Writing Tools

The app that makes writing less lonely

25 November 2018
Comments Off on The app that makes writing less lonely

From The BBC:

If you see a writer in a movie, most likely she (or he) will be tapping on a laptop. But many young writers are doing it on mobile phones, and sometimes in teams.

Daniel, who uses the pen name LisVender, begins the story, which his writing team decides to call A Small Case of Writer’s Block.

The tapping of Sara’s pen against her glasses became so rhythmic that it sounded like a metronome set to allegretto. She spun in her swivel chair, watching the bookcases in her study swing by. She had to admit it: her story was stuck, her characters were stuck, and so was she.

Ella, pen name Elle, who has 313 stories under her belt, then picks up the tale.

Sighing, she slumped forward, forehead hitting the desk with a thump. How was she going to keep the plot rolling forward, give her characters the development they needed? Her eyes swivelled to the window, the glass frosted over with thin ice. Maybe a walk outside in the cold

At 276 characters, Elle has nearly reached her 280 limit, so she stops mid-sentence and passes the story to the next writer.

. . . .

Welcome to the world of Inkvite, one of a number of creative-writing platforms popular with teenagers and young adults in the US. It allows users to share stories, comment on them, and also collaborate.

Here, five Inkvite authors explain its appeal.

Gabriela – pen name, Athalia

I’m a student in Houston, Texas. I’ve dreamed of being a published writer since I was little.

I’ve posted more than 390 stories on the Inkvite app in the past two years, specialising in fantasy and science fiction.

We express a lot of our inner turmoil and emotions on the app. It’s one of the things that brings us together.

Some writers do this through their fiction, others treat the platform more like an open diary.

I remember one time I saw what my friend Phoenix had written and I knew she was in trouble.

. . . .

I could tell Phoenix was going through turmoil and serious stress, venting her emotions in the story.

But I could also see that she was reaching out for help. So that’s why I dedicated a story to her, for encouragement, which I posted on Inkvite that same night.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Jan for the tip.

The office of the future? No desks, no chairs

5 November 2018

From Fast Company:

Last week at Orgatec, a leading European trade show for contract and office furniture, the Swiss company Vitra previewed a set of office seating prototypes, called Soft Work, which you might more likely find in a chic hotel lobby or airport lounge. That’s exactly what the designers, London studio Barber Osgerby, intended.

Much has been said about the downfall of cubicles and the rise of open-plan offices over the years, with the pendulum of public favor alternating between the two. With Soft Work, the designers argue that the next trend in 21st-century working life will be to do away with the shackles of the desk-and-chair setup altogether. In their vision, offices of the future may consist of sofas–and little more.

. . . .

[V]isits to the Apple campus . . . helped the studio realize what the modern-day office was truly in need of: even more casual seating, away from the desk. “We realized that they were going to be putting a large amount of soft seating into [Apple Park], which were effectively residential sofas, very high-end Italian sofas,” says partner Edward Barber. “They were fantastic sofas, there’s no doubt about that, but they weren’t buying them to relax on–they were using them to work on, as an alternative area for working.”

This poses various problems: “You have to prop up or pull up a table,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have access to a power outlet. And you’re not sitting in the most ergonomic environment. It’s fine for a couple of minutes, but if you’re sitting there for a couple of hours, you’re sort of slouched, balancing a laptop on your knee. So that got us all thinking: If they could have the ideal setup, what would it look like?”

. . . .

An extension of the same thinking that gave the Pacific chair a more welcoming look and feel, Soft Work puts the same premium on a casual aesthetic to suggest a lifestyle in which work and relaxation aren’t at polar odds, but present in nearly every public space we frequent: cafes, airport lounges, hotel lobbies, and corporate and co-working spaces of all kinds. The name of the new collection, too, doesn’t just imply softer seating, but an aesthetic softness that Barber Osgerby and Vitra are betting will  overtake the next wave of office design–and maybe a subliminal cue to all of those tech and (ahem) software companies with large campuses that are likely to adopt it.

. . . .

