Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Write Anywhere Project

For the first time, my writing is portable: I'm the proud owner of an iPad 3, which my dad got me for my birthday. In the past, I've done well taking notes with a pencil in my little quad-ruled Moleskines, and I've filled three and a half of them over the course of these two novels, but I've never really gotten the hang of composing with one. I know, I know — Nabokov wrote on index cards at a lectern in his socks, &c. &c., so what's my excuse? All I can say is that I've tried it, and produced the odd workable paragraph, but after a page or so I begin feeling cramped and crabbed.

Enter the iPad (which I have named Hhml Haml, after the angel of what I can only assume is preparatory throat-clearing). My wife got me a keyboard case (a ZaggFolio), which connects Bluetoothily to the iPad and permits me to use command-C and option-delete and various other shortcuts I've grown dependent on. iPad-specific keys replace the function keys — I can control my music, head to the Home screen, and so on. I find it a great pleasure to type on. (For a week or so, it wasn't — the space bar tended to stick, because one of the tiny pegs on one of the tiny scissor mechanisms under the space bar was broken. But the good people at Zagg sent me a replacement that fixed it right up. Now the keys are springy and responsive, and make a charming chickering noise.)

At the moment, I'm sitting in the back of Diesel, watching hipsters post flyers on the bulletin board and writing this post in a very nice blogging app called Blogsy ($4.99). My formatting options are arranged unobtrusively in a gray-on-black bar at the top of the screen, and a column of buttons along the right side lets me quickly drop in media from Flickr, Google Images, YouTube, &c. At the lower right, I can touch a pair of angle brackets to flip my post from preview mode to HTML, in case I need to poke around under the hood.

For prose, I am using iA Writer ($0.99), which sports the endorsement of Stephen Fry. It is as stripped-down as it is possible for a word processor to get — there are no italics or other formatting, no font choices, no justification options, just lines of black text on a white background. In "focus mode," only three lines are clearly visible; the rest of the text is grayed out, and there are no buttons or icons or other fripperies to be seen. I was deeply grudging of this minimalist mode; on my iMac, I have my templates in Pages set up to mimic the look of a mass-market paperback, and I like things to look Just So. But iA Writer is liberating. The text I produce on it has the look of a draft — and nothing more than a draft. It's easier to silence my inner critic and follow Kerouac's advice: "Just imagine it better and keep going." (I wish I had a way to mark italics, but it's not a deal-breaker.) When I'm done, I can email the text to myself or drop it in my DropBox. It turns my first drafts into zippered-together Frankensteins of scene fragments, but I'm learning to stop worrying and love the draft.

On the road that led to The Slow Palace, I walked with a lot of crutches. I had to be sitting at my computer, with a mug of cocoa close to hand and my special green lightbulb lit, and it had to be quiet, and I had to have checked a particular roster of websites, and, and, and. There's nothing particularly wrong with that — if you need crutches to help you walk, then crutches are the thing to have, and, after all, The Slow Palace did get written. But I've reached a point where I'd like to learn to walk without them, and with this 2.75-pound self-contained typing machine I can write in coffee shops, on the train, in fields of wildflowers, on the tops of mountains.

Lord, it is a miracle! I am healed.