A Tool For Writing

I write alot. It is what I do, possibly more than any other waking activity apart from breathing.

My tool of choice is rarely a pen and paper. While I have a romantic notion of the appeal of a hard nib scratching across the rough texture of real paper, turning ephemeral ideas into a flow of tangible ink, that remains just that: a notion. Most of my words ultimately wind up in electronic form. I am inherently too lazy to write something twice, so my writing starts where it is going to finish. I write using technology.

Traditionally, that has meant a computer and a word processor. My earliest word processor was WordPerfect (version 4.2, if you must know the details). After many years, I made the transition to Microsoft Word, around the time that computers transitioned to Windows (for yes, there is such an archeological period). And there I remained for the better part of two decades. The computers got progressively (and thankfully) smaller, but the fundamental interface remained the same. If I wanted to write, I needed to sit before a computer.

When I got an iPad, I did not practically or primarily consider it a writing tool. There was no keyboard. Nor was there any handwriting recognition. Typing using a screen didn’t seem terribly practical. I can type almost as fast as I can think, and the lack of a keyboard appeared to be a giant dam in my stream of thought. So, despite efforts to write on the iPad, nothing really stuck. I have purchased many journalling and note-taking applications, and with one notable exception I use precisely none of them.

That changed when I discovered an iPad application developed by Information Architects. Called iA Writer, it had an astonishingly simple feature set. You get a blank white screen. A flashing curser. A keyboard. And perceptually very little else. That is its brilliance and its beauty – its focus is writing, and only writing. No distractions. No formatting. Just you, your ideas and a place to write them.

The more I used it, the more I fell in love with iA Writer. For there were features, but they were subtle. Essential. Just what was needed. The keyboard, for example, adds an additional row of keys that provide critical punctuation that is usually hidden, and cursor-control functions that usually don’t exist. The menu bar, which hides discretely out of sight when not needed, provides a count of words and characters. The app is now cloud-enabled, meaning that whatever I write is now directly available on whatever writing device I happen to use.

The choice of devices has also broadened. Some months after I first discovered iA Writer, a version was released of the Mac. In the past couple of weeks, a version has also been released for the iPhone. And if I was questioning of my ability to write on an iPad, I was downright astonished that I could on my phone. And yet, I can. In my first use of the phone version, I wrote two 600-plus word articles, all while sitting in a departure lounge waiting to board a plane. I have never previously written anything on my phone longer than an email.

What I love about iA Writer is its simplicity, its growing ubiquity, and its singular focus. It does not try to be all things to all people for all purposes; it exists to do one thing, and to do it as simply and easily as possible. And it does that very, very well indeed. Now if only there was a version for Windows, too…

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