8 iPad Apps for Brilliant Writing

image of iPad device

While I was up late one night reading the Copyblogger archives (yes, I know I need to get a life), I stumbled across a great post discussing some brilliant writing tips.

The post inspired me to write — but since I was on my iPad at the time, how was I going to capture my brilliant insights on my mobile device?

More and more people are using mobile devices to create content — and thankfully, there are a slew of new apps that make it incredibly easy to write on the go.

Not long ago, I talked about a few ways to use the iPad to get your writing mojo back. I wouldn’t want to leave anyone hanging once they were ready to bust out that next great article, so here we are again with the tools to get the job done.

Here are 8 tools you can use for your own brilliant writing:

1. Pages

Not mentioning this tool would be a sin. It was the very first iPad app to hit the app store (there are now over 32,000). If you use the desktop version of this great Word processor then you will be instantly familiar with the mobile version.

Apple does not leave much out. You get a nice clean writing surface with the ability to go into full-screen mode for distraction-free writing. You also get tables, basic editing tools, image placement, and some really nice templates.

Pages has also made some recent updates which added more functionality, such as the ability to store your documents online and the importing of Office docs. You can check out Pages here.

2. Clean Writer

Clean writer is a writing tool for the minimalist. It focuses on simplicity with a zen-like interface. This is a word processor for those who just want to show up and write.

Clean Writer doesn’t bog down your creative genius with lots of features you don’t need; every tool has a simple, useful purpose.

Hats off to the developers for creating something writers can use for under $1. Check out Clean Writer here.

3. My Writing Nook

If you are writing an ebook or a book meant for print, then this is a tool you don’t want to miss. It’s a little different than a simple word processor, because it helps you organize your writing into chapters and has a unique screen layout meant for book writing.

One really nice thing about this app is the work you do on it will be automatically synced with the online version. This means you can work on your book from your desktop, laptop, and/or iPad.

In contrast to Clean Writer, this one has a lot more features. It is definitely meant for the focused writer who is working on a book. You can check out My Writing Nook here.

4. Chapters — Notebooks for Writing

Maybe you haven’t gotten to the writing-an-ebook part. Maybe you’re still brainstorming, taking notes, making sure you don’t lose any valuable ideas. You need a note-taking program

The problem with a lot of the other note programs is that they are unorganized. This app is anything but. It keeps your notes organized in virtual notebooks, which can then be password protected if you choose. It is also full of other useful features, from adding photos to creating PDFs.

At its core, this is a tool that helps you organize your thoughts in a brilliant way. You can check out Chapters here.

5. Chronicle for iPad

Along the same lines as Chapters, this is a tool that actually encourages you to write more. It offers up some pretty compelling ways to immerse yourself in your writing.

The look and feel is that of a regular paper journal, but it’s much more than that. It is a distraction-free way of writing and organizing.

This is a good option for creative types who like to jot down ideas, put all your thoughts together however seems best, or throw out new sentences just to remember them later. If you’re on a flight or waiting for an appointment and you want to jot down some thoughts for your next book or blog post, this is a great way to do it. Check out Chronicle here.

6. Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus

As writers and bloggers, we are well aware of the power of words — but often, the perfect word eludes us. Enter those old standbys: the dictionary and thesaurus.

Here is an app that is both.

The great thing about this tool is that you can use it even while offline. Keep it handy and while you are writing, use it to expand your vocabulary, or get “unstuck” when trying to find just the right word. It definitely helps with brilliant writing.

You can check out the Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus here.

7. Grammar App HD

There are some great grammar tips here on Copyblogger but what if you don’t have access to Copyblogger? What if you are actually offline?

Scary thought, I know. But it happens.

If you have poor grammar, it’s impossible to produce brilliant writing. Grammar is essential to both clarity and purposeful communication, and you have to know the rules in order to conversationally break them. This app helps you be a more grammatical, less chimp-like writer.

It offers tips, rules, and examples of grammar you can check out while you are writing. It’s a handy app to have in your writer’s toolkit right along with your dictionary and favorite word processor. Check out Grammar App HD here.

