Using only an iPad for writing on vacation

And I left my laptop behind.

Scrivener and Final Draft running on the iPad

Yes, I hear some of you looking at the headline and saying: “If you’re on vacation, you shouldn’t be working at all.” Imma guess anyone saying that is not a writer. You do you, but take it from this fine feathered friend — a writer’s gotta write.

I recently had the amazing good fortune to go on book tour in Europe. We had six dates for fan gatherings or book fair appearances (in London, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig and Dublin), which we spread over the course of two and half weeks.  We left the USA on March 15, 2017, and put our ‘Murican feet back on ‘Murican soil on April 2.

Here at Empty Set Entertainment, we primarily use iPads only for audiobook and podcast recording. They have never been day-to-day machines for us, but we had this crazy idea — what happens if we go on this eighteen-day jag and leave my laptop behind? What happens if we use only an iPad pro for a trip that includes over 20 hours in planes, 5 hours in trains, and, of course, the hours spent in hotel rooms?

What happened? Magic, damn you … magic.

I normally use a MacBook Pro for everything (Retina, 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 running OS X Yosemite 10.10.5). This bad boy weighs 4.5lbs.

For this trip, I used a new 12.9″ iPad Pro (250GB storage, no cellular, $999), which weighs 1.57 pounds (713 grams). Since I need a real keyboard (I can’t type on the iPad glass for shit), we snagged the Apple silicon case/keyboard combo ($248), which added .8 lbs (363 grams), for a total weight of 2.37 pounds (1.075 kg).

That means I cut 2.13 pounds (just under a kilogram) from my gear. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, Hans & Franz with your muscly bodies, let me tell you that 2.13 pounds spread across nine airports and eighteen days adds up big-time.

Carrying a MacBook Pro isn’t exactly a sacrifice on par with Jesus lugging that heavy cross through the streets, I get that, but it’s still a bit of weight. Switching to the iPad Pro cut that weight in half, and made a huge difference in my ability to enjoy the trip.

But weight doesn’t matter if the little slugger can hit the ball, amiright? That’s a sports euphemism, folks — it means weight don’t matter a squirt if you can’t get the job done.

So, did I get the job done?

Here’s Scrivener and Final Draft running side-by side on my iPad Pro.

That’s right, sucka — what kind of bullets did I load in that there gun?  That’s an old-west euphemism, because today I’m apparently euphemistic.

I use two primary software packages for writing: Scrivener for novels, and FinalDraft for screenplays.

I bought the iOS apps for both ($19.99 each, this experiment is adding up fast, is it not?). We use DropBox to backup our novels and screenplays, but guess what? DropBox also lets you sync both Scrivener and FinalDraft docs between your iPad, smart phone and the MacBook Pro. Therefore, synching my fiction work from computer to iPad and back again was free.

When I got back to sunny San Diego, I synched to the cloud from the iPad, synced from the cloud to my MacBook Pro, and didn’t miss a letter of the work I’d done on vacation.

I am working on the sixth book in my GFL series. With five books and four novellas in the series already, maintaining continuity is a bitch. I use Mac Numbers (instead of Excel) to track an enormous amount of info. That will run on the iPad, but I failed to load the particular continuity document on the iPad before I left. Once I was on the road, I tried to load it from DropBox, but that didn’t work.

Instead of beating that dead horse, I chose to leave it be and write the parts of GFL Book VI for which I didn’t need a continuity reference. That worked great.

Other cons:

  • DropBox works pretty well, but you need to use it on the iPad for a bit to figure out what you don’t know. As in, remembering to put all the documents you might need to do your work onto the iPad.
  • When you’ve got 20+ years of files in your “Fiction folder,” DropBox takes a long time to sync. Be aware.
  • If you have a deeply nested file structure for your novel on Scrivener (folders inside of folders inside of folders), it’s hard to see the big picture of your work. Again, I picked discreet parts that I knew I could write — I saved the really complex bits that spanned multiple chapters for when I got back home and on my MacBook Pro (and the big external monitor, which is a huge help).
  • I did not Photoshop work with the iPad, and I think it would suck for that.
  • I also did no audio editing during the trip. I got my podcasts recorded before we left. I don’t think the iPad is ideal for audio editing.

Working away at King's Cross station in London, while waiting for the Eurostar to take us to Paris. Read also: "Baller."CARRYING THAT SUCKER AROUND:
People steal shit. It’s true. It’s why we have cops (one of the reasons, anyway). So here I am, kicking around the globe — do I want to be worried if I leave my iPad Pro in the hotel room? Or, do I want to be worried about carrying that mutha all over Paris and Berlin, et cetera?

Know what solved that problem? Slipping the iPad into a small computer bag. At just 2.5 pounds and in a bag not as wide as my booty, I often forgot I had the thing on my person at all. When it rained, I wore my raincoat over it. When we ate, it sat behind me, upright, on the chair or booth — it’s so thin, again, I barely knew it was there.

