iA Writer is described as a “simple plain text editor that was designed to provide a focused writing experience for business proposals, essays, white papers, poems, novels, and screenplays.”
When I started reading the reviews for iA Writer I was excited, it had high ratings on all the platforms and all the reviews kept emphasizing how brilliant and simple the application was. Little did I know ‘simple’ really was the keyword here, in fact, the first time I used iA Writer it seemed too simple. As I tried using more features and looking into what I could do with the app, I found it’s actually not all that simple at all. I looked into some tutorials to help me figure out some of the more technical features, such as markdown icons and some of the online integration.
So what exactly does iA Writer do? For me, the best way I could describe it is like a fancy Memo/Notes app or a really simplified Word app that you can integrate with certain online platforms. Basically it is a text word document that looks like this on your Android:
Now, to really get the most out of this app you should play around with it yourself, but I’m just going to briefly explain all the bits and pieces you see here.
At the very top of the screen you have:
-The back arrow: This will take you to your library of documents and has options at the top of the screen for adjusting your settings and starting a new document.
-File: If you tap on ‘File’, you can start a new document, open a document from a different folder or export the current document you’re editing to Plain Text, HTML, PDF, or Word document.
-Edit: This is the page you’re looking at; it’s where you write the things.
-View: This will change how you can view your app. It includes a Night Mode which turns the background of the app black and turns the text white, Focus Mode which lets you tap on a sentence and it will highlight that sentence you want to focus on, and Word Count, which will place a word count at the top of your editable document. For example:
-The forward arrow: This will take you to the Templates page where you can preview what your document will look like and you can also export in all the same formats mentioned from this page too.
The controls on top of the keyboard are:
-The back arrow: This is just a back button, tap it and it will take you back to whatever is before your cursor (for example, if you’re cursor is sitting on a word and you notice a typo in the word before it, you can hit the back arrow and it will take you back one word).
-H1: This indicates HTML titles or Heading Titles. This button basically inserts a markdown for a H1, H2, H3, etc. titles in your document. If you don’t know what these are you should google them, but basically they are used to structure website pages so search engines can better understand the content on the page. Also, they are just useful for structuring your writing too.
–I: You know what this is, but if I have to say, it’s your italics button.
-The check list icon: This is exactly what you think it is… unless you think it has something that has nothing to do with lists, in which case you’re very wrong. This will insert a list into your document and that’s actually really awesome. So much time saved on formatting dot points!
-The tick box: Again, this is pretty obvious, this will check off the items on your previously mentioned list.
-Paste: This is your Paste, Copy, Cut function. It might take a little finessing as you learn how to use it.
-Curved arrows: These are your Redo and Undo buttons.
-The forward arrow: Does the same but opposite of the backwards arrow, use it to move forward word by word, etc. through your document.
And that is all the features regarding the actual writing bit of this app. The other features revolve around sharing and exporting, which is probably the winning aspect of this app – it makes sharing your writing to digital platforms and drives more direct. I really want to focus on the writing aspect of this app though, since this blog is all about finding tools that help writers get the words onto a page of some kind and then make those words awesome to read.
As a writing app, I went into this one with high expectations from all the stellar reviews and ratings… I think that was a mistake. My first question and still my biggest problem with this app is “Where’s the freaking spell check?”. Now as a writer, we all know spell check isn’t reliable, it keeps changing back to US English all the time and also it tells us words we know are words aren’t words (not to mention, what I just wrote would have been one hell of a sentence fragment). I get it, not including a spell check is not a damning problem and you still have your phone’s spell check (lol). BUT when you get into that mode and you become the writing demon, where the world ceases to exist and you couldn’t give a fudge about silly things like grammar or “real words”, a little red or green line telling you where you messed up is sometimes necessary.
My only other issue with this app is that I didn’t get it straight away, it wasn’t super intuitive in regards to the user interface. I think some people will get it pretty quickly, but I think most people (especially the less technical/digital-savvy writers) probably won’t really get everything that this app can do. This makes it seem way too simple at first and it also means you have to invest time and effort into understanding the full functionality of this app. For example, I needed to look up what the Markdown function was all about and what symbols would create what affect in a finished document. For more information about this and it’s full range of features, you would be best to go to the app’s website, it’s really useful – https://ia.net/writer
Having said all that, I can see why millions of people (including Stephen Fry apparently) are using it. If you forget about all the techy features and the horrendous swipe sensitivity (you swipe left or right to move through the sections of the app, so when you’re scrolling up or down you will accidentally swipe to Templates or the Library), this becomes a ludicrously simple writing tool. Again, think fancy Notes or minimalist Word app, but this is what you will love or hate about it.
I think the deal breaker with this app is that by design it’s just convenient. People are glued to their phones and iPads now, and iA Writer has just capitalized on that fact. One piece of advice a writer will inevitably receive at some point in their lifetime is “carry a notebook on you at all times, so when the moment strikes you can just write it down”. This is all well and good, except that takes a special level of dedication and basic ability to function as an adult that many of us writers simply do not have – we do however have our phones on us. Constantly. Like, all the time. I mean, where else but Facebook or Twitter could you find so much inspiration for characters you want to kill off later?
Ultimately, I feel this app is something you are either going to be really disappointed by and not see much point in, or you’re going to really enjoy it. Try it for yourself and see what you think, even share your experience here for everyone to see! You can download iA Writer on iOS or Android.