How we write for iMore: Our workflows from Mac to iPad to iPhone and back!

Rene Ritchie, editor-in-chief

Most of what we do here at iMore is write. We put words up onto the internet, and millions of them a year. Managing what we write, however, across Mac, iPad, and iPhone, from idea to draft to final, can often be more complicated than we like, involving different sync solutions and different apps, not to mention our web-based content management system. Each of us has our own workflows, and our own toolkits to accomplish them.

Here's what we're using to write, right now...

Leanna Lofte, app and photography editor

Leanna Lofte, app and photography editor

I've had enough painful experiences losing work to learn that I need to write "offline" instead of directly in Drupal 7, the content management framework we use for iMore. My text editor of choice, right now, is iA Writer. It offers a clean, distraction-free environment that makes it easy for me to focus on my work. 90% of my writing is done on my iMac, 5% on my Macbook Air, and the other 5% on my iPhone and iPad. iA Writer uses iCloud to keep everything in sync making it easy to jump between devices. I'm also a fan of Byword, but since it doesn't automatically chose iCloud as the place to save, I've opted to use iA Writer -- there has been too many times I couldn't access something I needed on a device when I wasn't home.

One time, I actually used Siri to dictate an entire article while driving to work. It was a time-sensitive piece that I didn't quite have time to finish before leaving, so I grabbed my Macbook Air, dictated on my way, then hopped onto my laptop to paste and publish in the few minutes I had before class started.

Chris Parsons, editor-at-large

Chris Parsons, editor-at-large

I don't really do any writing on my iOS devices. I do however; rely on Evernote for noting things I may need to remember later on and ideas that I come up with for articles. It all syncs up perfectly so when it comes time to refer to those notes and ideas, they're all on my Mac through the Evernote app or through the web login.

When it comes to getting down to business though, I'm really bad at concentrating and getting the task done some days. So, to help with that I cut my internet off and hop into WriteRoom. It's a pretty basic offering compared to a lot of other apps out there but it works for me, especially with the black theme.

Since it's just a blank, black page, you either write or go insane from boredom.

Peter Cohen, managing editor

Peter Cohen, managing editor

I have tried, and failed, to use my iPad for writing ever since I bought it. Maybe if I had an external keyboard it would be different, but trying to write anything longer than a quick e-mail or a tweet using the on-screen keyboard is difficult for me. So I do almost all my writing on my Macs - a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro with Retina Display, or MacBook Air, depending on where I am.

I've written for the Web for almost two decades now, and I've used BBEdit for almost that long. No other text editor comes close for me when it comes to the flexibility and power I'm looking for to edit and transform text. At this point I'm pretty hard-wired to need BBEdit to be productive. I admit that I'm only using a small percentage of BBEdit's capabilities, but it's so finely customized for my workflow, I can't imagine using anything else.

I also appreciate that Bare Bones makes available TextWrangler, a free text editor that uses the same core technology as BBEdit. It makes it easier for folks who don't have the coin to buy BBEdit to use some of the same features. And it's a clever gateway drug to BBEdit, to boot.

Richard Devine, senior editor

If I need to just note down some ideas quickly, the stock Notes app on the iPhone or iPad is the go to choice. It syncs back to my Mac so my thoughts are there when I get back to the computer and start to get down to work.

In terms of the actual writing, I've been a fan of iA Writer for some time now. It's a basic text editor with iCloud sync, so like with Notes, all of my stuff is on all of my devices all of the time. I love the simplicity of iA Writer -- it's just text, no toolbars. I'm also a big fan of the focus mode that will highlight only the sentence you're working on and fading out the rest of your text. Really helps me to concentrate.

From there it's into iMore, add all the Markdown links and off to the Internet!

Ally Kazmucha, how-to editor

Ally Kazmucha, how-to editor

I do a good majority of my writing on my iMac. It's very seldom I actually write within an actual content management system such as Wordpress or Drupal. There's just been too much heartache when it comes to saving work and getting errors. It's never fun to lose things.

