Writing and Publishing to Blogs from the iPad

There is a commonly held notion that the iPad can't be used as a serious writing machine because it lacks a physical keyboard. Well, I've been using it since it was introduced, and whether I'm brainstorming an idea or publishing my thoughts online, it suits my needs better than a desktop or laptop computer. In this article, I'll guide you through the workflow I follow when I'm using the iPad for blogging or any kind of serious writing.

Typing tips

One of the biggest complaints I've heard about the iPad and iPhone is the software keyboard is hard to use, but when I bought the original iPhone, I adapted to it within a week. I recommend starting with one finger on each hand and work your way up from there. Keep it simple at first—no Shakespearian scripts. As you gain experience and confidence, add your thumbs into the mix. In a short time, you'll be touch typing with both hands. It's all about practice.

Always there when an idea hits you!

Because it's a mobile device, the iPad is always there when an idea hits you. Using the right apps to capture and outline your thoughts is crucial to writing on the go.

NewsRackI find stories to write about from dozens of RSS feeds I've added to Google Reader and sync to NewsRack ($4.99, app2.me/279) on my iPad. In addition, I find inspiration for opinion pieces from people I follow on Twitter and can join and interact in a conversation to flesh out ideas. As a general principle, the more people talk about a topic, the more it's worth writing about. The great thing about NewsRack is the app's robust support for bookmarking services, which allows me to share interesting stories and start a conversation with fans and followers.

NewsRack displays your RSS feeds in a very clean interface

I use Instapaper ($4.99, app2.me/117; free version, app2.me/3208) to gather interesting stories from the Web or my multiple social network and RSS feeds. The beauty of this approach is that I can focus on finding stories that look interesting without having to worry too much about fully reading them on the spot and bookmarking them in Safari. I have time later in my workflow to pick and choose which stories I want to reference for a blog post.

Penultimate Evernote (free, app2.me/130) is my command center for ideas that I have but can't work on right away. The app is extremely easy to work with and supports audio notes, photos and GPS tagging, making it much more useful than a paper notebook. Penultimate ($0.99, app2.me/3212) is a more graphically oriented notebook app that I use every now and then to draw mind maps and spill out my ideas. However, it's more suited to drawings and handwritten notes.

Penultimate is a graphically oriented note-taker better suited to drawings and handwritten notes

Lastly, I'd suggest using a great app called Outliner ($4.99; iPad version: app2.me/3213, iPhone/iPod touch version: app2.me/3214) for structuring and organizing your thoughts to guide what you write. It's simple, easy, and gets the job done.

Writing and editing

Once you've got an idea to write about and done some preliminary research on the topic, it's time to turn it into some worthwhile reading. The best text editors are those that kill distractions and leave you with nothing but a keyboard—it creates a very intimate setting that lets you focus on your thoughts no matter where you are. My favorite writing apps at the moment are PlainText and Pages.

PlainText PlainText (free, app2.me/3215) has a minimalistic interface that helps create an environment free of distractions, but it's robust enough to make it a worthy writing app. The app's full-screen mode eliminates distractions and puts you in an intimate environment with your words and ideas. I also love the app's Dropbox support, which allows me to sync folders containing my ideas, drafts, and ready to publish posts. Finally, I appreciate the app's support of TextExpander ($4.99, app2.me/2981), which lets you create a library of shortcuts for frequently used words or phrases. Simply type in the shortcut, and the word or phrase is entered into the text.

Plaintext's full-screen interface helps create a distraction-free environment.

Pages If you want a more feature-rich writing app, check out Pages ($9.99, iPad only, app2.me/2412). It can handle writing, editing, and formatting, and sync your documents via iTunes (Mac and PC) or a Web Dev server (Mac only). It works beautifully in full-screen mode and is even easier to use when paired with an external keyboard. Pages is an all-in-one editor that offers robust formatting options and supports printing and image placement.

I used Pages to write/edit the majority of this article. I've become adept at using the software keyboard. And tapping out 1,500 words is a breeze on the iPad. 

Publishing your writing online

Once you've created a well-written document brimming with your ideas and insights, it's time to publish! The easiest way to publish your thoughts and opinions is through a blog. It's a growing medium of communication that introduces interested people to your ideas.

WordPress Many of the blogs I've freelanced for used WordPress (wordpress.com) as their content management system (CMS). It's easy for novice bloggers to use, but includes options that seasoned bloggers appreciate. I was delighted when an official WordPress app was released for the iPad (free, app2.me/3209). The app provides you with a convenient way to connect to your WordPress blog (self-hosted or not) and publish your thoughts. You can even add images and videos to your posts. Unfortunately, the app does not include a WYSIWYG editor so you'll need some basic knowledge of HTML tags.

Wordpress and BlogPress work great for publishing your ideas on your Blog. They're both simple and easy to use

Blogpress Those who don't use WordPress as their CMS should take a look at BlogPress ($2.99, app2.me/3210). The app supports Blogger, Moveable Type, MSN Livespaces, Typepad, Live Journal, Drupal, Joomla, Tumblr and Squarespace.

Replace your laptop!

I use an iPad for the majority of my writing. It's robust enough to almost completely replace my laptop and portable enough to bring with me wherever I go. And its 3G connectivity lets me go online wherever I am— to visit interesting sites, read blog conversations, and post my responses. The iPad is just about perfect for a journalist or blogger covering a major event.

In this article I've described the apps I use and the process I follow researching, writing, and posting to blogs from my iPad. The process can be adopted easily and customized to fit your writing needs. I hope it inspires you to give it a try.

Once you start using an iPad as your primary writing machine, you'll never want to put it down.

From brainstorming to publishing, the iPad excels as a serious writing machine.
March-April 2011
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