Currently doing a major overhaul on the Stet.Build website (first time I do a complete update the website since I started publishing 2½ years ago now). A true revelation has been Textastic, which is by far the most polished environment for writing code on the iPad.

For the last year I have been trying to work out a ‘capture-configure-control’ setup. For those wondering what that is start here. Newport recommends Trello, which I think is bloated. I tried using Basecamp, but I found the system offered friction I couldn’t overcome properly (it’s me not the software). Enter two plugins for Obsidian, that in tandem work together to focus my mind:

  1. Kanban
  2. Day Planner

There is actually a third feature that I have found invaluable and that is the fact by default Obsidian allows you to fold lists. Capturing just became much easier and either move them into their own note or straight into the Kanban ready for action. Obsidian really has been a complete revelation in how mature, solid and versatile it is out the gate. I hope development continues on this app for many years to come.

That is annoying. There is a flaw in my book at the moment. No old style numerals. No idea how I totally missed this, but Pages on iOS does not allow you to choose these, which is very annoying. They came so damn close. Plan B is to see if it is possible to do this on the Mac version before bringing it back into iOS.

Pages on iOS

I have been using Pages for iOS for the last year putting together several books and documents. In a word it been a revalation. Incredibly solid application that continues to put a smile on my face as I continue to use and be delighted by it. Working between my iPad and iPhone is seemless. From my part, I am extremely thankful to have such an application at my literal fingertips that has allowed me to create the book that I wanted. This first book is certainly not the last book that I intend to create using this application.

This year has brought a slew of additional features which have been incredibly welcome. In my mind there is only one major feature that is surprisingly missing from such a complete package and that is the ability of creating an index. Sure you can create a table of contents automatically. You can style it to your hearts content, but the ability of highlighting a number of index points that get captured later is missing unfortunately. I do hope that Apple considers to add this feature - which has been requested across the place since 2009.

I’m sure this was on Ngoc’s list for a while however by chance I dropped him an email a few days ago asking for the opportunity to use my beloved Merriweather. He said it was coming in the latest iteration of 1writer - which just dropped. One of the new features is being able to pick any of your installed fonts. Oh and he also mentioned that he is hard at work on version 4. Super excited about that.

I get it now. Yesterday after having discovered the recently added broadcast feature for Goodnotes, I stumbled across a video about the Craft app. I really wasn’t looking for another note taking app (I promise) — yet I quickly realised where this could fit in perfectly. Research.

The main reason I think this works, is because Craft isn’t a pure text editor. It will happily collect pdfs and images and format links with thumbnails, in a manner that is less bloated than something like Evernote. For years I have tried using Pinboard as a way to collect all my research, but it doesn’t fully fit into my workflow. Having one document which I use to dump things into during a month of writing is a pretty powerful way to collect all these thoughts. Exceptional polish for such a young application and I can certainly see why it has gotten the attention it has. It is different to Obsidian, Roam and that is ok, you cannot have one text editor to rule them all.

The biggest ding against it however is the pricing. At $45/year, the question is whether I feel strongly enough about keeping everything within the app itself. The app makes it easy to export an .md file along with all the attachments. Honestly this limitation might actually be a blessing considering it forces me to keep everything pruned - although I will probably only need to do this around the 10-15 document limit.

I will say that Jason Snell’s hunt for the perfect iOS Markdown writing tool is a fools errand. I should know, I have been on this very same hunt for years. The difference is that I have realised that there is no single tool to rule them all. Rather what we are truly blessed with is a incredible ecosystem of applications with their very own strength.

I actually removed Simplenote from my setup and so my text is focused across Drafts (Micro.blog and now Twitter), iA Writer (long form writing) and my Zettelkasten. I do feel there is room for an Obsedian-like application for iOS that caters to the Zettelkasten crowd — 1Writer is great but could be soo much better, except development is seemingly very slow.

Typed Writing Modes

Spent some time sorting out through my various text editors and how I want to organise my typed words. Taking inspiration from the system for my notebook, once again I realised that a single app for all the different threads and channels is foolish. By dedicating an app for a specific task, you are signaling to yourself that this is what I want to get done right now. This is where this type of work lives. Also different apps have different strengths - play to their strengths.

Drafts

This is where all my blogging happens. The direct publishing to Micro.blog is exactly what I want. I open the app and can get writing straight away. If I want to have something with a title, it’s also there. No constraints or worrying about length. Just type and publish.

I set this up with two specific managed workspaces. Default is unpublished and therefore publishing ideas. The second is just an archive of everything that I have written and published.

iA Writer

This is where the projects live. I have synced this up with iCloud. I have individual folders for each project and so when its time to work on any on project I know where to go.

