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Some of us are old enough to recall life before word processors. Consider this sentence:. How did we survive in the days before every last one of us had access to word processors and computers on our respective desks? The following sentence is much more concise:. The purpose of this mini-editing exercise is to illustrate the splendor of word processing.
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Had you produced these sentences on a typewriter instead of a computer, changing even a few words would hardly seem worth it. You would have to use correction fluid to erase your previous comments and type over them. If things got really messy, or if you wanted to take your writing in a different direction, you would end up yanking the sheet of paper from the typewriter in disgust and begin pecking away anew on a blank page.
Word processing lets you substitute words at will, move entire blocks of text around with panache, and apply different fonts and typefaces to the characters.
Before running out to buy Microsoft Word or another industrial-strength and expensive word processing program for your Mac, remember that Apple includes a respectable word processor with OS X. The program is TextEdit, and it call s the Applications folder home. The first order of business when using TextEdit or pretty much any word processor is to create a new document. The moment you do so, a window with a large blank area on which to type appears.
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Have a look around the window. At the top, you see Untitled because no one at Apple is presumptuous enough to come up with a name for your yet-to-be-produced manuscript. Notice the blinking vertical line at the upper-left edge of the screen, just below the ruler. Indeed, you have come to the most challenging point in the entire word processing experience, and it has nothing to do with technology. The burden is on you to produce clever, witty, and inventive prose, lest all that blank space go to waste.
The obvious starting point, of course, is the app Apple gives you for free: Pages.
For writing. And writing. And writing.
Pages is a deceptively powerful app on both platforms with a superbly-designed user-interface. It achieves this by keeping the bells and whistles tucked away out of sight until you need them. By default, none of the formatting or page setup features are shown, just a single row of buttons with largely intuitive functions. If you want to add tables, illustrations or photos, you can.
Pages uses iCloud by default, so you can create a document on your Mac, continue writing it on your iPad and add the finishing touches on your iPhone. The app has a super-minimalist UI designed to give a typewriter-style feel. While you are actually typing, everything else disappears from the screen. No toolbar, no status bar, not even the header strip with close, minimize and maximize buttons.
All you see is your virtual sheet of paper and your words. I know some writers for whom this would be a godsend! The minimalism of iA Writer continues under the hood: the file format is plain text, and the default location to save files is on iCloud. There are no decisions to make unless you specifically want to store the file elsewhere.
The top bar, too, appears only when you mouseover it. However, the plain text format means that your Markdown codes will be visible. Markdown supports HTML-style structures, so you also have the option of using things like multi-level headers, bullet-points and so on — with sensible keyboard shortcuts for each — but these are all tucked away out of sight. But really iA Writer is all about that single-page view, with no distractions in sight.
If you like the core idea of iA Writer but are working on more complex documents or are someone who likes to see an overview of their work — such as a series of novels — then Ulysses is well worth a look. Like iA Writer, it is essentially based on plain text with Markdown — though it actually uses a proprietary file format — and offers many of the same features. It has typewriter mode, for example, but in a more configurable form.
If you do want this, you can choose between having the current line, sentence or paragraph highlighted. And so on. Ulysses offers three different views when writing. But switching panes on or off is as simple as CMD-1, -2 or This makes it really easy to jump between different chapters or sections while still retaining a clean, uncluttered view while actually writing.
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Whether this is a good or bad thing, of course, depends on your viewpoint! For example, Ulysses supports multiple versions of Markdown, so if you have a preferred one, you can either select it from the choices offered — or even configure your own. If you choose one of the standard Markdown versions, you can customize it.
For example, a hash mark is the standard way to indicate heading level 1, but if you want to use a different character instead, you can.
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This could be a life-saver if you do something silly like delete a chapter of your novel after deciding against it, then realizing that it would be the perfect event to happen later in the story. If you are writing for a WordPress or Medium blog, Ulysses can be configured to allow direct publishing in either or both. You can set wordcount goals and be notified when you hit them — something I find really useful when working on a novel and setting myself a goal of words per writing session.
You can also tag text with keywords, enabling you to search for them later, as well as attaching notes or images.