One of the keys to a good life hack isn’t just finding the right technology to do the job, but actually finding the right combination of technologies to get the job done. Many of you wonder how us writer folks keep our writing projects on track and in sync, regardless of the where or when we’re doing our writing (sometimes we wonder ourselves, actually). I’ll tell you sometimes it’s not easy, until you find—and set up—the right apps and services to make things all come together. This post is all about how to go from your desktop to iPad and back and keeping everything a couple clicks away from being ready to publish online.
The first, and most essential, part of this whole system is Dropbox. If you’re not using Dropbox, now is the time to sign up and set up. Without Dropbox’s easy and fast file syncing—syncing that works on pretty much any device you throw at it—this system wouldn’t work at all.
Next thing is the file format. Writing for the web—and blogs specifically—is a no Word zone (or Pages either for that matter), basic, boring text files are the files of choice here. Well, text files with a twist. While I’m writing this in a text editor, I’m also using the markup system called Markdown that is essentially a shortcut for HTML and let’s me format this post for posting—even put in links and such—without having to type HTML, per se.
With the foundations in place (Dropbox and text files), let’s move onto the actual writing part. On my Mac my writing app of choice is Scrivener (Mac and PC). I’ve written several books and lots of posts in it already, so I’m no stranger to it in the least, but one of the features I haven’t used too often (though I should have been) is Sync an external folder. The basics of how to do this are pretty simple and this post from Jamie Rubin puts it all together nicely. At the guts of it, you’re just telling Scrivener to look in a particular folder on your machine (in this case a folder within my Dropbox account that my iPad app saves to) and import files from that folder into the project. It’s important to have your Scrivener project be saved in a different location than the sync folder.
The next part for the writing on the go element is, actually, Elements. This is a great, simple iOS (iPad and iPhone—which is one reason I really like it) app that just creates text files. And syncs to Dropbox. And (optionally) syncs to iCloud. And supports Markdown with a nice preview window and the ability to copy (clean) HTML to paste into your blog editor of choice (I’d opt for WordPress for iOS, actually). Elements isn’t the only choice out there—believe me, I’ve bought and tried almost all of them—you can also check out Nebulous Notes, iA Writer, Byword, Plain Text, and Edito (I told you I tried them all). The essential part is syncing with Dropbox so you can write something on the go and have it “automagically” appear on your machine at home when you get back.
The last bit of magic is Brett Terpstra’s app Marked (sorry Mac only). See, while I can copy and paste HTML from Elements on my iPad into the WordPress editor on my iPad, I’d rather pull everything together on my Mac at home. Inserting images and such is still a bit of a chore on the iPad, so forcing myself to open, review, and edit the post on my Mac is a good safety net. While I can export HTML from Scrivener, I don’t like to because the exports are designed as complete web pages, and I don’t want that. This is where Marked comes in. I just drag and drop the text file (with Markdown) onto Marked and I get a beautifully rendered document and when I copy the HTML from Marked, it’s just the HTML needed for a post. Nothing more, nothing less, and no extras that might mess things up.
So I can start a post in Scrivener, then finish it on my iPad, and then post it. Or, like I’m doing now, write the whole post on my iPad, and put the final polish on it on my Mac at home (along with images and such) and post it. All the while I’m still just editing the same files, seamlessly, efficiently, and transparently.
(And if you’re wondering about typing on the iPad, I’ve used the on-screen keyboard for light writing and the Apple Wireless Keyboard for heavier projects. For this post, however, I’m trying out the Zaggfolio keyboard and case…and really, really liking it.)