Apps for Writing on the iPad

ipad writing apps

Writing on the iPad was one of the main excuses I came up with for getting this elegant piece of technology. After purchasing it, I soon realized that it wasn’t as useful as I thought it would be for writing. The main problem was the on-screen keyboard, but there was also a serious lack of writing-focused apps.

Six months after the iPad’s debut, the app situation, at least, has changed for the better. While I have discovered that when I need to do some heavy writing — for Nanowrimo, for instance — the iPad’s screen can’t compete with pounding out my words on my laptop. Still, for writing out short notes or a contemplative journal entry, I now use the iPad quite a bit for writing. Here’s what I have found works best for me.

The apps

After trying out many different apps with many different approaches, I have narrowed my tools down to two: Writer.ia and PlainText. Both are well-designed, simple tools that do what they do without a lot of fluff and features I don’t need in order to just sit down and write. I tend to draft in one and revise in the other.

PlainText is probably the app I use the most for writing on the iPad. As its name suggests, it’s just plain text, no fancy formatting options, no bullet lists, alignment options — you can’t even change the font. It’s extremely useful for writing lists, quick notes, outlines and other things I just need to dash out quickly. I’ve used a few other tools by the developer of PlainText, including the awesome Writeroom, and he really promotes the idea of simplicity in software, for which I am thankful. PlainText is free, but I’d have no problem paying for it.

plaintext ipad app screenshot

PlainText Screenshot

Writer.ia is well suited for working on longer projects. It has its own custom keys to move between words and give you quick access to punctuation marks and other keys that are clumsy to get to if you’re using the on-screen keyboard. Combined with the Focus mode that keeps your view focused on the three center lines of text (see screenshot below), I think the app is particularly useful for editing and revising longer pieces of writing. Writer.ia is not free and, while its $4.99 price tag may seem exorbitantly expensive in the app world (I’m being mostly sarcastic — there’s a lot of irrationality when it comes to judging the price of apps), I found it was worth the five bucks.

writer app ipad screenshot

Writer.ia Screenshot

If you’re so inclinded, you can read more about how these two apps differ in this side-by-side review on GigaOm.

Keeping it all organized

The tool that keeps all of this remote, mobile writing painless is a service called Dropbox. Up to a certain amount of storage, Dropbox is free and it pretty seamlessly keeps my documents synced between my computers and mobile devices. It’s a great way to keep everything I’m writing accessible and organized. I’ve been using it for a few years for various reasons and since I got the iPad, I use it daily.

For writing in the cloud, I could use Google Docs but I actually find that service a little bit frustrating and the fact that I couldn’t edit documents on mobile devices always kept the big G at a distance for me.

I put this system through its paces while trying to write my novel for Nanowrimo this year. It didn’t help me actually finish it, but I’ll keep this workflow going as I keep plugging away on it.

If you have any apps or services that help you get your writing down, wherever and whenever, let me know. I’m a huge nerd about this kind of stuff…

Here are some other articles taking a look at various  iPad writing apps:

If you liked this article at After the MFA, come check out my other web project The Slow Man. I’m talking about creativity, productivity, work/life balance, slowing down and enjoying life with a glass of scotch and a cigar

Comments 2

  1. Roy Burkhead wrote:

    Nice post. I use an iPad as well for my writing, both long emails and my creative stuff. I experienced the same scenarios that you mentioned. Something that helped is the Apple bluetooth keyboard. It has made all the difference! Also, beyond this post, I enjoy your blog. I earned a MFA in Writing back in 2004, and I hear yah!

    Posted 02 Dec 2010 at 9:10 am
  2. Gordon wrote:

    @Roy Burkhead: Thanks for your comments. They’re very much appreciated. I have thought about the bluetooth keyboard, but kind of prefer the self-contained nature of carrying around the iPad alone. I may take a closer look at one at another time.

    Take care,

    Posted 04 Dec 2010 at 3:05 pm

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