iPhone/touch, WriteRoom & TextExpander

If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, you might want to take advantage of two brief, coordinated sales that accompany the announcement that WriteRoom for the iPhone, which syncs with Scrivener, now works with TextExpander, an iPhone app that expands short abbreviations into something much longer, saving time on that tiny touch keyboard.

The price cuts are substantial. Normally, both are $4.99 each, but until noon U.S. Pacific time on Sept. 30th (at least for TextExpander), they’re on sale for $1.99 each. You can find more details here:

tuaw.com/2009/09/28/textexpa … tegration/

Also, if you’re don’t yet have an iPhone/touch, you can still buy applications via iTunes and install them later. New versions won’t cause any problems. iTunes is smart enough to let you know when you need to update an application.

I’ve been using WriteRoom on my new iPod touch and find it’s the best application for anything longer than a couple of paragraphs. Adding TextExpander should make that even more true. When I get more familiar with both, I’ll post a review here.

Until then, feel free to post here your own comments about on-the-go writing with the iPhone/touch, WriteRoom, and TextExpander. I know I’d have loved to have had all three with me when I did my four-month ramble through Europe years ago.

–Michael W. Perry, Seattle

Here’s my post on using an iPod touch with WriteRoom is as a writer’s tool. I’ve been using the two for only a couple of weeks and that in the midst of a major reorganization of my life, so feel free to make your own comments. I’m still learning.

Experiments with Cell Phones

For the last year I’ve made an odd hobby of picking up GSM cell phones for $2 from Goodwill and seeing if I can get them to work on T-Mobile, as well as do more with them than call. My original candy bar Nokia was a pain. It is very reliable, but the user interface seems to have been designed by a sadist. I’ve never learned to use it properly.

A Motorola Razr was better and synched nicely with my iMac. But for some strange reason it lacked any ability to take notes. That mattered no more when the screen died after only a week. I miss it, although mostly because it looked so cool.

I tolerate my current dull-as-dust Audiovox smart phone simply because it gets good ratings for coverage and audio, the features that matter most in a cell phone. The interface is a pain and it won’t sync with Macs. Linked by USB, my iMac turned up its nose and said, in essence, “You have connected me to a Windows Mobile device. I don’t talk to them.” There is third-party software that will sync, but $50 software to use a $2 phone makes no sense. Lack of sync means not using its limited productivity features. I’ve never wanted to use a number keypad to type letters anyway.

The iPod touch

I was ticked off a few weeks ago when Apple didn’t add a decent camera to the new iPod touches. After a few days I cooled down, especially when I noticed that the Apple Store was offering some very good prices on refurbished touches: $150 for the 8-gig model, $200 for 16-gig and $250 for 32-gig. Apple upgraded their newer, faster models, but these models are the same as the low-end model they’re continuing to sell. That means that Apple has had a lot of time to iron out the glitches. I ordered the 16-gig.

The user interface for the touch is a delight. Purists complain about the fact that, other than playing music while doing other things, it can’t multi-task. That doesn’t matter much, particularly given the small screen. Since applications can remember where they were when you pushed the Home button to exit back to the home screen, you can move around quite quickly. If you’re in WriteRoom and need to consult the Calendar for a date, pushing Home will exit WriteRoom and touching the Calendar icon will display a calender. Pushing Home again will return you to the home screen where touching WriteRoom will return you to precisely where you left off in WriteRoom. Given the small screen, it could hardly be faster.

The big negative is that typing on a touch screen is nothing to get excited about, particularly if you have big, clumsy guy hands like me. But it is something doable.

Applications at the App Store

The big plus for the iPhone/touch is the app store, accessible directly via WiFi or through iTunes on a Mac/PC. Most of the tens of thousands of applications are silly little games (my bias), but there some real gems among them. One of my jobs requires a bus trip downtown, and I’ve always hated the uncertainty of not knowing when the next bus will arrive. I now have two free applications, both of which tell me, to the minute, when the next bus will be at my stop. A nearby cafe gives me the WiFi connection I need to find that out.

