Writing Tools on iPad and NaNoWriMo End Notes

Writing on the iPad

The ideal writing setting. Nice view of passers-by, a cup of warm beverage, and a working machine.

November is over, you basked in post-glow in crossing a big thing off your checklist. And now what?

First up, I’d like to share my experience writing on the iPad. This year I completely did the NaNoWriMo on the iPad. Turned out to be a really great tool for the first drafts and here’s why:

  • It’s light (around 1 kg with the external keyboard), so it doesn’t break my back. My back has enough strain from sitting around doing computer work all day, this doesn’t have to add up to it.
  • The battery lasts forever… at least a whole working day, which would be around 8-10 hours.
  • Less procrastinating. Because… well you know, iPad can’t multitask so you really felt it when switching windows. In this case: It’s perfect.

Convinced yet? Now in order to write comfortably on the iPad, I would need a real keyboard.

What I have is a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. It is quite pricey, but it’s a very good keyboard (one of the most comfortable one I’ve used – and I’m picky). Also it doubled as an iPad cover and stand. It also looks very pretty and well designed to fit with the iPad. Totally recommending this one.

And then, of course it would not be possible without the apps on top of it. Being a software geek, I tested a handful of them, and here are the ones I used in November:

  1. Dropbox. This is very important for me. Cannot stress enough of BACKING UP your work. Things could get broken, stolen, or just plain not working anymore. Plus if you syncing things with Dropbox, you could continue writing on your phone for those 15 minutes window waiting for someone or sitting on the train.
  2. PlainText. It’s my favorite writing tool, also on the iPhone. It’s not fancy but it works wonderfully. It syncs with Dropbox, you can work completely offline, the display type is perfect. You can have a full screen or a split screen where you can see your file list on the folder you’re in, in alphabetical order (very important for my workflow!)
  3. iA Writer. Also a good writing tool, it also syncs with Dropbox but you can’t access the Dropbox files when you’re offline (it accessed Dropbox directly vs creating a local storage). It sorted out files based on last modified, not really ideal for me. But one thing I love about it was when I don’t have the keyboard on. iA Writer provided extra symbols on top of the virtual keyboard which made typing stories easier.
  4. Google Drive. I need to mention this just in case you would like to have something with some fancier text capability. Bold, italics, change of fonts, etc. It’s free, sync with Google Drive (which has a free 5GB storage). The only downside is you can’t work offline. Dealbreaker, but good enough for viewing your synopsis, for example, as you can view saved documents offline.

Those are the tools I used for November. Is it enough to produce a real novel? I have yet to see that, but it’s definitely enough to chug out 50.000 words.


Astrid (1) : Excuses (0).

Which brought me to the second point: What have I learned from it this time around?

  • I can’t work full time and write a 50k novel. There are people who can do this, but I’m not one of them. I could finish this one because I have one week off and dedicated myself to writing 5k a day for 6 days in a row.
  • Writing a full synopsis before the month helped A LOT. I could ask my friends for opinions and possible plot holes are visible. Yes, things could change along the way, but the “no plot no problem” attitude would just not work for me.
  • My comfortable working pace, setting aside 1-2 h a day for writing, would be between 500-1000 words a day. And I need a break without feeling guilty on the weekend.
  • NaNoWriMo is also good to just write different possibilities of a scene (they all counted as word count!) and just write down the expansion of the synopsis. I do a lot of telling this way, but it’s okay, work on that on the next iteration (I hope).
  • Having friends who cheered you up is great, but sometimes having someone who constantly bragging about their word count is not. I always felt like I’m lagging behind (which I am). But the point is, everyone has their own pace, stick to yours, don’t compare yourself with others.
  • I always tend to write half of the novel on the last week. I accepted that now, I see it as my brain needed to simmer the idea before throwing it up on the last days.
  • My NaNoWriMo drafts were never going to be near readable to anyone. It’s also okay. As long as I would keep working on it (which was the part I failed miserably in the past years… this will change this year, I have plans, people!)


Writing Tools – Software

I have only been full time writing for a year, and being the geek that I am, I used to try many writing softwares. But softwares comes and goes… and in the end I kept coming back to these three tools (for Windows, as I only own a PC). So I thought I’d mention it:

Microsoft Word

Some people hate it, some people swear by it. Me? I don’t say it’s perfect, but I like it. You have to learn to use it properly, with the document map, headings, and style. Stick to it, and it is a powerful tool. I especially love the grammar check. it’s a good first point of checking IMHO. One possible flaw is that sometimes it couldn’t handle long documents nicely (novels and especially table/graph laden documents like thesis/dissertation). And that’s why the next tool come in handy.

Chapter by chapter (http://pagesperso-orange.fr/sebastien.berthet/cbc/index.html)

It’s a freeware tool for Microsoft Word, and it only work on Windows. It works like a document map, but instead of working in a huge file, it creates a new file for each chapter. You could see the word count of each chapter and the total word count for the novel. You could flag a finished chapter, enter some notes, and create a compiled document where all the separate chapter is merged into a single file -> THE NOVEL ;).

Celtx (http://celtx.com/)

It’s an open source tool for Windows and Mac, originally designed for media pre-production. The first time I used it is for a scriptwriting – Script Frenzy challenge three years ago. Now I use it to keep track of my characters, plots, and outline. I still wish they would enhance it for novel writing with separate chapters, then it would be my perfect tool. One can only hope ;).

That’s all the software I need for cranking up that novel :).

Thesis Writing: LaTeX vs Word? – Part 1

I have done both. Microsoft Word for writing my Bachelor thesis and LaTeX for my Master thesis. I learned that both has its better and worse features and neither is superior in all aspects. It all depends on your needs.

I’m going to post my experiences using Microsoft Word 2007 and LaTeX under Windows XP in several parts. Here comes part 1, which is about the installation and document structures.

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