Does the iPad Cut It as a Writer’s Tool?


iPads are portable and convenient and powerful enough for simple computing and gaming, but can they cope with the demands of a serious writer? Or would a writer be better off investing in a laptop or desktop?

It depends on the writer, of course. As an emerging writer, I rely almost solely on my iPad. I have a $20 Bluetooth keypad that snaps onto my tablet, because if I had to rely on the screen keypad, it just wouldn’t work for me. The silly native keypad slows me down and gobbles up half the screen space.

So what writing can I do with my iPad?

With my cheap keypad and the apps listed below, I’ve written one novel and mapped another, concocted umpteen short stories, and spun off hundreds of blog posts on my iPad. Here’s a list of web tools and apps that help me..

…Write content

While Pages, the Apple word processing app, is good, I prefer to write my drafts with the PlainText app because the documents are instantly synced my Dropbox folder. No worries about losing something! The formatting is pretty basic, but I know I can pretty up things later with other software.


I write posts, edit them, upload them, and track my blogs on my iPad. I use the WordPress app for tracking my stats and managing comments, but I prefer the Blogsy app for writing, formatting, and uploading. Its interface is super easy, especially when adding images, and the customer service is outstanding.

…Plan & Outline

Idea Sketch is a mindmapping tool that helps me conceptualise an article or outline a story. I’ve found Pinterest to be fantastic for the early stages of planning a novel. I collect period costumes, scenery, historical information, and more to feed my imagination. I created a companion board for a completed novel that shows all of the places and foods mentioned in my YA travel adventure novel.


The ease of surfing the web is one of the iPad’s strengths, but keeping track of all that glorious info is the trick. For basic research, I use the Wikipanion app to access and store wikis. More in-depth searches are stored in SpringPad, which I love for organising notes, links, photos and more. I have individual notebooks for competitions, freelance opportunities, writing tips, and individual writing projects.

…Enter Competitions

PDF Entry forms can be filled in, signed (with a stylus) and emailed off from the GoodReader app. Very professional and convenient! No more wasted paper, SAS envelopes, stamps and time. (The Pages app can convert documents to Word or PDF when submitting, but remember that formatting can go wonky in the process. Send yourself an email first to check it.)


Grammarly is a web tool that allows writers to give their work the once over, checking it for grammar, spelling, punctuation and plagiarism. There’s an annual subscription, but it’s money well spent. I use the CloudOn app to work on Microsoft Word documents. It’s can be a little clunky, but it’s great to be able to make changes to a Word document using Word software. Documents are synced to a file in Dropbox.

…Track Submissions

StoryTracker helps writers keep a record of what story has been sent where and when. You can even keep a record of earnings and total word counts. It becomes a database of editors’ contact details. Just make sure you back it up regularly! (I learned the hard way.)

So what CAN’T I do on my iPad as a writer?

Advanced Editing of Word Documents

Tracking changes to Word documents by various editors is not possible. For example, when I was revising a manuscript with my agent, I had to revert to a laptop to get the best possible view of her suggestions. I could see the changes, but it wasn’t always clear who made it and why.


Printing from an iPad is still a bit cumbersome, but there are ways to get around this (and the ways become second-nature.) The iPad has trained me out of my paper dependency. Printing is simply something I do less and less of.


Scrivener is super-sexy software for writers. Sadly, it is not available for iPad–yet.

All in all…

An iPad is definitely adequate for most writer’s tasks. With a decent bluetooth keypad, a writer can accomplish almost everything on her ‘to be written list.” Access to a laptop or desktop will probably be necessary at the advanced editing stage and makes it easier to ensure the formatting is up to scratch.

My advice? Get the iPad now and keep your clunky old laptop for the tidy-ups and printing. Set yourself a goal: Upgrade to a slick new MacBook when you make the first significant sale of your writing.

Check out this article in the series iPads for Serious writers. Pimp My iPad – Writers’ Accessories – 5 Pimpin’ Keypads

9 Thoughts

  1. Try ThinkBook in the AppStore for the iPad. It does almost everything else that Scrivener would, mainly creating projects, folders (treated as books), sub folders (treated as pages or sub-books), Q&A, to-dos, searches; use a slider in order to import attachments such as photos, PDFs, files from Pages, Numbers, Keynote. It does not compile, nor use index cards. It does however export all your notes in a tree-branch-leaf-vein sort of hierarchical fashion, minus the attachments.


    1. Thanks, Antonio. I’ll have a look at ThinkBook. If you’re after an app that has index cards, Manuscript for iPad (by Black Mana Studios) does. I like Manuscript and have used it for planning; its only problem is it feels a little cramped.


