Its no secret that I find writing difficult. It takes me more time than most to write something, and then get it into a state that I am happy with before posting it to my blog. Recently however I have found a tool to help me with my writing, called iA Writer (Website).
MarkdownThe first thing is that it uses Markdown. If you know me, or read some of my other stuff you will know I am a big fan of Markdown. I first came across it in the world of coding but now use it for most writing tasks. I find that markdown helps me concentrate on my content and not worry too much about the presentation. This is important because I don’t need to deal with the presentation until I enter the post into WordPress. This allows me to concentrate on my ideas and what I want to say. In Markdown you can hint at some formatting, using a simple syntax. I won’t go to much into detail about markdown but you can read about it on wikipedia or read the syntax. Having an app that I can write markdown straight into is really useful. There are other applications that support markdown, these are mainly coding tools like Atom, Sublime, IntelliJ and many others. These applications though are not really set up for writing, and so lack some basic tool support like spelling and grammar checking and correction.
iA Writer supports MacOS native fullscreen mode, although this isn’t unusual in MacOS apps these days it is a big help. MacOS added fullscreen mode a while ago and as the name implies it allows you to make an app fill an entire space, i.e makes it full screen. The latest MacOS update El Capitan went one step further and allowed you to split the screen showing multiple apps together. I have found that this has helped me concentrate on what I am writing without been distracted by other things. The new snap feature on MacOS also helps me as when needed I can snap iA Writer and a Web browser for research into a single space. The fact that iA Writer fully supports the native MacOS tools is an important feature for me.
Another feature that helps me concentrate on what I am writing, and getting my ideas down is called Focus Mode. Focus Mode is part of iA Writer and basically fades out everything but the current section your working on. In iA Writer you can decide what you want to use as the focus in focus mode. You can select ether the current sentence or the current paragraph. I leave mine set to the default of the current sentence as that is the one I personally find the most useful.
iA Writer also includes a dark theme called Night Mode. Dark themes are popular in the development community where you are staring at lines of text all day in the form of code. As the name suggests Night Mode uses a darker colour scheme. In iA Writer this takes the form of white text on a dark blue/black background. The main advantage of this is that is easier on your eyes when staring at blocks of text for a long time. Been a developer I have become use to editing large blocks of text using a dark theme. This for me makes iA Writer easier and nicer to use as I can carry that through into my writing.
As you would expect iA Writer features all the normal writing tools that you would suspect from any writing focused application these days. It integrates nicely with the default MacOS grammar and spell checkers which is alway useful in hinting and catching mistakes. It also features character, word and sentence counters. As well as these basic stats iA Writer also has an average reading time counter. These tools are of course useful for tailoring and managing the length of my blog posts. Something else that iA Writer has, which is as far as I am aware is unique, is sentence syntax highlighting. When enabled this highlights the sentence structure to help guide you in structuring your sentences better. It highlights each of the important word types in a sentence in different colours such as verbs, nouns, Adjectives etc.
The last important thing for me when it comes to writing blog posts, which is currently what I mostly use iA Writer for is that it has built in integration with WordPress and iCloud. The WordPress Integration means that when I have finished my blog post content I can simply “push” it to my WordPress blog. This is much more reliable than the copy and paste method which can often have problems. Unfortunately it uses WordPress.com to be able to push the blog post. If like me you self host you can always install the Jetpack plugin from Automatic. Jetpack integrates your self hosted blog with WordPress.com’s control panel. This allows you to use a lot of the tools that are targeted at WordPress.com on your own self hosted blog.
Integration with iCloud on the other hand is very useful, when used with the iOS app. The iOS apps work both on iPhone and iPad (it may also work on iPod Touch but I have never owned one to test it). Although I don’t write on my iPhone as it isn’t really any good as a writing tool, apart from quick notes. Having my blog content on iOS is a great help for proof reading. It also adds the extra security of having my content backed up to the cloud, and be accessible from any Mac that I access.
I have been using iA Writer for a while now, and as a writing tool I have found invaluable. It helps me to write, and get my ideas out there in a clear and clean manor. It has many advantages over other tools that I have used. Previously I was using Evernote, but that lacks basic writing tools such as word count and spelling/grammar checking integration. I have also tried Apple’s own writing tool, Pages but that is a full blown word processor and doesn’t suite the idea of getting structured content down easily and fast. For anyone that does a lot of writing where content is more important than presentation, or where presentation can be handled later Ai Writer is a great tool. If you struggle with writing then it can also be a good tool to use, with focus mode and sentence highlighting allowing you to focus on your content. iA Writer has some other useful features for more general writing tasks, I choose not to cover these as I wanted to highlight how I use it.