Review: PDFpen 2 for iPad

I’ve started writing reviews for and just once in a while I think some of the pieces are useful for us as writers and creatively productive kinds of people. I mentioned WordTarget very recently but this is more serious and I think more useful: it’s an app for reading PDFs on your iPad. Now, there are eleventy-billion such apps but this is much more useful because it lets you edit the PDFs.

Let me explain in this extract from the full MacNN piece:

Here’s a true story about what PDFpen 2 does. A Windows-based firm produced a year-end report that was about 80 pages and most importantly took many, many hours to create. It was all highly complex, auto-generated figures — and one huge spelling mistake. They didn’t see the mistake until the final PDF was about to be sent out to clients. Fixing it meant re-running the whole process, re-calculating everything: it meant not sending the report until tomorrow.

Luckily, one guy in the firm had PDFpen on his iPad. He opened that PDF, typed in the correct spelling, sent the PDF on its way. Total time: five minutes — and three of those had been spent on panicking.

Hands On: PDFpen 2 for iPad (iOS) – William Gallagher, MacNN (23 December 2014)

Read the full piece because PDFpen 2 for iPad is perhaps the software I most recommend out of around thirty pieces I’ve done for MacNN so far.

PDFpen for iPad tutorial

Shush now, this is possibly more for me than it is you. PDFpen for iPad has been out for ages and I believe out for Mac for even longer. Ages plus. But I got the iPad one this week because I needed to redact some information from a PDF and in theory you can dive right in and edit the text of these things. You don’t have to find the original Word document or whatever it is, you can just right straight into the PDF.

In theory.

In practice, yes, you can. Easily. Readily. All the time.

Almost all the time. The PDF I needed to redact was actually a PDF made up of thirty-odd JPEG photographs of documents. Just slightly out of alignment, sometimes only slightly in focus. There was nothing for PDFpen or any other tool to grab hold of.

So I chucked PDFpen and my iPad aside, did the redaction in Photoshop and saved the JPEGS back into their PDF.

And wondered why I’d spent the money on PDFpen for this job that couldn’t use it. I’m now convinced that it was a good buy but it is specifically this tutorial video that did the convincing. I watched it curious to see how to do redacting and curious to see if there was anything else useful here and now I know and now I know yes, there is.

But here’s the video.

From today’s The Blank Screen workshop in Newcastle

I do this Blank Screen productivity workshop a lot but I particularly enjoy doing it for the Federation of Entertainment Unions. They hire me occasionally to speak to members from their four associated unions: the Writers’ Guild, the Musician’s Guild, the National Union of Journalists and Equity.

It’s very special talking with these because all of us in the room are working full time in our creative fields. It’s especially exciting for me because actors and musicians have different needs to writers, journalists and authors so I work to find out what they need and how to help them.

I should say: to help them with this business I do of remaining the creative person we are, yet becoming a lot more productive. It’s not about knocking out work faster, it is about handling your time so well that you can do much more. That’s a subtle but an important difference.

But whatever group I talk to, there seems to be a collective mood. There’s so much in the workshop, especially the full-day version like today’s, that I spend some time at the end getting the attendees to recap. I think it helps them focus on what they’re going to take away but I know it helps me see what’s worked best.

Today what went down the best was a thing called Bad Days.

This is all about the worst times you get in our work, the time when are overwhelmed. That can be because you have too much to do, it can be exactly the opposite: you have nothing going on and have to pick which project to kickstart.

I actually have a solution. I’m proud of this and I’m proud of how the Bad Days chapter has been the most popular one in that first book. I’m fascinated by how I wrote that chapter right there during a really bad day. It was like I was writing live from the scene. The text is a little painful for me to read now: it’s clear and makes sense and does its job but I can feel the undertow.

But, hey, I’m a writer: nuts to my being uncomfortable, I’m simultaneously proud that there is an undertow.

I don’t want you to have bad days. But I do want you to have Bad Days, the chapter. Everyone I worked with today will get a copy of that via the FEU and I want you to have it too. It’s a single, blunt chapter from The Blank Screen and a PDF of it is all yours. Have it for free, use it, share it around if you think it will help people, and you’ll make me very happy.

Download it here.

I would be happier still if you fancied getting it in the book as I hope there is a huge amount of other advice in there that will help you. But the Bad Days PDF is the thing.