Designed modularly, the Soft Work collection has mix-and-match components that can be used for a variety of setups. Units can be used solo, as lounge chairs, or linked up into larger configurations; combined with rounded corner units, they can form inward or outward-facing circular arrangements to carve out a meeting hub, or spread out all over as a communal work lounge. Built around a spare, steel framework and topped with structured cushions that can be customized with most any color, the sofa system is designed to look stylishly neutral and easily placed.

Would it be realistic for a solid day’s work in a real-life office?

Barber says yes, and assures it’s been designed with a rigorous eye to ergonomics. Rather than take on an overly low-slung profile, Soft Work’s seats are chair height to promote proper posture, with a flexible backrest and cushions for lumbar support. The simple cast-aluminum supporting structure also doubles as utility routing, with plug-in ports that eliminate the need for external outlets and a tangle of wires. Add-on accessories to further customize the sofa-workstation include swiveling clip-on tables, space partitions, and modular surfaces. It’s everything needed for the modern-day, couch potato-turned-professional.

“Technology has rapidly changed the way we work over the last 10 years,” says Barber, and with the ability to take our devices anywhere and work remotely, the length of time spent working in any one location seems less important than the ability to do it comfortably anywhere–which is the pain point Barber Osgerby’s design aims to ease with Soft Work.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Here’s a look at Vitra’s Soft Work office furniture:

.

For PG, this type of workspace would be all wrong. He likes a desk at a proper height for typing, a big ergonomic keyboard and three screens (also at a proper height) so he can drop various and sundry electronic items, reminders, etc., on the side screens while he uses the center one for whatever he’s working on at the moment. While he’s typing, he typically rests one elbow on his desk and the other on the arm of his chair (asymetrical, but it works for him).

For him, a teensy platform for a laptop as his main typing/email, etc., station would slow work down to a crawl. He uses a laptop when he travels, but at home, it’s back to mission control and improved throughput.

Mrs. PG does her work in an entirely different way, however. She formerly sat in a chair at a desk to type, but a chronically sore back and hips ended that. She now writes while semi-reclining on a sofa or bed and uses a lap desk as a platform for her laptop. She is happy with this arrangement and is cranking out new books at a brisk pace, so PG restrains himself from suggesting improvements (after many years of pushing back, Mrs. PG has finally completed PG’s training, mostly).

So, here’s the question – In your opinion, what writing arrangement works best for an author generally or for you as an author?

Automatically Create Website Citations For a Bibliography With This Chrome Extension

16 August 2018

PG isn’t certain whether many of the visitors to TPV need bibliographies for their writing projects, but this would have saved him a lot of time in college (assuming the internet had existed when he was in college).

From Lifehacker:

When I was in college, my least favorite part of writing research papers was figuring out how to write the bibliography. Citing sources is tedious and can get confusing if you have to work in a handful of different styles. This week I came across a Chrome extension that I wish I had in college that handles the heavy lifting for you, at least for websites.

Called Cite This For Me, it automatically creates website citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard style with a quick click on its icon on your browser’s toolbar.

. . . .

When you click on the toolbar while you’re looking at that fabulous article you’re going to reference in your paper, you tap the icon and a window pop up where you can toggle between the different styles, and copy and paste the style of your choosing into what is likely a magnificent research paper you’re working on.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

Gutenberg, WordPress, & You: the What, the Why, and the How

7 August 2018

From The Digital Reader:

If you have a WordPress site, chances are you have heard of something called Gutenberg. You could have seen one of the posts written about it over the past 18 months (such as mine), or you may have seen the notice when you updated your WordPress site to v4.9.8.

Either way, if you are the average user you are probably wondering what Gutenberg is and how it will affect your site.

The following post is a short explainer that will delve into what Gutenberg is, why it matters, and how it will affect you.

. . . .

Gutenberg is a new official part of WordPress. It is currently in beta, and is scheduled to launch with the release of WordPress 5.0.

I have been following the development of Gutenberg for over a year, and in that time I have learned that the easiest way to explain what Gutenberg is to ask whether you are familiar with one of the mailing list services like Mailchimp or Mailerlite. Have you used one of their newsletter builders?

If you have used one then you will better understand Gutenberg when you see it for the first time.

Gutenberg replaces the existing post and page editor menu in WordPress with one that behaves more like Mailerlite’s newsletter builder. Where the existing editor resembled old word processor apps (think MS Word, circa 2002) and was designed on the concept of typing out paragraphs of text, the new Gutenberg editor is built on the idea of blocks.

