Writing Tools

The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors

24 July 2014

From Flavorwire:

Hemingway balanced his writing between a simple pencil and typewriter:

“When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier.”

We also learn about his writing preferences in his Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast:

“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of cafe cremes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed.”

. . . .

Of course Neil Gaiman uses a fountain pen. We’re not complaining. The author had this to say in a 2012 interview:

“It started in 1994 when I wrote the novel Stardust — in my head I wanted it to be written in the same way as it would have been in the 1920s, so I bought a big notepad and Waterman pen.

It was the first time I’d used a fountain pen since I was about 13. I found myself enjoying writing more slowly and liked the way I had to think through sentences differently. I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.”

He goes on to reveal that he owns about 60 fountain pens and enjoys writing his novels with two different types. He also signs books with them. “I like changing ink color each day. It shows me at a glance how many pages I wrote,” he once noted. Brands Gaiman has mentioned he uses: TWSBI Diamond 540, Visconti, Pilot Custom 823 Amber, Delta Fluida, Lepine Indigo Classic.

. . . .

One of the notebooks Austen used was a quarto stationer’s notebook bound with “quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marble paper. The edges of the leaves [were] plain cut and sprinkled red.” The English novelist composed her novels with a quill pen and iron gall ink. Here’s the quaint ink recipe:

“Take 4 ozs of blue gauls [gallic acid, made from oak apples], 2 ozs of green copperas [iron sulphate], 1 1/2 ozs of gum arabic. Break the gauls. The gum and copperas must be beaten in a mortar and put into a pint of strong stale beer; with a pint of small beer. Put in a little refin’d sugar. It must stand in the chimney corner fourteen days and be shaken two or three times a day.”

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

The Literature of the Standing Desk

17 May 2014

From The Millions:

In an 1883 article from Popular Science, Dr. Felix Oswald expounds on the remedies of nature. Mingled with imperatives about taking cold baths before dinner and opening bedroom windows at the night is this pearl: “At the first symptoms of indigestion, book-keepers, entry-clerks, authors, and editors should get a telescope-desk. Literary occupations need not necessarily involve sedentary habits, though, as the alternative of a standing-desk, I should prefer a Turkish writing-tablet and a square yard of carpet-cloth to squat upon.”

The Turkish writing tablet never quite took off, but the standing desk, over a century later, has entered its heyday. It’s changing the cubicle skyline of corporate America, the open-plan shared workspaces of the startup world, and the studios and work nooks of thousands of writers across the country.

Facebook reportedly has about 350 standing desks, with another 10-15 requests coming in each week from employees. The desk manufacturer Steelcase began selling height-adjustable desks in 2004. Since then, sales have increased fivefold. Its clients include Apple, Google, Intel, Boeing, and Allstate.

As a novelist with a day job in the high-tech world, I see standing desks popping up all around me. They range from jerrybuilt towers of books with balanced flat-screen monitors to ergonomic masterpieces with whisper-quiet hydraulic systems.

. . . .

 According to recent studies, the health risks of sitting for prolonged periods of time are significant. After an hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat in the body decline by as much as 90 percent, thereby slowing overall metabolism. Interestingly, while the scientific data around the perils of sitting is better today than it was in 1883, the year of the Popular Science article, the reason people stand to work are largely the same — they feel more energized and compelled by the task in front of them, whether it’s editing a novel or a spreadsheet.

For writers, the standing desk has a long and prestigious lineage. It’s often seen as a workhorse of productivity and inspiration. Great novels and speeches, treaties and philosophical tracts, have all been written at the height of the sternum. Kierkegard, Dickens, Hemingway, Woolf, Nabokov, Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson all used them.

Link to the rest at The Millions

George R.R. Martin Writes on a DOS-Based Word Processor From the 1980s

15 May 2014

From Slate:

George R.R. Martin knows what’s up. He’s been writing science fiction and fantasyfor decades, so he’s not going to waste time trying to get Microsoft Word to understand that the House of Targaryen and cities like Qohor and Asshai are all things he means to type. In an interview with Conan O’Brien on Tuesday he laid it all out. “I hate spell-check, yes,” he said.