8. iA Writer

Have you ever heard that the key to good writing is focus? It’s true.

iA Writer lets you focus without any distractions. In fact, it was designed to eliminate distractions entirely, so nothing stands between you and getting those brilliant sentences onto the page.

iA Writer creates a writing environment that is noise-free with zero distractions. No spelling checkers. No auto-correction. No toolbars. All these features are hidden away and revealed only when you need them.

iA Writer also offers pleasing typography that is easy on the eyes, and has a nice feature called “reading time” which lets you know how long it will take to read your text. This handy little tool also syncs up with your DropBox account if you have one. You can check out iA Writer here.

Making Mobile Writing Happen

All of these apps are great for brilliant writing. But there is one more thing …

If you are going to be building your writer’s toolkit using apps and a mobile device (let’s assume an iPad), then you need to have a good way to actually, you know, write.

While you can train yourself to use touch screens, they’re just not recommended for long periods of composing.

I would recommend that you invest in a keyboard and a stand. There are literally hundreds of products out there but I use the Apple Keyboard Dock and it serves my purpose well. You can also get a Bluetooth keyboard and a separate stand.

What do you have in your mobile writing toolkit? Let us know about your favorites in the comments.

About the Author: Shane uses his Tablet Computer Geeks blog to deliver the latest and best iPad information, including accessory reviews, app reviews, and industry updates. Follow him on Twitter at tc_geeks.

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  1. Shane:

    I’m always happy to see a Copyblogger article on technology. Perhaps it’s because I’m a former technologist myself?

    I’ll have to check out the different writing iPad applications.

    Not much to say today, as I haven’t tested any of these apps myself. Thanks for the technology post.

    Randy

    • As always Randy,

      It’s great to see your reply and wisdom! Well, I think the most important part of this is the amazing technology we have at our disposal these days for so little investment.

  2. These writing Pads are crazy awesome, my wife asked me to get her on the other day..guess its time for me to spend some money.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • I prefer the notebook and the good responsive keyboard. Nothing’s better ;)

      • True – although I have to say once you add on an external keyboard, it’s pretty impressive to say the least…but yeah for writing anything longer than an email you will want a “real” keyboard.

      • Funny you should say that (same thought here by the way) because really, it’s come full circle in that case.

        If you are going to put the thing in a stand and use a keyboard, then you basically have a touch screen laptop. Though with the KB tethered on, you aren’t going to touch the screen much, so you basically have a laptop.

        For me, there’s nothing sweeter than the MacBook Pro Air 13, though I have the MacBook Pro 13 Unibody. My birthday is coming.

        :)

    • Ha! Yeah and they are oddly addicting – you can write, surf the web, and check email….even more reason to be connected 24/7 ;-)

  3. Thank you for this article! A friend of mine was asking me about writing and book apps for the iPad. So this post is very timely! I will forward him your post and see which app he decides to use!

    • You are more than welcome! For starting out, he might want to try out one of the $.99 writing apps to get in the groove, and then move up to Pages – but in either case, look into that external keyboard accessory to make it a far better writing experience :-)

  4. After doing a lot of comparison shopping, I elected to go the Docs to Go-Dropbox route rather than Pages, and I highly, highly recommend this for people who need to do a lot of writing on the go. I think it’s better to integrate the tools that you already use rather than trying to reinvent the wheel with a completely new program that may or may not be compatible with other programs. Now my notes and compositions both live in the cloud (via Dropbox-Docs to Go and Evernote) and I am never without whether I am on computer or iPad.

    • I really struggled with the decision whether to buy Pages or Docs to Go. Before the iPad, I did all of my writing in Google Docs so that it was accessible anywhere. I may have to go ahead and try Docs to Go also.

    • Hi Amanda,
      You bring up a really good point. And while it was “rumored” that Pages was to support Dropbox, Apple instead chose to use “WebDav” which really doesn’t mean much to most people. Additionally, until the MobileMe service finally decides to be free, Dropbox is one of the best choices for storing your work.

