Typewriter: An Old-Fashioned Solution for Modern Writers

Originally published 02/10/2016

We writers all know (or if we don’t know, we soon will learn) that perfectionism is the enemy of the writer. Of course, we all want our novel/play/movie/TV script/comic to be as close to perfection as it is possible to get. There’s nothing wrong with thatSome might even say that it is our sworn duty as story tellers to create the best story we are capable of and to present it in the most pleasing way possible. That’s all very commendable.

However, anyone who has been writing for any length of time will be able to tell you that you will almost never be able to simply sit down and produce a perfect first draft. It is almost guaranteed to be full of errors, typos, weak metaphors, poor dialogue and perhaps even gaping plot holes. An experienced writer knows this to be the case and therefore also knows that the only solution is to write a bad first draft, attack it with the Red Pen of Editing and then write a slightly better second draft. Repeat until you have attained perfection.

Back in the old days, there was no other choice. One could not simply hit the delete key and erase the last couple of words, much less copy and paste whole paragraphs. These days, however, it is tempting to just edit that first draft as you go along and make it perfect. After all, we have the technology. A typo can be easily fixed. Something you forgot can be easily inserted in the middle of the document. Words can be chopped, changed, pasted and tinkered with until it’s just right. The trouble is, nothing ever actually gets finished that way. As we have said before, a bad first draft can lead to a good second draft; a non-existent or unfinished first draft won’t ever amount to anything.

Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. I am a perfectionist, and as such, I often found it all too easy to use modern technology to help me agonise over the same paragraph for hours or days at a time. Knowing that writing first and editing afterwards is the best way to work did very little to change this (because I’m contrary like that). Until one day…

I had a brainwave.

I’ll buy a typewriter! I thought. I’ll write my first few drafts on a good old fashioned typewriter and only do my final draft on the computer! Oh boy, this is going to be going swell!

For those of you born any later than the mid ’90s, a typewriter was a primitive (usually unpowered) machine with a QWERTY keyboard which printed directly onto physical paper as you typed. Since typewriters don’t have delete keys, copy and pastes or anything like that, the writer is forced to wait until the second draft to make any major changes. I therefore thought it might be the cure for my perfectionism. Unfortunately, the only way I was going to lay hands on a typewriter these days was to break into a museum and even then, I would be spending the rest of my life trying to find increasingly hard-to-find replacement ribbons. It was going to be a lot of trouble and expense when all I really needed was the discipline to not edit while I wrote.

Not to be deterred, however, I decided to search the internet for an app which does the same thing. Since I’m a Windows man and still loathe writing on tablets, I was quite specifically hunting for a typewriter app I could use on my Windows PC.

There aren’t many. I guess there’s not that much demand for word processors with virtually no functionality whatsoever. I found a grand total of three that ran on my PC plus one for Mac called Rough Draft (I don’t have a Mac so I cannot tell you if it’s any good or not. Let me know if you’ve reviewed it on your blog and I’ll maybe reblog it for you). Of those three, one appears to no longer be available except as a fifteen day trial version and the other was a very clunky web-based app that I found needlessly complicated to use. The other problem with both of these apps was that they emphasised the look and feel of a typewriter more than the simple functionality — which is what I really wanted.

Then I found it.

Typewriter – Minimal Text Editor: a very simple ASCII text editor which runs on Java (and thus, will run on just about any computer) and includes absolutely zero editing functionality. Unlike a lot of typewriter apps which waste time by mimicking the sound effects and ugly fonts of physical typewriters, this app still looks and sounds like any other distraction-free plain text editor. The only difference is that you can’t edit.

Delete key? Forget about it. If you make a typo, you’ve just got to like that typo.

Copy and paste? No way hosay. If you want to make text appear on that screen, you’ve got to type it in yourself; and once it’s there, it ain’t going anywhere.

The only functions (besides typing plain text) available to you in this app are:

  • Colour scheme switching (you can have green text on a black background or black text on an off-white background. Whichever one you choose, it will not affect the appearance of your document when you print it, since *.txt is the only file type available to you)
  • Full screen switching (full screen is good for creating a distraction free environment but you might find it more convenient to have this off if you’re doing other things simultaneously… like writing a blog about the app in question)
  • Open file
  • Save file
  • Save file as
  • New file
  • Print
  • View key mappings
  • Quit

That’s it. That’s all the help this baby is going to give you. Heck, you can’t even use your mouse to navigate around these options, since there are no buttons or menus of any kind. All of these functions are only available to you via keyboard shortcuts (i.e., ctrl+O to open file).