But then he did one better. He told Conan that he has two computers, one that’s up-to-date and has Internet access, and one that’s ancient and runs DOS. He uses the newer machine for browsing the Web and checking emails, but he turns to the older one when it’s time to write. And his late-’80s software of choice is the classic word processor WordStar 4.0.

4.0 was the second WordStar version to work on DOS, but was a rewrite of 3.0, which had been directly ported to DOS from CP/M. Martin says that to this day it fulfills his every writing need.

I actually like it. It does everything I want a word processing program to do and it doesn’t do anything else. I don’t want any help, you know? I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital. I don’t want a capital. If I wanted a capital I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key!

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

If PG were going back, he would choose WordPerfect 5.1.

Taking notes with a laptop or tablet? Study shows pen and paper secret to smarts

26 April 2014

From Examiner.com:

Though many researchers have suggested taking notes on a laptop is not as effective writing them out in longhand with a pen and paper, previous studies focused on how students were distracted on their laptops (buying things on Amazon, watching movies,updating their Facebook pages or answering email).

Pam Mueller of Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA, in a study, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard, Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” published April 23, 2014 in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.

“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance,” says psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University, lead author of the study.

In the first study, 65 college students watched one of five TED Talks on topics that were interesting but not common knowledge. The students, were either given offline laptops or notebooks, and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes.

. . . .

The results revealed that both groups of note-takers performed well recalling facts but laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions. It appeared that laptop note takers’ were transcribing lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words.

. . . .

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

. . . .

In the early 1940s the philosopher, Martin Heidegger found the (then flourishing) use of the typewriter an insult to the relationship between the word and the expressive movement of the hand. He stated:

“The word no longer passes through the hand as it writes and acts authentically but through the mechanized pressure of the hand. The typewriter snatches script from the essential realm of the hand – and this means the hand is removed from the essential realm of the word. The word becomes something ‘typed.’ Mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity in the realm of the written word and degrades the word into a mere means for the traffic of communication. Besides, mechanized writing offers the advantage of covering up one’s handwriting and therewith one’s character.”

. . . .

“How does, or should, the educational system accommodate for the fact that the hand is not merely a metaphor or an icon for humanness, but often the real-life focal point – the lever or the launching pad – of a successful and genuinely fulfilling life? The hand is as much at the core of human life as the brain itself.”

Link to the rest at Examiner.com

If handwriting reflects character, PG is concerned because penmanship (that now antiquated elementary school subject) always ruined is report cards.

The Best Apps for Any Kind of Writing

18 April 2014

From Lifehacker:

Writing is a very personal practice, and as a result you have a million writing-focused apps to choose from. From distraction-free apps that take up your whole screen to feature-packed mainstays like Microsoft Word, we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the writing software that’s right for you.

There was a time not that long ago where your choices for writing apps boiled down to plain text or Microsoft Word. Things have changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, you have almost too many options. So, with that in mind, we’ve tested out a ton of writing software to pick our favorites depending on what your needs are.

. . . .

For Novelists Who Hate Microsoft Word: Scrivener/Ulysses III

Microsoft Word might be the default app for writing a novel, but it’s not necessarily the best. If you’re looking for something created with long form writing in mind, both Scrivener and Ulysses III are excellent choices.

Scrivener ($45) is a Windows and Mac app that gives you a single place to dump all your ideas and writing. It includes tools to keep notes, collect research, outline, and organize your writing. With all that, you can navigate to different sections of your text, jump around to different parts of research, and find whatever you’re looking for with powerful search options. Basically, Scrivener is like Evernote for longform writing, and if you’re looking for a way to organize and write in the same place, it’s an excellent option. Scrivener also integrated with Simplenote if you want to take your writing on the go.