Other applications let me read books (Stanza) and documents (Instapaper). The small screen means a lot of touching for new pages, but it’s not that bad. I even downloaded, again for free, the complete works of Shakespeare. Try slipping a printed copy of that into your shirt pocket!


WriteRoom was the first application I paid for, and it’s well worth even the full list price of (gasp!) $4.95. It has almost all the features of its much more pricey Mac version, even a full screen mode. The latter is one reason I consider it the best writer’s tool on the iPhone/touch. Do the spreading fingers ‘expand’ move, and everything disappears but the text, if you’re reading, or the text plus a touch keyboard if you’re writing. On such a tiny screen, that quarter of an inch top and bottom does make a difference, especially when editing something long.

I did hit one glitch. To escape full-screen mode, you need to do the pinch-in motion. With the keyboard displaying in vertical (taller than wide) mode that’s just barely possible. But in horizontal mode, there’s not enough space to pinch. Nine times out of ten, I found myself selecting text for cut and paste instead. The work around is to either rotate to vertical mode and pinch there or simply hit the Home button to leave WriteRoom and then hit the WriteRoom a second later to return to the screen where you were but now magically out of the full-screen mode. In the next version Jesse Grosjean might want to consider using a shake to enter and leave full-screen mode.

Synching WriteRoom

The other big plus for writers is WriteRoom’s two synching features. Both are accessed from the screen that lists your WriteRoom documents.

The first is activated when you click on a ‘three dots with two lines’ icon in the upper left. If I read the documentation right, it turns WriteRoom into a very tiny and totally unsecure webpage server that you can reach through a local WiFi network. You can use a router-base WiFi network that lets you connect to the Internet in your home or you can use the Create Network feature of WiFi-equipped Macs to connect directly from your Mac to an iPhone/touch. I tested the latter in a Seattle park where no WiFi was available and it worked fine. That’s good, because it means you can exchange documents with no other devices needed and without a connection to the Internet.

The second synch is activated when you click on the ‘two arrows in a circle’ icon in the lower left. To use this feature, you need both WiFi and an Internet connection. It uploads what you’ve written to a Google-based website called simpletext.ws. (You’ll need a Google account.) Once synched, you can view and even edit your documents online in any browser or cut and paste the text into a text editor like Word or Scrivener. It’s that feature that Scrivener uses to import copies of documents you’ve been editing on an iPhone/touch with WriteRoom and place them in Scrivener documents. It grabs them from your simpletext.ws account.

Or rather, it should soon grab them from that account. The current version of Scrivener, 1.5.3, goes to a different web page, WriteRoom.ws. For some reason Jesse Grosjean changed from that webpage to simpletext.ws in the latest version of WriteRoom. Scrivener hasn’t caught up, but I assume it will soon. Perhaps at that time Scrivener will add a bi-directional feature, allowing changes made in Scrivener (even entirely new documents) to be synched up to simpletext.ws and then down to WriteRoom on an iPhone/touch. (They’d probably have to be text files rather than rtf.) Bi-directional already works between the webpage and WriteRoom, so synching both ways with Scrivener isn’t impossible. It might even be possible to send an entire book drafted in Scrivener to WriteRoom.

Just bear in mind the potential for trouble inherent in synching both ways. Something old can overwrite something new. Jesse Grosjean is aware of that, and his simpletext web page does include menu choices for Revisions and Conflicts that should let users correct most overwrites.


If you plan to do a lot of writing on your iPhone/touch, you might also want to get a TextExpander, which is also $4.95. It does much of what its counterpart on a Macs does, it expands an abbreviation into something much longer. If you have a character named Christopher J. Robin, all you need do is type “cjr” to have his full name inserted. At the moment, WriteRoom is one of only a handful of applications that work with TextExpander. One hint though. If you change your expansions in TextExpander, you’ll need to turn TextExpander off in WriteRoom, exit WriteRoom (maybe), and then get back into WriteRoom and turn TextExpander back on to get the new definitions. I went through a lot of trouble to find that out.

