Multiple Apps Cause "Writer's Tension"

Writer’s block is not as much of a problem for me as the writer’s tension caused by the proliferation of great writing apps for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. My basic instinct—my flaw—is to fiddle with things. My fiddly nature makes it difficult to establish a single simple workflow.

<nerd>Note: I write almost everything in MultiMarkdown
(with all due respect to John Gruber's Markdown and
have been dabbling in LaTeX.</nerd>

So, syntax highlighting and the ability to eventually export to .tex is important to me. Moving on, my goto writing apps by platform are (disclosure: affiliate links abound):



  • Elements—Make or find notes quickly (App Store, info)
  • Drafts—Make notes quickly and send to another app (App Store, info)
  • Byword—Simple Markdown-aware text editor for iPhone (App Store, info)


  • Textastic—Syntax-aware text editor, my “BBEdit” for iPad (App Store, info)
  • Byword—Simple Markdown-aware text editor for iPad (App Store, info)
  • Elements—Make or find notes quickly (App Store, info)

Byword is the only one of these that seamlessly crosses all three devices and I want to love it so bad. I cannot figure it out, but Byword just doesn’t seem to work for me. The sensible part of me knows I need to cut the line and let that one sink, but my caring side wants to nurture that relationship.

Scrivener is where I want to work, but it’s lack of MultiMarkdown syntax highlighting trips up my concentration. I’m not complaining. Scrivener does a lot and is a best-in-class writing environment that will get its own “Apps I Use” post here later. I would prefer to do just about everything in Scrivener, but have never gotten comfortable with round-tripping files using Dropbox syncing.

NvALT is nearly perfect for making or finding text notes on the Mac and is a window into the world of plaintext notes that live in my Dropbox folder. Elements serves as its equivalent on my iPhone and iPad.

More often than not, I find myself writing in BBEdit on my Mac.

Starting Points

These are the apps, in most likely order of consideration, that freeze my brain when I want to begin a new document:

On my Mac

  1. BBEdit
  2. NvALT
  3. Scrivener

On my iPhone

  1. Drafts
  2. Byword
  3. Elements

On my iPad

  1. Elements
  2. Textastic
  3. Byword

Things get a little squirrelly if I find myself somewhere with no connection to Dropbox. In those rare situations, I sometimes return to Nebulous Notes (info)to save locally and sync later.

Making Work Flow

Another symptom of my fiddly nature presents itself in setting up linkage. I have unconsciously replaced all of the fonts and styles and other gewgaws bogging down word processors (See also: Microsoft Word, Apple Pages for Mac and iOS) with a new way to bog myself down.

Here’s the deal. I’m trucking along at a decent pace when I write a word or two that I know will need to become a link so my Pavlovian brain slams on the brakes and I switch to my web browser to search and find just the right link and return to the working document 15 minutes later to add the link and…where was I?


It’s a bad habit I need to break.

Initial Treatment

I am really talking about two scenarios here. The first is the creation of a new document followed by continuing work on an existing file. The solution in either scenario is both simple and similar; to pick an app and stick with it.

A New Diagnosis

This post is turning out like an episode of House M.D. (don’t be sad it’s over, get happy). I started with a diagnosis and treatment of the obvious symptoms only to discover they were masking the correct diagnosis of a bigger problem.

In this case, the problem is probably not as much with my choice of apps, but the fear of stretching out to try something and failing. This bout of self-discovery has been helpful for me. I hope it helps you too.