Ulysses III ($44.99) for Mac takes a similar approach to Scrivener, but simplifies things a little bit. It uses plain text or Markdown for writing, but also includes statistics, notes, exporting, organization, and more. The Markdown support means you can use it for regular old blogging just as easily as for novel writing. Ulysses III fits somewhere between a minimalist writing tool and Scrivener. It’s feature packed, but offers a ton of options for hiding those features away too. If you want to take your writing on the go, Ulysses III integrates with Daedalus Touch on iOS.

. . . .

Editing is often the hardest part of writing, but you won’t find a ton of tools specifically made for dreaded task. That said, you have a few great options for apps that help put a spotlight on your mistakes, spot repeating words, and help you clean up your writing a bit.

Hemingway is a web app that highlights problems in your writing. Once you paste your text into it, Hemingway highlights hard to read sentences, adverbs, complex phrases, and passive voice. What you decide to do with that information is up to you, but it’s a great tool for editing it you’re the type to use too many adverbs or drop into passive voice.

On the Mac, we like Marked 2. Technically, Marked 2 is just a Markdown previewer, but it includes a ton of tools for writers. You’ll get word counts and a ton of advanced document statistics, but its best feature is “Visualize Word Repetition.”  This mode highlights words that you repeat throughout the document, which is helpful if you’re the type to repeat phrases a lot.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Why Johnny Can’t Format [a book]

11 March 2014

From author Andrew Updegrove:

One of the big frustrations of writing a book is that while Microsoft Word can be used for creating and formatting a book, it’s a real pain in the neck for ordinary mortals to use it for that purpose.

. . . .

Why is that true, do you suppose?

Well, here’s the answer:  it’s because Microsoft wiped out all office suite competition 20 years ago, before anyone making word processing software for general users thought there was a market for such functionality. After that happened, unless Microsoft thought it could make money making it easy to format a book, no one was going to do it. And since Microsoft’s products are targeted at business users, and businesses don’t write books unless they’re actual publishers, well, then, you’re just going to be out of luck.

What about the money Microsoft makes selling Word and Office to home users? That’s very small change compared to Microsoft’s sales to large, “enterprise” users. The main reason that Microsoft serves the home market at all is because one way that Microsoft was able to create, and then maintain, a monopoly was by being sure that everyone that used Word at work could use it as home as well, and therefore didn’t have a motive to learn a different program.

. . . .

Well, contrast the status of Word with that of mobile phones – devices that barely existed seven years ago, and look at the hundreds of thousands of apps that have been created to do just about anything on them, often for free.  Or (if you’re old enough to remember) with how fast features got added to word processing packages back when WordPerfect and a few other contenders were still viable. Every new release brought new tricks – borders, colors, shapes, embedded objects, and much more.  After WordPerfect was chased into a tiny corner of the market, Microsoft pretty much put Word on the shelf, except to come up with trivial and unnecessary “innovations” like adding the Ribbon (now being phased out). Once WordPerfect was out of the way, Microsoft never even bothered to get rid of some obvious bugs (how many thousands of times have you had to click “no” when the pop up asks “save changes?” when all you did was open a document).

. . . .

As someone who has spent his entire vocational and avocational life behind a keyboard, that’s a heartbreaking story.  For starters, I’ve had to make do without beloved WordPerfect features like the “show codes” function. With that little gem, when you found that you were having trouble with some element of formatting, all you had to do was hit two keys and Voila!  There was the actual format command causing the problem.  Just delete it, and problem solved. Or easy macros.  Type whatever you want, hit a couple of keys, give it a name, and whenever you want that module or series of actions again, just hit a few keys, and Voila! again.

Link to the rest at Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

Forgive PG for a little WordPerfect nostalgia, but he remembers that the command was “reveal codes.”

PG briefly spoke with the original CEO of WordPerfect a few days ago and he is still a very pleasant, albeit aged man.

The Computer Mouse Still Roars

5 March 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

I said goodbye to my mouse last month. It was time to advance, I thought, to a higher plane of input, a trackpad that works like a tablet’s screen. Instead of point and click, I’d swipe and flick.

