If you had to categorize me with one word, it would be “writer.” As a student of computer science and rhetorical composition (fancy words for writing), I take the tools I use very seriously. The programmer in me wants efficiency and innovation, and the writer in me wants tools that facilitate accurate editing and my personal writing processes. For a while, it was just me and TextEdit, the default text-editor on the Mac, pounding away. However, as I started writing more sophisticated forms of code and prose, my tools evolved. For coding, I started using Sublime Text. For writing, I turned to iA Writer. Little has changed until today.
At midnight, Information Architects (iA) released a new version of Writer, dubbed Writer Pro. It’s currently available in the iOS and Mac App Store, and costs just $19.99. I don’t do much writing on my iPhone, so this post will focus on Writer Pro for Mac. Since last night, I’ve used Writer Pro to write and edit over 8,000 words, including the ones in this very post. Here are some thoughts on my new favorite writing tool.
The biggest visual change from Writer to Writer Pro is the new sidebar, which hangs on the right edge of the current document and is able to be hidden / shown at will with a keystroke. The sidebar holds information and options that used to sit in a semi-transparent bar across the bottom of the window. The new layout feels much cleaner.
One of the reasons for this new sidebar is the addition of something iA is calling Workflows. Writer Pro has four different Workflows for each stage of the writing process: Note, Write, Edit, and Read. When you switch from one workflow to another, the typography and accent color changes across the UI as well (except for Edit and Read, which have the same typeface).
In addition to giving a visual context clue to your current Workflow, a change in Workflows will actually move your current document into a corresponding iCloud folder. If you like using iCloud to organize your documents, this automation is a great “just works” experience. However, if you are like me and would rather store your documents somewhere else (a la Dropbox), changing Workflows only occurs within the app and won’t move your documents around. As a nice touch, Writer Pro will reopen any documents in the Workflow you last closed them in, regardless where each document is saved.
Side note: Because Workflows, when used outside of iCloud, do nothing to change your file structure, you can simply use each Workflow as a way to change up the typography and accent color; having too many typography options tend to distract me, but having some variety available is nice.
Writer Pro also brings with it something called Syntax Control — the coloring or highlighting of like words and phrases. Developers have had syntax “highlighting” in their code-editors for years, but Writer Pro’s implementation doesn’t focus on code-specific paradigms; rather, it allows you to highlight adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and whole sentences throughout your document.
It’s a damn clever feature for editing, and arguably one of the best writing-specific innovations added to a text-editor over the last five years.
I am currently in my fourth year of studying writing and rhetoric, so thinking about the syntax of my words (modifiers, appositives, adverbial phrases) as I write them is something of a habit. However, being able to see the grammatical makeup of my document within the contexts of sentences and paragraphs is fantastic. I feel Syntax Control is a huge step towards creating tools that help push digital editing beyond the traditional comment / collaborate scope.
For an example, Syntax Control has already proven helpful in identifying places where I tend to put two adverbs in a row. Take this example, copied from an earlier draft of this post:
However, actually being able to see the words as I write them is great.
This sentence gets my meaning across, but “however, actually” feels clunky. I only really need one adverb, and the removal of “actually” doesn’t hurt the impact of the sentence:
However, being able to see the words as I write them is great.
Clean and simple. Of all Writer Pro’s new features, Syntax Control is the most exciting. Expect this to be copied by other writing applications in the future.
Aside from my desire to have Writer Pro automatically manage my documents in a directory other than iCloud’s, I find it difficult to find any real complaints with the first version of this app. My only real quibble comes up when I’m typing above a chunk of text and go to a new line; the text that should move down does not do so instantaneously and all at once, but rather (extremely) quickly line-by-line. It seems to be a graphical issue, one that could be fixed in an update, but it is still something that detracts slightly from the overall experience.
There are some people for whom Writer Pro is not. At $19.99, Writer Pro is a complete writing suite. Buying it because you’re somewhat interested in new “writing” apps is a terrible idea. However, if you’re someone who truly loves writing and does a lot of it, features like Syntax Control and the minimalistic writing environment can be helpful to your writing process.
Overall, I’m incredibly impressed with what iA has created in Writer Pro, and I’m happy to use it as my primary writing tool. A deep and warm holiday “thank you” to everyone on the team that helped ship this out. Tools do not a writer make, but iA has created an app that makes it easier for me to write, edit, and polish my ideas on a level worthy of the Pro moniker and price.
—Thursday, 19 December 2013