It is not supposed to affect your existing content, but I cannot guarantee that will be true 100% of the time. (A WordPress site is just too complex to make that promise.) What I can say is that Gutenberg is intended to let you make new richer content, not force you go fix your existing content.

. . . .

Gutenberg, on the other hand, has a pop-up menu where you can select a block. You can open that menu by clicking the plus sign icon (see the screenshot above for an example) and then selecting one of the options.

Once you chose the next block, you can style it with settings that only apply to this one block, add content, etc. That custom styling is perhaps the biggest difference between Gutenberg and the existing content editor.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG is convinced that if he for some reason becam brain-dead, his fingers would still have sufficient intelligence to make blog posts via WordPress.

His brain may be intrigued by Gutenberg, but, before anything changes, PG’s fingers want a nice long vacation far away from all keyboards in a place where they can locate their inner child or some such thing.

The other thing that comes to PG’s mind when considering Gutenberg is how many WordPress themes it’s going to break. PG has one theme in particular on his mind.

TPV’s current theme is 25,000 years old in internet years. Some of the earlier posts are probably full of dinosaur tracks by now.

From time to time, PG has explored installing a new WP theme for TPV, but he can’t find one that will be a great-looking home for the blog out of the box. He has wasted a lot of time tweaking various themes, but nothing he’s developed has the same zing as the old, old, old look.


Incidentally, Nate, the proprietor of The Digital Reader, is also a WordPress whisperer in case your blog or your brain seizes up over Gutenberg.

Smartphones Killed Handwriting. Let’s Bring It Back.

15 July 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I go to meetings, I normally bring my laptop to take notes. I type pretty fast, and it’s nice to have my email right there in case things get boring. But recently I’ve been doing the unthinkable—bringing pen and paper, and writing notes by hand. I have to tell you, it’s been great.

Handwriting has lost its importance in society. Some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that writing by hand can help you process and remember information far better than typing. A 2014 study found that when students typed notes, they tended to just transcribe whatever the professor said, while those working with pen and paper were mentally summarizing and paraphrasing, which led to better test scores.

At the same time, pen and paper lack the advantages of the digital age. If you leave your notebook at home, you can’t just grab your notes on your work laptop. It has no search button or sharing tool. You don’t have a backup if it gets lost or destroyed—and my Field Notes notebook is a lot less waterproof than my phone.

. . . .

Have an iPad Pro or the most recent iPad? Consider plunking down another $100 for anApple Pencil. You can sketch and write in Apple’s own Notes app, but I’m especially fond of GoodNotes, an $8 app that offers note-takers lots of creative features. Likewise, if you have a Surface or other Windows Ink-friendly PC, you can open up OneNote and write away withMicrosoft ’s $100 Surface Pen. A number of Chromebooks offer pen support, too, though their precision and speed don’t match other platforms.

. . . .

The pen isn’t going to replace your keyboard or touch screen, but when you’re in a meeting and don’t want to hide behind a big screen, or when you’re marking up a contract, you might want to reach for your pen.

Of the devices I use every day, only my phone remains stubbornly pen-free.

. . . .

Unfortunately, sliding a stylus over a glass screen feels nothing like writing on paper. Plus you’re dealing with a blazingly bright display, a breakable body and a battery to charge—none of which applies to paper.

. . . .

That’s why a few manufacturers have built devices meant to more closely mimic the paper feeling. And a few tried to make paper itself a bit smarter.

My favorite of the kind is Sony ’s Digital Paper, a wafer-thin tablet with an E Ink screen (like an Amazon Kindle) that you write on with a stylus. Sony says it is used mostly by lawyers and doctors who need to read long contracts without hurting their eyes, but who also want to scribble notes or corrections in the margins. It turns a pile of printouts into a list of PDF files you can mark up, organize and share. It’s useful, but at $600, it’s unnecessary.

