Sunday, February 10, 2013

iA Writer - My Review

This is the first text I've typed on my new text editing program, iA Writer. App purchasers crowed about how it helps you focus on the text you're writing, and not get distracted by formatting and other things. I don't consider myself a highly distractible person, but I have noticed a tendency to perk up when an email comes into my box. And then there's the occasional icon that tempts me into doing "something else."

The app was on sale (for a limited time!) for $5. And I had an iTunes gift card from Christmas which, admittedly, I should be using for music, since I don't have much. Or should I? Considering that I don't often invest in writing tools, maybe this is the best option. (This is a Mac app, if you haven't figured that out.)

It's early in the game, but I must admit the experience is different. My screen feels more like a type-written page and less like a computer monitor. And yet in some ways I suppose it feels more like an old-fashioned monitor.

In Full-screen mode, you see nothing but what you're typing, and about 21 lines of text (mostly) above it. There's nothing else but a lot of "white space" at the margins; and you have to hover the mouse at the bottom to find out your word count, or hover it at the top to save.

When you're not in Full-screen mode, the window you're typing in looks like a disembodied square of whitish space with plain black text. The margins disappear, but you can still see your icons and so on. That's part of the point: Go into Full-screen and you literally block out everything but the text.

My next task will be to copy and paste something I've been working on in MSWord into the editor and see how it looks. Wish me luck … Okay, that went without a hitch.

The one thing I don't like (or not yet) is that you hit "return" and there's no blank space or other indication (like indent) that you're starting a new paragraph. That seems like it would make editing difficult. If I put two spaces in, will that make it awkward when I export it? Let's find out … Well, not exactly.  It left one return but with an extra space between the two paragraphs. And it turns out that's what it does if you only hit return once. Let's see if that causes a problem for the document I just pasted from Word… Nope, not a problem. So you can either double return or just once, I think … and that leaves it with a space between paragraphs on the other end. (It exports to an .rtf file.)

One last thing: there's a feature called "Focus Mode." When you turn it on, the only sentence you see in black is the one you're typing (or editing). Hit period, and that sentence goes to light gray, and the new words start in dark. Works for editing too: move your cursor to a sentence, and it comes into "focus." Your focus sentence always appears in the middle of the screen. (That feature helped me catch a couple of typos on this post; and spot some poor transitions.)

So my one gripe would be that I have to hit "return" twice to see separation between paragraphs as I type. Most everything else feels strange but potentially helpful. Strangest of all, to me, is that the keyboard itself almost "feels" different, when I'm typing in the program, as if the keys are larger than they used to be. Not sure I want to mess with my writing mojo this way (at least for a novel). But it's great for a blog post!

P.S. I pasted this text from iA Writer directly into the text box on blogger - no issues.


  1. I've tried Focus Writer for a while. It's nice, but I found that I just don't like the computer screen when I'm writing. I hand-write my first couple of drafts, which is the absolute best thing for distraction-free writing. Call me old-fashioned, but writing with one's own hand allows you to truly put yourself into each word you write. It's more alive, more deliberately alive.

    1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You're not alone. A lot of people like to handwrite their first drafts. Normally, I just find it limiting. I type so much faster than I can write by hand, and for my first draft, I like to get my thoughts out as quickly as they come to me. Typing it helps me get out of my own way. Later, I slow down, weigh each word-sometimes I'll handwrite a particularly thorny or important passage, for the reasons you mention. In a pinch, or if I'm just in the mood, I will sometimes handwrite a first draft (I find it better for shorter pieces).

      I guess I'd say there isn't just one way for everyone. Some great writers of old would compose on a typewriter. Some would work it out in their heads first, or tell it out loud. A book like "The Scarlet Letter" was clearly handwritten first - and it shows. The Iliad and fairy tales were worked out orally - and that shows. Hemingway composed dialogue on a typewriter - and that shows, too. Each is brilliant in its own medium.



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