Digital Notecards

When it comes to tools for writers, there’s a fine line between increased productivity and total waste of time. There are all kinds of programs that exist to help us map ideas, structure outlines, even format our manuscripts for publication, but assuming you have a finite amount of time to spend on your writing (and who doesn’t) you have to be careful that you don’t let these tools suck you in and keep you from actually writing.

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For that reason, I actually use very few tools, but I have recently discovered one that is totally worth the time. It’s an iPad app called Index Cards

.

I’m a big fan of using index cards to organize (and reorganize) my story. I even use different color cards so I can see at a glance where my flashbacks are or when certain characters dominate a scene. I find them wonderfully useful, but they are not very transportable. That’s why I’m loving the Index Cards app.

It took me about 20 minutes to enter all my cards, and now I have them with me where ever I go. If I have an idea for a scene, I can add it in immediately. It even lets you color code them. I also love that if I’m writing somewhere like a coffee shop, I don’t have to bring my giant stack of cards with me. I carry my iPad with me everywhere anyhow (it’s a mini and it fits in my purse so perfectly), so I always have my story map on hand.

I know a lot of you out there are writers too, so I thought I’d share.

What apps/tools do you use in your writing? Or are you above such inane distractions?

Google Maps Street View:
An Awesome Writing Tool

I‘ve crossed the two-thirds mark on the final edit of the novel! Woo hooo.

I was actually starting to feel really discouraged, because the work was plugging along so slowly, but a fun thing happened last week. I hit a section that used to be right up in the beginning of the story. Before I did some reorganization of the plot line, these pages made up a good chunk of the first 50 pages and as such – they have been workshopped and fine-tuned to the point that they need very little work. Yes, I had to tweak them up a bit to make them fit in around page 140, but that was easy enough. It was nice to 1. breeze through so many pages, and 2. to realize that as I’m editing I actually am making a difference in my prose, enough so that I could recognize the pages that had already been worked on.

So yeah. Encouraging.

While I have your attention, I want to share a brilliant new writing tool I’ve discovered: Google Maps Street View. Around page 98, my main character, Tallulah Jones, stops in a small town outside of Barstow. In editing, I realized that I didn’t really illustrate the scene very well. I couldn’t, because I had never been there, and therefore had no concrete details to share about it. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have to go there.

Desert road - Tallulah JonesI pulled up the town on Google Maps, chose a corner that made sense for this scene to take place on and dragged the little yellow man into place to get the street view. So awesome. It was all squat buildings in dusty shades. I “rolled” down the street a bit to see how the road slowly transitioned from sun-bleached town to lonely desert. There were two traffic signals.

True, I couldn’t smell the air, or notice how the people interact. I couldn’t feel the heat of the day on my face. I couldn’t hear the whistle of a train in the distance. There’s a lot you can’t get from “walking” down a street virtually, but if you’re just looking for a detail or two to set a scene, it’s amazing.

I will always opt to hit the road if given the choice, but it’s nice to know this resource is available.

My Dependence on the Internet

I generally love technology, especially online technology. Because of Google Apps, Dropbox and IM, I can work miles and miles away from my boss and not feel at all out of touch. It’s almost as if I work in the main office, but I can wear jeans and a Tshirt to work and nobody cares. I also don’t have to commute to Orange county – which, if you’re not from around these parts you may not know – would SUCK.

But what to do when the Internet goes down?

I’m actually writing this to fill a little time (off the official clock of course – just in case my boss is reading this) while I wait for the Internet to come back up. About half an hour ago it got slow, and then it just dropped out, and I can’t seem to make it come back. I’m sincerely hoping it’s a problem that some dozer somewhere is working on and not something I did wrong.

Because the thing is – I can’t hardly work at all without Internet. I can’t review our project list, I can’t edit web content, I can’t even fill in my time sheet unless those little bars at the top of my screen fill in.

This is not the case with my fiction. Oh, sweet fiction, how I love you.

Yes, I do write my novel on my laptop, but I don’t need an Internet connection. And I print copies regularly so that if there’s ever a crash of ginormous proportions I will not lose my story.

Which reminds me –I read an article in National Geographic a few months back that said this is about the time scientist are expecting a series of major solar storms. They come in cycles apparently (I’d look it up and give you the link, but well…) and the last time flares this big hit earth people in Salt Lake City saw the northern lights and telegraph wires didn’t need batteries connected to them.

The article suggested that similar flares could be detrimental to our modern technology. So maybe this is it. The end of days. If it is, I suppose you’ll never read this blog post.

(It wasn’t me, it was some server issue… Anyhow, glad you get read my post. Here’s the link to that National Geographic

article.)

Grammar Geeks Rejoice

I wouldn’t describe myself as cheap, so much as frugal (I think, in this economy, “frugal” has come to encompass a wider range penny pinching than it did in say 2004). So when I decided a few years ago to invest in a resource I think all writers need to have at their fingertips, the Chicago Manual of Style, I admit, I went to Amazon.com and bought a used copy of the 15th edition for $3, instead of the newer 16th edition for $40. It was kind of a no-brainer. I mean, how often do the rules of grammar really change?

Apparently, often enough that I am now officially behind the times. I was researching a project last night when I came across The Chicago Manual of Style website, and a page that lists the most important updates in the 16th edition. Cheapskates rejoice!

You can find the list here

, if you’re interested (and don’t try to pretend that updates in grammar rules don’t get you hot), but for me the biggest changes were as follows:

Northern California and Southern California are now officially capitalized as geographic and cultural entities. ‘Bout time.

While “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are still capitalized, “web,” “website,” and the like can use the lowercase.

Brand names that start with lowercase letters (iPad, iPod, and such), still use the lowercase, even if they start the sentence or heading.

There’s a lot more, most of it dealing with minutia, but have no doubt, I’ll be printing it out and tucking it into the ratty cover of my lowly 15th edition.

New Writer Tool

I‘ve done a lot of interviews this week. Knowing that was going to be the case, I took a little time Monday morning to find a good recording app for my iPhone because frankly, I don’t take dictation well. I like to be able to focus on what someone is saying so that I can engage them with good follow up questions, rather than being focused on trying to remember what they just said. 

So I read some reviews on line and decided to go with the HT Recorder app

, and I have to say it’s been awesome. The interface is really intuitive. It has a great range – anyone talking within a six foot radius comes through nice and clear. It also has some neat playback options like the 5 second jump forward or back buttons and the x1.2 or x1.4 options that speed up the recording to skip the boring parts. If your recording comes in under 30 minutes you can email it to yourself and play it on iTunes, but really I didn’t end up using that since the playback functionality is so good on the phone. 

The one thing it doesn’t do is record phone calls actually taking place on the iPhone. I had hoped that if I put the caller on speaker it would record us both, but the app doesn’t work at all while the phone is engaged. Still, the easy fix was to call my interviewee on my land line, (ask for permission to record), then put them on speaker phone right next to the iPhone with the recorder app running. That was an acceptable work-around. 

Overall 4 out of 5 stars.