Writing a Million Miles, Word-Processing on iOS
By Jessica Hodges
The weather is warm. The bus stop isn’t crowded. Standing there, messenger bag swung over my shoulder, stuffing my face with a sandwich, my mind is racing. I’ve got a lot of due dates, a lot of papers, and not a lot of time. Cramming the rest of the sandwich in my mouth, I wipe my hands on my dress, and open my phone.
I love to write, from poetry that keeps me from exploding, to big stories to get lost in, to formal essays about volcanic ash. It’s no surprise then that I’ve got many, many word processing apps on my phone. Defined, a word processor is an app that allows you to write and manipulate text. They range from simple to complicated. Many are free, some cost a little. All are useful. I want to get started on a one-page assignment. If I had a Bluetooth keyboard, I’d likely open access note, a notes app with robust keyboard navigation built in, and a simple, clean interface. As it stands, my trusty keyboard broke two weeks ago. So, I turn to the notes app. Since I can clean these up later, and because of ho small the assignments are, the no frills interface works in my favor. When launched, it opens the last note I was editing. A two-finger scrub will get me out into the home screen, and a four-finger single tap at the bottom brings me to a new note button. There are buttons at the top for things like checklists, and drawing on your note, but the first thing that comes into focus is the text field, so I begin to type, using apples built in system called Braille screen input. When the bus comes, I lock my phone and hop on. My notes are already sinking to iCloud. When the bus begins to move, I pull out my phone again.
Now that I know I won’t be interrupted for a while, I want to take a crack at my eight-page philosophy paper. I could use MS word, or apples Pages to do this. They are great options when you need to do a lot with text, and pages carries over beautifully if you’re in the apple ecosystem. For something longer, I’d open Scrivner. Advertising itself as a novelist’s best friend, this app lets you save various pieces of text into one project, allowing you to drag and drop them in any order you wish. This makes it great for those writing stories or extremely large essays, as things can, and do change in plot or organization. But I don’t need something that fancy. I reach for an app called Drafts. Drafts is an app that is as simple or complex as you want it to be. When it opens, it places you in a new draft, ready to type. Along the top row, above the keyboard, is a row of special buttons. Some of them relate to the keyboard, dictate, hide keyboard, etc. A few are harder to find keys, the tab key, @ symbol, and other various things. But drafts also have support for a code sometimes found in documents called Markdown. Markdown is a code used to differentiate pieces of plain text documents, and turn them into headings, lists, and more. These can be imported into MS word with the install of a simple plug in called Writage, which adds markdown to the types of documents word can open. A simple save from there brings the document back to a word file, all the formatting intact. Since I know I’ll be home in a little while and can resume edits on my computer, I start typing my draft. Shortcuts for things like headings, lists, write alignment, left alignment, and more can also be found in this top row also, assuring my laziness, since I never actually have to learn what characters in Markdown do what. When I reach my stop, I’ve typed 3 pages, according to the word and character count displayed at the top of Drafts composing screen.
Once I’m off the bus, I walk for a few minutes until I come to the building I’m looking for, a hair salon. Wishing I had another sandwich to eat, (I hadn’t eaten since yesterday), I walk up to the counter. The woman nodded at my name and said I’d be waiting at least a half an hour. Sighing, I bit back the comment I wanted to make about the fact that appointments are made to avoid such things. After all, it wasn’t her fault. Turning, I thank her and sit down in a hard-backed chair. Since I’m here, I think, I decide I want to go over what I’ve written with a fine-toothed comb. At the top of Drafts, I find an action button. This button lets me into a menu divided into tabs, basic, social, services, and markdown, with another button beside these to edit the groupings of actions. The things you can do with a bit of text in this app are nearly unlimited. You can do things as simple as a copy paste, or a save to Dropbox, iCloud, or other storage of your choice, run things like Workflows, a chain of actions managed by another brilliant app, or a recipe from IFTTT, a service that gets apps and services connected and working together. Right now, I just want to copy my text, so I go to the basic tab and find my desired action. That done, I exit the actions menu, then the draft itself. In the main menu, there are four buttons that group the drafts, inbox, archived, flagged, and trash. Below is a list of drafts. Roter actions or buttons at the bottom of the screen can move them into any of these categories. Checking that my draft is in the inbox, I take my copied text and reach for another app.
Whenever I want to be careful with a document, I open VoiceDream writer, an app made by the same wonderful developers as VoiceDream reader. Writer has many options that lend themselves well to the auditory learner. Your pick of many computerized voices can read sentences or words back to you as you type. I don’t do this, but I know many who do, and it helps them a great deal. What I do use however is Writers navigational features and spellcheck. When opened, Writer will go to the last thing open. It, too supports Markdown, making imports between it and drafts incredibly useful. It can also export and import documents from a variety of services but can’t send or do nearly as much with them as drafts. On the main document screen of Writer is a button to go back to files, a button for creating a new document, the option to export the document, and buttons for audio and visual settings. Next to this is the tools button. Activating this will bring me to my spell check. Sadly, writer provides no suggestions for misspelled words. However, it can move my cursor quickly from word to word, allowing me to change anything I need to. When the spellchecker is opened, it lands me on the first word. Swiping down will move me to the next word, and so on. To the left of this is a text field containing the word in question. I can delete it altogether or edit. When I swipe down to the next word, the changes take effect. I still have to run the file through spellcheck on my laptop, but it’s a good way to catch typing errors. The other thing I use this app for is outline view. This insures me that I’m not only getting my ideas down well and in the right order but makes sure that any markdown coding I’ve done has held correctly. The button for this is found near the bottom of the screen. Activating it brings me to the top of the document. AS I swipe through will announce any headings and paragraphs before the text is read. I am satisfied. Sighing, I ta the export button and choose dropbox. That done, I open up a word game, and wait for my appointment.
I hope one of these apps will help you better work with documents on your iDevice. If I’ve missed one, you have questions, or any other ideas, please email Jessica hodges. Happy writing to you. Now, please excuse me while I get my ears blasted off by a hair dryer.
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