solution is to enter tables as real tables in Scrivener, let Scrivener export then as separate paragraphs when saving a Multimarkdown file, and then convert the unformatted text with the command you are citing (Convert Text to Table). All considered, it’s easy and quick.

EDIT: This will not work. Real tables exported to a plain text become a sequence of separate paragraphs. The only solution I see (not the smartest and most elegant) is to create complex tables as real tables in Scrivener, then make a second copy of them as marked text. When in ID, the marked text will be conveted to a table, and the flattened real table will have to be manually removed.

Thank you very much for your hints!


In the end, it seems I moved my project to Nisus Writer Pro. Unfortunately, there are too many limitation, for what I have to do, with using Scrivener and markdown. I’ve probably tried to ask Scrivener something it was not designed to do.

At the same time, there are limitations in NWP, too. I have do decide on the relevance of the different limitations. Technical writing is still a neglected job sector! Here is a quick comparison of the two applications in the work I’m doing.

* Clean, quick, unobstrusive user interface

Scrivener: A small window, with free flowing text, whose components can be quickly rearranged with a single command. Compose mode is a distraction-free working mode.

NWP: I could simulate the look and functionality of Scrivener, via a smaller font in the Natigator, and shortcuts to switch between Binder+Editor (Page view) and Editor only (zoomeed-in Draft view; zoom value is preserved). Fullscreen is just a full-page zoom.

* Shortcuts (hands always on the keyboard)

Scrivener: Any shortcut supported via Mac OS X Keyboard control panel.

NWP: Any shortcut supported via its internal shortcut editor.

* Visual preview of structural elements

Scrivener: Manual applying of Formatting Presets. External Marked 2 application for Markdown preview.

NWP: Full support of Styles associated with elements.

* Tables

Scrivener: Basic OS X tables in RTF, rudimentary MMD table support in Markdown files.

NWP: Not very sophisticate, but with support of Styles for table content (converted when importing in InDesign).

* Annotations

Scrivener: Annotations are inline or in a separate panel, and automatically colored.

NWP: Annotations (Comments) are stickies in a separate pane, with a colored inline reminder. As an alternative, they can be ordinary text with a dedicated Character Style applied, to be later removed en masse.

* Selective export

Scrivener: Easy, by selecting in the Binder, then choosing Compile > Selection.

NPW: Complicate, by carefully selecting and copying the needed text section, creating a new document, pasting it, confirming pasting the styles, and then saving. Can become boresome when having to export separate chapters for importing in different InDesign documents.
[EDIT] Trick: to quickly select a text section, keep the corresponding item in the Navigator pressed, as if you were preparing to move it in a different position. This will select the whole section.

* Exchange with the iPad

Scrivener: Working with snippets, exchange is fast. If working with plain text files, you can use any text editor on the iPad. Good for everyday integration between Mac and iPad. However, any text formatting has to be removed.

NWP: Since you are working on a monolithic file, and using styles to structure your document, the only viable way to exchange data with the iPad seems to be saving in DOC/DOCX, opening it in Pages for iOS, editing with Track Changes turned on, exporting to DOCX/PDF, opening in NWP (or LibreOffice), comparing the older and the newer file and manually add changes. Just Ok for occasional exchange, a hassle if complete integration is required.

> Question: How many time will you have to move your document to the client’s office? Will it be often, and for small chunks of text, or just a few times for a general revision? In the latter case, wouldn’t be using a laptop a better idea?
> Answer: With past works, frequent visits at the client’s office were just for taking notes about the status of the development. A PDF file of the current manual, annotated on the iPad, would work fine. Also, only a few overall revisions where done, and this is better done on the final document - either in NWP or InDesign.

* Importing to InDesign

Scrivener: RTF Styles are not supported, so further processing or manual editing is required with RTF files. Markdown files are easily converted with the markdownID plugin, but complex tables are difficult to edit.

NWP: RTF Styles are immediately converted by InDesign. Only little additional processing is required, mostly for table and cell styles (not for cell text styles).

* Temporary conclusion

I feel more confident drafting in Scrivener. However, the need to move the whole project, at one point, to InDesign, seems to make Nisus Writer Pro a more viable solution.

While I have not read all the intricate details of above (mostly because I have no idea what a markdown is). I have found these instructions on how to link scrivener to InDesign: … -indesign/

I hope it helps.