    • I needed Docs To Go and love DropBox. That combo works very well for writing. Since getting the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, I prefer typing a rough draft on my iPad. I then use my computer for final formatting and editing.

      I tried apps like Note Taker HD and AudioNote which accept handwriting. That works reasonably well with a stylus but then you’re forced to retype the content.

  5. Thanhks so much for this! I have had my iPad for just a few days, and was wondering what to use for writing blog posts whilst on the move (I use Windows Live Writer at home). I’m looking forward to exploring these 8 apps this evening — I need to get a life too!

    • Ha! It’s OK Terry, we have lives, we are just more informed. Well, I will say this you can always stop by tcgeeks to take in as much as you can to learn about your new iPad and never hesitate to ask a question. As for blogging, I have found that the WordPress app (assuming you use WordPress) is about a 5 on a scale from 1-10. It’s just “ok”. What I have been doing is using the pure web version of WordPress for posts and then using the WordPress app for comments!

      • I have just got my ipad purely for keeping intune with my blogs whilst on the go, but I seem to struggle with the ipad app for WordPress, as you say its a 5/10. Great for comments but not much else. After reading this article I got the “pages” app, plus a few others, (it’s addictive isn’t it…) for my ipad which is great to write with, but transposing my finished article to wordpress (on the ipad App.) is very long-winded as far as I can figure out. Cutting and pasting and then inserting the images etc and code. Obviously I use the web version when I can but I love my ipad and want to use it more, has anyone figured a simple way to do this? My blog is a new one and I need to get content online so any help would be gratefully recieved.
        Thanks in advance.
        p.s. A great way to proof read your work is let your daughter read it before posting, she’s 13 years old and reads the blogs exactly as they are, highlighting all the mistakes….it works!!!

  6. Writing on the iPad??? Who writes on the iPad?

    Can you do an article on writing applications for the Mac or PC?

    Thanks, Len.

    • Lots of people are writing on the iPad, that’s why we did the post. :)

      A quick Google search should have you covered on writing apps for the Mac or PC.

    • Len,

      Brian is absolutely correct – additionally in about 30 days or so you will have the Mac App Store available and be able to get all the apps you want (writing ones included) right on your Mac ;-)

  7. Shane,

    Nice roundup. Many people consider the iPad a device strictly for content consumption, not content creation, but I think that will change with better tools. And yes, you definitely need an input device, trying to type on the iPad’s built in keyboard can drive you batty.

    I’ve switched to the iPad for all my first-draft writing and blogging. Combined with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard ($69) and a stand (I use the Compass stand and suggest you get something other than the dock because every time you want to stand it up you have to plug into the port and these ports are probably the weakest part of the device). This setup is extraordinarily flexible and portable.

    And beyond a doubt, iA Writer is the best “content creation” tool there is for the iPad. For pure brain-dumping, hair-on-fire, nonstop writing, it’s simply awesome and in a class by itself.

    • Joel,
      Always nice to hear from you…much appreciated. Funny you should mention the Compass — I own one and also the external keyboard dock. Ironically they both have a place especially since I also use my iPad for an alarm clock and the Compass is perfect for letting it sit there while I sleep.

      iA is definitely an amazingly simple writer (and cheap too) that is perfect for drafts – in fact I used it for the bulk of this post and it’s the best “minimal” writing app I’ve seen yet.

  8. Sometimes, Copyblogger, you read my mind. I’ve been looking for just this kind of resource for my dad who writes textbooks and is thinking about purchasing his very first iPad. You may have just sealed the deal (you can ask Apple to make that commission check payable to Copyblogger)…Thank you!