I am similarly intrigued by the Smart Writing Set from Moleskine, the popular notebook maker. It comes with a normal-looking paper notebook and a special pen, which transmits everything it writes and draws to a companion app on your phone or tablet. Every time you start writing in your notebook, the digital counterpart updates in real time to match. Yet at $200, this, too, is expensive, and its software can be unreliable. It’s clever, but it isn’t ready.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

How to Be a Better, More Efficient Editor of Your Own Writing

9 July 2018

From Medium:

You need to edit your work even if you’re working with the world’s best editor. Especially if you’re working with the world’s best editor. Submit your best version — proofed and polished — and watch as the world’s best editor tears it apart.

Cry softly and tell yourself it’s for love of the craft.

Your editorial process can be simple and quick, but have one.

. . . .

Not all editing is the same editing. The three main types are substantive, copy, and proof. The type of editing you’re doing determines the kind of tool you want to use. For example, you don’t use a spell checker to do substantive editing.

Substantive edits

You’re rearranging sentences, deleting pieces here and there, moving the order around, adding or removing details, and otherwise messing with the content itself.

It’s intense and can take a lot of time. Also called revising. (Every writer knows the dreaded email subject line: “Revision request.”)

Copy edits

You’re adjusting grammar, switching out a word or phrase, fixing repetition or word usage or spelling errors.

Also called line editing, the idea is to look at your piece line by line. You’re fixing and improving, but not changing the substance of the piece.

Proofreading

You’re doing one last read to find any typos, spelling errors, or missing punctuation. Proofreading often happens right before you hit publish (or send, if you’re submitting your piece somewhere).

Of course, some tools help in multiple ways. Use as you will. And at your own risk. I don’t have insurance for this kind of thing.

The point is that you use them to become a more thorough and efficient editor of your own work.

. . . .

Hemingway App

Use the browser version or the desktop app. Hemingway lets you copy and paste your work in, then berates you for being terrible. Um, I mean, it highlights adverb use, passive voice, complex word choices, and hard-to-read sentences. You want to be aware of those issues, even if you don’t cut or change them.

Cliche Finder

Don’t fall prey to the unseen cliché. I wrote that little rhyme myself. Run your piece through this tool, because it’s easy to overlook clichés.

. . . .

Slick Write

It’s a good alternative to Grammarly; ironically, the interface is not as slick. But it’s thorough and helpful.

. . . .

Typely
Typely doesn’t mess with grammar. That’s cool; proofreading is not about grammar. Turn on the Markdown preview to check your formatting. Customize what Typely checks for from a wide range of options. Get a score, an estimated reading time, reading level, and a sentiment analysis. Not quite sure what that last one is, but I like it. Also it makes typewriter sounds. (You can turn them off if they get annoying.)

Link to the rest at Medium

Predictive Keyboard

31 May 2018

From Bloomberg:

Botnik is creating an unusual predictive keyboard—suggesting words based on what’s been typed—to generate everything from scripts for new episodes of Seinfeld to funny Valentine’s Day recipes. The results are by design weird as hell.

. . . .

Art created by artificial intelligence has become a reliable success in the finicky world of viral content, resulting in everything from eerie cat drawings to dadaist punk music. Botnik’s interactive keyboards let anyone create surreal rearrangements of familiar words.

. . . .

At the New Yorker, Mankoff created the caption contest, spawning a huge data set mined by Google. This piqued his interest in AI, and he got in touch with Brew, who’d been exploring the topic by sending texts on the iPhone’s predictive keyboard. Botnik made its debut in 2016, then landed a $100,000 contract from Amazon.com Inc. to help make its Alexa AI assistant sound more human.

. . . .

Ultimately, Brew looks at the content created by the broader Botnik community as advertisements for the real product: the virtual keyboards themselves, which roughly 1,000 people per day play around on. Two full-time programmers have been working on a broader platform evolved from the keyboards, to be unveiled this summer. Eventually, Brew and Mankoff hope to charge for access to the platform.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

Returning to Analog: Typewriters, Notebooks, and the Art of Letter Writing

4 May 2018

From The Millions:

In 2009, Cormac McCarthy sold his Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter at Christie’s for $254,500. With it, he wrote close to five million words over the course of five decades, including his highly regarded novels The Road and Blood Meridian, and the Border Trilogy, which brought him commercial success. Rather than graduate to a computer after the sale, McCarthy replaced his Olivetti with the exact same model—though one in a newer condition. He valued it because it was lightweight, reliable, and portable. For these same reasons, this classic Olivetti model was popular with traveling journalists in the ‘60s.

