Writing and Technology

Writing and Technology Carolyn Style

I recently bought an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil, since some writers I know had switched entirely and my MacBook Pro is aging a bit. In addition, I have at last found a Mac app that I can write in without being incredibly frustrated and annoyed. My novella, The Viscount’s First Kiss, was written entirely using the Ulysses app.  Ulysses exports to Word, PDF, and HTML, among other formats. It syncs seamlessly between all my devices. I’m fifty thousand words into a novel with Ulysses.

I have some nitpicks, but  in the main I like it. In case you’re wondering, for essentially my entire writing career I’ve been using WordPerfect. When I switched to Mac OS, I installed a Windows virtual machine so I could continue using WordPerfect. There’s a lot about WordPerfect I miss, but Ulysses is the first acceptable replacement I’ve found that works for me.  Yes, I tried Scrivener but it just doesn’t work for me. I know it does for others and more power to you. I keep hoping that Scrivener will address its controlling propensities and stop interfering in the way I want to write. With Ulysses, I started writing and just kept going. I didn’t have to fight with the interface, and it took me about thirty seconds to read about how to make things look the way I want them to.

Anyway,  a while back, my MacBook Pro underwent some kind of glitch that required a complete reformat and restore from backup. To be honest I haven’t bothered to fix the Windows virtual machine on it since I bought the iPad Pro.

What I love About The iPad Pro For Writing

It’s a lot lighter than my MacBook Pro, but about the same dimensions other than thickness.  I bought the Apple keyboard cover, which is pretty sweet. That keyboard is about the same size as the keyboard for the MacBook Pro. When I’m writing on it, I love that it’s a touch screen, too.  I am able to rest the iPad Pro on the exercise bike do-hickey for holding devices, and have been able to dictate while I exercise.  This gives me an additional hour of writing time, which is nice.  I’ve used the Apple pencil a little less than I thought.  I find the documentation for my notebook apps to be pretty bad, and I hate spending more than a few minutes trying to figure out how to do something. However, I have used it for some note booking, for example, and that has been absolutely awesome. Writing longhand is a different experience and a different way of unlocking the writing brain.

What I Don’t Like About Writing on The iPad Pro

iOS is simply not quite as functional as Mac OS there are a couple of things I cannot do on the iPad Pro that I can do on Mac OS, predominantly having to do with one or two apps that I like. The reasons this is a con for writing, is that I want to travel with the iPad Pro and not have to bring the MacBook Pro.

Slight Segue Into Dictation

A couple of years ago I started using dictation because I wanted to make sure I preserved the functionality of my fingers and wrists and because once you settle into the dictation it can be a lot faster than  typing by hand. I had a disaster once that I resolved by dictating a massive number of edits that had been lost. If I hadn’t done that I would not have been able to finish my book on time. For my emergency, I used the built-in Apple dictation. It was not perfect but it worked and well enough I that I bought Dragon dictation both for Mac OS and Windows. Unfortunately, neither was seamless or effortless. Yuck.

What I don’t understand is why Apple insists on using straight quotes in apps where curly quotes are available and enabled. Word corrects this  annoyance, but the Ulysses app does not. Straight quotes are an abomination in fiction. Dragon, however, fixes those straight quotes, so I’m stuck using Dragon When I am writing on the iMac. Speech recognition in Dragon for Mac is pretty awful. Considering how expensive the program is, Nuance should be ashamed. In iOS, I have to use Apple dictation and for some reason that is completely beyond me, when the keyboard cover is attached to the iPad Pro you cannot dictate. WTF, Apple? When I’m on the bike, I remove the cover so I can dictate.

That said, I have watched Apple dictation perfectly transcribe my words and then change them to near gibberish as they are processed. Why? Why? Why is there no setting that allows me to tell it that I am dictating fiction and to stop changing everything to present tense or using pronouns that aren’t the pronouns I used. In addition, there are several  punctuation conventions for fiction that Apple and Dragon completely blow over. It drives me batty. For dialogue, a comma, followed by a close quote should not be followed by a capital letter unless that word actually requires a capital letter: “More coffee,” Mrs. Smith said. But: “More coffee,” she said with a desperate smile. NOT “More coffee,” She said.

It’s annoying as hell. Oh and also for some reason on my computers, both Dragon and Apple dictation randomly capitalize words. Really?

 All in All

Nevertheless, I have not used the MacBook Pro in quite some time. The combination of the iPad Pro, Ulysses app, and the Apple Pencil overlap with several functionalities: a MacBook Pro, a paper notebook, printed MSS, and pens and ink. There was a day when I forgot to bring the iPad Pro with me but I had my regular iPad. I was able to work exactly where I left off. If I had to, I could write on my iPhone.

That said, the RWA National Conference is coming up and I haven’t decided if I’m also going to bring the MacBook Pro. If I don’t, there is an app I use daily that I will have to skip. It wouldn’t be a big deal, though. So I think probably not. My board service means that I fly several times a year and that means I have learned to hate flying, checked luggage, and heavy purses.

Overall, I really like the Ulysses app and hope that they work on the needs of fiction authors. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the portability and lightness of the iPad Pro, and the ability to do longhand writing with it. This combination does most of what I need. It’s just short of perfect.

I find it ironic that so many apps, including Microsoft Word, talk about how great they are for professional writing when in fact they fall down in crucial ways that professional fiction writers need. I would pay a lot of money for WordPerfect as a native Mac App.



Comments are closed.