I'm Going Mobile

I may not be Pete Townshend, but I'm “Going Mobile” anyway, at least in terms of my writing. Last month I received a Nexus 10 tablet and my intent with it is to be productive rather than just using it as a media-consumption device (although clearly it's designed for, and very good at, that purpose). With my prior Android experience limited to a cheap Android phone, the big question for me was what apps I would need to install to be productive. While some aspects of my work (such as system administration) won't be of interest to readers of this blog, the decisions I'm making app-wise for writing might be useful to share with other writers.

In addition to being productive with the tablet, another goal is to minimize the quantity and size of apps I have installed, to ensure I have plenty of room for data. My "day job" involves video production, and videos take a lot of space. This pretty much ruled out installing an "office suite" type of application, but I did consider using Google Drive since it naturally ties in nicely with the Android ecosystem. The more I thought about writing novel-length fiction using the word processing tool in Google Drive, the less I liked the idea. It's an OK tool for general use, but when I've tried to do more complex things I've always ended up frustrated and switching to something else (locally hosted, not cloud-based). I've also been steering away from writing in a "word processor" and leaning more toward a basic text editor and using super-simplified HTML for basic formatting (e.g., italics) because it gives me precise control over style as well as semantics.

After reviewing several editors, I have – at least for now – settled on 920 Text Editor because it has a lot of good features (including word count) and it "feels" fairly similar to other text editors I use, such as Notepad++ (Windows) and gedit (Linux). Now, I could just stick with HTML, because I've been coding in HTML since around 1995, but there's an alternative format called Markdown that simplifies the editing process while also producing a file that is easily read by humans and also readily converted into other formats. Those formats include HTML, PDF, and ePUB. Now, doesn't that sound like a perfect e-book authoring format? It does to me! Of course, HTML can be readily converted into PDF and ePUB too, but it takes more work to write. The allure of Markdown is its authoring simplicity. I haven't used it before, but I plan to start using it now.

Another aspect that I needed to consider was backups, which relates to version control (the latter allowing me to go back to an earlier version of something if I decide I don't like what I've done recently with it, or in case it somehow becomes corrupted). Sometime last year I moved all of my creative writing files into a folder within my Dropbox folder, so I have near-instant cloud backup of my work, as well as the ability to access my files from just about anywhere with an Internet connection. I wanted the same support on my tablet, and luckily there is a Dropbox app for Android. This isn't perfect, but at least the files will be backed up and I'll have some version control. My tools for searching within the files are clunky at this point, but I should be able to improve on that situation in my Linux environment. I'm not sure if there's any way to do that on the tablet, though, at least without using a third-party service which might require more permissions than I would want to grant.

One wrinkle in this loose plan for going mobile with my writing is that I've lately been leaning more on Evernote for "remembering" things, i.e., storing them and finding them later. I have the Android app for Evernote installed, and one thought I had was to just do my writing directly in that, as I'm trying to do with other one-off notes and such. I could still use Markdown in an Evernote note, and having everything in Evernote would allow me to quickly find all references to a certain character, place, etc. in my novels. A few things are keeping me from doing this, though. First, I see no quick way to get a word count in an Evernote note when using the Web or Android interface (the feature does exist in the Windows client), and I like to check my word count to help gauge my chapter length to see if I'm bogging down too much. It's also of special relevance during NaNoWriMo! Second, I don't see a streamlined way to export a bunch of notes into something that I can then run through a format converter, to go from Markdown to ePUB (for example). I strive for ease and simplicity when it comes to rote tasks, automating as much as possible, so I don't want to add extra manual steps to my workflow. Third, since I'm currently using a free account on Evernote, there is no version control. I can't back up to an earlier version of something, and even for paid accounts that feature does not seem as thorough as what Dropbox offers. I'd still like to have search capabilities on my tablet, though, so one approach might be to copy-and-paste completed chapters over into Evernote just for searching. Admittedly, that's pretty clunky and I'm not going to commit to doing that yet.

So, while I still have some things to work out, I'm getting to the point where I can get some significant writing done on my tablet. If you have thoughts to share based on your use of a tablet for writing on the move, feel free to leave a comment!

Comments

Apparently my mobile-writing solution is, itself, a work in progress. I've found that if I use 920 Text Editor to edit a file that is stored in Dropbox, the Dropbox app is not fully recognizing that the file has changed. I can open it using the simple text editor that is built into Dropbox (which is much too light in features for me to use for general writing purposes) and I can see the updated contents, but the file listing itself shows a much earlier revision time, so the file does not get sync'd to the cloud. If I make a minor change in the file using the editor in the Dropbox app and then save the file from there, Dropbox understands that it's changed and the file syncs normally. What I thought would be a smooth workflow, basically opening the document wherever I am without thinking about where I last worked on it (meaning, without regard to what computer or device I last used) is turning out to be anything but smooth. This appears to be a flaw in the Dropbox app, which I will be reporting to them.


About the Author
Stuart J. Whitmore is an author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a photographer, technology developer, and more. If you enjoy reading his blog posts, you might also enjoy reading his books. Take a look at the books by Stuart J. Whitmore today, and download your copy of one that looks interesting to you!