The iPad For Writers

Multitasking is for assholes.

No, no, I know, multitasking is the aegis of the modern man. “I’m walking. I’m talking. I’m chewing bubble gum with my mouth and… well, a couple other orifices. I’ve got a laptop strapped to my chest so I can: hammer out a spreadsheet, listen to Merle Haggard, watch the fuckthousandth version of Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday,’ read about the mating habits of the Vancouver Island stoat, play a little Bejeweled, and masturbate to animatronic animals like those found in Disney’s ‘Country Bear Jamboree.’ Ooh! And I’m on my way to kill a man in Reno just to watch him die. I’m a multitasker, motherfuckers.”

To repeat: multitasking is for assholes.

This is doubly triply quadruply true for we crazy creatures known as “writers.” Writing is a thing of focus. Imagine, if you will, that the train of thought is a very real vehicle, and once you’re on board, it’s best to stay on board. You go hopping on and off that damn thing like some kind of itinerant hobo, you’re going to, well, as the saying goes, lose your train of thought. You watch your mental caboose disappearing down the track. And then what happens? You get eaten by coyotes, that’s what happens.

This is of course why we have a new series of programmatic efforts to shut out distractions and keep you, the writer who has been trained that multitasking is the best thing since Jesus invented the jet-ski, focused. Write Or Die. Freedom. OmmWriter. And so on, and so forth.

Thus I give you: the iPad.

Apple’s iPad is a marvelous device for writers. I didn’t honestly know if it would be when I got mine. Writing is so often driven by a tactile feel: the clack-chack-zing of a typewriter translates to the PC keyboard, and here comes the iPad, which is really just a rectangle of glass. Do you really want to write a novel on a window pane?

Could be, rabbit, could be.

Here, then, are my thoughts on the iPad as a writer’s device. This is not meant to be the end-all be-all: this is just my set-up and why I diggit. If you’re a writer and have an iPad? Please do chime in.

It Is About Separation And Precision

The iPad allows you to easily take your little writer’s window (the device itself) and wander away from your desk. It takes you away from distraction, then gives you the precise tools you need to get the work done.

You might be saying, “But, dumbass, one’s iPad likely hosts an unholy array of distractions,” to which I would agree. I’ve got endless amusements: email, Twitter, World of Goo, Infinity Blade, Words With Friends, Netflix, recipe programs, Flipboard, blah blah blah. Here’s the difference, for me. Right now, my PC has 18 browser tabs open, and 12 programs open on the taskbar. Sometimes, I find myself flitting from tab to tab with no certainty why I’m doing so. It’s like, I have to click them just because they’re there. This is bad when writing, of course — “Did I just end a paragraph in the middle so I could go check a weather report I’ve already checked seven times this morning?” It’s like I have a disease.

The iPad, while still technically a “multitasking device,” does so, but in a reduced and less efficient way. And that lack of efficiency is a good thing, because really, the lack of efficient multitasking creates more efficient uni-tasking. Each app feels like an island, which is just what the doctor ordered.

The Setup

Here, then, how the iPad sits on my desk:

The iPad sits to the right of my computer. “Just another distraction,” you think, and yes, that can be true — but it’s very easy to grab it and walk out of my office. This is key. It also helps me shut down peripheral programs on my own PC and segue them to the iPad: while writing, I shut down everything on my PC but the work, then use the iPad to check Twitter periodically. It’s a trick, I know — but writers are loons, our brains like undisciplined terriers. Sometimes, you need Stupid Writer Tricks.

It rests on a 12 South Compass stand, which in a pinch will also serve as a baton to fight off ninjas or highjackers. Actually, no joke: possession of this device in your carry-on luggage will get you stopped every time, and they will ask you to take it out, and guards will show up to watch your movements as you reveal… ta-da, it’s just an iPad stand, not a Jihadist Infidel Cudgel.

The iPad sits in an Otterbox Commuter case, which is ruggedized to deal with a fall. I do this because I am easily as clumsy as a drunken baboon with a degenerative hip. Easily.

The most important part of my writerly iPad digs is the USB adapter… oh, I’m sorry, I mean, “camera adapter.” This device says it’s only good for connecting cameras to your iPad to download photos and videos. *poop noise* Not true! Not true at all. This little fucker is a straight-up cold-gangsta USB adapter. (“Cold-gangsta?” Shut up.) What this means is: that’s right, you can plug a sexual simulation device USB keyboard into the tablet. It’s funny, because even when you plug in the keyboard, the iPad tells you: “Oh, uhh, yeah, that device is totally unsupported. Just unplug it now. Don’t even try to type on it. You’ll fail. You’re doomed. Seriously, wait –” And then you try it and, oops, yeah, it works fine.

Typing on the capacitive screen isn’t terrible, but to get heavy-duty writing done, you’re gonna want a keyboard. And this lets you have that.

