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Writing with an iPad: six-month review

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
3 min read

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.

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I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.