National Novel Writing Month, or, National Stop Procrastinating and Write Month, is soon upon us. This year marks the first time the iPad is available during the prose-fest. Writing tools are near and dear to my heart, because the time spent researching and writing about said tools is a fantastic way to avoid actually writing my fiction. With that in mind, I’m going to take a look at writing tools I’ve found that are suited for NaNo.
I’ve laid down a few criteria. To be considered, an app must easily sync or transfer natively with a cloud service (I’m assuming you’re going to be doing the bulk of your writing at home, and the iPad is the “writing at lunch” option). Since the goal for NaNo is to churn out 50,000 words, the app should have a word count feature, although there are two notable exceptions to this rule that made the cut. Finally, the app needs to be able to work both on- and offline.
I’m going to make a few observations on my time with each program, and you’ll see which I prefer. If word counts aren’t all that important to you, check out our roundup of office suite apps here.
Pages ($9.99): Pages is the best option if you’re also using iWork and have a MobileMe subscription. Pages for the iPad can natively save and download via MobileMe iDisk, but not Dropbox. Pages on the iPad is my choice when what I’m writing needs to look professional. It gets my nod as a NaNo candidate because it has a word count feature, is stable, and easily transfers documents via MobileMe.
Documents to Go ($9.99): Documents to Go connects to darn near anything: iDisk, Dropbox, Google Docs, and Box.net. One thing I’ve never liked about Docs to Go is the lack of margins on each side of the screen. I’m just so used to them that it messes up my mojo when they’re not there.
Elements ($4.99): Elements is a pretty neat program that automatically syncs with your Dropbox\elements folder on launch and exit. It’s just a plain text editor, but for NaNo that’s all you need; in fact, almost all my writing is done in plain text these days. The app is also universal, so you can write on your iPhone, too.
PlainText (Free): PlainText is the one of two exceptions to the word count requirement. The reason for this is when PlainText syncs to Dropbox, it’s the only current one I’ve seen that allows for subfolders in its Dropbox directory. This is important because the NaNo version of Scrivener for OS X that was just released (currently a preview copy; goes on sale Nov. 1) allows you to sync Scrivener projects to a Dropbox folder. Because each project in synced into its own folder, PlainText can then access the file for editing. When you load Scrivener, it imports the changes. Scrivener is my daily driver for writing. Almost everything I write goes through Scrivener, so the ability to write on the road with PlainText and easily get the edits back into Scrivener is a bonus.
Simplenote (Free): This is the second exception to the word count rule. While at its core, Simplenote is a note taking app, it’s also a handy way to throw gobs of text around different applications. Now, I’m not going to suggest you crank out all 50k words in Simplenote. However, since it syncs between all your iDevices and a web portal, it’s a fantastic way to bang out copy on your commute, sync it to the web portal and cut and paste it into your active document.
iPad Writing Tips and Tricks
I had a day recently where not much writing was done. In the Good Intentions category, I planned on writing while watching the first game of the World Series using my iPad on the couch. Yeah, right.
Writing on the iPad I’ve found requires more attention to ergonomics than a laptop. A laptop I can sit in my recliner and type with, but I’ve had poor success with that using my iPad. I have the best success with propping the iPad up, either with a pillow in a comfy chair or in bed. On a hard surface, I have much better results, even just using the virtual keyboard. I’ve banged out a few thousand words using the virtual keyboard when I’ve had to.
While it may seem redundant, I also keep my Apple Bluetooth keyboard in my bag. I’m considering getting either a Scosche folio case, or the Compass iPad stand. I’ve found the Apple case is okay for typing in landscape mode, but it’s useless if I want to prop it up to use an external keyboard — it’s just way too tippy. The Apple keyboard is great for when I really need to bang out some prose but don’t want to lug my MacBook with me.
Now you’re armed for NaNoWriMo, but that doesn’t make the task any less intimidating. The only way to do it is to dive in and give it your best shot.
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