Whether you are tentatively planning your first ever blog post or are a best-selling novelist working on your latest blockbuster, there are plenty of apps out there designed for writers. But as writers are sometimes known for their procrastination techniques, and choosing the right app could be the excuse for putting off work on your Great American Novel for several days, we thought it would be helpful to provide a few pointers.
All of the apps featured are available for both Mac and iOS, as I feel it’s important that you can work on the move as well as at a desk. In my comments, though, I’m focusing on the Mac versions as that’s the platform on which most people are likely to do the bulk of their writing.
The obvious starting point, of course, is the app Apple gives you for free: Pages. In fact, some might question why you would ever need anything else, so let’s start with this before considering some of the alternatives …
Pages is a deceptively powerful app on both platforms with a superbly-designed user-interface. That’s because the app is intended to look simple and non-intimidating to new users, while offering plenty of features under the hood for power users. It achieves this by keeping the bells and whistles tucked away out of sight until you need them.
For example, create a new blank document and you’ll see a pretty clean view (below). By default, none of the formatting or page setup features are shown, just a single row of buttons with largely intuitive functions.
But as soon as you want to apply formatting, for example, clicking the Format button opens up a column offering everything from bold and italics through line-spacing, justification, indents, bullets, links, columns and borders – through to more advanced features like widow & orphan control (ensuring that a single word or line from a paragraph doesn’t end up on a new page). If you want to add tables, illustrations or photos, you can.
Pages uses iCloud by default, so you can create a document on your Mac, continue writing it on your iPad and add the finishing touches on your iPhone. That functionality is baked right in, so you don’t need to do anything special to take advantage of it.
If you’re writing for publication, you can export your manuscript to Word to send it to agents and publishers, or choose ePub to turn it into an iBook. Pages doesn’t, though, support other ebook formats like Kindle’s .mobi – which is one of several reasons I recommend using a more sophisticated app for a novel. But if you’re writing shorter pieces, and want to get to work straight away, Pages is a solid choice.
If you’re one of those people who seems to spend more time choosing your typeface and tweaking app settings than you do actually writing, iA Writer may be your saviour. The app has a super-minimalist UI designed to give a typewriter-style feel.
While you are actually typing, everything else disappears from the screen. No toolbar, no status bar, not even the header strip with close, minimize and maximize buttons. All you see is your virtual sheet of paper and your words.
If you want an even more typewriter-like feel, you can select typewriter mode, in which the text you’re typing stays centred on the virtual page and previous text scrolls upwards. This mode has an additional feature designed specifically for those writers who can’t resist going back to rewrite the paragraph they’ve just finished: text grays out as it scrolls up and away. I know some writers for whom this would be a godsend!
The minimalism of iA Writer continues under the hood: the file format is plain text, and the default location to save files is on iCloud. There are no decisions to make unless you specifically want to store the file elsewhere.
If you love the approach but can’t bring yourself to part with basic formatting, like italics, iA Writer supports Markdown. This allows codes to be used to indicate things like **bold** and *italics* while retaining a plain text format. If you’re not comfortable with Markdown, you do have the option of using the usual CMD-B and CMD-I keyboard shortcuts, and you can also select formatting from a status bar that appears when you mouseover the bottom of the page. (The top bar, too, appears only when you mouseover it.) However, the plain text format means that your Markdown codes will be visible.
The status bar additionally holds a wordcount, that you can change to characters, sentences or read-time.
Markdown supports HTML-style structures, so you also have the option of using things like multi-level headers, bullet-points and so on – with sensible keyboard shortcuts for each – but these are all tucked away out of sight.
By default, you see only the document on which you’re working, but you can show a sidebar with other documents if you need to switch back and forth between them – for example, between different chapters of a novel. But really iA Writer is all about that single-page view, with no distractions in sight.
In my view, if you aren’t writing things with complex structures or which require lots of formatting, and you are easily distracted, then iA Writer is the perfect writing app. It’s you, the words and very little else.
iA Writer costs $3.99 on iOS and $9.99 on Mac.
If you like the core idea of iA Writer but are working on more complex documents or are someone who likes to see an overview of their work – such as a series of novels – then Ulysses is well worth a look. This is essentially a more sophisticated version of iA Writer with asignificantly steeper price: $24.99 on iOS and $44.99 on Mac.
Like iA Writer, it is essentially based on plain text with Markdown – though it actually uses a proprietary file format – and offers many of the same features. It has typewriter mode, for example, but in a more configurable form. For example, you can decide whether or not you want the previous text to gray-out. If you do want this, you can choose between having the current line, sentence or paragraph highlighted. And so on.
