Writing with an iPad: six-month review

After six months of owning an iPad, Iain revisits his previous predictions and looks at whether it really is a viable writing device.

Last November, I recorded a podcast in which I talked about my shiny new iPad, what it was like to write with and how it was going to transform the way I work. This is my six month review.

The draft machine

I’ve said on a number of occasions that all you need to write is a keyboard and a screen. It was because the iPad provided both that I felt so certain I could write with it.

And that’s pretty much proved to be true. I can, and do, write regularly with my iPad. But, to be perfectly honest, I rarely use it to edit, because I find it kind of clumsy to move the cursor around the screen with my finger. However, the iPad is a marvellous first draft machine.

I can only have one app open at a time, so I don’t get distracted. It’s awkward to move from typing to touching the screen, so I don’t go back and make smaller changes. I can take it pretty much anywhere, so I can start writing whenever an idea comes to me.

I might not write a novel with my iPad, and I might not publish posts to Write for Your Life from it either. But, I’m willing to bet that most of my future work will start its life on my sexy little cyber device.

The iPad is perfect for making notes, formulating ideas and putting those first few paragraphs together.

Syncing on the train

The reason I can say this with some certainty is because the iPad syncs so beautifully with my desktop computer.

I use the PlainText writing app to write with the iPad, and files get saved to a specific Dropbox folder. By the time it takes me to check that same folder on my desktop computer, the file is already there and up to date. It works perfectly.

By the way, if you’re not sure what Dropbox is, I can tell you that amongst being many other wonderful things, it’s every writer’s very best friend.

Essentially, Dropbox allows you to sync files between multiple computers, including your mobile or iPad. Like I say, start writing in one place, head to the next and your up-to-date work will be ready and waiting. It’s like magic.

Anyway, I talked about syncing and the apps I use in that November podcast. Absolutely nothing has changed. Six months later I’m using the same apps to do the same jobs.

There are many writing apps for the iPad and it can be tempting to sniff out and try them all. But really, what’s the point? If you find something that works and does what you want it to do – like I have – stick with it and keep writing.

Night-time reading

Part of me – that bit that read every book in the children’s section of my local library before I was six years old – can’t believe that I’m about to write the following sentence. Sometimes, I prefer reading on my iPad than I do a real book. Gosh.

I didn’t talk about reading back in November. I knew that I would use the iPad extensively to browse and read the web, but with so many books unread on my shelves, I thought e-reading might pass me by for a little while longer. I didn’t really think about the practical benefits of reading on a screen.

Truth is, I love reading on my iPad. I particularly love, when reading late at night, just as I have since I was a mere slip of a lad, increasing the font size to help my tired, weary eyes, to help me keep on reading, rather than drifting into sleep. Such a simple thing. So absolutely the future.

That said, I’m totally with James Bridle, who I linked to last week. He has several books on the go at once and actual reads as much as he e-reads. I seem to be taking the same approach. Since getting the iPad, I’ve read plenty of printed material, including novels, non-fiction and poetry. It’s just I’ve read plenty of e-stuff too.

You don’t have to read one way or the other all of the time. That’s why we, this generation of readers in the midst of all these changes, have it so good. We can find, buy and read in so many different ways. We have options, and I think that’s a positively positive thing.

Still super

I still highly recommend the iPad as a writing device, and that recommendation comes with all the same caveats. It’s not perfect, it’s not that cheap and you’ll find it difficult to do serious editing. I think it’s fair to say that the iPad is not ideal for the real nitty gritty of serious writing.

But it is a screen, it does have a keyboard and it happens to be a great e-reader too. Plus, come on, let’s be honest, it’s a whole lot more besides.

Finally, if you want to know more about me and my iPad (and who wouldn’t?), you can read a recent interview I gave for Ben Brooks’s marvellous site, The Brooks Review.


Anonymous 4 April 2011 Reply

I love the combination of PlainText and Dropbox as well. I was torn between PlainText and Simplenote, because I like Simplenote’s design better, but the bonus of using Plaintext and Dropbox is I can Spotlight-search for the doc I just typed up on my iPod Touch and instantly find and open it. Most people seem to use Simplenote, so it’s nice to find someone else using Plaintext.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 5 April 2011 Reply

I actually use both Simplenote and PlainText!
I use Simplenote to jot down quick ideas, copy and paste interesting paragraphs and collect any other useful stuff I need to refer to quickly. I use it very much like I would a physical notebook.

I use PlainText when I want to write slightly longer pieces, like blog posts. If I’ve got a bit of time to write, I’ll head there instead and put together something more comprehensive (though still only in draft form).