Don DeLillo and Will Self are also loyal typewriter devotees. “Writing on a manual makes you slower in a good way, I think,” Self told The Guardian. “You don’t revise as much, you just think more, because you know you’re going to have to retype the entire thing. Which is a big stop on just slapping anything down and playing with it.”

When I first began writing, I would have considered this apparent technophobia as old school—or worse, trendy. Writing can be done anywhere and with anything, can’t it? Writing on a computer is convenient.

I first realized the advantages of analog when observing how my husband, who is a photojournalist, uses his vintage film camera from the ’60s. It is a slow, tedious process, one that many other photographers who have “graduated to digital consider unnecessary, given technological advancements. He spends up to a minute changing each roll of film. A roll contains 12 frames. Between each shot he must wind the crank. For these reasons, a photograph cannot be taken as instantly as it could be with a digital camera. The film is costly to buy and to develop. You can’t check the frames as you take them. These might sound more like disadvantages, but his photographs, taken during a trip to Cuba and Mexico two summers ago, went on to win the people stories prize at World Press Photo 2017 and were published widely and exhibited internationally.

One disadvantage of digital photography is the temptation for photographers to check their pictures while they’re still shooting. The thumbnails on that tiny display screen often look better than they actually are when enlarged on your computer screen. The digital photographer relaxes—“I’ve got this,” they think, perhaps preemptively.

With film there are fewer distractions like this tendency to self-assess as you go along, and the financial and speed limitations encourage a more mindful process. To avoid wasting precious film and energy, the photographer must frame the picture more carefully. The results are consequentially more often better thought out; the composition more exact. The editing process is also more arduous, given the need to scan contact sheets. You spend more time with your pictures and get to know them better.

The pictures, though fewer in quantity than their digital counterparts, are usually better.

. . . .

There is something romantic about the notion of writing in a notebook, though unfortunately I can only sustain it short-term for journalling and the jotting down of ideas; my writing is so small that it’s sometimes illegible even to me, and I can’t imagine having the wrist power to write an entire first draft with pen and paper.

During that summer in Cuba with my husband, I realized how dependent I had become on the Internet for everything; I also learned how much of a distraction it can be from the things I really want to get done. It was the summer of 2016 and Internet access was hard to come by in the country. You had to go to an Internet point and pay about $5 an hour for an Internet card. Even then, the Internet was slow and many websites were censored. Often these Internet zones were on the street; they were easy to recognize, for crowds with smartphones and laptops would be gathered sitting on the sidewalk, despite the stifling humidity. An unusual sight in a country that is not connected. An uncomfortable place to write anything more than a few emails.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG says everyone should use the creative tools they prefer, whether they are in fashion or not.

For his own work, PG is 500% digital.

Long ago, PG’s mother made him take a high school typing class. She said it would help him in college. Looking back at the intervening years, it was the single most important class he ever attended.

PG was a good typist. He not only used his typewriter for all his college papers, he also earned money typing other people’s college papers. Later, he typed his answers to bar exams on two different occasions with good results.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but, if it existed at all, TPV would be much more abbreviated than it is if PG weren’t still a rapid typist. When he had two paralegals working for him, PG would dictate some documents and type others himself.

Having used both film and digital cameras as part of his semi-serious photography pursuits, PG says digital is much better. For one thing, if he is photographing a location he may never visit again, he immediately knows if he got the shot or not. He’ll take 20 or 30 different photos of the same thing to make sure he has captured it from the best angle and with the best light.

His film and slide photos sit in boxes, the only copies of many important moments. As is their nature, they’re deteriorating as the chemicals used to create them age. PG’s digital photos (including some film photos he has scanned) are backed up to the max with copies existing on a couple of different nearby hard drives as well as up in a couple of separate computer clouds. Every copy of a digital photo looks exactly the same as every other copy of the photo. He understands bit rot is a thing which is why he rewrites his digital files to disk on a regular basis.

PG has physical writing tools nearby at his desk, but only because he can multitask while speaking on the phone better with a pen than with a keyboard. He scans important written notes onto his computer after he finishes the call.

 

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