A few weeks in, I was missing my mouse. Moving a folder across a 27-inch iMac screen with the trackpad was like lugging a grand piano across the Sahara—I had to keep taking breaks along the way, as I ran out of pad.

This can’t be progress. Determined, I rustled up a dozen of the latest input devices, regular mice and trackpads, but also vertical mice, pen- and knob-shaped mice, a touch-screen stylus, even a controller that lets you wave your hands around without touching anything, a la “Minority Report.”

What I discovered: Thirty years after the Macintosh took the mouse mainstream, I couldn’t find anything more precise or comfortable for operating a computer. More important, I found the mouse has managed to reinvent itself over the years—it’s like the Madonna of PC peripherals.

. . . .

To test my efficiency using a mouse and other input devices, I used a program scientists developed to study the speed-accuracy trade-offs in human muscle movements, called Fitts’s Law. My scores, based on clicking scattered dots on a screen, were at times nearly twice as fast with a mouse as with a trackpad. Most hands are more relaxed on a mouse, so starting and stopping are easier, say the ergonomists.

. . . .

A touch-screen monitor on a desktop or laptop sounds good, but it invites what some call “gorilla-arm” fatigue. After forcing myself to use only the touch screen on a Windows 8.1 laptop, I found myself propping it up at an angle in my lap so my hands could rest on the side.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG has tried a zillion mice and his current favorite is the Logitech Mouse MX. His least-favorite mice are the ones that come free with a new computer.

How To Use Evernote for Writing Fiction

18 February 2014

From Lifehacker:

Evernote makes a great writer’s companion. It’s available on just about every platform, so you can collect and organize your notes wherever you are. You can take notes in your paper notebook and scan the pages. Hell, you can even write on the shower wall in crayon and snap a pic later. (You’re welcome for that crayon tip, by the way. It’s awful when you think of something in the shower and can’t write it down.)

. . . .

You can set up Evernote however it suits your personal workflow. I’ve seen some people who use a single notebook stack named Fiction, but since you can have only one level of notebooks inside a stack, that wasn’t quite flexible enough for me. I set up separate notebook stacks instead:

  • Fiction-General. This is my catchall stack for things that don’t fit into a specific project. It serves as a scrapbook for web clippings, photos, text and audio notes. It’s also where I store other ideas about fiction, such as my reading list and websites about writers and writing craft.
  • Fiction-Challenges. I like to give myself little challenges to encourage daily writing, even when I’m not working on a specific project.
  • Fiction-Novel. I keep a separate notebook stack for each novel. I only have one in there right now.
  • Fiction-Short Story. I also keep a separate notebook stack for each short story.

. . . .

I use my Fiction-General stack for basic research and collection. Here’s how I organize it:

  • _Writers. I use this notebook to store web pages and articles about (or by) writers I like. The underscore at the front of the word keeps it at the top of the list in Evernote.
  • _Writing Craft. I also love reading about the craft of writing. I use this notebook to store that kind of thing.
  • Ideas to Explore. Whenever I come across an article or a quote or whatever that I think might make for good story fodder in the future, I toss it in this notebook.
  • Photos. I like to take lots of photos of people, places, buildings—anything really. Sometimes they give me a basis for descriptions I might use in a story (in which case I move them to a more appropriate folder later). Sometimes I use them for writing challenges. But I also use this notebook as sort of an inspiration bucket. For the most part, I don’t tag or organize my photos in this notebook. I like flipping through them because you never know what ideas might bounce into one another and give you inspiration for something new (Hey, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!)
  • Reading List. I actually use GoodReads to keep up with my reading list, but sometimes I want to make a quick note instead of logging on somewhere else. This notebook is temporary storage.
  • Writing Scraps. You never know when a fun turn of phrase, a little bit of dialog, or an awesome title will come to you. You have to have a place to keep them. This is probably the single biggest advantage of using Evernote for me. It’s a great way to store and browse all those little scraps. You can type them, write and scan them, or even dictate them using the Evernote app.