This app is not for the faint-hearted. It will show your writing to you in all its unedited ugliness. But if you can swallow your pride and ignore all your mistakes, it will keep you writing right up until you’re ready to print off your work and attack it with that all important Red Pen of Editing.

It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

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Being Ernest

Originally published 24/01/20

For those who don’t know, Ernest Hemingway was the author behind such classic novels as For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. To say his style of writing has been influential over the years is an understatement. He is renowened for his use of short, clear, easy to read sentences. His philosophy was as simple as his writing style:

‘Write the best story you can and write it as straight as you can.’

(E. Hemingway)

I know that I’ve found that a pretty difficult skill to master. I have commented in the past that I have a penchant for long-windedness. Unfortunately, lengthy or complex sentences can be frustrating to read and easy to misunderstand. That’s a sure way to put your reader right off. That’s where the Hemingway Editor, created by Adam and Ben Long, comes in.

There are, of course, millions of apps out there designed to help writers. There are specialist text editors, plot generators… I even found an app that ‘Rickrolled’ me if I stopped writing! But the Hemingway Editor stands out for me as something quite unique. It will help you improve your writing style by highlighting:

  • Any long or complex sentences
  • Fancy word choice, where something simpler would suffice
  • Adverbs
  • Passive voice

The great thing about Hemingway Editor is it does not fix your writing for you. That would be cheating. It would also be unlikely to work. But like all good teachers, it forces you to improve your style by marking and grading your work. If you have been using fancy words, it will suggest simpler alternatives, a bit like a spell-checker, but that’s where the interference ends. It’s up to you to change (or not change) your style accordingly.

The grading system is simple to understand… if you’re American. It works by telling you what grade of the American school system your reader would need to be in to have a reasonable chance of understanding your work. As I write this now, the Hemingway Editor is telling me that I am writing at a level someone in eighth grade would understand. As a British person, I’ve no idea what that means, since we use a different system but that’s nothing Google can’t help with. Besides, it’s not really necessary to know. The grade is displayed on a simple gauge that even a baboon could understand and is colour-coded to indicate how well you are achieving your goal of simplicity.

For those of you who are interested in the technical details, according to the Editor’s own help document,

‘Hemingway judges the “grade level” of your text using the Automated Readability Index. It’s a reliable algorithm used since the days of electronic typewriters.’

So there you go.

If I had to pick one feature of the Hemingway Editor I don’t like, it would be the spell-checker. To be blunt, it is inferior to most other spell-checkers I have come across. The main problem is that it seems to struggle with identifying what word you were trying to spell. For example, earlier on in this post I misspelt ‘influential’ as ‘influental’ (I should add that this was a typo; I know that’s not how you spell it). Hemingway Editor spotted the error but could offer no suggestions as to what it should have been. OpenOffice, on the other hand, gave me no less than seven possible alternatives for the same error and Scrivener gave me five. Also, if you don’t speak English, you can forget about checking your spelling with Hemingway. The spell-checker only seems to only work for Australian, British, Canadian and US English. While it is possible to disable the spell-checker, I am left wondering if the other features would work any better in different languages.

One other problem: it doesn’t seem to be entirely bug free, as you can see from this screendump. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that bug came about as a result of me copying and pasting text into Hemingway Editor from OpenOffice but I could be wrong.

Additional features of the Hemingway Editor include:

  • Basic text formatting, such as bold, italics, bulleted lists, indentation, etc.
  • Letter, character, word, sentence and paragraph count, as well as an estimation of the time required to read your document.
  • Import and export to and from Microsoft Word.
  • Export as HTML or Markdown.
  • Toggle between ‘write’ and ‘edit’ mode. Using ‘write’ mode allows you to write without the app checking your work for you. When you’re ready to edit, you just toggle to ‘edit’ mode to see it highlighted in a million different places.

The Hemingway Editor is available as a desktop app for Mac and PC. It will set you back $9.99 (that’s £7 on this side of the pond), which isn’t too bad. However, before you get your wallet out, I’d recommend you go to www.hemingwayapp.com. There, you’ll be able to use almost all the app’s features for free, so it’s maybe worth trying it out that way before you fork out your hard earned money for this useful (but not quite perfect) little app.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

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3 Useful Android Apps for Writers

Originally published 01/11/2015

If you’re anything like me, the motivation to write and the floods of inspiration tend to come at the worst possible times. While I’m a firm believer that there is no substitute for sitting at your desk for hours with tea constantly being fed to you intravenously to get stuff done, there surely has got to be some way that we can utilise that spark of inspiration or motivation when it strikes… right?

You bet there is. The following apps are all available for Android OS and have served me well for all my writing needs:

Notebooks

No doubt if you enjoy writing you will have heard this advice: ‘Carry a notepad with you everywhere you go!’

