iA Writer – The App for Concentrated Writing

April 16, 2011

If you own an iPad you may be of the mindset that it’s not built for writing. This week I took a trip to Seattle and left my MacBook Pro at home. Using a wireless keyboard I test drove iA Writer, an interesting new writing app for the iPad.

Writer offers a strangely simple application for writing. It’s essentially a white screen with a fixed type design intended to facilitate concentration on what your create, not how it looks. Text editors and word processing programs create distractions. All you  see is word count and a couple of simple function buttons (interestingly it quantitates reading time).  And these disappear when you switch into ‘focus mode‘ – all you see here is the last three lines written. The rest of your writing is ghosted.

This is cool:  All of your writing automatically uploads to your Dropbox.

Here’s Writer in focus mode:

Here is how the creators of Writer see the value of their app:

The key to good writing is not that magical glass of Bordeaux, the right kind of tobacco or that groovy background music. The key is focus.

What you need to write well is a spartan setting that allows you to fully concentrate on your text and nothing but your text. Many professional writers use SimpleText or Textedit because these are the only writing programs that are distraction free. Unfortunately, text editors have their issues:

1. CONCENTRATION: Traditional text editors drag us into a chaotic loop of crisscross editing, which destroys the voice and the organic structure of our original thought. Too much editing in the drafting process leads to writer’s block. Our solution to that problem is called “Focus Mode.” Some use only focus mode for writing. The original purpose is to free your field of sight when you get stuck. Some also say that it helps them to get started with the first sentence.

2. ORIENTATION: Page numbers work well for physical objects where they are tangible, but they are meaningless for digital text. We believe that reading time is a more useful measure to assess the quantity of digital text.

3. TYPOGRAPHY:  Writer comes with a typographic design that works perfectly on the iPad. We asked the best type, screen and graphic designers in the industry (see Credits) to work with us on the design – so you don’t need to worry about it. With Writer all your thought goes into what you write, not how your writing looks.

So I gave it a shot. During my round trip flight I generated 7 blog posts – potentially more than I would have created on Word over a similar period. I found the whitespace afforded by iaWriter to be somehow relaxing. The type is crisp and easy on the eyes. Text copies easily into my WordPress site. And it only costs 99 cents.

For what I do here on 33 charts Writer offers a nice solution to the focus I seek when thinking things through. I do, however, have concerns about my ability to navigate through longer form writing using iaWriter.

It’s an interesting concept. In a world fixated on bells and whistles, there may be something to be said for focusing on less as a means of creating more.

Try it and tell me what you think.


Ryan Madanick, MD April 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

I never thought about this, very interesting. Don’t have an iPad, but I’m certainly guilty of editing my writing while I write! Maybe I’ll at least use the concepts during my own (attempts at) writing…

Thanks Bryan

DrV April 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

Actually I’ve thought about this and I should have included this in the post. But you can recreate the same thing on Word by using full screen view that eliminates the menu bars. If you want to be really pure you could shut off spell check as a distraction.

I anticipate that I’ll continue to use Word. But the concept is really interesting.

Brandon April 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

When I was elementary school, the girl that sat next to me had awesome handwriting. No only that, when she wrote it appeared so effortless…it flowed so well. 

I tried to write like her, but the results were not the same. I came to the conclusion it was the pencil she was using. It was always sharpened like a fine surgical tool. 

So I asked her if she would lend me her pencil so I could write like her. The result? No improvement in my handwriting, of course. 

I wonder if apps like this is like the little girl’s pencil. In other words, if you are a focused writer, it doesn’t matter what tool you use?

DrV April 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Absolutely, Brandon. Especially when it comes to writing, the tool is highly overrated. I think the difference here is that, in a way, this app is kind of the anti-tool. It is about as bare a writing platform as I can imagine. And it forces you to focus on nothing but typing/making. So I think there may be value in that for the gadget/environment obsessed writer.

But point well taken. And truth be told, I still do some of my best writing on a pad of paper. But that will be our little secret.

Stiennon April 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

It sounds like AlphaSmart for the iPad. I use my four line AlphaSmart the same way and for the same reasons. It frees you from distractions and allows you to “write down the bones”.

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD April 18, 2011 at 11:17 pm

7 posts on 2 flights….I can only dream. Maybe I’ll invest and give it try. I get entirely distracted when generating posts (Twitter, e-mail, Twitter, comments, meetings, phone calls). No question it stretches out the time, but also influences my content occasionally, too. A + or -, I’m unsure.
However, I’ve spent $1 more foolishly before (understatement) so will give it a try on Wednesday.

DrV April 19, 2011 at 9:30 am

It’s easy when my posts are only 150 words long.

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