My writing tools

Now that I’m one of the beta testers of The Soulmen’s new creation, Daedalus—the writing app for the iPad I’m using to write this post—I find myself in a bit of a pickle. The reason is that I have too many writing tools, and still get way too little writing done.1 

Let’s not consider Pages, which is a writing tool only by common misconception—rather, it’s a layout tool, and so is Microsoft Word, which I haven’t used in a couple of years. Now I find myself with three main writing applications: on the Mac, Notational Velocity and Ulysses; on the iPad, iA Writer. Since each of them kicks major ass in its own specific ways, it’s hard—and it makes no sense—to let any of them go. But now that I’m testing Daedalus, I may find myself acquiring more head-scratching writing power.

Notational Velocity is my latest acquisition. It may be free, but its name doesn’t lie: it makes note-taking a very easy and quick operation. Plus, since it constantly monitors a specific folder on my Mac (turning any new text files into new notes) I use Dropbox to keep it in sync with iA Writer. Whether I’m here or there, on the Mac or on the iPad, I can keep writing and editing the same stuff without having to remember to copy files over from one device to the other. 

One great thing about iA Writer is that it shows, along with word count, the approximate reading time of the whole document, and of the document up to the active line. I like it so much I’m tempted to become one of those people who read papers at conferences instead of presenting them.2

Then there’s Ulysses, also by The Soulmen, which I use to keep complex writing projects organized. You know when you have folders full of Word documents relating to the same project, which also take forever to load? No need for that anymore. Plus, Ulysses is a fully customizable semantic editor, which means that if I want to change the default markup and, for example, use Markdown instead, I can.3 Ulysses colors and formats my markup, so it’s more easily recognizable while I write, and can export everything to a number of file types, including Word and PDF.

My favorite among Ulysses’s features—which I understand was something The Soulmen came up with, and was promptly copied by a number of other writing apps—is typewriter-style scrolling. No more will I get a wryneck from staring at the bottom of the screen: whether in regular window mode or in full-screen mode, Ulysses will keep the line where the cursor is at the center of the screen. Jack Kerouac would have like it, I think.

The downside is that once a document finds its way into Ulysses, using it outside Ulysses and away from the Mac becomes a bit of a chore, since it must then be synchronized manually. However, I’m sure The Soulmen will eventually come up with a brilliant solution. 

So, where does Daedalus stand among these other tools? I don’t know yet. I like the concept of stacks of documents, which remind me of Ulysses projects, which synchronize as folders of text files to MobileMe or Dropbox. Unfortunately, the fact that Daedalus creates folders gets in the way of proper synchronization with either iA Writer or Notational Velocity, thus adding another layer of complexity to my workflow. 

I also like the Readability- or Instapaper-like ability to change the appearance of the page. I like the type size, smaller than in iA Writer—but people whose eyes are less like Clark Kent’s than mine are may see it4 differently.

I’ll make no decisions until Daedalus gets out of beta. I have the feeling that I like all these applications so much I’ll keep using them all, depending on my mood and on the kind of writing task I’m performing.

  1. Not entirely true: between project briefs and project notes, memos for clients, and a certain number of tweets, I really can’t say I never write. ↩︎

  2. But worry not, I won’t. ↩︎

  3. And I do. Since I use Markdown on all my web projects at this point, switching to a different markup system on some projects is just not practical.  ↩︎

  4. Get it? ↩︎