It’s good advice, but if you’re anything like me you will almost never remember to bring a notepad with you and even if you do, your handwriting will be completely illegible. Another thing I find frustrating about physical notepads is that it is difficult to keep notes on individual writing projects separate from one another (unless you can be bothered carrying multiple notepads around with you, in which case, power to you!).

Notebooks by DroidVeda LLP is a neat and tidy little app which allows you to keep virtual notebooks on your phone or tablet. With it you can easily create a bookshelf of virtual notepads with as many or as few pages as you desire. Each page has the option of being given its own individual title and (as far as I can tell) has an unlimited word count. This allows for easy note taking on multiple projects without them getting muddled up in any way.

The separate pages in each book also make it easy to find what you’re looking for. For instance, I often use Notebooks to ‘audition’ characters for my stories. This allows me to write as long or as short a note as I want for each character and to keep them apart from other characters (I’ll maybe write a post about this method of developing characters in another post; I’ve found it most beneficial and enjoyable!). I also use it to write rough drafts of stories, blogs and even to write song lyrics (another hobby of mine!). If you’re organised enough, you could probably even use it to draft a full length novel, using individual pages as chapters.

Other features include: password protection, a search feature, font/colour customisability, hand-writing/drawing, page bookmarking, online or local back-up of all notebooks and the ability to convert your notepad into a PDF.

I will admit there are a few minor improvements to be made (I really wish you could re-arrange the order of your pages, for instance) but considering it costs no more than the price of drawing a breath, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Lists for Writers

Thinkamingo’s tagline on Google Play says ‘We create tools that engage the creative core’. That is precisely what this app does for me. Whether I am trying to come up with a brand new story idea or simply develop a character for a current project, Thinkamingo’s Lists for Writers helps me to do exactly that.

It’s very basic in some respects. It really is just a collection of lists divided into categories, but what a splendid collection it is. I can’t possibly list all of them here but suffice it to say it contains an extensive collection of lists under the following categories:

  • Character – Naming,
  • Character – Phyiscal Characteristics,
  • Character – Occupations,
  • Character – Milestones,
  • Personality – Thoughts (includes everything from general characteristics and emotions to phobias and obsessions),
  • Personality – Behaviours (habits, hobbies, etc.),
  • Plots (includes lists of possible types of conflicts and issues, etc.),
  • Settings – Geographical,
  • Settings – Countries by Continent,
  • Settings – Other (includes other terms relevant to setting such as forms of government, types of weather, etc.),
  • Genres,
  • Miscellaneous (there’s quite a lot of these, including animal sounds, colours, styles of dance, etc)
  • Words – Grammar,
  • Words – Fun (for instance, ‘Aussie slang’)

My main criticism of this app is that only some of the lists, such as the list of phobias, include definitions of each term; others do not. At £1.99, it was perhaps a little pricey for not-a-lot-of-app but I can’t deny that it gets my imaginative juices flowing in a big way.

Mindly

If mind-maps are your thing then Mindly by Dripgrind is one not to be missed. It is easily one of the least  cluttered looking mind-map apps I’ve ever seen, in that it displays only the element you are working with and its immediate child-elements. Visually the elements are all very simple; suitably proportioned circles, each with a visible title and a small icon (if desired). If you want to add detailed notes to any of your elements, this is easily accomplished simply by tapping the appropriate element on the mind-map and typing your note in the box that appears. The note will be saved to that element and can be accessed later, however the actual text of the note will not be visible on the mind-map itself, keeping it easy on the eye.

If you’re the sort of person who prefers an image to a word, it is also possible to make elements out of photos stored on your device (as far as I can tell, however, there is no way to add notes, titles or icons to these photo-elements). It is also possible to make elements which serve as hyperlinks to whatever website you fancy.

Other features include the ability to view your mind-map in its entirety, the ability to print your mind-map, customisable colour schemes, sharing, dropbox sync and a visual ‘clipboard’ which allows you to easily move elements around. It will set you back £4.49 if you want to enjoy all the export options this app has to offer and there is a relatively generous limit on how many elements you can have on the free version (though I’ve not reached it yet!).

Honourable Mentions

I can’t deny it; I have quite a few apps on my phone that I write/plan with, so here is a whistle-stop tour of a few others I can recommend:

Dubscript Screenplay Writer by The Production Company – Allows you to write your screenplay out in plain-text and quickly converts it into screenplay format for you. Price: free

Jotterpad by 2 App Studio – Distraction free text editor. Price: Free but with £5.50 upgrade available

Story Plot Gen by Arc Apps – There’s lots of plot generator apps out there that mix random elements together to get your creative juices flowing but this one has a much higher chance of giving you plots that actually make sense. Price: free or £1.49 for pro version.