That proprietary file format isn’t a big deal, by the way, as Ulysses allows you to export your work to HTML, docx (for compatibility with Word and Pages), PDF and ePub.
Ulysses offers three different views when writing. In the screenshot at the top, I have all three panes showing: Library, Sheets and Editor. You can see under iCloud, I have two different books listed, and I’m editing book 1, 2184. Pane 2 shows two chapters of that book, while pane shows the chapter I’m working on. But switching panes on or off is as simple as CMD-1, -2 or -3. This makes it really easy to jump between different chapters or sections while still retaining a clean, uncluttered view while actually writing.
The app can do pretty much everything iA Writer can do, so I won’t repeat features here, but it offers a lot more configurability. Whether this is a good or bad thing, of course, depends on your viewpoint!
For example, Ulysses supports multiple versions of Markdown, so if you have a preferred one, you can either select it from the choices offered – or even configure your own. If you choose one of the standard Markdown versions, you can customize it. For example, a hash mark (#) is the standard way to indicate heading level 1, but if you want to use a different character instead, you can.
You can also use various different themes and templates.
Ulysses automatically creates versioned backups of your work: hourly for the last 12 hours, daily for the last seven days and weekly for the past six months. This could be a life-saver if you do something silly like delete a chapter of your novel after deciding against it, then realizing that it would be the perfect event to happen later in the story.
If you are writing for a WordPress or Medium blog, Ulysses can be configured to allow direct publishing in either or both.
You can set wordcount goals and be notified when you hit them – something I find really useful when working on a novel and setting myself a goal of 2000 words per writing session. You can also tag text with keywords, enabling you to search for them later, as well as attaching notes or images.
In short, Ulysses is the app you want if you like the ‘text with markup’ philosophy of iA Writer but are working on more complex documents or want greater customization options.
Ulysses costs $24.99 on iOS and $44.99 on Mac.
I’ve saved my favorite writing app for last! I’ve written two technothriller novels (11/9 and The Billion Dollar Heist), a rom-com (not yet available in ebook form), a travel guide and – most recently – the first two books in an SF novella series, 2184 (which will be free next week) and Replicate. All of these were written in Scrivener, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t even consider writing a novel in anything else.
I’ve written full reviews of both the Mac app and the iOS one, so I’ll simply summarise the key benefits here.
To me, Scrivener is the app that does it all. Want an iA Writer-like distraction-free interface? Scrivener can do that. I have my Composition Mode set to white paper on a black background.
But the beauty of Scrivener is it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Here are all the available preferences for this mode.
As you can see, you can set foreground color, background color, left & right margins, choose the type of scrolling (normal, typewriter, with or without fading) and more.
The configurability of Scrivener is unmatched by anything else I’ve ever seen. I consider myself a power user of the app, but I doubt that even I have ever delved into more than about 10% of the available settings.
One of the things I love about Scrivener is that it’s as useful for planning and editing as it is for writing. For example, when planning a novel, the app offers a corkboard view. You can write notes on virtual index cards, rearrange the cards, stack them, unstack them and so on until you have a plan.
By default, the corkboard looks like one, with a texture background and lined cards. I’m not a fan of either, but Scrivener’s famed configurability comes to the rescue and with a few clicks I have plain white cards on a plain grey background.
Once you’re ready to begin writing, those corkboard cards can be viewed as binder entries:
Again, I’ve changed the default appearance. I use color-coding to indicate the status of each chapter: green for written, orange for in progress, yellow for planned but not written, white for not planned and red for a problem I need to resolve or research I need to conduct. Once I’ve completed the first draft, I set everything back to yellow and then use the colors to indicate editing status.
You can also assign keywords to do things like bring up all the chapters in which a particular character is present, or which takes place at a particular location.
My technothrillers have multiple viewpoints, and I switch rapidly back-and-forth between them. Each time I switch viewpoint, I need to be able to see exactly where I left things. Scrivener makes it simple to do so, either clicking back and forth in the binder, or placing two chapters or sections side-by-side. Or one above the other. Or one free-floating. Again, customization options for the win.
Like Ulysses, Scrivener allows me to set wordcount targets – and it will by now come as no surprise to learn that these can be as simple or as complex as you like. Want a wordcount target for your current session? Go ahead. Want to complete your novel by 26th of April, writing on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons? Give Scrivener your target wordcount and it will automatically calculate targets for each writing session, adjusting them as required.