My weapon of choice is Byword. It uses iCloud to keep your documents in sync across all devices and has apps for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. While I spend most of my time writing on my iMac, there are times I want to get out of the house or the office and write at Starbucks or another local coffee shop. Instead of lugging around my MacBook Pro, I simply take my iPad and a keyboard case. Then when I get home, I just copy and paste everything where it needs to be and embed images. Since Byword supports markdown, I've already gotten all my links done ahead of time.

While Byword may not be the most powerful solution around, it does all I need it to do and it's a great option for students writing papers, editors, or anyone else that wants the flexibility of writing from multiple devices.

Rene Ritchie, editor-in-chief

Rene Ritchie, editor-in-chief

I use a combination of tools, depending on what I'm doing and where I'm trying to do it. If I'm driving or otherwise occupied, I use Siri to quickly jot stuff down into Notes. That syncs between iOS and Mac, so at the very least I don't forget about or lose ideas (it's become a natural language clipboard of sorts). When attention isn't an issue, I use Drafts for the same purpose. Drafts lets me type or dictate ideas without having to worry about where it'll eventually end up. As I've said many times before, it's time-shift for text.

When I'm sitting down to write, all proper and formal like, it's almost always in BBEdit on the Mac. I don't even use 1% of its potential, but what I do use is so damn powerful I can pretty much accomplish anything text-based that I can imagine. I write in John Gruber's Markdown, so while the text is plain, it's also formatted and highly portable.

When I have to collaborate with Kevin from CrackBerry or Phil from Android Central, I'll have to use Google Docs. (Daniel from Windows Phone Central claims not to know what that is).

If I have my druthers, however, and I'm out and about without my Mac, I write in Elements, which is pointed at the same Dropbox folder I store my BBEdit work in. That lets me keep working no matter where, or on what device I'm on. If I'm on my iPhone and need to make quick changes on the go, I likewise use Elements.

Elements is just light and easy and killer for Markdown, and BBEdit is a beast. I also make heavy use of Text Expander, both on Mac and on iOS. It removes almost all the repetitiveness from writing and lets me get on with the creative work.

Together, I can get pretty much get done everything that needs doing.

How do you write?

Interestingly, none of us use Microsoft Word. Not even Apple's Pages. We're all using lighter, plainer solutions. Now none of our workflows are perfect. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, advantages and drawbacks. And all of them can likely be improved. So, if you work across a wide range of devices, let me know how you do it, and if you can think of any ways any of us could work better and smarter, let us know in the comments!

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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How we write for iMore: Our workflows from Mac to iPad to iPhone and back!

30 Comments

I use Drafts for notes and updates, Byword or Ulysses 3 for blogposts and articles, and iWork apps for business docs.

I also like FoldingText, TaskPaper, Writing Kit, Marked and TextExpander. Code is made in Coda, Textstastic and Xcode.

My favourite writing app, on my Mac, iPhone and iPad, is WriteRoom for 2 reasons: Dropbox sync (I found iCloud buggy and limiting) and the fact that it doesn't support any kind of text formatting. I started out using Byword, but I often have to copy text with Asian characters from the web, which causes Byword to crash. I assume it interprets the characters as a weird form of Markdown? WriteRoom happily accepts anything I throw at it, has a find/replace function and supports TextExpander, which is all I need (plus I recently discovered that I can edit html documents on my Mac with WriteRoom, but not Byword, and I dislike the UI of Text Edit). For taking notes I use Drafts and then send them via URL scheme to whichever Dropbox folder I want to store them in. Those folders are organised in Notebooks, again on my Mac, iPhone and iPad, kept in sync via Dropbox. Notebooks has replaced Evernote for me because it has better functionality for text notes (95% of my notes are text) but I still use Evernote for storing emails, e.g. hotel confirmations, because I haven't found anything better to store emails offline on my iPhone. I tried to PDF them but the font ended up tiny!

I have an hour ride to and from work. So I use Pages on my iPad to write while I'm sitting on the train. Then when I get home or to work I can bring up the document on my Macbook Pro. I used to use notes but Pages is so much easier to organize the documents. I have tried a few other apps but always end up going back to something that simply allows me to just write.

