Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mobile Writing Tools: TaskPaper and WriteRoom

Scott D. Parker

As fellow DSDer, Dave White, stated on Thursday, after a time, you can run out of writing things to talk about. I mean, he's right, you know. There is no substitute to sitting your butt down in a chair (or stand, as I've come to do more and more) and just write. A writing utensil and a canvas is all you need. That, and time. And patience to get better. Talent helps.
But in this digital age, we do have options. Shakespeare, Byron, and Twain wrote longhand. Hemingway and Lester Dent used a typewriter. Modern writers have computers that can do more than any lithographer ever dreamed possible. In an age where computers used to take up whole rooms, now, we have laptops that can run circles around the UNIVACs that powered the Apollo missions. I don't know about y'all, but there are times when my slender MacBook Pro is simply too cumbersome to lug around to the office, especially if I'm having to carry the laptop of my day job.

Enter the iPod Touch. I mentioned that got mine in April with the goal of having it take the place of my iPod nano (for music), Palm Pilot (for ebooks), and Moleskine (for note taking). What I didn't realize is that it also subverted my laptop as my go-to, mobile writing device.

There are lots of apps out there for writers. I use a combination from Hog Bay Software: the iPhone versions of TaskPaper and WriteRoom. As I'm conceiving of my next, big novel, I tote around my iPod Touch (iPod, from here on out). If I have an idea for the story, I break out the iPod, launch TaskPaper, and enter the idea. Yes, I don't use TaskPaper as a to-do list, as it was originally intended. I use it as a repository of ideas, sketches, and, very soon, actual prose. Like the maxim that the reader completes the writing process, the user completes a piece of software, even if that use is not what the framers had intended.

The beauty of this method is the syncing. The iPhone versions of TaskPaper and WriteRoom sync with, a website hosted by Jesse Grosjean, the owner/developer of these wonderfully minimal apps. As long as I have a wifi connection, the ideas I jot down in TaskPaper are automatically synched with SimpleText. Then, later, when I return home to my MacBook, I sync the SimpleText site with the actual text files I keep on my hard drive. Voila! All ideas preserved, in more than one place in more than one media. It's almost foolproof.

All of this can be done using the on-screen touch keyboard. I've gotten pretty adept at typing with my thumbs. But these are all short bursts of creativity. What about the time when I plan to make prose. Will I have the patience to thumb chapters into existence?

What tipped the scales in the iPod-as-writing-tool debate was a bluetooth keyboard. I bought the Apple one, not for any slavish devotion to the company but, rather, for synchronicity. It just works with the tools I have. Linking the keyboard to the iPod is simple. Launching WriteRoom (the app I'm using to write this post) is simple. Then, as if by magic (it really feels that way sometimes), I start typing and the letters appear. It's brilliant! And It has allowed me to leave my laptop at home. Now, prose can spew forth from my brain and my keyboard and iPod can keep up.

I haven't start prose creation yet but I will soon. Another great feature of SimpleText is that is syncs (read: imports) with Scrivener. Scrivener can "see" SimpleText and import any and all files into itself. Ever more fun and ease is to be had by this working method.

It's pretty darn nifty, this technology. But it still doesn't compare with Rule #1: Just Write. My own version of Rule #1 is this: Just Write. However You Want To.


David Cranmer said...

Touching on a small segement of your post, I have been standing while writing. It helps with reducing the runaway tummy and I find ideas flow better.

Scott Parker said...

David - Writing while standing is exhilarating, especially when writing action scenes. Right now, I have a standing desk (only computer there; an old server desk) that is separate from my actual writing desk. I'm thinking about building a portable standing desk platform that I can put on/remove from my writing desk.