Other Note-taking Apps

The limited input/display features of the iPhone/touch encourage the creation of a lot of one-trick ponies, meaning applications that do one thing well. That makes sense. You don’t have a foot-long menu bar at the top to make sections and you don’t have dozens of option-key selections to make commands, just that tiny screen. As a result, you many want to use several tools for text editing. I suggested that WriteRoom is best for your longer documents, longer being anything more than a few paragraphs. But other applications may serve better for other uses.

For instance, I’ve decided to use the built-in Notes application for lists that I rarely change, such as information I use shopping, such as my pant size. That’s not something I need to change often, so I don’t want to have it cluttering up my list of of documents in WriteRoom. (Hint to Jesse: WriteRoom needs folders for documents.) And iTunes synchs what is in Notes on an iPhone/touch with the Notes feature in Mail. That lets me add something new on my iMac without worrying about WriteRoom’s more elaborate synching features. The next time I connect my touch to my iMac, the new note will be synched.

I also bought another top-rated text application called Simplenote. True to its name, it lacks some of WriteRoom’s features, but it has a major plus. In WriteRoom, I have to remember to synch with that webpage. Simplenote also has a webpage that synchs up and down with its iPhone/touch application, but it does so automatically. That’s one less thing to worry about. It also lets me divide up my work, using WriteRoom to write and Simplenote to dash off quick notes to myself. And until Jesse Grosjean completes TaskPaper for the iPhone/touch, I’m also planning to use it for to do lists.

One final note. Earlier I’ve posted here about using memory keyboards like the AlphaSmart or small netbook-sized computers as supplements to a Mac. I imagine both would work fine for someone who is traveling and needs something that has a keyboard but that’s lighter and less costly to lose than a MacBook.

But that’s not my situation. If I’m going to be where I can carry something the size of a large book, I might as well carry my Macbook. Given my lifestyle, walks to think and second jobs where an employer would get upset if I pulled out a laptop, I need something that fits into my pocket and is ready to use in an instant. For that an iPod touch is almost perfect, particularly given the close cooperation developing between WriteRoom and Scrivener.

Now if Apple would just add a decent camera.

–Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

Yes, 1.54 (out in the next couple of weeks) will update to use simpletext.ws by default, although you can change it back to writeroom.ws or set your own server if you want. Also, I believe that you can change WriteRoom for the iPhone back to use writeroom.ws if you do want it to sync with the current version of Scrivener.


Yes, you can set the host server to be whatever you like from WriteRoom; it’s just under the gear menu, down at the bottom in sync services: custom settings.

That’s good news! Thanks for this feature. It’s a marvelous way to move notes and drafts made on the go into Scrivener projects. Just give the WriteRoom note the same name as the project and sync. I appreciate how you and Jean Grosjean are cooperating on this.

Jesse might want to publish the details of setting up a personal server. It’s good of iPhone/touch developers like him to set up micro-sites through Google to sync their products, but $4.95 fees won’t pay for bandwidth forever. I’ve got a website with bandwidth to burn that I could use for my synching. All I’d need is written instructions and the code.


As I gotten more familiar with the iPod touch, here are some additional comments.

First, I’ll mention how an iPhone or iPod touch fits in with remarks in the part of Scrivener Help called “Overview & Concepts.”

Viewed that way, using an application such as WriteRoom on a touch fits into the first or index card stage of writing. You use it to jot down ideas as they come to you, providing the digital equivalent of index cards which, if your handwriting is as bad as mine, is a terrific improvement. For that is marvelous. I bought a leather, flip-open holder for mine, and I am amazed at how quickly I can pull it out of my pocket, start it up and take down an idea.

As your writing project grows, you can then divide up the ideas into categories, much like cards pinned together on a corkboard. For non-fiction, that might be topics you will cover. For fiction, it might be various stages in the plot or character traits. From this point on, you have a framework of existing ideas in which you insert other ideas.

At the organization, category-sorting stage, a touch is initially less useful. Its equivalent of dragging-and-dropping and cut-and-paste is clumsy (at least for me). That’s where the copying of documents to the Simpletext webpage comes in handy. What is on a touch is not only synched to there, changes made on those web pages, by reorganizing (creating new documents) or cutting-and-pasting between documents with your Mac, also get synched back down to the touch. With ideas now sorted into more documents covering more specific themes in your Mac’s browser, you can return to adding ideas on the touch.