Need to refer to reference materials while you’re writing? You can have free-floating documents off to the side as you right. Same with graphics, be it a blueprint or a photo you’ve downloaded as inspiration for a character.
Researching things on the web? You can save offline copies of webpages and have them to hand as you write.
Oh, and don’t look for a Save button in Scrivener. The app does allow you to do a CMD-S just to make you feel happy, but by default it automatically saves your work each time you pause in your typing, and it also automatically creates versioned backups.
Once your manuscript is finally complete, Scrivener can output to just about every file format imaginable – including ebooks. Again, you can choose between the simplicity of output templates, or an insane degree of configurable options.
Check out the full reviews of Mac and iOS versions for more. But if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the apps available to you and just want a single recommendation, mine would be: buy Scrivener.
Scrivener costs $19.99 on iOS and $45 on Mac.
If you have your own favorite writing apps, do share them in the comments.
In this chapter, you’ll learn about some of the many ways the iPad can help you do your schoolwork.This chapter is from the book
In this chapter:
- Writing and printing on the iPad
- Using Notes
- Using Pages
- Using your iPad in class
- How to use the Internet for homework
Your iPad isn’t just an awesome gadget for games, music, movies, and the Internet. It’s also a powerful tool for doing your schoolwork. That may seem like less fun than some of the other stuff in this book, but if your parents bought your iPad, they’ll be glad they did if you use it for school, too. From writing papers to keeping track of your schedule to doing research online, you can use your iPad in almost every part of your academic life.
Writing and Printing on the iPad
Writing on the iPad involves a lot more than just tapping on the screen when the keyboard appears. It can include wireless keyboards, hidden special symbols, and, of course, lots of useful apps.
To start writing, though, you’ll need to decide what kind of keyboard you want to use. Two kinds of keyboards can be used with the iPad: the onscreen keyboard that pops up in lots of apps or an external keyboard. Some external keyboards connect using the Dock Connector, while wireless keyboards use Bluetooth to link to the iPad.
Which Keyboards You Can Use
Even though it would be nice—and a lot easier—you can’t just use any keyboard with your iPad. Most computer keyboards connect to the computer with a type of cable/connector called USB. Your iPad doesn’t have a USB port. Therefore, instead of plugging your computer keyboard into the iPad, you have to get a separate one.
Remember the Dock Connector, the port on the bottom of the iPad that you plug the cable into to sync? A few keyboards plug into that and then prop the iPad up for easy typing.
Apple makes the most popular one of these keyboards. It’s pretty nice, but because it’s a regular keyboard—and one with a very awkward shape—it doesn’t fold or bend and isn’t as portable as some other options.
The other option is a Bluetooth keyboard.
Bluetooth is a kind of wireless technology that lets your iPad connect to accessories such as speakers, headphones, and keyboards. Bluetooth keyboards are cool because they’re wireless, so the iPad doesn’t have to be right next to the keyboard. Some of them fold up, making them easier to carry, and others come with carrying cases and mount the iPad like a laptop.
Which kind of keyboard is best for you depends on what you like, what you can afford, and where you’re using the keyboard (the Dock Connector version might be better on a table, while the Bluetooth one could be better in bed or in your lap).
>>>step-by-step: Connecting a Bluetooth Keyboard to Your iPad
If you choose a Bluetooth keyboard, a few steps need to be followed to connect it. Before you begin, make sure your keyboard is near the iPad; Bluetooth can only connect devices that are within a few feet of each other. Also, make sure the keyboard has charged batteries in it. Now you can follow these steps:
- Open the Settings app on your iPad and tap General.
- Tap Bluetooth from the options available and then, on the Bluetooth screen, move the slider to On.
- Your keyboard (make sure it’s powered on) will appear in the devices menu. Tap it.
- A window will appear on the iPad with four numbers in it. Type them on your keyboard and then press Enter on the keyboard.
- If everything worked, the Devices menu should now show your keyboard and read “Connected.” If not, check the instructions that came with your keyboard and try again (or ask a parent for a little help).
Using the Onscreen Keyboard
External keyboards aren’t your only option, though. The iPad has an onscreen keyboard that can be a great option for writing. The iPad’s onscreen keyboard appears in any app where you can enter text, such as Mail, Notes, or Safari. There are a few tricks about using the onscreen keyboard you should know.
>>>step-by-step: Entering Numbers or Symbols
To enter a number or symbol using the onscreen keyboard, follow these steps:
- Tap the number button. The keyboard changes to show numbers and some basic punctuation marks.
- Here you can enter numbers along with a variety of symbols, such as parentheses, question mark, and so on. To access more uncommon symbols, tap the symbols button on the number keyboard.
