Going iPad, Part 2 of 5: Writing on the iPad with Scrivener and SimpleNote

In part 1 of this series, I talked about my experience so far reading on the iPad. Today I want to discuss my experience writing on the device. Once again, my goal is to see how much of the work I do on a laptop can be transferred to the iPad. There is one exception in all of this, and that is writing. With my writing, I still plan on making use of my laptop as my primary tool for writing and there are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. I do most of my writing in my home office. The laptop is right there on my desk and so there is no reason to use to the iPad.
  2. I use Scrivener, which is an outstanding writing tool, by far the best that I have come across. While this is available on the Mac and Windows computers there is no iPad version.

However, there are times when I do write outside my office. When I am on a business trip or vacation I usually bring my laptop along with me. I sometimes write during my lunch hour at work. In these instances, if I have my laptop, I just go ahead and use it, and if I don’t I write in Google Docs and then transfer what I’ve written back into Scrivener when I am back in front of my laptop. But I now want to avoid having to take my laptop with me on these trips. And when I don’t have my laptop, I’d like a more seamless way of working with Scrivener. This is where the iPad fits in. It is small enough to make it easy to take with me. It has a far better battery life than my laptop. And while it doesn’t run Scrivener, it integrates with it far more seamlessly than Google Docs.

To integrate Scrivener with my iPad, I use an app called SimpleNote. As the name states, it is a simple note-taking application with a couple of important features:

  • It can organize notes by project.
  • While the notes are stores locally on the iPad, SimpleNote, like Google Docs is really a cloud-based application.

With these two features in mind, the good folks at Scrivener built in functionality that allows Scrivener to sync with SimpleNote. They have even produced an easy-to-follow video on how to sync between the two application. I watched the video, created an account with SimpleNote, and then proceeded to sync my current work in progress from within Scrivener to SimpleNote. When I opened the SimpleNote app on my iPad, there was my project with all of the notes that I requested by synchronized. It is easy to select a note (which can be a chapter, a scene, an outline, whatever) and start editing it right on the iPad. I can add new notes (scenes, chapters, etc.) and they will sync back into Scrivener so long as I tag them with the appropriate project keyword. For me, therefore, the overall process looks something like this:

  1. Work on story in Scrivener at home office.
  2. When finished, sync to SimpleNote.
  3. Outside home office, open SimpleNote on iPad, continue writing/editing
  4. When back in home office, sync to SimpleNote to pull in most recent changes.

So far this has worked pretty well. And since SimpleNote is nothing more than a simple text editor there is no need to play with styles or worry about formatting. I don’t worry about this stuff from within Scrivener since I ultimately just compile the finished story to standard manuscript format. That means that in SimpleNote, there is no need for rich-text editing.

When I am writing on the iPad, one thing that I don’t do is write with the on-screen keyboard. While I have found that I can type much faster on the on-screen keyboard than I can on my iPhone, I am still prone to make too many mistakes to make it practical for prolonged writing. Instead, I used a BlueTooth keyboard that I pair with the iPad. Using a keyboard makes all the difference, turning the iPad into a fully functional device for writing fiction (or essays, or whatever). When I am at work, writing at lunchtime, here is what my setup looks like:


On the screen is my SimpleNote project. The column on the left lists the files in the project and the window on the right is the text that I am working on. The text can be small and I haven’t yet found a way to increase the size of it, which would be a nice feature and is something that I do within Scrivener to make the text more readable. But the process of writing works well. The only awkward thing that I have encountered so far is my desire to reach for a mouse in order to highlight some text. Of course, there is no mouse for the iPad, but my muscle memory has me reaching for a mouse again and again. I imagine that once I’ve written on the iPad enough, I’ll get used to touching the screen instead of reaching for the mouse.

Of course, then, as my friend John pointed out to me, the truly awkward part will be sitting at my laptop writing, and instead of reaching for the mouse, swiping at the laptop screen with my finger.


    1. Mel, I hadn’t seen that. Looks pretty cool. I already have the wireless keyboard. Of course, this solution that you point out is more compact, but my keyboard and iPad still weigh less than my laptop. Thanks for pointing it out, though.

  1. Great post – I’ve been doing this myself, and have gotten so much extra work done when just waiting for other things to happen.

    You can adjust the font size in SimpleNote under the settings – it’s limited, but it can make a difference. You can also give yourself a full screen to work with by touching the little “square-with-arrows” that shows up in the lower right-hand corner of SimpleNote.