Unfortunately, it’s there that a deficiency in WriteRoom rears its ugly head. There’s no way to create multiple levels of organization. You can’t create a folder called Characters and insert into it documents about each of your characters. Nor can you create a folder for the plot, with different documents for each stage in that plot. Everything has to be placed in a single, scrolling and often long list of files. Since the other text editors I’ve seen have the same problem, the issue may be with the operating system or the tools that programmers have. That said, it is also true that you can have folders to store groups of photos in the Photo application. What Apple can do with its applications, should eventually become something others can do.

Just keep in mind that even with that deficiency, the touch/WriteRoom combination remains very, very useful. It’s so handy that, even when I am sitting at my iMac, I often take down an idea that comes to me on the touch. It’s that much faster.

Do Once and Keep the Flow Linear

The last remark is a good illustration of a ‘do once’ and ‘keep the flow linear’ principle that I developed while doing manuals for medical instrumentation. The manuals had to comply with regulations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Meeting US/Canadian standards was easy, since they were very similar. The EU standards, however, were different. That raised the possibility that company (meaning me) would have to maintain two sets of manuals, at least doubly the chance that I’d leave some new change out of one of them. That dreadful possibility was adverted when I realized that almost everything in the regulations specified what had to be included. I could create a single global manual that included everything anyone wanted and everyone would be happy.

In other kinds of writing, it helps to follow a similar principle. Avoid having drafts in Scrivener and slightly more advanced drafts your formatting tool of choice (for me, InDesign). Write in Scrivener and, at some point, formally and irrevocably move the text to your formatting tool, never looking back. Settling on that irreversible, linear flow, led me to add another rule to keep me from getting confused about which Scrivener version was the latest, the one on my MacBook or the one on my iMac. Now, when I write with Scrivener, it’s always on my MacBook, even if my iMac is two feet away. When I edit in InDesign, it’s always on my iMac. Result: no confusion.

I’ve injected the touch into this flow, almost following the same rule. With rare exceptions, ideas always go onto the touch when a book is being developed. When I begin to write it, I move all those ideas into Scrivener using the handy Import function. This is where the exception comes in. I then delete those ideas on the touch, but keep the touch in my workflow. The structure remains in place for new ideas that also get deleted from WriteRoom when moved into Scrivener. The flow is no longer ‘do once’ but the flow of ideas remains linear. Ideas always move from the touch to Scrivener. If an idea is on the touch, it is not yet in Scrivener. Given how erratic and untrustworthy my memory is, that makes life much easier.

More Ideas

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Keep in mind that in almost every case synching iPod touches requires a WiFi connection. If you have an older Mac without WiFi, you’ll need to get a WiFi router from somewhere. That’s because, although applications apparently can synch through the USB connection like iTunes does, most application writers don’t go that route. WiFi is more versatile. Also remember that both computers need to have Airport on an running for WiFi synching to work. I thought that, since my iMac is connected to my WiFi router over Ethernet, I didn’t have to turn Airport on for it. Not so. WiFi has to be enabled on a touch and the Mac has to be linked to the same WiFi connection as the touch for the synching to happen.

  • I have a love-hate relationship with the touch keyboard. It’s not as bad as I’d feared and I am learning to type faster, but it will probably never work as well as the touch typing I’ve spent a lifetime doing. The most irritating factor does, however seem to be fading. With a ‘real’ keyboard, I don’t need to think and find the keys. My mind does that subconsciously, allowing me to think about what I want to type. With the touch keyboard, I find I have to shift between the idea to be entered and finding the right key for some of the letters to be typed, as well as making sure each is right. That will probably always be the case, but at least typing on a touch is becoming a bit more subconscious and automatic.