What do you use, Tammy?

Also, this was for web writing. I use some other apps for long-form writing, and way more complex apps for page layout...

I don't do much writing, but I do take lots of notes. I will usually start in Drafts when on my iPad/iPhone or using BBEdit on my Mac (or Resophnotes on Windows). From Drafts I usually send to Notesy, which syncs with Dropbox. I also have the option of sending to Omnifocus if it's an actionable item or Evernote if I so choose. From BBEdit I save to that same Dropbox folder, and Resophnotes reads/writes from/to the Dropbox folder. I like Notesy because of its offline caching and searching capabilities. It just seemed to be the best option for me.

I actually found this article to be very compelling and learned a great deal about what it actually takes and what goes into what we see every day on the iMore blog and take for granted. Thanks to all of you for the hard work and great informational articles that you provide us.

Final Draft v.8 and Final Draft Writer, thats what I use the most to write (screenplays). Other than that, I use Pages for all my Research Papers because I can access my documents through iCloud, then when I turn them in I usually put them through Microsoft Word.

Great article! I don't have to write much anymore but I'm constantly taking notes in Drafts and synchronizing other information to Evernote...good stuff!

I use IA Writer on OS X and iPhone for general writing, and the collecting of thoughts and ideas. I use BBEdit for any sort of coding/scripting or actual text manipulation or processing. BBEdit is not cheap, but it's a great product.

I'm wary of Google Docs because of the privacy issues but I do like their iPad apps and accessibility with any computer. With a need to stay mobile I use the iPad as my primary writing tool with a Windows machine at home and an iPhone in the pocket.

The iPad excels at writing when paired with a nice Logitech keyboard and with some experimentation I have discovered Microsoft's Office 365 works well with the Chrome app for the iPad. While Office 365's file management is superior in it's web version versus the desktop, I use Pages extensively for this very reason. Being able to navigate many different files easily in the manner Pages presents them really helps with how I organize documents.

With the Skydrive app I find it's easy to move a document that I have created in Pages to final processing in Microsoft Word. Should Word ever become available for the iPad I would probably use it exclusively. However should Pages ever achieve the abilities that Google Docs or Office 365 render, Microsoft risks losing my business forever.

To me the whole issue is the tactile feel of instant results while typing (AND file management! We should get our choice of how to view them!) Pages being a native app responds better while typing on the iPad than the Word program does in a browser.

Thanks for the article and what sounds like some worthwhile money sinks in the ever constant search of the perfect writing tool. Oh my...if only all these different tools made me actually write better and kept me from seeking more!

I've been writing with Scrivener on my retina MacBook Pro for a few years now. It's the reason I switched to macs in the first place. I have Scrivener sync with iAwriter so the documents that I'm working on are available to my iPad and iPhone. Syncing is a pain, however, because Scrivener only syncs on document close or when I tell it too. Most of the time I close the lid on my MacBook and forget to do either. Essentially I've given up on trying to write with my iPad even though that's what I bought it for, including the apple wireless keyboard and InCase origami. Scrivener is supposed to be released for iPad sometime this year and if that doesn't get me to write with my iPad I don't think anything will. I do use notability on my iPad, but only to mark up an old screenplay that I'm turning into a novel. Also I use Mindnode for mind mapping since it uses iCloud and works on all of my devices.

Scrivener is awesome. I use it for long form writing. For web-writing -- i.e. these blog posts -- it's overkill for me. I just want plain text.

ThinkBook replaces the iOS void created by Scrivener, minus the compile function. I find it distressing nobody gives a damn about this.

To syncronize them you need to export the text (done automatically in tree-branch form) and manually convert to OPML (for example, with the "Make Topics" feature in iThoughts). Then you deposit the file in the Dropbox folder for Scrivener. Clumsy, of course and expensive also.

Have you tried the Ulysses III? I think it would be good for something in between long form and web stuff. However, I'm using it for long form writing myself.