      1. Aha! My dear friend, if you don’t appreciate Manuscript’s cramped GUI, then I suggest you try out Ilaro by “twenty.two o.nine squared”; the app provides inter-related index cards specifically crafted for non-fiction research, not for actual substance writing (though there is a space provided for note-taking), but more so for writing your intentions, your visions of them and more importantly, grinding away in thorough detail everything you can think of in regard to your sources. I guess you could also use it for fictional research.


      2. Thanks for another good tip, Antonio. Yes, Ilaro looks good for research. I might not use it much for fiction but it would be very handy for articles.


  2. I didn’t try Manuscript, however judging it from the App Store photos, I feel the Storyist for iPad just has to be so much better (I’ve got it installed since mid last year). It is no for research, but for novels, screenplays and other text files (a cheaper Final Draft substitute, which I also do not have). Storyist allows you to organize your ideas with index cards by using page headings. Supports images and RTF. But still, the best option for writers, by far is ThinkBook. I only mention Storyist because you feel unhappy with Manuscript and because Ilaro is mainly for research (my bad). Of course, the day Scrivener arrives to the iPad, then it’s a whole new ball game. It hopefully won’t be too diluted, compared to the Mac or even the Windows versions.


    1. Hi Antonio, Thank you! Storyist looks like it will be very useful for the kind of writing I do. It’s not cheap ($10.50), but if it is something that will get used regularly, I don’t mind. It’s a real bonus that it supports images. This one could be a game changer! (Until we get to see what Scrivener does on iPad…)


      1. Yet another option substituting Storyist is Textilius, at least in terms of RTF, plus it boasts to be able to synchronize with Scrivener (Mac, I believe). There are a free and paid versions for Textilius. I don’t recall it employs index cards. When the bluetooth keyboard is not around or unusable, use Textilius central cursor button.

        Other suggestions:

        FioWriter: the iPhone/iPod app is surprisingly better than the iPad app given the accordion-like mechanics of the menu commands. Why is it unique? You can move the cursor with on-screen, non-disturbing Mac-like commands. EXPENSIVE THOUGH. I prefer it over iAWriter, ByWord, etc.

        Writer (iPad): has central cursor button like Textilius

        Gooreader for storying PDFs (also done by ThinkBook) and iAnnotate for actually annotating them.

        Just to be very clear: ThinkBook is a very good Scrivener substitute. And here is a (though highly expensive and cumbersome) way to sort-of-synchronize ThinkBook and Scrivener:

        Step 1: write and organize in ThinkBook (book into pages into notes, etc.)
        Step 2: export content via eMail, without sending eMail
        Step 3: select all eMail text and cut it to clipboard
        Step 4: open iThoughts HD and paste text in balloon text (make a note in balloon)
        Step 5: remain in balloon note and reselect text
        Step 6: query Make Topics command
        Step 7: reorganize new bubbles so that they match organization in ThinkBook
        Step 8: export as OPML to Dropbox
        Step 9: save OPML file in your Dropbox folder for Scrivener
        Step 10: see your stuff in Scrivener appear

        The magical step is #6.

        There is just one more app to rule all apps, including Scrivener and ThinkBook, and this app is for sure none other than the very dull, the very expensive and the very complex OmniFocus for iPad. Despite all this horrible qualifiers, it is without a shadow of a doubt a lifesaver.

        One more tip: if you have $30 USD and wish to know how to convert your creative intentions into fulfilled visions, then I highly recommend a book which came out two Wednesdays ago by Dini Kourosh, M.D. (Chicago-based therapist) called “Workflow: Beyond Productivity”. I believe the price goes up in June. If you sing up for the newsletter, you get a free sample of this brand new book.

        Just as your project requires an app workflow best-suited for your needs, it is also true that any given single project carries countless creations which themselves demand your attention. Well, Dr. Dini here sets out to construct a workflow not for the work you but to avoid attention dysfunctions which we all have and acknowledge once we deviate from making our creative intentions a reality. The books is available for iBooks, Kindle (not bought with Amazon) and as a PDF. It reaches 516 pages, which ironically means that it can be a huge procrastination factor.

        Both Kourosh and the people at Asian Efficiency also explain in separate books and in full detail how to properly use OmniFocus (DK: “Creating Flow with OmniFocus”; AE: “OmniFocus Premium Posts”. Both give samples for this two very expensive works of art.

        I own all three books, but have not started with AE’s.



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