My workhorse iPad Pro was with me all the time. Which meant I could work anytime the muse struck me (or when I was behind in word count, because sometimes the “muse” is just an asshole of a deadline). Stopping for lunch? Yep, I can work. Killing time waiting for a bus? Bingo, I’m working away.

I set up email accounts on the iPad all by myself (because I’m a computer genius and it takes a Ph.D. in physics to set those bad boys up). In other words, setting up email is pretty damn easy, even for a TechTard like me. I kept up on all email in five different accounts for all eighteen days of the trip.

I think email is actually easier on the iPad that it is on a standard laptop. The swiping and deleting just seems more intuitive to me.

Honestly, I didn’t use the iPad for much in the way of “fun.” I bought THE EXPANSE Season Two and downloaded it before I left, yet wound up not watching a single episode. Why? Because when I was using the iPad, I was writing, I was working. When I wasn’t using the iPad, I was doing vacation stuff.

Yep, I used it in all three modes of public transport. I didn’t use it in the few cabs we took.

The small size of the iPad really helped me be productive in the preposterously small space we get in airplanes these days. The guy in front of me kicks his seat back? No worries, because the iPad with keyboard has a footprint maybe eight inches deep (and no, that was not a euphemism).

I was able to write and write well in places where the laptop just wouldn’t fit. The smaller size provided a significant advantage over a laptop.

This was an experiment, but it was so successful I will not be taking my laptop on future trips. The iPad has some drawbacks (Photoshop, audio editing and video editing, in particular), but the advantages make it worth that small sacrifice.

From here on out, I’m traveling lighter and getting more work done on planes. And trains. And busses.

And, hell, maybe next time, even in a cab.

About The Author


  1. Edgar N Valderrama

    Hey Scott! Remember me, Edgar N Valderrama who is always claiming to be your oldest fan; now 91? (probably not)
    I’m still following and enjoying your writing.
    What inspired me to write now is the ipad reference. Just got one a couple of weeks ago and still adapting. Up to now, I find it easier to write on the computer even though I got a useful Targus brand keyboard case combination which protects it besides making it easier to use.
    Yo friend,

    1. scottsigler

      Edgar: I said the same thing you did — until I let the laptop behind and went “without a net,” so to speak. When I ran into small issues with the iPad, I would have gone back to the laptop but I didn’t have it. So, I needed to figure out those small issues. Once I did, it all worked well.

  2. Mike King

    Wait…you worked on a screenplay before GVL V!? If I don’t find out what happens to Denver next soon, I may have a heartache. JK…thanks for sharing that. I can’t wait to read what comes next.

    1. scottsigler

      petejew: Ah, I should have known someone would show up with some kind of “Ford vs. Chevy” dig-waggling. With this man purse I wrote 25,000 words in GFL VI, 36 pages of screenplay, collaborated on a TV show adaptation of one of my works via Google Docs and Skype with people back in LA, and write up a document summarizing 20 new novel ideas that I sent to my print agent, film agent, domestic publisher and foreign publishers — all while traveling thousands of miles, staying in four different cities, and leaving my laptop behind.

      And that was all before I put on my mauve skinny jeans.

      Works for me.

  3. Christina Ochs

    Love this! My husband got me an iPad Pro for Christmas and I was a little put out, thinking I’d never find a way to make it useful, considering the cost. Welllll, about six weeks ago I picked up the Logitech keyboard/case combo, downloaded Scrivener, and I’m hooked!

    As you found, there’s virtually no barrier to writing in any setting. So light and compact. And syncing between it and my Toshiba laptop is incredibly simple. The laptop still has better Scrivener functionality, but I don’t need it nearly as often as I think.

    I highly recommend this setup!

    1. scottsigler

      Christina: The synching is really the magic sauce of it all. I even had an accidental overwrite of old stuff erasing new (40 pages of screenplay!). About 15 minutes of Googling showed me where to find the auto-backup version, and boom, I had everything back.

  4. Ruthy

    Oh my gosh, you had me laughing out loud as I read this! Neat experiment, it’s a perfect nudge to get a good keyboard for my iPad as well. Thanks for sharing, and a good laugh!

    1. scottsigler

      Deb: A regular ol’ iPad would work great. I think you can get keyboards for those so you can have the iPad in portrait mode (you can’t get a keyboard like that for the Pro, you can only use it in landscape mode with a keyboard). In portrait mode on a regular iPad, you’d get one page per screen, which works well.

  5. Ruth

    Ok, this does it. Was dithering over whether to take my MacBook Pro to UK next week or settle for my iPad Pro. Done deal. Thanks! If I have any more packing dilemmas, I’ll call. 😉

  6. Belinda Bass

    That is amazing. Every vacation I lug my laptop along to write. Maybe it’s time I step outside the box.

  7. Hugo Charles Hansen

    Why not just use an MacBook 12″, 0,92kg? I love travelling with this companion 🙂