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How I Write and Take Notes on iOS

Ia writer iPad

I’ve been re-evaluating the apps I use to write drafts and keep notes on iOS devices, and have decided to try a combination of iA Writer, Byword, and Evernote. My previous setup was highly dependent on Dropbox for storing all of my iSource drafts and day-to-day notes in separate sub-folders. I used iA Writer to write drafts and would use WriteRoom to store my drafts and notes in Dropbox. The great thing about that setup was that it could be accessed by most any Dropbox-capable app on any platform, everything was kept in plain .txt files, and all files were kept locally on my devices.

As awesome as my previous setup was, I felt it was time to shake things up a bit.

Using separate apps for note taking and draft writing means less fuss overall, as it allows me to have optimized views for each task. Viewing notes by the tens or hundreds is easy in Evernote because of its optimized list views and powerful search, and it’s a lot more pleasant to see a very small list of drafts in iA Writer, where extras like search and folders simply aren’t needed.

Back to Evernote

I’ve been wanting to use fewer apps across my devices, and since I still use Evernote for recipes and occasional notes, I thought I’d give it another shot as a dedicated note-taking service. The Evernote apps on the iPhone and iPad aren’t quite as fast as I’d like them to be, but I love all the extra metadata that can be stored in Evernote notes. Geo-tagging exactly where I created a note can be quite useful, and being able to insert pictures right into a note is also absurdly helpful. My notes are often about how to return to a given location or recording a picture of a dish I’d like to order again, and nothing beats Evernote for these kinds of tasks.

I thought that re-importing all of my text notes into Evernote would be a pain, especially since I could lose the order my notes were created in. Then I remembered that I’d actually written a post about importing notes into Evernote while preserving modified and creation dates.

iA Writer and Byword

However, because Evernote is prone to mucking up plain text (by occasionally removing all line breaks between paragraphs – argh), I’ve decided to keep my final drafts as plain text files in Dropbox. This means that final drafts are always backed up locally on my Mac, and still easily accessible from any of my devices.

Active drafts, those masses of text that dream of one day becoming final drafts, now reside within iA Writer and iCloud. I have iA Writer on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro, and although I haven’t been a very big fan of iCloud syncing, I have to use it for now because iA Writer’s Dropbox syncing just isn’t as user friendly. iA Writer can access Dropbox, but it won’t actually save any Dropbox data to an iOS device unless you do so manually or you lose your Internet connection during while editing (you’ll then find your draft saved in the "On my iPhone/iPad" folder).

I chose iA Writer over Byword for writing because the former’s Nitti Light typeface and typewriter scrolling are absolutely killer on the iPad – which is exactly the device I want to utilize more for work. The iPad screen isn’t as large or as high up as a laptop screen, so iA Writer’s focus mode, which keeps the text consistently on the top half of the screen, helps to reduce neck strain while typing.

The one thing I’ve had to get used to is how iCloud works on the Mac. When you start using iA Writer, saving a new draft will simply save a local copy (probably in the Documents folder), and you’ll need to click on the menu bar and manually move the file to iCloud before it will show up on the iPhone and iPad. I think this extra step is silly, as I’d prefer to save directly to the iCloud folder. Unfortunately, that folder is tucked away in the Library folder, which is hidden by default in OS X Lion. However, a quick Spotlight search for one of the files I knew I had kept in iA Writer gave me the exact folder address. I dragged this secret iCloud folder into the sidebar of Finder and then saved a blank text file in that folder from within iA Writer. This ensured that new text files from iA Writer on the Mac will save, by default, directly to the folder on my Mac that syncs with iCloud. Perfect.

Once a draft is finished, I copy and paste the text into Byword so that I can copy the raw HTML (originally written in Markdown) to my clipboard, which I can then insert directly into WordPress. Pasting the final draft into Byword also ensures that I have a backup copy of the draft sitting in Dropbox. iCloud works most of the time as a simple app-to-app syncing solution, but it’s a very poor substitute for the redundant backup beast that is Dropbox.

Conclusion

I’m going through another phase where I try to get a lot more of my work done on the iPad, and re-thinking the way I take notes and write drafts has been a big part of the process. I’m really liking this new system because it tends to play to each of the app’s strengths.

  • Evernote can muck up plain text, but it’s unbeatable as an "anything bucket", and the powerful search, media, and extra metadata allow me much more versatility than plain text notes
  • iA Writer is simply the best writing app I’ve found in my past year with the iPad, and so being able to use it across all three of my main devices is something I’ve wanted to try for a while
  • Byword is a relative newcomer to iOS, but its quick Dropbox syncing and awesome Markdown Preview and Export capabilities make it indespensable to me – so good that it has even replaced the awesome Notesy app on my home screen

I do lack the consistent local storage of my files, which was a major advantage of my previous system, but I’m also finding that I don’t need all of my notes all of the time. Evernote locally caches notes that I’ve opened, and opening particularly important notes at least once on my iPad and iPhone does the job (and there’s always a $5/month premium account if I really need local storage). I’ll be giving this setup a shot over the next few weeks and months and will report back if there are any hiccups.

 

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  • Quite interesting article.