It was a dark and stormy night…
Writers begin with an idea and let their imaginations lead into a journey that with a careful crafting of words eventually tell us a story. It’s a very personal process for what in the end most hope will turn into a very public presentation. Every writer is different and there are as many different ways of putting ideas into words as there are writers. Consequently, every writer also has his or her favorite tools for getting those ideas on to paper whether that be the digital version or the kind that comes from trees. Those who have moved on from paper and pen and typewriters to computers can now do so on even more mobile devices like the iPad. There a number of tools of the trade that offer those who earn their daily bread as a writer the opportunity to work with a smaller mobile device.
The type of writing one does affects the choice of tools. And for many the medium chosen to lay down words is as much a part of the creative process as are ideas and a command of language. Before typewriters the feel of a pen and paper for writers was very personal choice. It was also expensive in the days of quill and ink. It’s not much different in the digital age. Good writing tools typically cost money somewhere along the line. Here is a look at one writer’s Best iPad Writing Apps along with some other tools that might work for you depending on your needs. The Apps and tools are grouped under large categories.
Before we get into the Apps, let’s look at keyboards. The iPad comes with the iOS virtual on-screen keyboard, but for serious writing that may not be a choice for you. It’s not for me. For the iPad there are quite a few choices of third party Bluetooth enabled external keyboards for you to choose from. Prices range from $70 to $130 or so depending on the features and design that the keyboards offer. How your fingers meet the keys is very personal choice and not every keyboard will feel the same, although in the end they all offer the same mechanical method of input.
We’ve reviewed quite a few external keyboards on GBM and our iPad writers here each have their own favorite. Belkin, Zagg and Logitech each sell a variety of different types of keyboards; some that double as cases, or folios; some that are just keyboards with a notch to hold your iPad. And most full size Bluetooth keyboards originally designed for desktop computers will connect up to an iPad just fine. So there are a range of choices to fit just about any style and preference. We’ll list two different options here but know that there are many others reviewed in the pages of GBM. Links for some of those follow. Also know that a new round of external keyboards is about to debut from some of the makers listed above and in the links below.
ZAGGKeys Cover for the iPad Air
This is a personal and current favorite. It is a cover, not a case; meaning that it will fold over the display of the iPad Air to protect it during travel. The action of the keys is very conducive to my typing style and since I like to occasionally write on my porch late at night, having a backlit keyboard is a plus. A version exists for the iPad mini as well.
Here are links to reviews and coverage of third party iPad keyboards on GBM.
Apple Wireless Keyboard
While many of the external keyboards now contain most of the functionality of laptop and desktop keyboards, some may still prefer a full keyboard. For those who want a complete full sized keyboard to match up with the iPad, the Apple Wireless Keyboard is an excellent option. The Apple Wireless Keyboard costs $69.99 from Apple. It doesn’t attach to the iPad and it is longer in width than the iPad, so you’ll be carrying and using it as a separate accessory. There is an excellent case and stand option for the Apple Wireless Keyboard from Incase, called the Incase Origami WorkStation. It covers the keyboard (not the iPad) and the top cover folds out to create a stand for the iPad in portrait or landscape mode. The InCase Origami Workstation costs $29.95 from a variety of sources.
Heavy Lifting for Writers
For writers who aspire to novels, short stories, screenplays, plays or just have to create long and/or involved papers for school or work there are a variety of full featured (or close to it) word processing Apps for the iPad to choose from. Some are even specialized for certain types of writing.
Microsoft Word for iPad
With the release of Office Apps for the iPad, Microsoft has created a reasonably well featured, but still stripped down, version of Microsoft Word for the iPad. Most users will find Word for the iPad stocked with enough features to use for some complex writing work. To edit and create documents writers will need an Office 365 subscription that starts at $69.99 per year ($6.99 a month) and ranges to $99.99 per year ($9.99) a month. Word for the iPad is a free download. With an Office 365 account users receive 20GB of OneDrive Cloud storage for their documents.
Pages is Apple’s iWork App for word processing. Like Word for the iPad, it brings a rich enough feature set that will enable most writers to create complex documents. Pages is a free download and requires an Apple iCloud account to store documents. A free iCloud account provides 5GB of storage. More storage can be purchased through Apple. Pages is a free download.
Storyist is about as full a featured writer’s tool for the iPad as you’ll find. There is a fuller version for the Mac, and if you sense a theme that iPad versions of powerful writing tools don’t contain all of the features that their desktop siblings do, you are correct. But the fact that developers of Apps like Storyist can bring as rich a feature set to their iPad versions is very welcome.
Storyist is designed for the serious writer. You can write novels, screenplays, or just plain text creations. Beyond being a powerful writing tool, writers can create comments and note cards that are synced to the text to help them as they create their projects. There is a even an enhanced keyboard specifically designed for screenplay creation with special keys for standard industry notation. Storyist costs $9.99 for the iPad version and $59.99 for a digital download for a Mac.