    • Melissa,

      I assure you I have a crystal ball and it’s attached to Steve Job’s desk….LOL. Honestly, thank you for the feedback and I’m glad this helped. Just don’t put the Angry Birds game on the iPad for your dad or you might not hear from him for awhile ;-)

  9. Good stuff! Any recommendations for an app that allows you to access the hard drive on your desktop (remotely) — so, let’s say you’re stuck at the airport and you decide to edit or continue writing an article/promo/book you’ve been working on in Word — and have all changes instantly synced on the desktop? Does such an app even exist — so you’re actually using Word on the iPad via your desktop. Or do you just have to have everything in the cloud and have all devices synced that way? Thanks. — Barry

    • Barry –
      Absolutely. AirSharing HD does the trick. You can find it in the iTunes app store. It mounts as a disk right on the iPad so you can copy back and forth. For your scenario however, I think you might want to consider Documents To Go and use Google Docs. The reason I say this is because Google Docs are “in the cloud” and you can access them from either your home connection on a mac or pc and then you can also get something like Documents To Go for the iPad and access your Google docs right on the iPad and keep working.

      So think of Google Docs as the hub of creation. To access that hub (your documents) you can use the web at home, or the iPad (with an app).

  10. Slightly off topic question, but I’m thinking about an IPad purchase. I’m wondering, how much has the ipad increased/decreased your overall productivity?

    • Koby, one of the greatest things about the iPad is the fact that it doesn’t multitask. This single fact makes it incredibly productive for writers who need to actually, you know, write. After writing on the iPad for a few months I’ve been able to turn out 1,000-word blog posts in about 40 minutes, something I could never do on my desktop PC because I just can’t ignore all the other stuff–email, Twitter, FB updates etc–that ping in the background constantly. When there’s nothing else to do, you just focus on writing.

    • Joel is absolutely correct –

      While it does offer “multitasking” it is much different in that it can really only “do” one thing at a time. And with most writing apps offering a full-screen mode, you really are focused immediately one single task.

      This,however, does not discount for all of the people that walk up and say “is that an iPad?” ;-)

    • Typing on the iPad with a physical keyboard is very satisfying. The screen size is reasonable and you’re not distracted by other windows or task bars. When something’s easy to use, you’re drawn to using it more.

      The multitasking is really task switching and isn’t as easy as Alt-Tab in Windows. So it’s easier to stay within one app than to jump around. When you focus, more gets done :)

  11. I enjoyed the subtle capitalization of Word processor in the Pages section. Kind of a magnet, isn’t it.

    Thanks for the post.

  12. Thanks for the great article. I’ve been on the fence about buying and iPad because of the difficulty/frustration in writing. You just made up my mind.

  13. Excellent roundup of some apps I hadn’t seen before – thank you! (I suppose this means I need to go buy a keyboard now…)

    • Of course….it’s all a ploy to get Apple some much needed cash. LOL…..

      Seriously, if you do get a Keyboard, consider two options:

      1. You can get the Bluetooth Wireless keyboard with an iPad Stand

      2. You can get the Apple Keyboard Dock with a built-in Stand

      For maximum flexibility, you might want to choose #1 since the separation of stand and keyboard allow for more use of the iPad in various situations. As I stated above, I have had great luck with the Compass Stand from Twelve South (it’s on Amazon).

  14. I’m waiting for someone to point out that the link given for Chronicle is the same one as Chapters. ;)

    Even searching the app store for Chronicle doesn’t bring it up – strange – maybe it’s me…

  15. I love my iPad, but I can’t use it for writing. For me, it’s a really portable device that I take everywhere, and hauling around a stand and keyboard really defeats the purpose. I’d rather have a netbook or Macbook Air in that case. I just don’t think the iPad is suited to writing.

    • Honestly Ryan, I felt the same way. But the keyboard dock + iPad takes up way less room in my bag than my heavy 17 inch MacBook Pro, so it’s actually less of a burden as long as I have writing to do that doesn’t involve multitasking. Plus, I still have the convenience of a tablet for other tasks. Try opening a Macbook Air online at Starbucks to reply to an email and see how that works. ;)

    • Hey there Ryan –

      Thanks for the comment. I can see that point of view certainly, and I have both an Air and the iPad. Here is what I have found: they both have a place in my writing world. With the right bag, I can easily carry around the iPad with a keyboard and it’s still pretty light – compared to a few years ago.

      I find that for the plane or for a coffee shop, the iPad is great for writing an article or a short business plan. For more industrious and hardcore work, I use both that and my Air.