1Writer / Obsidian / Software Agnostic

Finally this all clicked for me. This is my second brain. Using the Zettlekasten method, I am able to start collecting and writing information knowing that it is a single folder of text files. Lives on Dropbox and honestly I can’t wait to have hundreds of thousands of notes in there. The more the better as long as they are tagged and interlinked with each other

Simplenote

I decided to also add Simplenote to the mix. This is really just a place to brain dump. Sometimes I like to work something out. It doesn’t really fit into any of the above modes. Sometimes its clearing out junk from my head, when I don’t want to write things down, I want to type them out. Its not a major part of my routine, but I have found that these random text files find their way into different places. Why not create a dedicated space for this. I have called this my Brain Cleanser.

Obviously there is much to love about the latest update to iA Writer. I’ve been on the beta for a while now and just can’t get enough of this app (huge fanboy). So definitely looking forward to their physical product that they hinted at years ago, which I’m hoping ties into this tenth anniversary. Also they always nail the music for their promo videos.

Drafts for iOS

Some people bake bread. Others collect watches. Some watch birds. I collect iOS text editors. Scratch that, I spend an incredible amount of time considering, testing and playing with text editors on iOS. It all started out looking for a text based nirvana. Ultimately my quest for that perfect editor has come up short as it has now dawned on me that the perfect text editor doesn’t exist. Rather what I have come to realise is that there are several amazing editors that have a number of strengths and weaknesses. The trick is to find the collection that best compliment each other in your quest for capturing and further developing your thoughts.

My collection of apps that I love on iOS are:

  1. iA Writer
  2. Editorial
  3. 1Writer

To that collection I have recently added Drafts as it has become my replacement The Archive on the Mac. My long held belief that the modal design established by Notational Velocity1 was/is the ultimate method for capturing and searching for text. Drafts introduces another way that is equally as powerful, only different.

Getting Over the Omnibar

In The Archive, once you open the app, the cursor is in the omnibar which lets you create or search for a note. In creating a note, you type in some words, which then become the name of the file and the first line of the new file. It’s an incredibly powerful concept that has not been replicated successfully on iOS yet (although there have been some flawed attempts).

Drafts does away with the search. For Drafts, by default, the first thing that you are allowed to is start writing in a blank file. That is where you start. If you want to search, there are three ways, press the search icon in the bottom right hand corner (prime location), press shift+command+f or pull down to reveal the search. The reason this is better for iOS is the fact that this entire app is replicated on the iPhone, with a single exception (that I can find), which is pinning the sidebar (this seems to only be available on the iPad).

Getting Over the Clutter

One of the things that drove me away from using Drafts was that I thought it was too cluttered. I had bought into the minimal aesthetics provided by iA Writer and I liked it that way.

Except Drafts is more function over form. In many ways, this app is the total antithesis of iA Writer. The icon isn’t great (although you can change it). Both the overall graphic direction of the app and the iconography for the groups sidebar leave a lot to be desired. I’ve quickly learnt not to care.

Being able to write whatever I want and then call up a function and publish to my website in microseconds makes the function trump any ugly iconography found within the app itself. That is where I started seeing that there is more to this app than meets the eye. I published exclusively from it for 2 months before realising that all of my thoughts should live in here. Thoughts that need to be expanded upon can get moved over to iA Writer for a more refined experience.

Workspaces

The Archive has a similar feature to this, except it wasn’t graphically implemented as elegantly as this. This feature is available, but it is mostly hidden.

What I love about this particular feature is the fact that I can flip between different frames of mind. I want to write some thoughts about engineering? There’s a workspace for that. Something for this site? There’s a workspace for that. General reference texts? Yup, there’s a space for that.

Deep

Rearranging the text within a file, as per blocks, sentences or lines is an excellent idea that I’ve not encounter anywhere else. The fact that it has a shortcut for just about everything shows that the developer understands what is important. Version history for all your text is there and readily available within the app. And on the list goes. @cm called this app deep which is such an excellent description of what this app has to offer.

Subscription Model

I don’t agree with the subscription model used and would have preferred if the subscription model established by Sketch was used instead. You pay once and continue to use the app that you paid for at that point in time for as long as you want. For 1 year you get all monthly updates. If you want future updates after that year, you have to pay again. Not sure what happens to all my Workspaces when the year is over tbh.

Having said that, there is plenty of room for the app to improve. The aforementioned graphical shortcomings. The selection of themes could be better, maybe something similar to those provided in iWriter Pro. The fact that there isn’t a baked in path to exporting the text as a series of files, which goes against some of what I want (but there might be a pretty easy workaround for that).

These are quibbles in what is otherwise one of the most pro writing app on any platform.


  1. I wish I could find out why that website is still live? It’s not been updated in nearly a decade and from memory the app stopped working years ago. [return]