Anonymous 20 April 2011 Reply

Hmm, that’s a pretty good setup. I may have to give that a try. Thanks for the tip!

jennifer@procrastinatingwriters.com 4 April 2011 Reply

Great review! I love my iPad for planning purposes. And on occasion I do use it to blog via the WordPress app. My favorite planning tools include Index Card and Manuscript because I can write my novel if I want, or I can just keep track of my index cards and move them around at will. What’s been working for me is planning things out on my iPad (outlines, scenes, etc), and then setting the iPad next to me as I use the notes to actually write (on my computer). It seems to work well for me!

iain@writeforyourlife.net 5 April 2011 Reply

Sounds like quite a good setup to me. I haven’t heard of either of those appas, so I’ll be sure to check them out. Thanks for the tip off.

Anonymous 6 April 2011 Reply

My setup is pretty similar. I’ve got Index Card as well, but instead of Manuscript I chose Writings. Simple and elegant, and distraction-free.
I also use MacJournal and especially ShoveBox, which both are capable of syncing to my desktop mojo directly.

That’s actually more writing tools than I need for the iPad. Oh and I’ve been using the Keyboard Dock for writing. It’s quite handy. The only downside is that it’s portrait mode only, but on the plus side it doubles as a dock and does not need Bluetooth.

marketing@sejwritingservices.co.uk 5 April 2011 Reply

Ipads can be annoying some times for writing and maybe reading outside, but I still love mine. I’ll have to try plaintex, ok… let’s try it

iain@writeforyourlife.net 5 April 2011 Reply

Yeah, like I say, it’s not the perfect writing environment, but it’s great if you can fit it into your workflow ina way that works for you. PlainText (coupled with Dropbox for syncing) is an excellent place to start.

Anonymous 6 April 2011 Reply

Great summary – I’m an iaWriter guy nowadays – you may like this article I wrote on the subject last year – http://www.thebookwright.com/2010/06/13/ipadivity/

iain@writeforyourlife.net 7 April 2011 Reply

iA Writer is a really interesting concept, but I haven’t tried it yet. I know a few people who swear by it, but while PlainText is doing the job for me, I reckon I’ll stick to that. So tempting to try all the different apps!

Anonymous 6 April 2011 Reply

I’ve got the money saved just waiting for Apple to get some iPad 2’s back in stock. I’ve even bought IAWriter as I’ve heard good things about it.
Interesting what you say about editing because I did wonder what it’s like without a mouse. I plug a mouse into my laptop when doing subsquent drafts rather than relying on the mouse pad.

I was thinking of getting the wireless keyboard with it too so using the arrow keys might make editing easier.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 7 April 2011 Reply

Yep, I should have mentioned that I am still using the Apple bluetooth keyboard, which is brilliant. I also use the Compass stand from Twelve South. Also highly recommended.

Anonymous 11 April 2011 Reply

[…] week I wrote about my experience of writing with the iPad and touched on how I’d started using it more and more as an e-reader. Randy makes some great […]

Anonymous 17 May 2011 Reply

[…] you might just manage a decent first draft.iPadThe iPad is, according to author, Iain Broome, of writeforyourlife.net a marvellous first draft machinebut an awkward choice for editing. I can neither confirm nor deny […]

hal@gmail.com 11 January 2012 Reply

I have tested and bought almost all writing applications I have found and I am now using writeroom and iA writer on my mac, and nebulous notes on my iphone, and sync everything with dropbox.
Why dropbox?
Because I also access to my files at work, and I write with a chrome extension called Writebox (which allows me to chose a not so bad font design)

Why writeroom?
I own Scrivener but its syncing features don’t cut enough bread. I need automatic syncing. I have a single file for any project, even for long ones (though I haven’t written a very long long novel yet.

Why iA writer?
I use iA writer to display my todo list, which is also a single text file in dropbox.
I could use writeroom but it was easier to use a different software for mt todo list and for my writings.

Why nebulous notes?
It has the best interface. Better than plaintext or writeroom on iPhone. And it remembers the cursor position so I can always continue from where I stopped. Even when the file has been edited elsewhere I am never very far from where I should be.

Contact@nevilleandrowe.co.uk 28 December 2012 Reply

I am new to writing and thinking writing on an iPad wouldbe ideal for me. I am thinking of buying an ipad keyboard for my iPad 2 thinking this may deal with the editing issues you mention. What do you think? Am also at a point where I have decided to embark on writing and came to a complete block on where to start, any pointers would be appreciated.

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