Until next time!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Using Google Docs for Writing Fiction

Originally published 01/12/2019

I’ve resisted using Google Docs for writing fiction for a long time. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with Google Docs. Lots of people swear by it and I had no reason to doubt the good reports I was hearing, however I’m already pretty well established in the apps I like to use (Scrivener for long works like novels and Focus Writer for shorter pieces). Besides, in spite of all the good things I’d heard about Google Docs, it sounded a bit too much like a plain old fashioned word processor, without any peculiar functionality that might make it stand out to a fiction writer such as myself.

However, Christmas is coming. And here on Penstricken, Christmas can only ever mean one thing: the Penstricken Christmas Special. That meant I had only a few weeks to write, edit and publish a 1,000 word Christmas story and – to be perfectly frank – I don’t have a lot of time on my hands for starting a brand new story from scratch. I have a full time job, a toddler and (lest we forget) a novel I’m supposed to be writing. Most days I’m lucky to get half an hour to write, and I can’t possibly devote it all to the Penstricken Christmas Special. Then I had a brainwave:

Google Docs stores your work online so you can continue writing on the go!

My plan was to use a set portion of my normal writing time to work on the Christmas story using Google Docs on my PC, while using the Google Docs Android app on my phone to continue writing whenever I had a spare five minutes in my day (when I’m on the bus, during lunch breaks, etc).

Seeing no alternative to this plan, I swallowed my pride and began writing my first draft on Google Docs, starting with the browser version. The first thing to do is choose a template for your document. There are loads to choose from and not one of them has anything to do with fiction writing. Unwilling to be deterred, however (I mean, really, you don’t particularly need a fancy template for writing short works of fiction), I decided to start with a blank template.

So far, my thoughts on the subject had been proven absolutely right. At first glance, Google Docs really is just another word processor. In some respects, this was a good thing. It took absolutely no time to learn how to use, since everything is very familiar to anyone who has ever used a bog-standard word processor before. Another major selling point was the fact it automatically saved your work to Google Drive and instantly made it available to you anywhere in the world. You can also make your work available offline.

Perhaps its most obvious selling point is the fact you can share your work with other users who can edit your work or add comments. This is handy if you’re writing collaboratively or are looking for someone to give feedback on your work. Comments appear in small boxes to the side of your work which are anchored to particular portions of the document. You can reply to each comment, allowing for easy discussion with your fellow editors and, once you’re happy the issue has been resolved, you just click the button labelled ‘resolve’ to hide the comment. Personally, I like to write alone but I do find the comments function a useful tool for getting feedback on my writing.

Another key feature I found useful as a story writer was the outline function. It took me a little while to figure out just how to use this, but essentially the outline feature allows you quickly navigate around your document using headers, which is essential if you’re creating a lengthy piece of work and don’t have the benefit of Scrivener’s binder for separating your work into chapters and scenes. Alas, you can’t do too much to customise your outline. It’s basically just a list of links to every portion of text you’ve formatted as a heading, but you can’t use it for actually outlining or planning your story in any meaningful way.

My one big concern with using Docs to write my Christmas story was the mobile app. My plan relied pretty heavily on being able to seamlessly transition between the PC browser and the mobile app, but in my experience, mobile writing apps are often clunky, cluttered and have limited functionality. Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. There’s a small menu bar at the top and bottom of the screen as you write, allowing you to easily access to basic functionality such as formatting your text, adding comments or undoing and redoing. Everything else is discreetly tucked away in a menu you can access by tapping the button on the top right hand corner of the screen.

In short, Google Docs is a good online word processor and is has more than adequately served my needs when it comes to writing this Christmas flash fiction. I don’t think it would be much use in the planning stages of any story and I certainly wouldn’t fancy writing a longer piece of work on it, but for every day short story writing on the go, it’s more than equal to the task.

And hey, it’s free.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Can’t Afford Scrivener? Try yWriter.