  • I’ve also learned to tweak what I type to get speed. Since typing a comma requires shifting to the number keypad, entering a comma and returning to the alphabetic pad, I have begun to type in phrases treated as sentences. That’s because you can enter a period-space from the alphabetic pad by simply touching the space bar twice. The result may not be grammatically correct, but it is unambiguously clear. There are other tricks that Apple built in, so if you get a touch, it pays to learn them.

Additions to Pro/Con:

Con: The lack of a camera. A picture does often beat a thousand words. Find the perfect little cafe for a scene in a novel, taking a picture would be much better than trying to describe it. Hopefully, the next touches will include a decent (at least 3 megapixel) camera. Of course, if you have an iPhone, you don’t have that problem.

Pro: Great battery life. I’ve yet to see how long the touch’s battery lasts as a note-taking tool, but it should last far longer that a laptop, perhaps 10-12 hours. Add in one of the inexpensive battery extenders, and you should be able to handle even a long trip without running dry.

Pro: Semi-multi-tasking. Critics of the iPhone/touch complain that it can’t multi-task, meaning leave one application in the background while another runs. But I’ve found that in most cases that doesn’t matter, that I can switch between applications on a touch about as fast as I can on a Mac. Most touch applications remember where you last left them, so you can get back to something quite quickly. Also, iTunes does run in the background quite fine. When I’m listening to a podcast and hear something that needs to be taken down, I can call up WriteRoom and make that note while the podcast continues to play.

Hope that helps those considering getting an iPhone/touch, perhaps for Christmas, or who already have one. I can’t be the only one using these handy gadgets, so feel free to add your own comments.

Thanks, InklingBooks, for the detailed usage scenario. I recently received an iPhone and have been amazed how big a part of my life it’s become. I’ve even become a decent typist using the onscreen keyboard, but only when in horizontal orientation, which disqualifies WriteRoom full screen mode, I guess, since it requires vertical only.

I guess my main question is, why do I need WriteRoom, SimpleNote, EverNote or any of the other notetaking apps, when the included Notes app seems to behave exactly as expected and to handle the rudimentary note taking most of us willdo on our phones? I type my notes, go home, sync the iphone with my MacBook Air, the notes pop up in iTunes, I save them to Scrivener or whatever and I’m good. I can’t imagine typing so much more or faster using WriteRoom or anything else. They’re just strings of text that will be imported in to Scrivener. I appreciate the insights of everyone who uses one or more of these enhanced note takers.

Thanks for the comments. Hopefully, others will join in and make this topic a place to share iPhone/touch tips. I think that WriteRoom on the iPhone/touch works marvelously well with Scrivener. I keep my touch with me almost everywhere (shower excepted) to take down quick notes. It’s better than anything else I’ve found for taking middle-of-the-nights notes.

One bit of news you’ll be happy to hear. WriteRoom’s full screen mode does work in horizontal orientation. You use the same ‘spreading your fingers diagonally’ gesture to activate it. It’s just that the gesture is harder to do in the limited space of a horizontal screen with keyboard display. I can manage it to open full-screen display, but haven’t the dexterity to use the ‘pinch-in’ gesture to leave full screen mode. There just isn’t enough room for my fingers. I end up selecting text for copy and paste instead. To leave full-screen mode, I’ve settled on hitting the Home button to drop down and then touch the WriteRoom icon, which I have at the bottom of every screen, to return to an editing screen that isn’t full screen.

As small as the iPhone/touch screen is that extra half-inch of space you get in full screen mode can be quite helpful. Hopefully, Jesse Grosjean will come up with some other way to activate and deactivate the mode. A quick shake to toggle it on or off might work.

You can certainly use any note-taking application you want, including the built-in Notes application. None are intended to offer as many features as Word (thank goodness!). My gripe with Notes is that it synchs via USB, meaning I can’t synch on the go (say a long trip). It also syncs with Mail on my Mac, which means I can’t get to those notes anyplace else. Both WriteRoom and Simplenote synch to password protected webpages that I can get at from my computers (not just the one I sync with) or from any browser equipped computer. That can come in handy.

