The iPad's many uses include turntable, toddler flypaper, and bird catapult. But when you couple it with an external keyboard, it turns into a surprisingly versatile writing machine. Most writers are easily distracted; trying out just one more app often sounds better than slogging through your manuscript. To save you untold hours of procrastination, here's my current setup of ten apps for writing, drafting, outlining, editing, and generating story ideas, divided into five essentials and five remarkable aids for inspiration and creativity.
1. EVERNOTE (Drafting & Research)
There's a good chance you're already using the ever-popular Evernote. And you should: it's perfect for storing your research, no matter the shape it might take: Evernote syncs text notes, photos, scans, web pages, and audio recordings between devices and makes them searchable, and for that alone, it's a must-have.
It's probably less popular as word processor. There are a slew of other options, including Apple's fully featured Pages and minimalist apps like Writings, tyype, and Daedalus, which promise a distraction-free environment. I've tried most of them and always returned to Evernote for my on-the-go drafting needs: it's already on my home screen, it has just enough features, the full screen mode is clean and simple, and it syncs automatically. And if you have a premium account, it keeps a history of your notes in case you want to roll back to an earlier version.
2. PENULTIMATE (Handwriting)
Typing is more efficient, but for certain kinds of writing, I switch to longhand. For years, I carried a Moleskine wherever I went, but no more: a capacitive stylus and Penultimate take care of all my longhand needs. Of all the note-taking apps I tried, Penultimate offers the best balance of features, simplicity, and elegance -- and the app was purchased by Evernote, so it integrates nicely. Pro tip: try a number of different styluses. In my experience, there are huge differences in how smoothly they slide across the iPad's screen.
3. INDEX CARD (Outlining)
The latest addition to my toolbox, Index Card has quickly earned itself a spot on my home screen. Not every writer believes in outlining, but the ability to jot down notes and quickly shuffle them around a corkboard is useful for working out any number of structural problems -- and it's dead easy. Index Card in the little brother of the popular Windows/Mac outlining software Scrivener and lets you export your work in a number of formats.
4. GOODREADER (Editing)
Before the iPad, I went through massive amounts of paper. To edit a manuscript, I had to print, hold, and annotate it with a pen. Now, I save a PDF to GoodReader and mark up the document with a stylus. It lets me interact with the text as if it were a printed page and handwrite in the margins. Every draft goes through a pass in GoodReader now, and it's also what I use for my clients' manuscripts as developmental editor for MJedit.
5. CLOUD ON (Word Processing)
Minimalist interfaces are great for drafting, but depending on what stage your manuscript is in, it sometimes has to be Word. CloudOn offers a slick, somewhat-stripped-down Office experience on the iPad, including Microsoft Word. It connects via Dropbox so it's easy to find and sync your files. The only downside: it requires an Internet connection to work.
6. OFLOW (Oblique Strategies)
Oflow randomly serves one of more than a hundred creative methods, such as "act it out" or "emulate" as a way to jumpstart your brain. You can mark favorites and set daily pop-up reminders. The methods are reminiscent of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, which aren't available as app but as Twitter feed: @oblique.
7. STORYCUBES (Creativity)
My 3-year-old daughter loves the real-life inspiration for this app, 9 dice with 54 icons that are designed to generate stories. The app lets you roll the dice virtually and offers expansion packs. Use them when you're stuck in a scene: wondering how to insert one of the images into your work is sometimes enough to trick your mind into seeing things in a new way.
8. BRAINSTORMER (Ideas)
The Brainstormer is a very attractive app that spins wheel to randomly combine plots, subjects, and styles. Tap once, and you get, for instance: "Sacrifice for Love/grunge/taxi cab." It's great for quick prompts or a new impulse. And if you don't like the included wheels, you can add your own scenarios. While I've never written anything based directly on a Brainstormer result, it's simply too much fun not to recommend.
9. BEAUTIFUL TAROT (Archetypes)
Regardless of how much you know about the ancient system of the tarot, this app allows you to milk the 78 cards of the minor and major arcana for ideas -- shuffle and flip them, and the built-in descriptions offer archetypal characters and situations you can combine into stories. And if you don't like the provided readings, there's room to add your own. (I'm partial to learntarot.com and Rachel Pollack.)
10. PLOTTO (Plotting)
This one's a little bit of a cheat since Plotto isn't really an app but a book from 1928. In it, William Wallace Cook purports to have put together a system of all possible plots--a whopping 1462 of them. You can get a beautiful new hardcover edition of Plotto from Tin House, but for your iPad, I recommend this $2.99 crosslinked ebook. The Plotto method involves a lot of flipping back and forth to combine scenes and conflicts into storylines, all cross-referenced by number codes, and thanks to the links, the ebook version becomes a highly usable hypertext app that's stuffed with great ideas.
That's it for me -- which apps do you think no writer should be without?