Originally published: 12/11/2017

Many years ago, when I decided to make my first serious attempt at writing a novel, I did what a lot of enthusiastic beginners probably do: I searched high and low for the perfect novel writing app. I didn’t know about Scrivener back then (in fact, I’m not even sure it was available for Windows at that time) but I did come across another app in a similar vein called yWriter by Spacejock Software. I attempted my first ever novel with it and I absolutely swore by it for a long time. Only the discovery of Scrivener for Windows really turned my head. However, in homage to auld lang syne, I’ve decided to download and review the most recent version of yWriter (specifically, yWriter6) for those of you who don’t want to spend any money (for there is no other good reason not to get Scrivener).

yWriter1
Fig. 1

yWriter’s main window (fig. 1) is, for the most part, fairly self-explanatory. Like Scrivener, it allows you to organise your various notes on characters, settings, etc. and, like Scrivener, it allows you to organise your work into separate chapters and scenes. You can either begin with a blank project or you can use the project wizard… which is basically the same as making a blank project, only you begin by specifying the title, author’s name and file directory you want to save it to before you begin, thereby saving yourself thirty seconds later on.

ywriter-editor
Fig. 2

The window which you use to actually write your scene is also pretty self-explanatory for anyone even remotely familiar with ordinary word processors. Unlike many modern word processors, however, you are essentially restricted to writing in a rich text box rather than on a virtual page. As such, there is no easy way to format your page layout (rulers, margins, etc). However, in addition to the features you would expect to find on any word processor, you also have the ability to hear your story read out to you by Microsoft David or Microsoft Zira (a feature which can be handy for helping you to edit a manuscript you’ve grown overly familiar with) and there’s a whole host of tabs on this window which allow you to edit all sorts of information pertaining to the scene you’re working on, if you find that sort of thing useful. You can also easily jump from one scene to another using the drop down menus at the bottom of the scene editing window.

Though this app is simple in many ways, and certainly lacks the flexibility of Scrivener, it does boast a plethora of handy little features which you can use or ignore as you see fit. I doubt if you’ll be inclined to use all of them and I don’t have nearly enough space here to mention them all, but suffice to say it seems pretty obvious to me that the developers have tried to appeal to a broad spectrum of novelists by adding a variety of tools.

ywriter-ratings
Fig. 3

Personally, I am rather fond of the word usage window, which shows you a list of every word used in your story and tells you how often you’ve used it; a handy feature if you’re given to tediously repeating certain turns of phrase over and over again. In addition, the help menu includes a ‘writing tips’ option, which brings up a simple message window containing a snippet of handy writing advice such as ‘take a 5-10 minute break every hour. Walk, exercise, make a drink’ and ‘sometimes it’s quicker to rewrite a short scene from scratch than to keep editing it’. You can also rate the relevance, tension, humour and quality of each scene you write and collate that information into a handy-dandy line-graph (fig. 3), which could be a potentially useful tool when you come to edit your drafts (assuming you can be honest with yourself about the quality of your work). The tools for developing characters, settings and items which appear in your story are simple enough to use, if a little basic and inflexible, although there’s plenty of room for writing whatever notes you want.

If there’s one major thing yWriter lacks, it is the ability to compile your manuscript into a suitable format for distribution. For instance, with Scrivener, you can easily compile your work into a variety of useful formats including (but not limited to) standard manuscript format, screenplay format or e-book format– and of course, if none of the presets appeal to you, you can customise your own format. You can’t do any of that with yWriter. It does allow you to export your project in a variety of ways, but if you’ve got any serious plans to submit your work for publication, you’ll need to transfer your exported project to a suitable word processor and format it yourself.

I realise I’ve unintentionally spent a lot of time here comparing yWriter to Scrivener but I hope you won’t misunderstand my intentions. I really like yWriter. Yes, there is room for further development but I do think it’s worth trying, especially for new authors who are just dipping their toe into novel writing for the first time. Nevertheless, bells and whistles not withstanding, it is quite limited when it is compared to more expensive tools like Scrivener. My advice would be to give it a go. You may find yWriter is more than sufficient for your own particular needs, in which case you should be able to get your novel written and save yourself a few bob into the bargain.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

UPDATE 25/06/20: yWriter 6 and 7 both export to Mobi and Epub using Calibre to create the final output file. You can also export to Latex to create paperback editions.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Using Notebloc to Add Handwritten Notes to Scrivener

Originally published 25/02/18 under the title ‘Want to Add Handwritten Notes to your Scrivener Project? Try Notebloc.’

If you’re anything like me, the bulk of your writing projects will be done on computer, probably using a purpose-built piece of novel-writing software like Scrivener. Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned before, there are some stages of the writing process (especially in the early days of planning) where I find the only way to make any progress is to sit down with a physical notebook and pen and scribble all my thoughts down. You might also be the sort of author who, like me, feels the need to keep a writer’s journal. Finally, if you’re like me, you’ll also be the sort of person who likes to hold on to every scrap of work you produce (including your brainstorm-scribbles) and keep it all neatly organised in one place.

Which is a pain. After all, you can’t add your handwritten notes to your Scrivener project.

OR CAN YOU? 