I use notes, pages, and to a lesser extent iwrite and Evernote as bakups. I use dropbox, Wuala, and iCloud to archive since all have their own issues. Wuala is the only cloud storage where documents can't be subpoenaed by the government and is physically overseas (Sweden I think) . Other iCloud storage services provide back door access to government agencies like the DOJ.

I absolutely love articles like this! I can lose the better portion of my day reading about personal workflow and productivity setups.

I'm in the process of tweaking and "perfecting" my own writing workflow. I need to give BBEdit a shot. I've used Text Wrangler off and on for some time now, so it just seems like a logical progression.

Possible to get individual article's on everyone's OS X and iOS workflows???

I use iA Writer too since it's the best of a bad lot, but it's text selection capabilities are awful because the author of the app has purposely eschewed Apple's text selection for his own "home rolled" brand which just doesn't work as well. Compare text selection and cursor positioning in Pages and you will see the (vast) difference.

Drafts is probably a better choice, but it has the fatal flaw of not supporting iCloud and not ever even *intending* to support iCloud so if you're not American and don't use DropBox, you're SOL.

All Apple has to do is get rid of the yellow foolscap and other aesthetically jarring features from Notes however (a reasonably safe bet for the very next OS revision), and all of these text editing and notes apps become instantly irrelevant. It's clear it's really only the aesthetic deficiencies of Apple's built-in Notes app that drive all these replacements and alternatives since they all have more or less the same feature set and goals.

Edit: I actually use Pages for almost all of my writing and use it almost exclusively on the iPad. I am currently writing a novel and two non-fiction books, each roughly 400 pages or so, written 100% on the iPad, no keyboard.

I don't entirely agree with the aesthetics being the only feature of Notes that makes it less appealing. As of two days ago, I've decided against using the Notes app (again). The sync functionality still has a few bugs that either renders duplicate notes or mysterious deletes. I find the Dropbox sync that is offered via alternatives to be better for my mental well being.

Notes app for thoughts and Pages for more creative writing. Circus Ponies is my everyday work horse. I particularly love the multi index that stores and finds every single word I've every typed. It syncs with iPad via DropBox, but I'm hanging out for iCloud syncing.
Loved reading about your workflows and will enjoy looking at the mentioned apps - thanks.

I decided some time ago to get away from 'proprietary' apps for keeping my notes, research, etc. It's still a conversion process, as I have a lot of info in various older formats which I keep picking off (ex: I used Circus Ponies Notebook through most of my under-grad and graduate degrees, or Nisus Writer Pro for my papers.).

I now use plain text files, for the most part, along with PDFs and images which I reference in the text files, when needed. I store this all on Dropbox in as flat a hierarchy as I can keep organized and categorized. Most of my work now ends up on websites, blogs, e-mails, etc.

On the Mac, I use TextWrangler, or most often, just TextEdit (again, set to plain-text). On the iPad, I use WriteUp. The main reason I chose it, other than being very full featured, is that it allows a browser pane in split screen (it has some other really handy, unique features as well). I'm hoping the developer one day gets to being able to put two documents side-by-side in split screen, but the browser is quite helpful while doing research right now. I typically use my iPod and iPad in unison when I need to see both notes and the document I'm working on.

I'm starting to learn markup a bit, but had always been using my own way of 'formatting' in plain text, just to be able to find things better within a document. But, I really like not having to worry about long-term access to the data, what I'm going to use to access it, or stripping the formatting to use it. And, as an added bonus, it can be easily searched, by built-in OS search mechanisms.

Actually, I should add that when mobile, I use the iPod a lot while working on the iPad. Due to most of my data being synced between them, or similar tools available on both, the iPod ends up filling the workflow-multitasking-gap that I miss from my desktop/laptop environment. I still hope iOS gets better at this (or, just app improvements, like I mentioned above), but until then, using an iPod or iPhone to fill-in increases the efficiency quite a bit.

Notesy, on my iPhone and iPad.
Notational Velocity, on my Mac.
Dropbox, in-between, keeping everything instantly in sync.

You said you do all your work on a Mac with these apps, how do you import it to the site? Like you write it beautifully on your Mac then you just upload the whole bbedit HTML page?

I'm using Evernote.