Where to write, and more with If This Then That

Where to write

I find myself running into what seems to be an enviable problem – I currently have too many tools at my disposal in which to write things. Each one is similar, with differences that are slight enough to make each compelling in its own right. But, while each has its advantages, I haven’t devised a workflow in my head that might require that I use all of them simultaneously. So I have this sort of fragmented writing existence that is compartmentalized in several different apps.

Part of the problem I am having, honestly, is iCloud and its sandboxing properties which keep documents created in one app walled off and unavailable to other apps. So I’ve got a group of documents in one app; a separate group of documents in another app; a third group of documents in a third app; and so on, with no crossover. Using iCloud sort of forces your hand into one of two workflows: a single-app workflow where you use one tool for everything, or a fractured workflow where multiple apps become used for certain specialized purposes since you can’t share documents between them.

Here’s a rundown of what I’m using right now.

iA Writer

iA Writer was one of the first tools I played with that had Mac, iPhone and iPad versions so I could access the things that I wrote anywhere on any device at any time. I don’t use iA Writer on my phone all that often, but it’s become my primary writing tool for work; every news release or other story I write for work is written in iA Writer and then moved into InDesign for layout and distribution. I’ve created around 150 work-related documents in iA Writer, and they all live in iCloud. I have some personal documents here as well, mostly work in the last three graduate school courses I took and a couple of documents related to some personal projects I have worked on over the last year.

I like iA Writer; it’s become a comfortable writing environment, even though I’m creating some roadblocks for myself when it comes to importing that text into InDesign for layout (or into Pages for export into a Word document if I am using it to write a magazine story, for instance).

As an app-based service, iA Writer comes with some one-time charges; the Mac app is $4.99 and the iPad and iPhone apps are 99 cents each. Still, for less than the cost of two drinks at Starbucks you get access to a pretty solid round-trip writing environment you can easily access from your Holy Trinity of devices.


Draft is the most recent addition to my app arsenal; on the surface it’s a Markdown app like iA Writer, but rather than using a collection of native apps Draft achieves “access anywhere” by being a web-based application. Draft’s killer app-type feature is its functionality as a transcript-writing tool; it has the ability to embed audio with extremely easy-to-use and intuitive controls for navigating that audio, making the development of transcripts an absolute breeze.

Right now I have exactly four documents in Draft – and all four are transcripts of audio interviews I have done for work. Draft made preparing these transcripts almost trivial; it’s probably the only tool I have ever used that had specific built-in functionality to help with transcribing, but I can’t imagine any other existing tool doing this any better.

I’m honestly not sure what’s keeping me from going all-in on Draft. It has a free and a paid version, and the paid version is a $3.99-per-month subscription; the subscription is primarily an “I love this tool and want to give you money for it” support mechanism, as the freely-available version of the tool seems entirely functional. And Draft’s developer, Nathan Kontny seems to be exactly the kind of person I would have no problems giving $4 a month to in order to help him continue to build this tool; he’s obviously passionate about what he does and he’s putting every piece of his talent to work in order to build a tool that people will love using. Guys like Nathan Kontny are part of the reason I love technology — he helps to give a writing tool a personality, which is a pretty amazing thing.

If there’s any immediate change in my workflow, I could easily see it being a straight trade of iA Writer for Draft.

Google Docs

Then, I’ve got a pile of stuff in Google Docs, which is almost entirely work-related; I also did some grad-school work in Docs, mostly on group projects where I had to collaborate with people in other cities. But I have very few personal documents in Docs. I actually do very little with Google Docs, and I suspect that as Apple’s iCloud.com versions of Pages and Numbers come out of beta there won’t be any reason for me to use Docs for anything that isn’t related to work. Right now, though, Docs is great for building shared calendars and other workflow-tracking documents for me to share with our student workers.

But, the majority of that material could eventually be moved into something like Wunderlist or Trello, as well, which would leave very little reason to continue using Docs for much of anything.

Day One

Day One is touted as a journaling app, and it’s quite good. I have taken to writing all of my post drafts for andybartlett.com in Day One, because as a journal its entries are tied into a built-in calendar which makes it a nice archival tool. Day One entries also are written in Markdown, and simply as a Markdown editor Day One is quite good.

Day One is a lot like Evernote; the more I use it, the more I realize I should be using it. I’ve started using Day One for job journaling, to keep track of significant accomplishments over the course of a day (although I haven’t remotely gotten into a flow with that yet, mostly because I’m not entirely sure what I would be referring back to the entries for), as well, and it’s good for traditional journal-type entries where something that I want to write pops into my head and I need somewhere that isn’t a blog to stash it. This is another situation where I really like that Day One’s entries are married to a calendar.

Still, other than drafts of andybartlett.com posts, Day One wouldn’t be a good production environment for work; because of the calendar, it would be quite difficult for me to start a story on one day, then write a bunch of other stuff over the next seven days and then backtrack to finish that story. Day One ties your writing to when you start it, and with my work I’m more interested in when it gets finished.

The Rest

In addition to these four outlets, I also have a significant amount of data spread across two Evernote accounts (one that is basically for work and one that is for personal things — drafts of the comic book reviews I used to do for The Terrordrome were all originally written in Evernote); I’ve got a pile of stuff in a Simplenote account that I don’t hardly use any more – data that, honestly, I should migrate somewhere else; I’ve got some things in Vesper; and there are other things still that I have in Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps. So there are six other apps where I have data, and as with the first four, none of them can share information with each other due to iCloud sandboxing.

That’s 10 apps, total, each containing some unique segment of stuff I’ve written. I’d like to start consolidating most of that, but other than eliminating Simplenote I’m not entirely sure where to cut. I am going to hold out with iCloud for my storage until MacOS X version 9, Mavericks, comes out this fall, and I’m also going to see what happens with Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps at iCloud.com once those come out of beta. As I mentioned earlier I’m sorely tempted to switch from iA Writer to Draft, but if I did that I would want to pay for Draft just because I would feel the need to pay for something that I was using as such a central piece of my workflow.

Ideally, I could foresee a situation where I changed my sync solution from iCloud to Dropbox (which I probably just need to go ahead and do), switched to Draft as my go-to primary writing tool, and then distributed writing to andybartlett.com, Day One or Evernote from there.

Right now it’s all still a mess.

Spending time with If This Then That

If This Then That has proven to be a fun little automation tool that can tie some — but certainly not all — of the various presences I have scattered throughout the Internet’s vast series of tubes together into a cohesive presence.

For example, I’ve got sharing functionality set up in WordPress that automatically shares to Facebook and Twitter whenever I have a new blog post. I do this so I don’t have to jump over and immediately share that I’ve posted something on those social networks, mostly because there would eventually be the temptation to just not share because I couldn’t be bothered to spend the 30 seconds to do it or because I came up with some reason why the post shouldn’t be shared. So that’s usually fine.

I wrote an IFTTT recipe that automatically creates a post at andybartlett.com to share photos I post to Instagram. This is fine and it works great; it gets photo content to andybartlett.com, which in the past was exceedingly rare. But right now I’ve got a situation set up where an Instagram post fires an andybartlett.com post which fires a Facebook update; so if I share to Facebook when I post in Instagram, I get a double post on Facebook — one directly from Instagram and one from andybartlett.com.

The one thing that’s nice is that those auto-posts on Facebook aren’t triggering the IFTTT action I wrote to dump Facebook status updates into an Evernote notebook.

I either need to figure out a way to tweak the recipes to recognize post tags so that those round-trip type posts are situational and not automatic for every situation, or just scrap IFTTT for social posting automation.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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