Final Draft Writer
Final Draft Writer is targeted for those who want to see their creations on the silver screen or the stage. It’s a powerful professional tool used by many in Hollywood. Like the other power writing tools it is an iPad version of a popular desktop application. Final Draft 9 for the Mac costs $189 and Final Draft Writer for the iPad costs $29.99.
Writers can open and read any Final Draft 9 script within the iPad version or create a new screenplay, stageplay, or TV script. Features include the ability to scan through automatically paginated screenplays and Final Draft’s SmartType system, which allows a writer to automatically fill in character names and scene headings. Writers can view cast, scene, and location reports and lock down pages once they’ve got things exactly right. There are many more features as well. It’s a pro tool for script writing pros.
Lean and Spare Writing Tools
Some writers like a lean and spare empty canvas with no distractions when they sit down to write. This has become a trend and has led to a proliferation of Apps that offer a very clean and uncluttered way of getting your thoughts into words.
IA Writer is one of those “get everything out of the way so I can write” Apps and it gets out of the way very well, providing a clean and lean interface for your thoughts. It syncs with Dropbox or iCloud and there is a Mac version. IA Writer’s virtual keyboard adds extra keys above the standard keyboard for punctuation. IA Writer allows those who write for the web to use Markdown syntax as well. IA Writer for the iPad costs $4.99. The Mac version also costs $4.99.
I’m sure some will take me to task for not including Google Docs under the full featured tools above, but Google Docs belongs under the “Lean & Spare” category in my view. Google Docs is a new standalone word processing App (the editing used to be included in Google Drive) that has a minimal, but powerful, feature set for writers who prefer to live in Google’s online world. Google Docs is free and you receive 15GB of free Google Drive storage. You can’t create very complex documents in Google Docs, but for drafting and editing it can do the job.
Research and Quick Note Tools
Writing isn’t just about putting words down on paper or the digital screen. It often involves research and a gathering of notes. Three tools that offer quick collection methods for research are Evernote, Drafts, and OneNote.
In many respects Evernote could be included in most of the categories in this post. It has a nicely featured rich text editor, its own syncing capability, and the ability to add and categorize notes and your writings however you wish to. But I’ve included it here under Research and Collection Tools, because it is one of the easiest way to collect and store information from the web and elsewhere. Writers can also create notes and even full documents in text and also capture notes with audio or photos. Evernote is free as is Evernote cloud storage. There are premium plans available depending on your storage and additional feature needs.
Drafts is a handy tool that allows you to take quick notes and feed them to many other Apps and services. For those moments when you’re out and about and just need to jot down a quick inspiration that strikes you out of the blue, Drafts is a great way to hold on to that thought. Drafts costs $3.99 and is a universal App, so if you’re out and about with an iPhone and need to dictate a quick note it works very well.
OneNote for the iPad has been around for awhile, but recent updates make it a more capable tool for gathering and collecting data from the web. It is not as fully featured as Evernote, nor as flexible as it could be in the iPad version. Microsoft OneNote for the iPad is free and requires a free OneDrive account which you can start if you download the App. Higher priced storage options for OneDrive are also available.
Word Choice Tools
“Words, words, words” Hamlet says. They are the tools of the writers trade. And while some have an amazing command of language and can spew forth words at the tap of a key, others prefer to have tools like a dictionary and a thesaurus handy. There are a variety of dictionaries and thesauri in the App Store, some free and some paid. Familiar classics like selections form Merriam Webster, Oxford, and Roget appear along side other less familiar titles. Of course you can also use the web to search for spelling, synonyms, and antonyms.
Terminology 3 is an App that combines an dictionary, a thesaurus, and an audio pronunciation guide all in one. Search for a word and you’ll get a screen that gives you what you’re looking for. Terminology 3 costs $1.99.
Dictionary.com Dictionary and Thesaurus
Dictonary.com Dictionary and Thesaurus is a free ad supported App (a paid version is available) that provides you with definitions, synonyms, and antonyms, in addition to pronunciations.
You’re done writing and your creation needs to be shipped off to your agent or your publisher. Some of the more advance writing tools offer ways to turn your creation into a deliverable package and some do not. If you’re sending out a final version of one of your creations the best way to do so is as a PDF file.
PDF Converter for the iPad costs $6.99. The App will take documents you’ve created in Microsoft Word, Pages and other Apps into a PDF. Note there are quite a few Apps available in this category ranging from the free to paid professional versions.
There you have it. This list just begins to touch the wealth of writing tools available for the iPad. If you have a favorite we’d love to hear your suggestion in comments. The cliché that “writers write” is one that will always hold up and writers on the iPad can certainly live up to that cliché.
At the end of the day, when you’ve finished your writing chores and settled in for your favorite beverage, what tools you choose to write with is all about style, the task at hand, and finding the right combination that makes the creative process easier and more enjoyable. (It doesn’t hurt to have a favorite coffee mug and shot glass either.)