As I think I mentioned above, I do use Notes, but I use it for things that don’t change often, things like clothing sizes and other items I shop for. For now, I use Simplenotes for to dos and WriteRoom, the most robust of the lot, for book ideas and notes. That’s in fitting with the iPhone/touch philosophy of specializing applications for one purpose. If I kept all those sorts of notes on one application, it would make the file list more cluttered and confused. Also, for anything more than quick notes on the go, I like the convenience of being able to edit those notes on a Mac with a full keyboard and synching in reverse in a few seconds via WiFi. To do that with Notes, I have to make a USB connection and wait while iTunes synchs everything.

Apple seems to have compounded that long scrolling list of files problem by not giving developers of text applications a way to create folders to divide up documents. That’s the one place Keith’s scheme for developing a book using index cards for ideas and then sorting them by categories breaks down for an iPhone/touch. You can keep the digital equivalent of cards in WriteRoom, but you can’t put them into piles because there are no folders for documents. As you get more and more ideas, you’re faced with a choice of one very long text file to be scrolled through or numerous smaller files to also be scrolled though.

I’ve not done it yet, but I may adopt a document naming scheme that creates quasi-stacks. Say I am writing two books, Red and Blue, and that I want to have separate documents for characters such as Jack and plot events such as a murder. Documents would get names like Red-C-Jack for character notes about Jack and Red-P-Murder for plot notes on the murder. It’s not perfect. There’s still that long scrolling list of files, but at least what I want is easy to find in a alphabetized list.

Finally, keep in mind what you can do when you import Writeroom files stored on that Simpletext webpage into Scrivener. You can select all the documents you want to import, and each comes as its own separate document in the binder. That can be a lot quicker than cutting the text in Mail, creating a document in Scrivener, and then pasting the text for each document manually, hoping you don’t miss anything. I was a skeptic too until I tried this webpage synching and found it works quite well.

Hopefully, if Apple lets developers create folder structures on the iPhone, we will be able to import that entire structure in Scrivener and have it magically appear in the binder in the same structure.

–Michael W. Perry, Seattle, author of Untangling Tolkien

Thanks again Michael for the detailed description. It really helps me to hear step by step how other writers use Scriv, iPhones, et al. I may give WriteRoom a try if my usage patterns change.

For now, Notes seems to be enough, because what I use my iPhone for is typing in notes at events I’m reviewing or reporting. Then I go home and synch with my MacBook, clip the info in the note (now in my Mail inbox) to Scrivener or TextEdit, and delete the note from my iPhone, so I don’t have a big clutter of notes on it. (I do keep lists I refer to over and over on the phone, but there’s not many of those.) I was covering an event last night (which I really need to write up now instead of playing on the Scriv forums) and realized that I’ve now gotten fast enough two-finger typing in horizontal mode on the iPhone that it’s actually faster than scribbling with a pen – and a lot more legible! Apple’s autocorrection feature really saves me here.

If I need other documents, I can retrieve them from my online Dropbox documents folder (which automatically backs up all my docs online for free), so no need to keep them on the phone itself. If I really need to get the Note into the cloud immediately, I can use the Dropbox iPhone app or even email it to myself.

If I’m traveling, I always have my MacBook Air with me, so I think for now, USB synching and Notes should be adequate, with recourse to emailing if necessary. But if my uses change, I now know where to turn for a more sophisticated system. I’d also considered EverNote, which is free, but the reviews at the app store say it’s dog-slow on the iPhone, and they didn’t mean greyhounds. How is it working for other Scriveners?

Evernote on the iPhone is still a bit rough around the edges, although it should get better fast. Here are two of the current problems.

  • If you’re using an iPod touch rather than an iPhone, synching can be a problem. Since even a modest amount of storage on Evernote servers would overload the limited space on an iPhone/touch, the developers have wisely defaulted to leaving everything ‘up there’ unless you tag something as a favorite, after which it will also store on your iPhone/touch. Unfortunately, unless I missed something, you can only tag something a favorite on the iPhone/touch and not a Mac or PC. That makes for additional hassles if you have some files on your Mac you’d like to read later on an iPhone/touch. You can’t just tag them when created on your Mac. Later, while hooked to WiFi, you have to find all those files and make them a favorite on your iPhone/touch.

