Writing on the iPad

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During this month, iPads of March, one of the tasks that I have found brilliantly straightforward has been writing on the iPad.

20120319-135640.jpgI do quite a bit of writing: for this blog, and other personal and business websites, document and reports. I am also in the process of writing a book (or 2). Back on the Mac, I typically use the following writing tools:
– Pages (from the Apple iWork suite);
Scrivener;
– Google Docs;
Mars Edit;
iA Writer;
– TextEdit
Squarespace‘s custom CMS; and,
WordPress‘ custom CMS.

Moving to the iPad has been a fun journey. For reports and other documents, these tend to be done end to end in Pages. I am moving away from Google Docs, which is poorly supported on iOS anyway. I am frustrated by the lack of a Mac version of Pages that supports iCloud, but since I can print and distribute documents easily from the iPad, this isn’t as big a hurdle as I thought it might be.

One notable direction for me in recent times has been the adoption of John Gruber’s Markdown approach. This is an approach for writers to be able to focus on writing, and then be able format in an easy manner, then publish to the web or use apps that translate the formating into their own requirements. For web, thats HTML, while for other apps it varies.

Markdown allows a non-distracting environment to focus on writing, then worry about publishing later. Traditional tools like MS Word, and even Pages and Scrivener, kind of lead the writer to procrastinate with formatting, rather than focus on content. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, there’ll be time enough for formatting, when the writing’s done!

There are a bunch of apps allowing writers to write on iOS in markdown, and then easily copy to their desktop later. For a while I’ve been using iA Writer on both Mac and iOS, and have been loving the simplicity. Its sports a great, non-distracting UI that really lets you focus on the task of writing. It supports iCloud to sync between iPad and Mac versions, and recently it has sported a brand new iPhone version. Seamless writing, everywhere.

So for my book writing, I would work on individual sections in iA Writer, then when done, copy over to Scrivener, which handles Markdown nicely.

For web publishing, this was a little harder, as I wanted to be able to publish from the iPad, but getting code translated from Markdown to HTML wasn’t straightforward, and I am not aware of a blog editor for iPad that accepts Markdown. I don’t think it’ll be long before someone comes out with something to suit.

Last Thursday, the good people at Metaclassy launched a new version of their Byword app for Mac, and also launched Byword for iOS (iPad and iPhone). This nice little app shares a lot of the best features of iA Writer (iCloud, simple UI, etc), and adds a couple of great features, including the ability to print from the iOS app (AirPrint or similar required), and importantly, the ability to export HTML from the file, or simply have the HTML output copied to the clipboard. This can easily be pasted into the Squarespace or WordPress iOS apps (which only supports HTML) for publishing. I can also copy and paste the markdown text from the Mac version of the app straight into Scrivener.

I am using Byword deeply now as my main writing tool on the iPad. To post this blog, I will simply copy and paste the HTML into the WordPress app, add this screen shot image, add category/tag info and publish. For book style writing, I work on the files in Byword, and then copy and paste completed sections into Scrivener back on the Mac.

I am loving Byword – it gives me just the right mix of simplicity and power. Its just about perfect in my work so far.

Its an exciting time in using the iPad as a primary tool. Not only is there a new version on the market, but there are a host of new apps that make mobile productivity even better. For writing, the iPad has truly come of age as a production tool, and is far than a simple consumption device!