Writers’ Tools

I may be a writer and actor by choice, but I was a techno geek for far too long for me to ignore the tools I use for writing.

20121212-131426.jpgIt’s been nearly a year since I gave up on the dear old DataChugger LD and asked for an iPad for Christmas. In the two years since I posted about the LifeDrive, the Internet (in particular electronic publishing) had been moving on, and the LifeDrive had stayed put. Software was no longer being updated. I couldn’t buy new books from my favorite authors to read on it any more.

My first thought was to get an iPod Touch (the monthly bills for an iPhone being in the “You gotta be kidding!” range), but the iPad won my heart in the Apple Store with its amazingly light weight and comparatively large screen area. Hubby generously gifted me with an iPad 2 for Christmas 2011.

I have not regretted my choice. My old books from the LifeDrive have moved over to Nook, new ones have been acquired on Kindle, both of which have iPad apps. The mobile hotspot I’d gotten to feed Internet to the LifeDrive works just as well with the WiFi-only iPad.

But then, in May 2012, I decided to take another whack at writing with Camp NaNoWriMo in June. I’d also replaced my ancient Mac with a new Mac Mini two years ago– which meant that I had NO tools to write with, as my Microsoft Word was too ancient to run on the newer Mac.

This resulted a great deal of flailing around, and acquisition of free and cheap software for the Mac and the iPad. (How happy is she? As happy as a geek on a software buying spree.) Here’s my current suite of tools.

Hardware:

  • Mac Mini with max memory available in 2010
  • 32Gb iPad 2 WiFi only
  • ZAGGkeys SOLO Bluetooth keyboard. (Can’t do serious writing without a keyboard. Sorry, Apple.)
  • Novatel 4260L mobile 4G LTE hotspot.

Software:

  • Scrivener. This Mac program is amazing. All the frustration of trying to build a REALLY LARGE document in Word, or any other word processor is gone. It even claims to remove distractions with its “composition mode.” (Ha. Might work for you. My brain creates its own distractions.)
  • Textilus. This IOS app (iPad side) lets me write on the iPad and sync with Scrivener without chewing up my data allowance. It is not the polished tool that Scrivener is, but it does what it does reasonably well.

Network services:

  • Dropbox. Without this free cloud service, using my iPad to write would be hard; iCloud isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. All my files are on their server AND on my Mac, AND available to my iPad. This is the substructure that enables Scrivener and Textilus to be in sync.
  • LogMeIn.This is a free (for what I want to do, at least) remote desktop service. If what I want to do absolutely cannot be done on the iPad, I fire up LogMeIn, connect the iPad client to the server installed on my Mac, and do it from my Mac. Wherever. (Note: it only works well if a 4G connection is available. It will work over 3G, but is ssslllooowww, and drops a lot.) While I can write without this on the iPad (and had to, while I was in the Sierras), it makes life easier. In fact, with this and a bluetooth keyboard, why bother with a laptop? Your tablet or smartphone will happily pretend it’s your desktop computer for those things that a tablet/smartphone can’t do. Yet. The only drawback: it tends to use a lot of data on my data plan.

Things I tried that didn’t really work for me:

  • Open Office. This free Mac Microsloth Office replacement is awkward, and even slower than the original. It is usable for small projects. I use it for spreadsheets, mostly.
  • QuickOffice Pro HD. Nothing wrong with it, as MS Office tools for the iPad go, and I use it for spreadsheets, letters, etc. But– it won’t edit files from Scrivener without losing formatting.
  • Index Card. This iPad app syncs with Scrivener and allows you to structure (outline) stuff in much the same way as Scrivener, but while the ordering part of the structure is transferred to and from Scrivener, the hierarchy is not. Also, no formatting available for main text you write in IndexCard, and it loses formatting from Scrivener. I spent too much time duplicating effort.

That’s the lot. Oh, there are all the usual wonderful widgets on my iPad, and on my Mac Mini, but these are the ones I use for writing. Other writers: What do you use?

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