  • Regular Evernote documents can be text or rtf, but Evernote’s iPhone/touch app can’t handle rtf, so Evernote developers made rtf files read only, even though many files users might have thought were text were actually rtf. There’s been enough user outcry over that, that Evernote will be allowing users, after being given warnings, to turn an rtf file into text-only and edit it.

Those hassles are why I find WriteRoom’s storage and WiFi synching much more useful. Everything is stored on your iPhone/touch, so you can edit everything on the go. And when you need to synch, you can do so in a few seconds through a WiFi connection anywhere on the planet. Since gadgets do tend to get stolen while traveling, that backup can be reassuring and quicker that the USB backup that Apple’s own Notes application uses. And if both your laptop and iPhone touch are stolen while traveling, what’s synched between both of them is lost.

That’s why I’ve come to like WriteRoom (and SimpleNotes) scheme for backup to a Google hosted website. It lets me work offline on my iPod touch or access those same files from an Mac or PC with an Internet connection.

And with luck, the next version of WriteRoom for Macs will sync with the website like the iPhone app next does. That’ll allow back-and-forth editing between an iPhone/touch and a Mac with almost no hassle.

And, by the way, MacHeist is offering the Mac version of WriteRoom for free in an offer than ends today (Nov. 11 in the US). There are no hidden gotchas, and if enough people download their free apps, Mariner Write (Word without the bloat) will also be free. You can find it here:


If you get lots a tidbits of information you need to stash away, you might also want to look into ShoveBox, another free application in the MacHeist bundle.

–Michael W. Perry

OK, Michael, you and MacHeist have convinced me: I got the free serial number, downloaded WR app, and even bought the iPhone app for 99¢. Will install and see how they go. FYI the MacHeist deal also included a Mariner Write serial number, even though the offer brought a little more than half of the targetd half million downloaders. Doubt I’ll ever use it, but I’ll give it and maybe ShoveBox, also included in the free macheist deal, a go. thanks again for the recommendation.

Yes Brett, you’ve already discovered what I just found out, that WriteRoom for the iPhone has a limited time price of 99 cents rather than the usual $4.99. For those who don’t have it yet, it’s a good deal. And if you don’t yet have an iPhone/touch but plan to get one, you can still download apps to iTunes and install them later. That’s what I did.

This link should take you there in iTunes.

itunes.apple.com/us/app/writeroo … 51446?mt=8

Note too that Jesse Grosjean just released 2.4, with some useful improvements. I like the fact that the list view of documents will display in landscape, which is where I do most of my writing. No more tilt this way, tilt back again. You can also now sort documents in that list by name, creation date or modification date, which can be handy if the list grows long.(Still no hierarchy for documents.) It also includes more TextExpander support.

Thanks for letting me know that MacHeist has unlocked MarinerWrite. I’m thinking of using it for writing letters. My loathing for Word has grown to the point where I don’t write letters I should write just because I have to use Word. Getting my copy, I did run into my one gripe with MacHeist. It’s very geeky and, as that line in Jurassic Park suggests, geeks like things to be complicated and esoteric. My old log in didn’t work, so I had to create a new one just to get MarinerWrite. That makes three identities with all the resulting complexities with unlock codes etc.

My Word replacement (besides SCrivener, of course) is Bean. It’s free, and does everything I need (except footnotes, which I need only for my book), so you might give it a try along with Mariner Write.

After a little over two months use, I’m now a firm believer that an iPod touch is nigh-unto-perfect for the idea-collecting stage of writing. It’s compact enough to carry with me anywhere. The screen lights up, making it easy to take down ideas that come to me in the night. Most of the good applications (i.e. WriteRoom and SimpleNote) sync with webpages, so you can edit on a Mac or PC as well as move the text into other applications including, in the case of WriteRoom, an already structured project in Scrivener.

