Using the iPhone as a creative writing platform.

I’ve started to look round at the different options for doing creative writing on the iPhone. The iPhone has a perfectly acceptable software keyboard — not as good as a real keyboard, by a long shot, but acceptable for those moments of time when you’re away from a PC.

I want to be able to write at my laptop in the evening, then switch to the iPhone during a lunch break at work, or while out and about at the weekend.

Turns out there’s a lot of apps out there that are nearly right, but don’t fulfil all my needs. Given the peculiarities of my needs, there will never be an app that covers everything I need done.

– I want live updates. Given that the iPhone has an ever-present internet connection, there’s no reason why my PC shouldn’t be able to push things up onto the internet automatically, and my phone be able to access the up-to-date versions. Turns out there are a few apps out there that do that.
– I’m religious about version control; after every session, I create a backup of my work. I use programmer tools like [Subversion](http://subversion.tigris.org/) for keeping a complete history. Nothing I’ve seen for the iPhone gives you that kind of backup — the ability to, say, examine the same story at thirty different stages of it’s evolution.
– I like to work in plain text. I have lots of little tools that work on plain text files, converting them into [standard manuscript format](http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mslee/format.html) or running them through [speech synthesisers](http://www.stevecooper.org/2008/09/24/using-speech-synthesis-to-improve-your-writing/). I’d hate to lose the ability to open up a story in a full-fat [text editor](http://www.sublimetext.com) or be forced to use a simplified editor.

There’s a lot of good software out there right now, but as I say, it doesn’t quite meet my needs, and that means I’m hesitant to slap something onto the iPhone rather than keep it on my PC. I don’t want to make a choice about where the master copy of my manuscript lives.

The things I’ve looked at so far;

## [SimpleNote](http://www.simplenoteapp.com/)

A nice, very straightforward editor on the iPhone, with a great sync to a web app. Because I can’t get the content out into a text editor, it’s not suitable.

## [Documents to Go](http://www.dataviz.com/products/documentstogo/iphone/index.html)

It was a great app on the palm, but it works with .doc files rather than plain text and syncs to your desktop rather than the web, which means it’ll require manual steps to sync up versions before you can switch between phone and PC. Yuk.

## [Evernote](http://evernote.com/)

Evernote is the strongest contenter, because it has really nice syncing and also works with plain text notes. It doesn’t have the kind of backups I need, and it doesn’t make it easy to get at the raw text of the notes, either. I’d like to be able to select a note and have it open up in my editor of choice, rather than in Evernote’s editor.

I think the best option is for me to write something on top of Evernote. It has it’s own API, so I’m thinking of using that to write two tools; one to download a text note straight into my PC’s text editor, so that I can edit it, and another to save off versions of the notes into a proper version control system. Then use Evernote’s iPhone client to edit on-the-go.

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One thought on “Using the iPhone as a creative writing platform.

  1. Hi Steve,
    jailbreak your iphone and install git (via the Cydia installer) to handle all your syncing for you. Git is WAY better than subversion; it is life changing. I have this working great if you want to ask me questions.

    — Chris

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