- To go back to the regular keyboard, tap the letters button. To go back to the numbers and punctuation marks, tap the numbers button (which button you see depends on which keyboard screen you’re on).
>>>step-by-step: Entering Accent Marks and Alternate Symbols
To write words in other languages, or use some really unusual and fun symbols, you have to tap and hold certain letters and punctuation marks. When you do this, you’ll see lots of alternate versions. The letters that have these alternate versions are a, e, i, o, u, c, and n. The punctuation marks that have alternative versions are -, $, &, “, ., ?, !, ‘, and %.
To use an alternate version of a letter or punctuation mark, follow these steps:
- Tap and hold one of the keys that has alternate versions. Options will pop up above it.
- To select an alternate version, don’t take your finger off the screen (if you do, the options will disappear). Instead, slide your finger to the option you want, and when it turns blue, take your finger off the screen. The alternate version will appear where you were typing.
Enabling the Caps Lock
If you want to type something all in uppercase letters, the fastest and easiest way is to use Caps Lock.
- To do this, double tap the Shift (up-arrow) button on the keyboard. It will turn blue. This means Caps Lock is on.
- When you want to turn Caps Lock off and start using lowercase letters again, single-tap the up-arrow button.
Copying and Pasting Text
Copying and pasting text on a desktop computer is pretty easy: Select the text you want, click the necessary menus or keyboard shortcuts, and paste the text where you want it to go. But the iPad doesn’t have menus or the same keyboard keys as your desktop, so how do you do it?
Not every iPad app handles copying and pasting exactly the same way, so there’s no single way to show you how to do it. These steps show you one way. If the app you’re trying to use copy and paste in handles it differently, use what you learn here and try to apply it to that different process.
Begin by finding the text you want to copy (nearly every app on your iPad that lets you write, read articles, or browse the Web offers copy-and-paste functionality). Once you’ve done that, follow these steps:
- Tap and hold on the text you want to copy until the magnifying glass pops up. Then let go.
- To select just one section of the text, tap Select.
- When you tap Select, the text you tapped will be highlighted in blue. The blue tells you what text is selected to be cut or copied. You can change the selection by dragging the blue dot on either side of the selected text.
- Most apps let you choose to cut or copy the text. Cut means you’ll delete the text and then paste it somewhere else. Copy means you’ll make a copy to paste elsewhere, but not delete the original text. As mentioned earlier, different apps have slightly different options, but they should all at least offer copy.
- Find the place where you want to paste the text—this could be in the same app or another app; it doesn’t matter. Tap and hold until the magnifying glass appears. Then let go.
- Tap Paste in the menu that appears.
>>>step-by-step: Syncing Documents to Your iPad with iTunes
It’s easy to move documents such as school papers and e-books from your computer onto your iPad. To do that, you first have to sync your iPad and computer. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps:
- In iTunes, click the Apps tab to access the document-sharing options.
- Scroll to the bottom of that screen and find File Sharing.
- You’ll see a list of all the apps on your iPad that can sync documents with your computer. Click the app you want to sync the document to.
- Click Add.
- Browse through the window until you find the document you want to sync. Click once on the document.
- Click Open. Repeat this for as many documents as you want to sync to that app. You can also choose other apps and repeat these steps to sync documents to them.
- When you’ve added all the documents you want to sync, click the Sync (or Apply) button in iTunes. When the sync is complete, the documents will be on your iPad. Just tap the apps you synced them to and you’ll be able to start reading them.
AirPrint and Compatible Printers
Just like with keyboards, printing from the iPad is a little tricky because there’s no connector for printers to plug into. You can always sync or send files from your iPad to your computer to print there, but if you don’t have a computer or want to print right from your iPad, you need something else: AirPrint.
AirPrint is an Apple technology that lets you print wirelessly from your iPad to certain printers. For this to work, you can’t use just any old printer; you need one that’s AirPrint compatible.
Because not all printers support AirPrint—not even all printers that have Wi-Fi—you and your parents will need to do some research if you’re thinking of getting one. The list of printers that support AirPrint is always changing, but big companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Epson, Canon, and Lexmark all make AirPrint-compatible printers.
How to Print
Just like different apps handle copy and paste differently, there’s no single way to print using iPad apps. That’s because apps are so different in what they do and how they look. There are a few common ways to print—like tapping the Action box (the square with the arrow curving out of it)—but you won’t find that in every app, not even every app that can print. This chapter includes tips on how to print in two writing apps, Notes and Pages. Many other apps that can print will work in similar ways.