Have you ever seen a more maddeningly complex program than a word processor? Endless options buried deep within cavernous menu bars, the useful mixed in with the useless like a steak and leather pie. Microsoft Word has become so convoluted that a ‘Ribbon’ interface paradigm was developed so users could unravel its excessive functionality. It’s hard to get your thoughts on the page without having them checked for errors, formatted and indented.
One of the pleasures of using the iPad to write is that your documents occupy the entire screen; when I’m writing in Elements, I can’t see my Twitter feed or a pulsing Facebook activity light. While some users undoubtedly need the features that Word et al. have to offer, authors and writers don’t. We want a distraction-free environment devoid of gimmicks, a user interface that gets out of the way and lets you focus on the ideas (theoretically) being germinated.
iA Writer is the environment you’ve been looking for. It has no options to configure. There is no choice of font and very little formatting. You can’t even increase the size of the text. Do not be mistaken: this program is not for writing a cover letter or making a horrendous family newsletter in Comic Sans. Writer is all about the purity of the written word. It’s best experienced in full-screen, where the gorgeous monospaced font is the perfect size for reading. This is a far cry from the crippled utility of Word’s full-screen mode (would you like an oak or aluminium background with your full-screen mode, sir?) and Pages’ abuse of Helvetica as body text, a crime against the sacred cow of sans-serif fonts.
When I was young, I had an electronic word processor. You could set it to full manual for that classic, clickety-clack typewriter effect or type lines into the LCD and fire off bursts of sentences. Every new document felt like a task of exceptional weight and importance (which they certainly were not). I get that same feeling when using Writer: it’s just you and the page, locked in a battle for creative supremacy. Your keyboard hammering becomes more violent as crap joke after crap joke are typed, then deleted.
You can add emphasis to text or create lists using Markdown, meaning you need never use the mouse to apply formatting. A powerful ally is Focus Mode: Cmd-D fades out every sentence except the one you’re currently writing, forcing you to type boldly on into the darkness. It sounds ridiculous, but this program teaches you to be a better writer. It’s a great interface not just because it gets rid of all the cruft, but because it teaches you good habits in writing composition. Not that I know anything about writing composition, of course, but I certainly feel like I’m improving.
After switching from Word to Pages, back to Word and even Textwrangler, iA Writer is a breath of fresh prose. Without any trial version to speak of, there’s a leap of faith to be made, but if you spend any length of time writing creatively or critically this a beautiful place to spend it.
Is it paradoxical to find inspiration from nothingness? That sounds like something worth writing about.