    1. Judy, interesting. When I checked just now I didn’t see the app in the app store either, and so I hopped over to the SimpleNoteApp website. On their downloads page, there is a message that the apps are “temporarily unavailable. Returning Soon.” As far as I can tell the version I have on my iPad is still working just fine.

  2. You might like to try the ZAGGmate keyboard and case combination, now called the “Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2” (the original was for the iPad 1, which I bought it for). While slightly narrower than a real keyboard (thus not being quite as good for touchtyping as you have mentioned, it has the virtue of supporting all the function keys, tab, control, command, option etc. while also acting as an iPad case when travelling. Really good and compact, and stays together with the iPad while simultaneously supporting it – this means I have been able to use it in talks balancing the whole thing on my lap – not possible with a regular bluetooth keyboard!

  3. Great post. Like you, I love Scrivener. After getting my iPad a few weeks ago, I wrote to the folks at Scrivener about the possibility of seeing an iPad edition sometime soon. According to their response, one is in the works but it won’t be coming until after further refinements to Scrivener 2 and a forthcoming PC release. Until that time, I’ve been trying Simplenote and another program called Clean Writer, which can be saved to a Dropbox account.

  4. Nice review and analysis. I like the iPad for it’s ease and portability, so using an additional keyboard on a regular basis were I to e doing a lot of writing…well, I’d stick to the laptop.

    The virtual keyboard works best when I slow down my natural typing speed; it reduces the error rate considerably. Also literally leaving it on my lap rather than above crossed legs (sometimes more comfortable) increases accuracy.

    There are a couple of apps on my laptop that I don’t believe are available for iPad so I still need the laptop– which continues to have the advantage of a desktop and having multiple apps open concurrently.

  5. I’ve been using Elements as my iPad text editor, which seamlessly syncs with Dropbox so I can copy/paste my text back into Scrivener (using Mac version).

    IA Writer also syncs w/Dropbox and it’s quite the “distraction-free” writing tool, but I’m not using it as much Elements.

  6. Wow, talk about late to the party. I use Notebooks on the iPad and absolutely love it. One of the nicest features: finger-zoom of onscreen fonts. Just blows me away. Also, markdown support for those pesky italics, dropbox integration, word-counts on folders (great for chapter, then book breakdowns), and context support (tags, essentially). I keep finding new ways of using the app. Only downside is that it’s not universal, but it’s a testament to the app that I actually bought it for both iOS devices.

  7. I’m wondering if it’s possible to integrate iThoughtsHD with Scrivener? iThoughtsHD is a fantastic mind mapping tool. I’ve found it’s great to outline a paper. You can add notes, easily rearrange, and link different sections. Then, export as an OPML outline or html to pull into another program.

  8. I just picked up an iPad2. I knew it wasn’t going to be a replacement for my netbook, but I had hopes. They were dashed rather quickly, I’m afraid.
    I use Liquid Story Binder to write. The UI looks pretty clunky, but I’ve found nothing out there (including scrivener), that does everything LSB does for me. I’ve been playing with Scrivener recently, and it does a lot though, which is nice.
    However, I’ve found nothing on the iPad that allows me to use it as a serious writing platform. Scrivener might someday come out with an iPad version, but I’m not holding my breath.
    Most iPad apps that I’ve looked into — and bought and used — are horrible when it comes to syncing. Or they don’t export/import rtf files. I don’t trust the cloud, so I wouldn’t use dropbox or the other services. Plus, I keep what I write encrypted, and there’s no encryption allowed in the Apple walled garden.
    In short, while I do like the iPad and it has a bunch of very useful functions that I use, I’m sad to say that it’s a long way from replacing my netbook when it comes to writing.
    I’ll be looking forward to parts 4 and 5 of your iPad2 series.

  9. I do all of my writing on my iPad. I have for about a year and a half. All of it is for grad school though. But, I do always reach for the screen of my laptop now to highlight text 🙂

  10. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday.
    It will always be helpful to read through articles from
    other writers and practice a little something from
    other web sites.

  11. Great article. Just getting into writing. Planning to do Nanowrimo this month. Will definately be trying the scrivener – simple toe sync.

    When using your Bluetooth keyboard, I find the quickest way to select text is to navigate to it using the arrow keys – press and hold shift – navigate to the end of what you want selected and that selects the text you want.

  12. Aha! I was searching for a good way to sync up my writing on the iPad with the novel I’m working on in Scrivener, and found your site. Thanks for the how-to and link to the Scrivener video. This sounds like a great solution.

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