Let me introduce you to Notebloc for Android and iPhone. This handy little app not only uses your smartphone’s camera to capture images, but it also automatically adjusts the colour and angle of your image(s) before easily exporting them as jpg or pdf files, making adding your handwritten notes to Scrivener (or wherever it is you keep your project files) a breeze. I should note, I’ve only tested the Android version of this app. If anyone has used the iPhone version and found it to be different from what I describe here, do let us know in the comments.

The first thing you have to do when you use this app is add images of your handwritten notes either by using your phone’s camera to capture an image or by importing a pre-existing image from your phone’s storage. Once you’ve done that, you will find yourself faced with an intuitive little screen (fig. 1) which allows you to adjust where the borders of your image should be. You can also rotate your image from this screen. So far, however, I’ve never had to actually do any manual adjusting; Notebloc does it automatically and with remarkable accuracy. However, in the unlikely event that it does not accurately identify the borders of your page, it’s a cinch to fix by simply long-pressing and dragging the borders to wherever you want them to be.

Once you’ve done that, Notebloc will then automatically adjust the shape and colours for you to create an image which favours readability. As you can see from fig. 2, the image it produces is pretty darn decent. The text is still clearly legible (poor handwriting notwithstanding; it’s a smartphone app, not a magic wand) and the colours have been reasonably well preserved. It even handles pencil with surprising ease. If, however, you’re not satisfied with the way it adjusts the colours, there are a few other colour adjustment styles you can choose from (see the menu along the top of fig. 2).

Once you’re happy with how the image looks, it gets added to your Notebloc document file (fig. 3). You can add as many pages to a document as you see fit and re-order the pages simply by long-pressing and dragging each page to wherever you want it to go (they will appear in the order in which you added them by default). From there you can print your document, share it online or copy your pages to another document if you so desire. Alternatively, you can do what I do and convert the document into a pdf or jpg format to be easily imported into your Scrivener project (fig. 4). I should add that if you opt for a jpg file, you will actually end up with numerous jpg files; specifically, one for each page. If, however, you opt for a pdf file, all the pages will be compiled into a single document, which makes it the best option for my money if you’re planning on adding it to Scrivener.

I’m pleased to say I haven’t found any glaringly obvious bugs in this app and it does what it says on the tin to a fairly impressive standard. It doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles and while I generally think that’s a good thing (too many superfluous features make an app cumbersome), I do think it would benefit from a few additional features; character recognition being the most obvious. The tools for manually adjusting the shape and colours of your image could also be more flexible; as it is, your options are quite limited if you don’t like the adjustments it makes automatically.

Oh and before you ask, this app is completely free and, best of all, it contains no ads. Go and get it!

Using Google Docs for Writing Fiction

I’ve resisted using Google Docs for writing fiction for a long time. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with Google Docs. Lots of people swear by it and I had no reason to doubt the good reports I was hearing, however I’m already pretty well established in the apps I like to use (Scrivener for long works like novels and Focus Writer for shorter pieces). Besides, in spite of all the good things I’d heard about Google Docs, it sounded a bit too much like a plain old fashioned word processor, without any peculiar functionality that might make it stand out to a fiction writer such as myself.

However, Christmas is coming. And here on Penstricken, Christmas can only ever mean one thing: the Penstricken Christmas Special. That meant I had only a few weeks to write, edit and publish a 1,000 word Christmas story and – to be perfectly frank – I don’t have a lot of time on my hands for starting a brand new story from scratch. I have a full time job, a toddler and (lest we forget) a novel I’m supposed to be writing. Most days I’m lucky to get half an hour to write, and I can’t possibly devote it all to the Penstricken Christmas Special. Then I had a brainwave:

Google Docs stores your work online so you can continue writing on the go!

My plan was to use a set portion of my normal writing time to work on the Christmas story using Google Docs on my PC, while using the Google Docs Android app on my phone to continue writing whenever I had a spare five minutes in my day (when I’m on the bus, during lunch breaks, etc).

Seeing no alternative to this plan, I swallowed my pride and began writing my first draft on Google Docs, starting with the browser version. The first thing to do is choose a template for your document. There are loads to choose from and not one of them has anything to do with fiction writing. Unwilling to be deterred, however (I mean, really, you don’t particularly need a fancy template for writing short works of fiction), I decided to start with a blank template.

So far, my thoughts on the subject had been proven absolutely right. At first glance, Google Docs really is just another word processor. In some respects, this was a good thing. It took absolutely no time to learn how to use, since everything is very familiar to anyone who has ever used a bog-standard word processor before. Another major selling point was the fact it automatically saved your work to Google Drive and instantly made it available to you anywhere in the world. You can also make your work available offline.