      Ironically, I’ve been able to somehow fit both of these in as “needs” ;-)

      • I agree with Ryan– I LOVE iA Writer (reviewed it on my blog), but I’m not using it as much as I thought due to the keyboard limitations of the iPad.

        I didn’t opt for the bluetooth keyboard but rather pre-ordered a Zaggmate (http://www.zagg.com/accessories/zaggmate.php). Hasn’t arrived yet.

        I mostly use the iPad for RSS and other reading/listening/watching. Doing so turns my laptop into more of a device of production than a device of consumption. It works!

  16. Fabulous timing. Thirteen family members clubbed together and got me an iPad for Christmas (hurrah for big families eh?!) which they very generously allowed me to have early. I love it and whilst I understand your recommendation about getting an external stand and keyboard, after just a week I’m already loving the touch screen keyboard. I’ve not yet tried any of these apps so I’m looking forward to trying them out. Up until now I’ve been using the built in notes app together with the WordPress app for blog posts. They’re a satisfying combination but I could always use an excuse to browse the store. ;)

    • El,

      That’s a great gift huh? And don’t you love opening that box and there it sits, just begging to be used!

      That’s great that you have been able to use the on-screen keyboard so efficiently. I am pretty fast on it, but having used traditional keyboards for so long, I just feel more “comfortable” on them.

      Oh, and rumor has it that if you get any games on the iPad and the kids find it, you will no longer have access to it ;-)

  17. I really need to get an iPad.

  18. As a blogger and a recent iPad user, I’m glad you’d compile a list of writer’s apps. I can’t wait to try all these apps and see which works the best for me and my writing mojo ;)

    • Ha! Oh yeah, the Mojo…..well as it turns out, once you get going with one of the writing apps (especially iA writer) your Mojo will be flowing and you might just get so excited you write a novel!

      :-)

  19. I’m looking to get an ipad next year. I’m glad to see that there are a good number of apps for writers. I’m really looking forward to being more portable with my blogging.

  20. Wow, so many people have an iPad. They are very popular and useful. I don’t have an iPad because it is used by AT&T and I’m on Verizon Wireless. Great informative article.

    • Frankie, just so you know, iPads have been available on Verizon since October 28. Verizon even has a separate iPad ad on TV that I’ve caught a number of times. So check with your Verizon provider if you’re considering buying one — I’ve had a WiFi iPad for the past 6 months and use it every day.

      Shane, thanks for the excellent article. I need a writing app desperately and your piece has convinced me to get iA Writer. My only question: do all of these apps save your work on the iPad when you’re finished writing, or do you have to save it on Dropbox? What happens if you’re writing while not connected to a WiFi network (like in a subway). Does your work just disappear?

      • Hi Roy,

        A number of these apps do save them “locally” as it were. They offer the ability to share them via Dropbox or box.net as a convenience but not as a necessity. This is because of times, like on a subway, where you might not have direct access to the Internet either via Wi-Fi or 3G.

        So your work won’t disappear. In the case of the iA writer, it has a manual sync mode which allows you to open the app and keep working but you can choose to sync it with Dropbox if you want to save your changes.

        • Shane, thanks so much! After reading your reply, I went ahead and bought iA Writer. I’ve only played around with it so far, but already like it a lot (especially the font). I’ll probably have to buy Pages as well (to import my existing Word for Mac docs) but I can already see that I’ll end up using iA Writer when writing stories, etc.

          BTW, have you seen the newest Brookstone catalogue? They’re featuring a new slim iPad case that has a built-in Bluetooth wireless keyboard and stand. It looks wicked cool…

          • You are more than welcome Roy! I hope you like iA as much as I do every single day! Oh and yeah, I saw the Brookstone (it comes in the mail along with 50 other catalogs) and that is pretty darn cool but wait until you see this:

            http://www.clamcase.com

  21. I can’t believe nobody has mentioned PlainText yet, and that it wasn’t included in the master list. It came out around the same time as iA Writer, and philosophically is very similar to that stripped-down app–but its huge strength (to me) is automatic Dropbox sync, unlike iA Writer where you have to manually add or remove files before editing them. With PlainText, your Dropbox directory is displayed as soon as you launch the app, and edits are saved automatically. It lacks iA Writer’s cool hyper-focus mode, but it does let you clear everything but the text off the screen, even the keyboard if you’re using an external one.

