My Writer’s Tools

25 10 2011

In the several months since I’ve been taking writing seriously, I’ve come up with a small handful of tools that are essential to me.

While I’ve been known to haul around a wee moleskine journal, in truth I need a keyboard to write efficiently. My handwriting is awful (the only “D” that I received in elementary school was in handwriting!), slow, and doesn’t flow. Luckily for me, I touch type, and unluckily for me, I have overused my hands for years (see: the risks one takes as a professional musician – repetitive motion injury/arthritis). I can’t manage the keyboard on my iMac for hours at a time, even though I found the IceKey keyboard from recommendations on the MacRumors forums. (Fora! I know! But that just looks weird!). I much prefer the keyboards on laptops, and have coveted a MacBook Air ever since they came out. However, that’s not possible right now (see: Wall Street Meltdown). After more googling, I learned that the Dell Mini 10v can be hacked into running Mac OSX, so, with the help of the good gents at MyDellMini, I hackintoshed my $250 Mini 10v, and it runs OSX like a charm. I find that typing in my lap is much less of a strain on my hands than with the keyboard on a desk.

I never bought Pages. the official Mac word processing app (see Wall Street, above), but there is a cool, free Mac app called “Bean”, which I am in LOVE with. You can use it in a regular window, or set it to ‘full screen’, and type away with white type on a dark blue background – easy on the eyes, especially at night. If you use a Mac and want to try Bean, be sure to save your docs as an .rtf file, not a Word .doc. I had my manuscript corrupted several times before I learned that Bean and .doc files aren’t a perfect match – either on the iMac or the hackintosh. I’m not sure what the issue is there, but I haven’t had any trouble since I went with .rtf files, which are readable on whatever word processing app one cares to use. Rescuing the corrupted file involved opening it as a .txt, then editing the hell out of it for missing punctuation and annoying extra spaces. Not recommended, especially if you’re a Red-Pencil Virgo like me. And yes, my hair has come back in. Mostly. Almost. You get the picture.

File: Save As: Dropbox/xxx.rtf.

I am an absolute NUT about backing up my work. I save it in a couple places on the hackintosh, a couple places on the iMac, on a USB thumb drive… but if there was a fire and all three were at home I’d lose it all anyway. However, the free service ‘Dropbox’ is just a couple of seconds away on the internet. Two GB worth of storage is free, after that it’s a nominal fee per year. I have yet to come close to that 2GB limit, though, and I have all my documents from over fifteen years on the internet up there. Now that Apple is coming out with iCloud I’ll be looking into that, but as they say around here, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So Dropbox it is… for now.

I have on occasion been so pressed for time and so overwhelmed with ideas, that I’ve used my iPhone with the Dragon Dictation app to dictate my work. The app is free, but the iPhone surely isn’t. If you already have one, or have decided to get one, then be sure to download the Dragon. It works fairly well, and likely works better if you use it all the time, but I haven’t used it regularly enough to make that determination.  After I finished my dictation I’d copy and paste it into an email to myself. It is absolutely faster than dictating into a dictaphone and then trying to type it out. As a bonus, sometimes the speech-to-text doesn’t work so well, and you end up with something amusing and/or unintelligible. I particularly enjoyed how it kept writing “Elize” as “the lease”.

Of course, there are various voice recognition apps to use with any computer, but for now I prefer the tactile sensation of clicking the keys. If my arthritis gets worse I’ll probably need to go with that, but I prefer the flow of typing. Ibuprofen, anyone?

Oh! I almost forgot: my Kindle. I would not be connected here, on Facebook (JuliaIndigo), on twitter (@juliaindigo) and on MySpace (soon to come) if it wasn’t for Kristen Lamb and her amazing book “We Are Not Alone”, available on the Kindle.

What tools are essential to your writers’ life? Do you have a fav computer/app/pen/pencil/brand of notepad/dictaphone? Do you covet some device as I do the new MacBook Air? Let me know in the comments, if you’d like.

For all I’ve written above, it brings a huge smile to my face when I consider that all I truly need to practice this craft is a yellow legal pad and a number two pencil.



2 responses

25 10 2011
Karen McFarland

What a beautiful post Julia!
The challenges we writers have are sometimes different for each and every one of us, eh? I appreciate your situation. I have a friend that does not have a disability yet swears by speech recognition. He uses it all the time. He’s been trying to get me to use it, but I’m stuck in my old ways, thus I’m still tippy tapping on the keyboard. I hear your pain my WANA1011 friend. I look forward to your future posts and other creative works!

25 10 2011
Julia Indigo

Thank you, Karen. I don’t know if you saw my tweet about the time I’ve wasted playing games on my iPhone, but I’ve known for some time that doing that is more than a waste of time for me… for whatever reason, it bothers my hands! So I’m deleting games from the blasted thing, hoping that will help my hands out, as well.

Some folks have been tweeting about Scrivener, as well. I may have to give that a look (though I do love my beloved Bean!)

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