TaskPaper, Scrivener, and Note Taking on the iPad

We’ve been having a great conversation over on the Literature & Latte forums about TaskPaper, Scrivener, and note taking on the iPad. I’ve clipped my posts on the topic below.

June 5

On the iPad I’m using the TaskPaper “show project” function to work with longer texts, like story drafts, kind of the way I’ve used Scrivener on my iMac or MPB. I know that TaskPaper is marketed as being for ‘simple task lists’ but being able to move paragraphs around, hoist sections, tag others, and it’s not that far of a conceptual leap to think of it as a powerful drafting tool. Simply managing revisions as sequential “Projects” lets me flip back and forth and see what the heck I was doing four revisions ago. I’m sure you can take the example and extend it to your writing situation. Of course I’ve had to learn how to get rid of all the indents and such in the core plain text files before printing, but that’s what WordServices is for, right?

I’m using TaskPaper (both iPad and Mac) for note collection and arrangement. It’s wonderful for quotes, or phrases you want to use, just like shuffling around cards in Scrivener (chunkification and de-chunkification ). I also keep my research lists there, books and article I need to pull when I get to the library, Project = Area of inquiry, Tags = In which facility they are located. etc…

Now I’m thinking about being in DropBox and being able to open text files on my iPad in TaskPaper (and or WriteRoom someday), and I have to say, I think my trips down to Poets House will be much more productive, especially since I’m not dragging the old laptop along.

…and the native syncing of TaskPaper files into Scrivener (via SimpleText.ws) works effortlessly.

So, of course I’ll still use Scrivener for the big stuff, it is without parallel, and I think I’d rather do that on the monster screen of my iMac, not the iPad, but for the text noodeling that makes for the raw material of the big stuff, I’m having trouble finding fault with the iPad.

June 7

I think amberV, as usual, has nailed it.

I believe my use of TP came from a bit of “scarcity is the mother of invention” situation. Without a tool that could fold and hoist (key aspects of outlining) on my mobile devices I tried using TP for longer stuff and behold, it worked like a great text editor.

“The iDevice version is fundamentally the same, though in my experience it is a little less elegant to work with in terms of data entry.”

Agreed. There is lot of tapping to get to edit a paragraph and that is an annoying aspect of the tool.

“I wish it would just derive type based on what you input.” which is odd because it does on the iPhone version.

“It really does straddle the line between text editor and outliner, and I think that is what generates a lot of the buzz. “

…and this plasticity of use is the thing that emerges as you begin to use it more extensively. Lists turn into paragraphs, notes become scenes, quotes are rolled into text, and TP has this flexibility to move from one to the other.

Like many on these boards I’ve used OmniOutliner, it’s a very powerful product, but eventually I’m out of the app and into another because the text chunk has transformed. (I’ve also gone back from text into OO to re-sort things out at times too, but it’s the in-and-out of the app thing I’m after here) TaskPaper for me seems to move along with my evolving work, which works as far as that goes, until I need to graduate to Scrivener where the heavy duty assemblage and idea processing takes place.

“in outliner parlance would be akin to hoisting”

…which is what got me thinking about using TP as a text editor. Here was a tool that took my text flow and with a little coding (adding a full colon for headings) lets me isolate and jump to specific parts of my text. Before, I kept chunks in separate text files. Now I find myself keeping longer pieces in one file because I can manipulate them in TP with some ease — as amberV notes, with more ease in the desktop app than in the iversions.

But I think this gets to the topic: writing stuff, smaller, short clips, to be used perhaps someday in chunks is wonderful on the iPad. I used to do it just on my iPhone, first in WriteRoom for iPhone, then in TaskPaper. Because of the TP functionality of tagging and hoisting, I began to write longer stuff, and because of the seamless syncing I was keeping it in the tool longer — before making the jump to long form editing, augmentation and consolidation in Scrivener.