    Other qualities that make me love it (and I’m just a customer, not a shill): it works on the iPhone/iPod Touch as well as the iPad, and there’s a fully functional free version (ad supported) so you can take it for a test run before handing over any money.

    http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/plaintext

    More bonus points: if you use a writing app like Scrivener on the OS X platform, you can set up PlainText to sync with it. For me, this Scrivener+PlainText+Dropbox approach has been perfect for a seamless mobile writing experience. (Scrivener costs money; a Dropbox account is free.)

    Also, I second what another reader wrote above: get an account on AppShopper and use its free alert system to pick up iOS apps when they’re free or heavily discounted. You’ll save yourself tons of money in general. (Although in this specific category you might have less luck; I constantly track writing apps and they’re rarely free.)

  22. I LOVE IAWriter. I don’t love fixed-width fonts and inflexibility as a rule, but for actually GettingThe Words Down, this is an awesome app.

    I loved it when I was using it with my bluetooth keyboard, but I loved it even more when I was using it with the on-screen keyboard. Those extra keys it puts in above the native keyboard are just perfect (arrow keys, punctuation you use all the time in real writing, a ‘skip to the next/previous word button’. Love it.

  23. I agree this is a great roundup. Glad one or two of these has wireless printing.

    However, I still can’t find an app that mirrors the Track Changes and Grammar Check from Microsoft Word, (TextMate looks close but no cigar.)

    Until those are a reality in iPhone/iPad, I’m stuck with my laptop, and loving Windows 7.

  24. You hit a couple of my favorite writing tools, but let me also throw into the mix SurfWrite, an application that splits the screen into two panes. On one side, you can surf and research, while on the other side you can take notes. Copy and paste is enabled. Rather than flipping back and forth between a couple applications, I can do the bulk of my research in one place.

    I’m a fan of Chapters, I just wish that I could place pictures where I want them on the page rather than have them at the end of each chapter.

  25. Thanks for the recommendations. Our company just bought our salespeople iPads to use while they travel, and while they aren’t always using them for writing/blogging, some of these apps look especially useful for taking down notes during meetings, and go way beyond the standard “notepad” app that comes pre-installed on the iPad.

  26. Great list of apps and I concur with all of them esp iAWriter

    Before I write anything now I do two things

    1. Do a drawing using Brushes on what I am about to write about

    2. Mind Map it using iThoughts

    - this prep gets my neurology set up and takes me to areas I wouldn’t have thought of

  27. … how about creative inspiration?

    Writing Prompts — the App!

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/writing-prompts/id417683378?mt=8

  28. You can also try iBookWriter
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ibookwriter/id445174705?mt=8

    It has a free version too.

  29. David Olsen :

    Shane, is this where you are now? I miss your reviews on TCgeeks.com

  30. My favorite is and will always be Pages. It’s simple and user-friendly and thanks to the iWork.com Beta makes me feel like am storing efficiently on the cloud! Lol.

  31. English Dictionary and Thesaurus apps are must . It will improve our writing. Nice post.

  32. I stumbled on this blog while looking for a way to put my words into an editorial for my local newspaper. I’m home sick today Honest! And I’m compelled to start writing it. Now am distracted with all these suggestions! AHHH! Great blog, actually the first ever really found that is so useful and on topic. Still not sure what to get but that is just the imp getting in the way. I call her Miss Dopportunity, do you know her?

    Thank you everyone!

  33. i was excited to find this post and comments, because i thought i would finally see something about being able to write on an ipad. but no, everyone is talking about “writing” when they really mean “typing”. when is the most natural thing in the world, writing on a piece of paper with a pencil (stylus) going to be implemented in a practical way on the ipad?