(Oh, and I have the Wi-Fi only iPad. This lends itself further toward the “minimal distraction” thing, because the inability to find a 3G signal is great: again, minimum multitasking leads to maximum output.)

The Apps

Of course, it’s all about the apps, baby.

Here, then, are the apps that inform my writer’s existence. In no particular order…

Dropbox: If you do not know and love the Dropbox, then I must wonder exactly when you suffered traumatic head injury. Dropbox lets you backup your wordmonkeying. Not iPad-specific, which means you can access it on whatever device you choose. Free.

PlainText: This is my word processor of choice on Ye Jolly Olde iPadde. It’s minimalist. It syncs to Dropbox. It counts your words. Great place to take notes or even write whole chapters. Doesn’t hurt that it’s totally free.

Kindle: Duh. Kindle. Books. iBooks is good, but has few books available. Free.

Netflix: You’re saying, “Another distraction, Wendig. I’m on to you, you sonofabitch. Trying to justify your bad behavior.” No, seriously, Netflix instant streaming is intensely useful as a writer. Great documentary work on there plus shows from History Channel and National Geographic. Good research material. See also: TED talks, which has an app. Free.

GoodReader: Read and annotate PDFs? Yes, please. I think it’s only a buck.

NoteTaker HD: Cool program that lets you use your finger (or a stylus, I guess) to take notes. But here’s where it really shines for me: writers get a lot of contracts, especially when freelance, and this lets you take a PDF and scrawl on it with your finger-pen. Which means you can sign PDF contracts, save ’em, and send those suckers right back to the client. No need to fuck around with printers and the post office. Five bucks.

Index Card: Great visual outlining tool that simulates the look of index cards on a corkboard. Great for hitting the beats or tentpoles in a planned fiction project. Can also turn into a line-item outline without the visuals, too, which is handy. Index Card is a writer’s best buddy. Oh! Syncs with Dropbox. Five bucks.

SketchBook Pro: I got this on sale for a couple bucks, but normally I think it runs about eight. I wouldn’t call this an essential in terms of writing-related apps since its straight-up visual, still, it’s nice to have some doodle space that is a little prettier than what you get with Note Taker.

Popplet: On the iPhone, I use SimpleMind, but only recently did SimpleMind get a native iPad app which will then cost me an additional seven bucks to buy — unfortunately, even though it appears universal, it’s not universal. Doesn’t much matter because in the meantime I got hooked into Popplet, which actually has greater functionality in some ways: drag-and-drop mind-maps can also include little doodles and images. This is, by the way, what the corkboard simulator Corkulous is missing — the ability to connect pieces together to create a kind of narrative flow. Five bucks.

2Do: Confession: I actually hate all of the iPhone/iPad “to-do” lists. I want items that I can schedule but also snooze, and so far, that just doesn’t seem to exist. This is the best I could find, but to be honest, most of my to-do stuff has segued to a whiteboard in my office.

What’s Missing?

I tried Scrivener for the PC and I just didn’t get my head around it. That said, I was busy on deadlines (when am I not?) and didn’t have time to dick around with new software. Even still, I could sense the potential, and think that on the iPad something like Scrivener would really rock. But I don’t know that an iPad version is planned? I remember reading it was, but now I can’t find the info. Hrm.

As yet, Final Draft is not on the device, though it is coming.

I wish for a greater web-clipping service, something that allows me to easily clip webby bits and incorporate them immediately and easily into my workflow (Index Card, Popplet, etc).

Speaking Of Workflow

Generally speaking, I do not write large swathes of story on the iPad. I use the PC for that, but I can believe that the days of the desktop write-machine will draw to a close over the next couple years. At present, the iPad is a super-capable organizational device. I keep the iPad handy to take notes, to arrange materials, to do some “on-screen thinking out-loud,” and, yes, to play some motherfucking Words With Friends. It is an elegant supplement to the writer’s life, and actually does a lot of what I want to do, except mysteriously it does it better than the PC, which often can barely do the things I want it to do in the first damn place. Good mind-map? Not on the PC. Index card outlining? Not on the PC. Sign contracts with the magic of my middle finger? Not on the PC. The iPad is this weird little happy box, this wonderful magic window.

In the end, the iPad is like a little helper monkey.

A penmonkey for the penmonkey, perhaps.

Should you rush out and buy one if you’re a writer? Well. That’s on you. It’ll help, but it’s also not a necessary device. Still, note that it is tax deductible if you’re a working writer and, further, is a suitable notebook/laptop replacement (in my opinion), and manages to be a helluva lot cheaper, to boot. So, YMMV and all that, but the iPad will supplement your writing life in a meaningful way.

Plus: PORTABLE ANIMATRONIC BEAR PORN.

I mean, uhhh.

*smoke bomb*