Perhaps its most obvious selling point is the fact you can share your work with other users who can edit your work or add comments. This is handy if you’re writing collaboratively or are looking for someone to give feedback on your work. Comments appear in small boxes to the side of your work which are anchored to particular portions of the document. You can reply to each comment, allowing for easy discussion with your fellow editors and, once you’re happy the issue has been resolved, you just click the button labelled ‘resolve’ to hide the comment. Personally, I like to write alone but I do find the comments function a useful tool for getting feedback on my writing.

Another key feature I found useful as a story writer was the outline function. It took me a little while to figure out just how to use this, but essentially the outline feature allows you quickly navigate around your document using headers, which is essential if you’re creating a lengthy piece of work and don’t have the benefit of Scrivener’s binder for separating your work into chapters and scenes. Alas, you can’t do too much to customise your outline. It’s basically just a list of links to every portion of text you’ve formatted as a heading, but you can’t use it for actually outlining or planning your story in any meaningful way.

My one big concern with using Docs to write my Christmas story was the mobile app. My plan relied pretty heavily on being able to seamlessly transition between the PC browser and the mobile app, but in my experience, mobile writing apps are often clunky, cluttered and have limited functionality. Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. There’s a small menu bar at the top and bottom of the screen as you write, allowing you to easily access to basic functionality such as formatting your text, adding comments or undoing and redoing. Everything else is discreetly tucked away in a menu you can access by tapping the button on the top right hand corner of the screen.

In short, Google Docs is a good online word processor and is has more than adequately served my needs when it comes to writing this Christmas flash fiction. I don’t think it would be much use in the planning stages of any story and I certainly wouldn’t fancy writing a longer piece of work on it, but for every day short story writing on the go, it’s more than equal to the task.

And hey, it’s free.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Typewriter: An Old-Fashioned Solution for Modern Writers

First published: 02/10/2016

We writers all know (or if we don’t know, we soon will learn) that perfectionism is the enemy of the writer. Of course, we all want our novel/play/movie/TV script/comic to be as close to perfection as it is possible to get. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some might even say that it is our sworn duty as story tellers to create the best story we are capable of and to present it in the most pleasing way possible. That’s all very commendable.

However, anyone who has been writing for any length of time will be able to tell you that you will almost never be able to simply sit down and produce a perfect first draft. It is almost guaranteed to be full of errors, typos, weak metaphors, poor dialogue and perhaps even gaping plot holes. An experienced writer knows this to be the case and therefore also knows that the only solution is to write a bad first draft, attack it with the Red Pen of Editing and then write a slightly better second draft. Repeat until you have attained perfection.

Back in the old days, there was no other choice. One could not simply hit the delete key and erase the last couple of words, much less copy and paste whole paragraphs. These days, however, it is tempting to just edit that first draft as you go along and make it perfect. After all, we have the technology. A typo can be easily fixed. Something you forgot can be easily inserted in the middle of the document. Words can be chopped, changed, pasted and tinkered with until it’s just right. The trouble is, nothing ever actually gets finished that way. As we have said before, a bad first draft can lead to a good second draft; a non-existent or unfinished first draft won’t ever amount to anything.

Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. I am a perfectionist, and as such, I often found it all too easy to use modern technology to help me agonise over the same paragraph for hours or days at a time. Knowing that writing first and editing afterwards is the best way to work did very little to change this (because I’m contrary like that). Until one day…

I had a brainwave.

I’ll buy a typewriter! I thought. I’ll write my first few drafts on a good old fashioned typewriter and only do my final draft on the computer! Oh boy, this is going to be going swell!

For those of you born any later than the mid ’90s, a typewriter was a primitive (usually unpowered) machine with a QWERTY keyboard which printed directly onto physical paper as you typed. Since typewriters don’t have delete keys, copy and pastes or anything like that, the writer is forced to wait until the second draft to make any major changes. I therefore thought it might be the cure for my perfectionism. Unfortunately, the only way I was going to lay hands on a typewriter these days was to break into a museum and even then, I would be spending the rest of my life trying to find increasingly hard-to-find replacement ribbons. It was going to be a lot of trouble and expense when all I really needed was the discipline to not edit while I wrote.

Not to be deterred, however, I decided to search the internet for an app which does the same thing. Since I’m a Windows man and still loathe writing on tablets, I was quite specifically hunting for a typewriter app I could use on my Windows PC.

There aren’t many. I guess there’s not that much demand for word processors with virtually no functionality whatsoever. I found a grand total of three that ran on my PC plus one for Mac called Rough Draft (I don’t have a Mac so I cannot tell you if it’s any good or not. Let me know if you’ve reviewed it on your blog and I’ll maybe reblog it for you). Of those three, one appears to no longer be available except as a fifteen day trial version and the other was a very clunky web-based app that I found needlessly complicated to use. The other problem with both of these apps was that they emphasised the look and feel of a typewriter more than the simple functionality — which is what I really wanted.