Some might say that, aside from the last, an iPod touch doesn’t do anything that can’t be done with a pack of cheap 3x5 index cards. That’s true, but I do find that the touch does it better. For one thing, WriteRoom lets me create separate documents for each project. That lets me put the information precisely where it needs to be. With a stack of 3x5 cards, I’d have trouble keeping everything in its proper place. It’s also true that, while I am not a great fan of touch-screen typing, it beats my dreadful handwriting by a country mile. I can always read what I create on my touch. I often find it impossible to read what I have handwritten.

In short, if you’re looking for some way to take down notes and writing ideas, you aren’t likely to be disappointed with the iPod touch. And keep in mind something else I have discovered. I originally got it assuming that I’d only use it on the go or at two of my part-time jobs that allow some contemplation time.

But I’ve found that, even if I am sitting at my iMac, it often makes more sense to whip out the touch and record the idea there. In part, that’s because it is easiest to have one place for each step in the process: the touch for ideas, Scrivener for drafting and refining the content and (in my case) InDesign for the formatting and layout. But it is also true that typing in ideas that flash through my mind is simply easier on a touch. I pick it up and hit the home button to turn it on. Then I tap on the WriteRoom icon followed by the project where the idea belongs. Save and I am done. I have tricks that’d make the process faster on my iMac, but somehow that approach is more satisfying. Perhaps it’s because there is so much on my iMac, that much of what I put there gets lost when nothing is likely to get lost on a compact little touch.

Having gotten note-taking nailed down, I have been wrestling with whether it makes sense to work with a book’s outline on an iPod touch’s tiny screen. I got CarbonFin Outliner marked down to $0.99 instead of the usual and hardly exorbitant $2.99 to test that. So far the conclusion is no conclusion. It’s a fine little outliner, well-designed and easy to use. Since it has check boxes, it can even do double-duty for to-do and shopping lists. But there’s still that tiny screen and my clumsy fingers. They’re no hinderance when dealing with ideas that are a couple of sentences long. But outlining for me means I need to see the larger picture on a large screen as well as have the easy of rearranging a mouse rather than finger tips or, in the case of Outliner, a small button.

Where Outliner may work is with a project that has me commenting on individual chapters in a popular novel. WriteRoom, as I pointed out before, doesn’t let users create subfolders. The 26 chapters of this novel would be 26 files in a long list with everything else I am working on. To avoid that, I’ve already roughed out those 26 chapters in an Outliner outline. That’d let me insert notes for each chapter as sub-items under that chapter’s slot in the outline.

Why does that matter? Because Outliner has a marvelous feature. It can import and export outlines in the OPML format and, since Scrivener can import in that format, an outline created in Outliner can, in a flash, become a multilevel outline in Scrivener. I know, because I checked. That means it beats WriteRoom on one important feature. With WriteRoom each document comes in at the same level. A division like chapters with scenes inside chapters isn’t possible. With Outliner it is.

Who knows. That may change with a new version of WriteRoom. Also, because I like how easy it is to enter text in TaskPaper, the companion software to WriteRoom on Macs, I’m still a bit hesitant to commit too much to Outliner, lest I find myself with divided loyalties when TaskPaper for the iPhone comes out.

You can find out more about CarbonFin and a link to its iTunes page here:



Thanks for this app tip. :slight_smile:

Bought it and I’m quite pleased with it.

– MJ

Thanks for the Writeroom tip! I purchased the program for my Ipod Touch today. Used Wifi to download my notes this evening and was astonished at how much i had written. I always have my touch with me. I am beyond pleased with Writeroom. Beats the heck outta Notes or carrying index cards! Thank you.

Those who have an iPhone/touch and enjoy using WriteRoom, might like to know that the developer, Jesse Grosjean, just released an iPhone version of TaskPaper, his outliner/to-do list manager. Like WriteRoom, it synchs through a website. You can find it here:

itunes.apple.com/us/app/taskpape … 40092?mt=8

I downloaded a copy and it’s very smooth and natural to use.

Scrivener downloads WriteRoom files, even importing the structure into the binder. I wonder if there’s any chance for TaskPaper imports that come in as a book’s outline in the binder. That’d be great for those who write from outlines.

–Mike Perry, Seattle