As someone who writes incessantly, and who has sometimes been dependent on that writing to put bread on the table (in thin, cheap slices) I've always been interested in writing tools that didn't leave me chained to the desk.
I wrote a whole book on a Palm Pilot 1000, graffiti-ing out the chapters one character at a time with my gray plastic stylus. That may sound like torture to those who are used to whipping through text at high speed, but while I’m a rapid if unconventional typist (in these post-secretary days, my 80+ WPM always gets me selected to transcribe meeting notes), I'm not an 80 WPM thinker. Scribbling text through a Pilot might be tedious, but it wasn’t really slowing me down when it came to creating fresh text.
Slightly more practical was the series of 8 books I wrote on an Sharp Tripad (also known as a Vadem Clio) a little Windows-CE based device that was a netbook before netbooks were cool. In fact, it was a netbook before there was really a net. I never hooked its built-in dial-up modem to anything, but I did connect it with a serial cable and dump chapters back to my PC every time the tiny working memory filled up.
All this may sound like a lot of effort to use something less than optimum, but it did allow me to hike into a state park, walk up into the hills, and dash off a chapter or two while dangling my feet over a waterfall. That was pretty cool.
Not every experiment in portable composition went well. I never managed to get a decent paragraph written on an Atari Portfolio, and when I came across the first Blackberry I was excited, then doggedly determined, then defeated as I surrendered the idea of doing lengthy texts. (If the thought of doing more text on a 128K Palm Pilot’s scribbly screen seems much harder than typing to the equivalent length on a Blackberry’s admittedly well-designed keyboard, all I can suggest is that you try it.)
With all this background, I suppose it’s no wonder that these days I have an iPad. And I love the damn thing.
However, the Notepad application that comes on the iPad is worthless for anything beyond a grocery list (and not too good for that), so you’ll be wanting to replace that sad little yellow pad with something more serious. After running through literally dozens of free and no-so-free apps on Apple’s app store, I’ve come down to a pair that handle nearly all of my writing needs.
iA Writer – Information Architects -- $0.99
This is a prime example of an application that’s not cheap, it’s inexpensive. Offering a stripped down environment, but with a beefed-up keyboard that eliminates some of the standard iPad’s irritations (quote marks, parens, and word by word navigation at a tap!) this app is the best “stay the heck out my way, I’m making WORDS” app on the iPad. It’s clean, the options that it offers are simple but useful, and you can genuinely crank when seated in the backseat of a car or on a bench at the mall. Some of the options available move the program from simple & clean to masochistic carving of words on slate with dull knife. Fortunately, you can turn these off.
Notebooks -- Alfons Schmid -- $8.99
How weird is it that we now think of nine bucks as a lot to spend on a piece of software? In any case, this is nine well-spent bucks if you write text at length and need to organize what you write. Notebooks has a folder-like ability to slip notes into volumes. It also has a simplified project management interface and a way to incorporate images. While I may use iA Writer to pound out an essay, Notebooks is king when it comes to putting together chapters, notes, updates, interviews, and all the pieces that it takes to make a book. The first draft of my last book all came to ‘life’ in Notebooks before it slipped off to PC-land. Oh, and the author has been so open to suggestions for updates and changes, that I think of him as my buddy Alfons.
I’ve tested dozens of other note-taking / writing apps. Some of them are extremely interesting and visually striking (like BRID’s Awesome Note) though they don't lend themselves to making lengthy texts, others are… eh, so so. And of course there’s Apple’s IPad version of Pages, which I suppose is great if you needed to lay out a newsletter, but isn’t quite the tool I need for the word-making business.
I’m sure my heart will eventually be won by others apps and other gadgets, but for now this is the combo that allows me to do my job without needing to be at my desk.