The fluidity of lists (like clauses), to thoughts (more like phrases) to ideas (more like paragraphs) and on to a work (like a text) coupled with my abject hatred of transcription (if I write it in my Moleskin, it will forever be there, and only there) has me capturing ideas in the iPad and then working them through to Scrivener over a rather seamless line.

(But isn’t the social aspect of all this fascinating? I mean, I go into some venues, usually filled with writer types, and if I pull out anything other than the Moleskin people look at me like I had just stolen the king’s jewels. In other venues, like web 2.0 conferences, if I don’t whip out a device that casts some kind of fluorescent glow on my face I’m banished to the back row of ballroom chairs.)

I’m a big fan of text files, as we’ve talked about on these boards before. The architecture of TP and WR is an application working against a data set of text files, rather than producing captured data as a remnant of an application (as is the case with apps like MyText and Evernote) and while that conversation gets very propeller head geeky very quickly, it gets to the heart of my work flow, and it gets to why I love Scrivener because it lets me collect all those text files I’ve written over time and assemble them into a cogent whole. I’m finding TP on the iPhone/iPad as a great tool for creating the text files.

As a very practical example (not mine, from another writer buddy) one could write chapters (or scenes) in TaskPaper as “Projects” (which means the title ends in a full colon) and then tag paragraphs (which means add an ampersand (@) with a tag, yep, it’s that easy) for characters or environment, then use either the project focus to isolate chapters, and/or the tags to see what you heroine has been up to while you were off drafting her future love interest.

Another example, this one really mine: I keep a list of stuff I need at the library…

Project = Area of interest like Literary Theory:

– Book name @bobst

– Book name, call numbers, @NYPL

– Book name, call number, @NYPL, @fogelman

Project = Another area of interest:

– Book name @bobst

– Book name @NYPL

I can search and isolate the list by project, “Lit Theory” and by location, “NYPL, not fogelman” (and get it even more complicated if I want, to the point where I’ve outsmarted myself with complexity.)

Just as Scrivener is just a bunch of index cards we are moving around, TaskPaper is just a bunch of text chunks we are moving around. It’s that simple, and that vastly complex.

Check out the whole conversation here

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  1. Posted July 23, 10 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Doug — very good summary of how to write and organize with text files. I’ve just googled for Scrivener on the iPad and found the long “not at the moment” manifesto, then your alternative. While I’m a long-time user of TP, it didn’t fully occur to me to use it for these purposes, but now it makes sense, especially with your @tagheroine idea.

  2. Posted August 11, 10 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    I am using Wondershare iDraft to take notes with my iPad. It is great.

  3. Simon
    Posted March 14, 12 at 6:39 pm | Permalink


    I’m moving into the realm of the iPad. I’m looking at something to make and store notes and have found a superb wiki approach with an app called Trunk Notes by Apps On The Move.

    The brilliance of the system is that every note can be linked, but needn’t be. Tags can be added other notes can be references, time stamps inserted, snippets created and so forth. Notes can be synchronised via DropBox. However, there is one flaw, there is no desktop app. I’ve been wrestling with whether I need a desktop app? The app can create a zip archive of your wiki. I should also mention that markdown is the markup language.

    This leads me to the question on the use of wiki’s. I’ve also used Taskpaper and Scrivener, but I’m getting tired of jumping from app to app. A single wiki that can grow in size where all the notes can be interlinked and searched seems some form of utopia.

    Have you any advice on dumping the one file per note architecture that most applications adhere to and creating one wiki that contains the lot? After all, when it comes to searching for a particular note surely searching in one place is better than two?

  4. Posted May 26, 16 at 4:59 pm | Permalink


    Stumbled on this and wanted to thank you for sharing. I used to write books for a living but a head injury drug all of that to a screaming halt. Trying to figure out ways to write again with my limitations. The iPad has word suggestions that help a lot, and figured out that my old Taskpaper app can be set to display little chunks (projects, etc) which are easier for my scrambled brain to digest. You are the first person I found to post about using Taskpaper this way and I appreciate your thoughts about it. You have inspired me to try at the least. Thank you.

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