Zack Lynn's Blog: musings about the writing and publishing process...

Sat, 25 Jan 2014 09:32:00 -0800

Writing on an iPad...

Yes, it's true, I wrote "Undead Reckoning" on an iPad. A first generation iPad, no less.

Well mostly...

I wrote using Pages '09, which supports iCloud, so I stored the document on iCloud, so that I could write on either the iPad or my MacBookPro. But most of my writing was done early mornings, and the iPad was just easier to hold in bed, and had the distinct advantage that typing on it is near-silent so I wouldn't wake my wife. I found writing on the iPad to be surprisingly easy, and rarely ran afoul of auto-correct. Pages has these cool undo/redo buttons you can tap, and also an italic button in the toolbar, which I used a lot in UR, due to all the boat names and remote dialogue over VHF radio. Also, the dictionary lookup by simply tapping a word and tapping "Define" was super-easy.

At the end of each writing session, I would upload both the .pages (as offsite backup) file and the .pdf version (for family to read) to a WebDav server, a process that the iPad version of Pages made very easy (much easier than the Mac version!).

I began the document as a simple Pages template document, formatted in some sans-serif font with simple bold chapter headers. It was not until I had finished all the writing that any real substantive formatting was done, other than page breaks at the ends of chapters. At the beginning, I would keep notes at the end of the document, but I later moved that to using the Notes app.

So what were the pain points? Well, navigation and overview mostly. When it comes to navigating a document, nothing beats a real keyboard, not only for coarse navigation (using the page up/down and home/end keys to bounce down to the bottom of the document to refer to my notes, or back to a previous chapter, etc.) but also for fine navigation (using option-left/right for word-jumping, or cmd-left/right to go to the end of a line), and for selection (holding the shift key down while navigating) and copy/paste. On the iPad, you end up doing a lot of gesturing to get the same tasks done, and it tends to be fiddly (tap and drag often do not select what you think they should). I found that when I was doing reviewing and editing, I tended to prefer the Mac, whereas when writing I mostly used the iPad.

The iPad was also useful for on-the-fly research (which is the only kind I did, mostly), like being able to jump over to Safari to lookup population density of Orcas Island, or whether hardware stores would typically stock a machete, or what flora and fauna grew on the islands, and which flora are edible. I also made copious use of the Notes app, where I kept running notes about the status of the characters and inventory of their boats. All of this would have been possible on the Mac as well, and indeed with iCloud tabs and Notes on iCloud, I could seamlessly switch back and forth with ease. But the sheer fact that it was possible, and easy, on a tablet made it a very appealing platform.

Another big part of research was nautical "planning" and information, I used both Garmin BlueChart Mobile and Transas iSailor on the iPad. Both of these are iOS-only apps, so I used my iPad (and occasionally my iPhone or the shared family 3rd-gen iPad, since the Garmin app does not run on the version of iOS at which my poor first-gen iPad is stuck) for most of the nautical research. I would use iSailor for trip research, e.g. "How long would it take the Kevin and Jeremy to travel around San Juan Island for a fishing venture?" or "How much fuel would they use?" or "What is the depth at their desintation?" On the other hand, when I wanted good in-depth local knowledge of resources and navigation hazards, nothing beats ActiveCaptain, an internet-based crowd-sourced nautical information service, and the Garmin app was my portal to that information; I used this extensively, as well as the wind, weather, current and tide information from the Garmin app.

When it came to the finishing work (editing, finalizing, preparing for delivery and actual publishing), most of the work was done on Macs, and the iCloud version of the document was mostly abandoned at that part; in fact, I think I had moved it off of iCloud and locally onto my Mac before that phase of the project began and I passed it off to the "publishing arm of Jacklin Studios".

But most of the writing for the novel was, in fact, done on the iPad, and it was quite up to the task. I plan to use it for future writing as well. Rather an amazing tool for a writer, actually.

Zack Lynn