iPad as Writing Tool, Part 2

I wrote once before about how I use my iPad as a tool to aid my writing. If the subject interests you, you can find that earlier post here.

Last time I covered this subject, I was using the iPad as a supporting tool for note-making and information-gathering, but not really writing anything on it longer than an outline or synopsis. At that time I was using Evernote for almost everything, and that’s still true. The reason for this is that Evernote, while not a word processor or even really a text editor, is great at organizing, sorting and tagging small bits of text. Also with versions for iPad/iPhone, for Mac OS and for Windows, it covered pretty much all my technology bases. Now I’m using a Droid phone and there’s an Evernote version for Droid, as well. So with this free account, I can create notes (including photo or audio notes), or edit, tag/sort, or delete existing notes, wherever I am.

If you’re a writer type, you may be saying “That sucks, give me a word processor,” and I hear what you’re saying. But while Apple Pages is a decent enough word processor in some ways, and only $9.99, it lacks the ability to easily get your work on and off the iPad so you can work on your files with other computers. You can open a text document out of your Dropbox in Pages but when you’re done working, you can’t put the saved changes back into Dropbox. You have to wait until the next time you’re ready to sync your iPad, and that sucks. Maybe Apple will fix that in the next Pages rev. If so, they’d also better add a word counter while they’re at it.

So that’s why I don’t bother using my iPad for serious writing, and nobody else really does either, unless they’re using ONLY the iPad, and just synchronizing up once or twice a week to move materials off for printing and archiving.

Today I was inspired to cover this subject again because a new application just came out called Elements which runs on iPad and iPhone. It’s $4.99 and it allows you to sync files through your Dropbox (if you haven’t figured it out yet, people who use more than one computer absolutely NEED Dropbox), so you can start a file in Elements, save it, and open it later for formatting and printing on your Mac or PC… or open your works-in-progress in Elements for a little tweaking while you’re on vacation or on the subway.

I haven’t even downloaded Elements yet but I can see from looking at the web site that it’s just what i need. It even has word count!

An iPad with Elements, plus a bluetooth keyboard, would make a pretty nice mobile writing setup. Even though I already have a great Macbook Pro, and I love the giant 17″ screen, there are times I’d like to tinker with a work-in-progress on my Ipad.

The Apple iPad As Writing Tool

It’s unlikely anyone reading this hasn’t seen or heard about the Apple iPad, which seems to have taken over the technology world this past few months. The device is portable and easy to operate, and uses a touchscreen interface so intuitive I’ve yet to find anybody who can’t figure the thing out immediately.

Much has been made in reviews of the device being better suited for consumption of media (listening to music, reading email, blogs and ebooks, or watching videos) than for producing it, but the iPad occupies an important place in my writing workflow. Most of my “real” writing happens in Scrivener, which is a Mac application with no iPad equivalent. But leading up to the actual drafting and editing in Scrivener, I do a lot of note-making, gathering and combining the various seeds and ideas that grow into the beginnings of a story. I keep all my notes centralized in Evernote, an application that I keep on all my Macs, Pcs and my iPad, but which I use most often on my iPad for the actual capture of ideas. During the drafting and revision of a story I often get ideas that I intend to apply to the story in progress, and these go into Evernote with a tag appropriate for the story. When I’m ready to work on a given story, I first check Evernote for any ideas tagged with that story’s title, and it brings together every scrap or idea or name-change I may have come up with since I last worked on it. Once a note has been incorporated into the story (or discarded), I delete the note from Evernote.

There does not yet exist for iPad a word processor or text editor application without a lot of flaws. Apple Pages is a pretty nice program and only costs $10 but there are some serious weaknesses regarding how you get your work into and out of Pages, so I don’t use that program at this time. If I wanted to draft a story scene, I’d fire up my bluetooth keyboard (the onscreen keyboard works fine for shorter bits of typing but I wouldn’t to type hundreds or thousands of words with the thing, unless I had to) and type the text into Evernote. Then next time I was at a “real” computer I could collect any such scenes, again using Evernote’s tagging feature to designate written drafts to be incorporated into Scrivener, Word, or whatever application you use to write your storise or novels.

I love my Macbook Pro and if I were to travel for any length of time with the intention of doing real writing, I would probably take that along. But for a short trip, I could definitely imagine taking just the iPad and getting all kinds of work done. I’ve always believed a lot of the work of writing isn’t just writing drafts, but creating notes, sorting through them, combining ideas into an interesting brew and then starting to outline, sketch characters, and brainstorm. All this kind of activity is perfect for the iPad, and Evernote is an absolutely essential tool for this.

Update of no great consequence

I do seem to run hot and cold when it comes to updating this blog. The good news (as far as I’m concerned) is that I’ve been neglecting my writing-blog-writing because I’ve been doing a lot of plain old fiction writing lately.

I’ve also been very busy sending out a ton of story submissions (the flip side to tons of rejections is tons of new opportunities to submit!) and also putting in a ton of effort refining my workflow.

Some writers just sit down and toss the words out onto the page. I plan a great deal, and assemble mountains of notes and try to sort through them and apply them into suitable little piles relating to the same subject or project. I have this fantastic new tool called Evernote, which is a way of sorting all your notes, including even note-like stuff such as PDFs, sound clips, images and so on. You can apply multiple tags to each “note” so you can look through all your notes with any given tag, and a single note may appear every time you look by the appropriate tag. So I might have a photo of a weird looking goth chick with blue hair, and I could tag it as “image” and “character ideas” and “Hum” (after the name of a story I’m working on) and whichever of these tags I choose, I’ll see this picture. Pretty handy, for sorting through things all different ways, especially once you have thousands of notes.

I’m also increasingly using this great online tool called Dropbox, which gives you a folder on all of your computers which is kept synchronized at all times, so anything you drop into the “My Dropbox” folder on your work PC, for example, is automatically updated in the “My Dropbox” folder on you iPad, your laptop, and your MacPro at home. So great! I used to carry around 2 or 3 little USB thumb drives all the time, and now I’m done with those. Everything I may need during the day, no matter where I am — reference documents, web links, my story projects, software installers, everything! Dropbox is great and includes a free option, for up to 2gb of storage, and a paid option for people who want to store a lot more.

I’ll be back soon with subsequent SF Academy entries, and maybe a bit more about what I’ve been writing lately.