Or how I went faintly mad over the case of the curly quote and ended up exactly where I began

First we should set the scene.

For quite some time now I’ve used Google Docs as my writing instrument of choice: it’s simple, gets the job done and is available anywhere I need it to be available. In a more recent development, I’ve taken to writing in the mornings and, of yet further relevance to our issue, writing on my iPad (which serves very nicely as a distraction-free writing tool).

In the rare event that I have something to publish I export my manuscript from Google Docs as a Microsoft Word document, tidy it up as required, and upload it (typically to Smashwords). The last time I was careless enough to complete something that might actually be read by people was back in 2013, so this is not a part of the writing process that’s been high on my mind lately.

A quote annoying problem

The thing is, the morning shift has resulted in a massive increase in productivity – so much so that, despite my best efforts at procrastination, I actually have a few things that might need to be published in due course. For this reason, earlier this year I purchased a license for ProWritingAid (a proofing tool that integrates with both Google Docs and Microsoft Word) with the aim of making my final manuscripts as awesomely fine and perfect as I could possibly make them. Sure, it exposed all the mistakes and flaws in my writing, and meant I actually had to pay attention to the words I was pouring into my iPad, but that didn’t bother me in the least. No, really. Not. One Little. Bit…

ProWritingAid in Google DocsAnyway, among the titanic catalogue of failures that ProWriting Aid helped me to identify was the observation that my quotes were veering freely between straight and curly quotes.  For readability, I much prefer curly quotes. As any sensible person would. Unfortunately, it turned out that Google Docs on the iPad defaults to straight quotes. Furthermore, Google Docs doesn’t make it especially easy to correct your straight quotes once you’ve written them (remembering that an opening straight quote and a closing straight quote are identical, but would need to be replaced by non-identical opening curly quotes and closing curly quotes).

After this I sent Google Docs to its room and refused to talk to it for a quantity of hours.

I then embarked upon a couple of days’ worth of exhaustive and, frankly, tedious research. Through this I discovered the following:

  • smart quotes on the IOS keyboardthe native iPad keyboard enables you to hold down the quote key so you can select the type of quote you want to use … unfortunately I write using a bluetooth keyboard (because I’m not insane) which does not provide this feature
  • some iPad writing apps provide a toolbar which allows you to pre-select your curly quotes before writing your dialogue … unfortunately none of the apps I tried, that included this feature, integrated with Google Drive
  • the Microsoft Word iPad app does default to curly quotes, and it’s free … unfortunately, it only connects to OneDrive and Dropbox, which are, coincidentally, two places that I don’t actually use to store my writing
  • the iPad allows you to set up keyboard shortcuts (which also work on a bluetooth keyboard); I tried setting this up so that two taps on the quote key would autocorrect to an opening curly quote, while three taps would turn magically into a closing curly quote … unfortunately, the shortcut only autocorrects if you hit space after your key combination. This meant that I would have to do the following to get an opening curly quote: [quote] – [quote] – [space] – [backspace] … yep: four keypresses to type one character. This did not appeal strongly to my not-insaneness.

Driving me crazy

By now it was really starting to look like I’d need to move away from using Google Drive/Docs, store my writing in either Dropbox or OneDrive, and use one of the plethora of apps that linked to those services. Tears were shed: aside from the quote issue, Google Docs had served me faithfully for many years and I was reluctant to pack its case and dump it on the street.

Quite aside from that, I wasn’t very keen on using Dropbox (primarily because it has no integrated editor, which means you lose the convenience of being able to click on a file and have it open in an editor) and I’ve never really found OneDrive very pleasant to use. However, in looking for that silver lining, I couldn’t deny that the slowness of Google Docs combined with its basic feature set was beginning to grate a little, so I did the following:

  • I tidied the fuck out of my Dropbox folders, and discovered I still had well over 10gb of free space in there … which was nice
  • I made a basic effort to create a few writing-friendly folders in my OneDrive, in the process coming up with the barnstorming never-before-thunk idea of having an ‘in progress’ folder and a ‘completed’ folder so I could tell the difference between stories I’d finished and stories that I still needed to write

At this time — because, again, I’m not insane — I did not migrate all of my files from Google Drive into Dropbox/OneDrive and neither did I delete everything from my Google Drive account. No, seriously, I didn’t. I know you’re really, really wishing right now that I did. But I didn’t.

The break that something-something the camel’s back

By this time the solution was obvious: cut out the Google-middle-man and start using Microsoft Word for all my writing. It meant I could use OneDrive to store all my files and access them wherever I needed; documents could easily be opened in the web version of MS Word; I could even link the iOS version of MS Word directly to my OneDrive folders, making sure that everything was at my fingertips. Most significantly, it meant I could get curly quotes without even having to try.

Everything was awesome!

Or so I thought.

I moved my work-in-progress (just the one story: not insane) to OneDrive, downloaded MS Word (which is, pleasingly, free) onto my iPad and took it for a spin.

Straight away I saw this:

page break on iOS word

Here’s the same page on the web version of Word.

page break display on MS Word web app

Yep – the iOS app inserts dirty great page breaks across Every. Single. Page.

I tried. I really, really tried. But I just couldn’t do it. When you write on an iPad, and when you have that iPad in landscape mode, losing half your visible space every time you hit a new page doesn’t really fill me with warm fuzzies. That the same thing didn’t happen on the web or desktop versions of Word only made it feel even more like this was set up to defeat me. Specifically me.

Blowin’ in the wind

So what did I do?

Firstly I went back to using Google Docs for my current work-in-progress, and curly quotes be damned. I was still bothered about the curly quotes issue – I certainly didn’t want to have to correct each curly quote by hand to make sure they were pointing the right way, and copying everything into a Word document just so it was easier to replaces the quotes (which Word does really, really well, by the way) was starting to seem a lot like hard work.

Then it finally hit me.

I would continue to do all my work in Google Docs. All of my drafts, my work in progress, my unproofed completed stories – it would all stay in Google Drive. BUT … once I’d completed something I would migrate to OneDrive / Word to do the final manuscript, and there it would stay. After all, I’d always need to create my final manuscript in Word anyway. The only difference here is that the final version could stay in OneDrive (and I’ll probably copy it over to Google Drive as well, just so I’ve got the same ‘final’ version in both places.

This actually appeals quite nicely to my borderline OCD over such matters. Whereas previously I was driven (see what I did there?!?) by the need to have everything in one place, and have a single solution for all things, I can compartmentalize this quite nicely:

  • Google Drive/Docs for work in progress
  • OneDrive/Word for final proofing and completed works
  • (and a copy of the completed, fully proofed, text also goes back into Google Drive, because otherwise the internet will explode)

And there we have it. The straight quotes will become curly quotes in the goodness of time. Two drives are better than one, anyway. And there will be no obnoxious page breaks to distract me from my writing endeavours.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?