I love tweaking stuff. Playing with settings so that I can get things to work exactly the way I want. That’s why it’s imperative that I use a writing program with a minimal feature set when I’m writing, especially when I’m writing a first draft.
Recently, I picked up a pair of apps from iA called Writer Pro. I bought the desktop version and the iOS version. I’m intensely fond of writing programs that have a desktop and iOS version so that I can write on my laptop and edit on my iPad, where the act of touching the words seems to forge a deeper connection between me and the story.
Writer Pro is touted as a more feature rich version of iA’s Writer app, which I’d never used. For my early drafts, I’ve mostly been relying on WriteRoom, but some minor annoyances with WriteRoom that haven’t been addressed, along with Writer Pro’s Syntax settings and Workflow, led me to try Writer Pro.
Potential. That’s what this program has. However, for the steep price of $19.99 for each app, the value just isn’t there yet. I spent some time on the support boards over at iA, and it’s clear that the app’s designers have a lot of plans for Writer Pro, but at this point the app is big on promises and short on delivery.
Let’s start with the basics. Writer Pro offers a gray background and crisp black text. On the right
side is a tool bar that allows you to change the Workflow, Structure, Syntax, and offers reading statistics. I found it more distracting than anything else, but on a wide screen it’s not particularly obtrusive.
On the desktop version, you can save your document anywhere on your computer, including a Dropbox folder, however, the iOS version only allows you to access documents via iCloud. As much as I like iCloud, I don’t trust them with my documents (to be fair, I used their file sharing service when it was known as MobileMe, so I have some familiarity with it). Dropbox support is supposedly coming in a future release, but until it arrives, you’re stuck with iCloud or nothing.
Once you start working on a document, you can choose to move it through various Workflow states. They offer Note, Write, Edit, and Read. iA offers an explanation for their Workflow states comparing it to a river, but the thing to take away is that changing the Workflow state does little other than change the font and cursor color. While this might not seem like a worthwhile feature, I often find it easier to write in a font like Helvetica and edit in a font like Times New Roman because it makes the writing seem unfamiliar, which helps me spot errors, so I like the feature but wouldn’t call it killer.
Many users who purchased Writer Pro assumed that the Workflow states acted more like a project manager, saving the file in its various states so that they could return to them later, but this is not the case. Again, the developers state their intention to move Writer Pro more toward that project management workflow, but as it stands now, the Workflow states are useful but not overly so.
The Syntax portion is a little more interesting. It allows you to focus in on different aspects of the document. You can focus on the sentence level, and it will gray out everything but the sentence you’re on, or you can choose to focus only on verbs, and it will gray out everything but the verbs. I found this to be highly useful during the various editing phases, as it allowed me to pay attention to my verbs and pick out the weak ones easier. It has options for Sentence, Adjectives, Nouns, Adverbs, Verbs, Prepositions, and Conjunctions. It’d be nice if it had a way to select profanity, but the function isn’t customizable.
It also has quirks, some of which are helpful, some of which are not. When it comes to contractions, choosing Verbs will only highlight the verb portion and, Adverbs will only highlight the contracted part of the word. It’s a little confusing at first, but technically accurate. On the less helpful side is the inability to understand when a word has used a period as part of an abbreviated title or address when focusing on sentences. If I wrote, “That mean Mr. Darcy walked away.” Writer Pro would consider everything before “Darcy” one sentence and everything after Mr. another. It appears that the program looks to see if the word following a period is capitalized. If it is, it considers the period a full stop. This is problematic for people who use periods after words like Mr. and Dr., and won’t expose situations where you’ve forgotten to capitalize the first word of the next sentence.
For anyone who’s used WriteRoom and is familiar with their “themes,” Writer Pro doesn’t have those. The black on gray is the default and there’s no changing it. Like everything else, themes are being considered for a future release.
Writer Pro has other bugs which I assume will be fixed more quickly—such as its strange habit of adding an extra carriage return after a quotation mark. It’s not consistent, but it happens enough that I was constantly having to go back to eliminate them.
It should also be noted that Writer Pro saves files as markdown. You have the option to export them to Word, but if you bold a word and print it, it will **print** the markdown, which is a bit odd.
As much as I wanted to like WriterPro, I just don’t feel like it’s ready for daily use, and it’s definitely not worth the hefty price tag. If the developers, who are really nice and active on their support boards, keep working on it, Writer Pro has the potential to be a stellar writing app for those of us who like to keep things simple, but potential is no good if it never goes anywhere.
When you develop a writing program that promises simplicity, the few things it does do must be done well, and Writer Pro simply has too many rough edges.