“One upon a time …” Well, ok, you wouldn’t start a story like that anymore. You’ll probably have a much more striking idea for the opening which will make the reader of your short story or novel or poem crave to read more. But if the muse strikes you, where do you write it down? What if you don’t happen to have pen and paper or a smartphone with you? Or: how do you write professionally while not at your desk?
With National Novel Writing Month coming up, a 30 day frenzy of writing an entire novel, I took a look at the options the iPad offers us. And even if you’re not ready to lose yourself in NaNoWriMo, some of these writing apps might just fit your needs anyway if you are a serious journal keeper or have other professional writing needs.
What To Look For In a Writing App
Since there are many different types of writers out there, no single app will fit all their needs. But these are the criteria I’ve been looking for in preparing for NaNoWriMo:
- the ability to flesh out characters and scenes in separate documents, which should be easily accessible while writing
- to have separate documents per chapter, but all chapters to a story should be assembled within one larger “container” so there will be no mix-ups if one’s writing more than one story at a time (or separate articles or journals)
- the ability to sync what has been written as comfortably as possible to a desktop computer or at least to an online service from where it’s accessible
Of course there are other criteria, but these are the most important ones for me. Taking these into account, let’s look at the following four apps.
Chapters for iPad is an excellent application when it comes to chronicles or to keeping a journal. If desired, different larger events – for example a journal of life in general and a journal of a trip – can be separated into different chapters (documents). Within a chapter, entries are done chronologically, but with the option to adjust dates so entries for past events are no difficulty.
I am unsure as how to practical the app is for actual novel writing; it certainly doesn’t fit my writing style. But for a journal, it comes close to perfect. The interface is well designed and the app allows for a number of adjustments, ranging from font-size and font-face over the adjustable color of the background to the ability to password protect whatever you have written. I especially like that I can attach photos to entries, which in my opinion is essential for keeping a journal of my life’s events.
The export options are also noteworthy: you can send your entries to Google Docs, you can email them or create PDF’s or complete web pages (the two latter can be accessed via the Apps tab in iTunes and they include your photos too!).
Verdict: Chapters is not really a novel writing app, but an excellent journal app. As long as you’re waiting for Momento to come out on the iPad, Chapters can be a worthy replacement (or if you neither want or need social media integration, it could be THE journaling app for you).
My Writing Nook allows for separate entries, which are all stored in one location. There are no different notebooks to separate content belonging to different stories or articles. Instead, you can give each entry a different color label, which can serve to distinguish quickly between character notes, chapters, or research done on a subject. More importantly, the colors serve an ordering purpose – all notes with the same color code are grouped together. Through this application of color coding even different stories can be easily separated from each other.
Aspects to also consider in My Writing Nook are the capabilities to switch between a dark and light screen mode (good for writing in the evening or at night), to set a password and to sync via Google Docs. Also worth mentioning is the app’s capability to look up words in an online dictionary or thesaurus – a feature which My Writing Nook shares with only Manuscript, a much more advanced (and pricier) app.
Verdict: if you are looking for color coding and the ability to adjust font-faces, sizes and colors, but don’t need extra sorting or filtering options, My Writing Nook might just fit your needs.
Manuscript for iPad comes with a beautiful interface that spells novel writing at every opportunity. It’s where beauty marries function and a wonderful writing app emerges. Content can be divided into separate books (and they look just like books too); you can add a pitch for every story and a synopsis. Above all, you have index cards. Doesn’t sound exciting, but if you have ever juggled different characters, chapter concepts, story lines etc you will appreciate the concept of having them neatly arranged on virtual cards (on the Mac, Scrivener uses the same formula). You can color code them to represent different content.
In the actual writing screen you have your chapters to the left with a short summary of what’s happening. The left pane can disappear and so you’ll have the entire screen for your writing, distraction free. A specialty of Manuscript are the build in research tools. You can quickly jump into Google, Wikipedia or the thesaurus with just two taps. While looking up stuff so easily rocks, it would be great if I could also import that content, say as an index card (thinking of Scrivener again here).
When it comes to settings, you can only chose between two different fonts and different paper backgrounds for the writing area. Nothing spectacular, but the again the question is – do you really need more? Manuscript syncs with a service that is quite popular, Dropbox, and offers export in HTML, RTF and TXT format.
Verdict: Manuscript does exactly as its name implies – it makes it very easy and comfortable to write a novel by providing a number of needed tools (synopsis, index cards), which make the use of the app fun and engaging.
This app came as a surprise – or to be specific: the wealth of functions Notebooks offers took me by surprise. I had almost decided on Manuscript as my go to app for the upcoming NaNoWriMo, but Notebooks brings on some serious competition.
Since I can’t dive into all the features it had to offer, let me focus on the most remarkable ones: first, the ability to structure content. On multiple levels! You can have separate notebooks for different stories and within a notebook, you can have notes (in my example called chapters) and books, which in turn can again contain notes and books. This way, you can generate a hierarchical structure to contain your content (did I mention you can color code books?).
Second, you can also generate to-do lists, that can hold items with due dates. If an item is due today, the checkbox turns orange and an extra “book” appears that shows your due items. In addition, the app icon sports a red badge with the number of due items. By tapping list items, you can either mark them as being processed, done or delete them.
The app is also available for the iPhone, with both the iPad and iPhone version supporting various synchronization methods. In the next version of Notebooks, Dropbox support is planned as well as support for tags and handwritten notes.
Verdict: Notebooks for iPad is a very mighty app with excellent content-structuring features. The task management integration allows for reminders about research and other tasks, which can be handy if you just want to remind yourself of something later but not significantly disturb your workflow by changing to another app.
It’s hard to recommend any of the reviewed apps – not because they are not useful, but because every writer will have different preferences. For eager journal keepers, Chapters will be the go-to app with its photo integration and date-based entry approach. For simple writing needs that exceed the included Notes app by Apple, My Writing Nook might suffice – it’s color coding capabilities and interface adjustment options lift it above free apps like Simplenote as well.
For really serious novel writers, Manuscript will definitely be worth trying out with its very structured approach to writing; and Notebooks for iPad might appeal to both novel writers and researchers (journalists, students, bloggers etc) with its wealth of included features.