. . . .

When it comes to tagging, less is more. I like to use just a few tags that I know I’ll use reliably. I’m already organizing my notes using notebooks and stacks and Evernote’s search feature is pretty solid. I do use a few tags though:

  • Each story I’m working on gets a two letter tag, usually based on the title. That’s mostly backup for me just in case I misfile something to a notebook outside my fiction structure.
  • I also use tags for character names because sometimes I want to store those notes outside my character sketches folder. It’s also helpful to tag scene notes with character names because when I use List view on the scenes, the tags column gives me a quick look at where characters are appearing.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

PG has been a big Evernote fan forever. It’s very flexible. For example, unlike the author of this article, PG uses tags extensively and many items will have three or more tags so he stands a better chance of being able to find what he wants months or years after he’s forgotten any language that might be in the underlying note.

If you’re not familiar with Evernote, most of its functionality (and probably all that most people need) is available in the free version – See Evernote

StorySkeleton, An Index-Card Story Mapping App

30 December 2013

From Cult of Mac:

StorySkeleton is an amazing app that’s been around for a little while, but a recent update to add iPad support has made it even better. At heart, it’s a kind of index-card-based note and outlining app for writers (screen, fiction and non-fiction) to help structure and plan stories. But the design is fantastic, making it easier to use than most other alternatives.

Oh, and it exports directly to native Scrivener files.

. . . .

The app arranges your notes (scenes, I guess) as index cards, and you can reorder them by drag and drop or by using a special rearranging mode (this mode was designed for the iPhone version and isn’t really needed on the iPad).

You can color-code your cards, assign a “type” and a “plot point” to the header of each card (these are both customizable), and you can group the cards into stacks (and stacks within stacks if you like).

Link to the rest at Cult of Mac and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

10 Essential Non-Writing Tools to Help Writers Write

6 December 2013

From PBS:

The last decade has seen an increase in programs to help writers plot, write and read their books — but there are also plenty of non-writing tools that writers can use to help them create their masterpieces.

. . . .

1. DROPBOX

If you’re working on a Microsoft Word file or similar, regularly save your file to Dropbox. That will keep an archive of all previous saves (just in case the worst happens and you accidentally delete the whole thing! It sounds silly, but it’s guaranteed to happen to every writer at some point in their careers). It’s free to download and easy to use.

. . . .

4. STICKY NOTES

Most computers come with sticky notes in some form or another. They look and work a lot like Post-it notes that you can stick to your desktop to remind you to do something. They’re also great if you need to quickly jot something down in a rush, like a new scene or story idea.

Link to the rest at PBS

Passive Guy is a big Dropbox fan. All current projects are saved in Dropbox by default. It’s not just a backup solution, however. It also allows you to automatically replicate files across computers. If PG sits down at Mrs. PG’s computer, with Dropbox, he can pull up any file on his own computer. Ditto for the notebook, the netbook and the tablet and the smart phone.

Dropbox is highly useful in its free form, but if you want to store gobs of files there, you’ll need to buy a subscription (reasonably priced).

One tool that should have been on the list is Evernote. It’s the simplest way of remembering everything. Send something to Evernote – web page, document, email, pdf, photo, and it’s there forever. You can create lots of different notebooks – one for each project, for example. You can add one or more tags any note to make things easier to find or search on the contents of a note.

Like Dropbox, all your Evernote stuff is on the notebook, tablet, smart phone, etc. There’s a huge online community of Evernote users you can tap for ideas.

One of PG’s most recent daily-use tools is DoIt. Basically, it’s an easy-to-use to-do list that lets you easily schedule and categorize reminders, then check them off.

PG isn’t a heavy-duty Getting Things Done person, but DoIt is perfect for that level of organization if you are.

UPDATE: Some commenters warned against using Dropbox as the sole backup system for your computer. PG absolutely agrees. Some time ago, he described his backup system. You can read about it in all its OCD glory here.

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