Writing Tools

How Typing is Destroying Your Memory

15 April 2015

From FastCompany:

Bad News: If you take notes in a meeting using your laptop, or if you create a to-do list using an app, you might be undermining your ability to recall the information later.

A recent study published in Psychological Science found that the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to remembering what you just jotted down.

Princeton University psychological scientist Pam Mueller, lead author of the study, noticed the difference while she was a graduate teaching assistant. She normally brought her laptop to the lecture to take notes, but one day she didn’t have it. “I felt like I learned a lot more,” she recalls.

. . . .

“Students who took notes on the laptop were basically transcribing the lecture,” says Mueller. “Because we write by hand less quickly, those who took notes with pen and paper had to be more selective, choosing the most important information to include in their notes. This enabled them to study the content more efficiently.”

In the second study, Mueller told the laptop note-taking group to try not to take verbatim notes; however, students were unable to do that. “It’s an ingrained technique,” says Mueller.

. . . .

“People should be more aware of how they are choosing to take notes, both in terms of the medium and the strategy,” says Mueller. “There are times when taking notes by hand can be much more beneficial, and there are times when your laptop is the right choice.”

When you’re in a situation where it’s important to form a deeper understanding of the material, such as during a conference or workshop, taking longhand notes will allow you greater processing while you’re listening. When you’re writing, you’re thinking more, says Mueller, and you might have more insight about what is most important at the time.

Link to the rest at FastCompany

When PG thinks of the trillions of words he’s typed over the years, he’s surprised he can remember . . . uh, remember . . . .


John Green’s Key To Writing? Using Different Keyboards

22 March 2015

From The Huffington Post:

John Green’s written such celebrated works as The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns, but not without sacrificing copious keyboards along the way.

In a HuffPost Live conversation on Thursday, the young adult novelist revealed his “weirdest” writing ritual: He develops working relationships with the keyboards at his desktop computer.

“I switch keyboards every draft and then if — here’s my problem — if something isn’t going well, I throw out the keyboard,” he confessed to host Nancy Redd.

“Keyboards are only like five bucks,” he added, but if a piece of writing is going well, he’ll “keep the keyboard.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Tom for the tip.

PG has been using ergonomic keyboards forever. His last few have been from Microsoft. He’s even been known to pack one of these to use with a laptop while traveling if he expects to do much typing.

Handwriting Isn’t Dead

11 February 2015

Thanks to Julia for the tip.

How Susan Orlean Writes With Evernote

22 January 2015

From Evernote:

Successful author Susan Orlean is well known for her work as a veteran journalist at The New Yorker as well as several critically acclaimed nonfiction books. Her research has been the foundation for literary non-fiction, including her investigation of a Florida orchid grower (The Orchid Thief) and long-form journalism with her profile of a clique of surfer girls in Maui (“Life’s Swell”).

. . . .

Susan’s journalistic skills are traits all writers can learn and adopt for themselves. Many of the same qualities of reporting—expanding on ideas, asking questions, taking good notes, creating detailed outlines, and structuring a story—are elements required to piece together compelling nonfiction and fiction alike.

Susan manages many of these details in Evernote, which helps her focus on her writing and on hitting deadlines.

We interviewed Susan last week via email about how she uses Evernote for writing success.

. . . .

Do you have Evernote tips that help you through your writing process? Do you use it for writing, information gathering, source capture?
I use Evernote extensively for collecting information and organizing it—especially web material. I just discovered the “stacks” feature, which is especially helpful. I also use Livescribe Pen, so I have notes uploaded directly to Evernote in their written form. Having all my material on all my work devices (computer, iPad, phone) also makes me feel like I am always able to use any bit of time to review and organize material. ​

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

PG was an early adopter of Evernote and has been a big fan ever since. See here and here for some earlier posts. You can get most of Evernote’s features in the free version. PG signed up for the premium version, but he paid mostly to show support for the company.

Creating Characters and Grading Research Papers

11 October 2014


From Roger Colby at Writing is Hard Work

This week has been hectic.

The 11th grade research paper was due and I have been in the middle of grading them. Such is my life.
However, in the midst of this, I have been thinking about what makes excellent characterization as I construct my newest character driven novel series.

In Orson Scott Card’s book Character and Viewpoint, he states that when creating characters, writers must ask three questions: “Who?” “So What?” and “Huh?”

What Scott Card means by this is that we first must answer who the character is, why the reader should care about the character and then finally the writer must remove all doubt about whether or not the reader should follow this character throughout the writer’s narrative.


I put together a few tips of my own that will address Scott Card’s questions concerning crafting characters, and I hope they help you as well:

Real World Avatar –

I found a neat little feature on Scrivener used for character creation that allows me to insert a picture of my character in order to reference that particular character. This has allowed me to peruse Google images for an actor or actress or even concept art (for aliens) that would be a visual representation of the character I am creating. For my main character I envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch (if my book were a film) and so I inserted a picture of that actor on the character biography page. This helps me answer the “who” because my main character (if my book were a movie) would be played by Benedict as my first choice.

Curious Development –

The character must have something happen internally to them in the plot that drives us to follow them to the end of the novel. If we do not create these curious developments we will find our readers leaving half-way through the novel to find something else to do. This requires us to create some kind of secret about the character that is only hinted at throughout the core of the plot and then revealed later. This element needs to be a mind-blower, something that probably might be out of character for them, but not enough that it defies logic. Life itself is not logical at times, and if we can translate that to text, we’ve done our job as novelists.

Well, now that I’ve shot out these few tips for the week, it’s off to grading the rest of the research papers. I only have seven left.


Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

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.

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