Then I found it.

Typewriter – Minimal Text Editor: a very simple ASCII text editor which runs on Java (and thus, will run on just about any computer) and includes absolutely zero editing functionality. Unlike a lot of typewriter apps which waste time by mimicking the sound effects and ugly fonts of physical typewriters, this app still looks and sounds like any other distraction-free plain text editor. The only difference is that you can’t edit.

Delete key? Forget about it. If you make a typo, you’ve just got to like that typo.

Copy and paste? No way hosay. If you want to make text appear on that screen, you’ve got to type it in yourself; and once it’s there, it ain’t going anywhere.

The only functions (besides typing plain text) available to you in this app are:

  • Colour scheme switching (you can have green text on a black background or black text on an off-white background. Whichever one you choose, it will not affect the appearance of your document when you print it, since *.txt is the only file type available to you)
  • Full screen switching (full screen is good for creating a distraction free environment but you might find it more convenient to have this off if you’re doing other things simultaneously… like writing a blog about the app in question)
  • Open file
  • Save file
  • Save file as
  • New file
  • Print
  • View key mappings
  • Quit

That’s it. That’s all the help this baby is going to give you. Heck, you can’t even use your mouse to navigate around these options, since there are no buttons or menus of any kind. All of these functions are only available to you via keyboard shortcuts (i.e., ctrl+O to open file).

This app is not for the faint-hearted. It will show your writing to you in all its unedited ugliness. But if you can swallow your pride and ignore all your mistakes, it will keep you writing right up until you’re ready to print off your work and attack it with that all important Red Pen of Editing.

It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what types your writer.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

App Review: Tomato Typewriter

They say there’s nothing like a deadline to increase productivity; a notion I, personally, have always found to be true. So, if you’re the sort of writer who enjoys writing on your Android tablet or smartphone but need the threat of a deadline to get you going, Tomato Typewriter by Zest Works might just be the app for you. This elegant little app encourages non-stop writing by punishing you whenever you stop writing, either by deleting your words (gradually or all at once) or playing an annoying sound.

You begin each session by customising the session’s rules: specifically, whether or not you want a timed session, your session targets and what kind of threat you want for stopping. Then, as soon you hit that ‘start’ button, you just write like fury until your time elapses or you reach your target word count, depending on whether or not you opted for a timed session. If you pause while writing, a clock will appear on the screen to warn you that you’re about to be punished. If you don’t continue writing immediately, you will indeed be punished. When you successfully complete a session, you will be given the option to carry on writing with or without threat of punishment. Your work is then saved to the app for you to share, copy to clipboard or delete as you see fit (you won’t be able to edit a session once you have closed it, however).

So, let’s have a closer look.

The first thing I would say is that this app is very easy on the eye and highly intuitive to use (this alone makes it stand head and shoulders above more famous tools of this type, like Write or Die). Even a dafty like me can download it and immediately start using it to its fullest potential without wasting any time trying to figure out where everything is or how to use it. There are also no ugly adverts popping up all over the place.

Like most writing apps these days, it boasts a choice of ‘light’ or ‘dark’ themes and the font size and style are also adjustable to suit your preferences. You can also choose to enable or disable a visible word count, time remaining and threat warnings. All very useful, though I would point out that the visible time remaining/word count actually appears as a very thin gauge at the bottom of your screen, just above the keyboard. It doesn’t give you a specific count with numbers you can clearly understand. In fact, it’s so subtle that when I first tried it out, I thought the feature wasn’t working at all; but it is working. It’s just very discreet.

One more big selling point for this app is that it’s free. Truly, honestly, free. Not ‘free but with locked features you need to pay for’ or ‘free as long as you watch twenty minutes of adverts’. It’s completely and utterly free!

I have only one real criticism of this app(and it’s certainly not a major deal breaker): there is no obvious way to directly export your work into a standard text format which you can use on other apps. All you can do is ‘share’ your work on another app and save it from there. Apart from being a clumsy approach to exporting your work, I also found that many of the apps I use for creating text files weren’t actually compatible with the Tomato Typewriter. I got an error whenever I tried to share my work to JotterPad, Polaris, and even Google Docs. It did, however, work like a charm with Writer Plus.

All in all, this is a beautiful little app. It does what it says on the tin with no fuss and just enough bells and whistles to make it do everything you might want it to. If you’re looking for a timed writing app which punishes you for not writing and doesn’t break the bank then look no further. This is the one.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what times your tomatoes.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

What’s On Your Writer’s Utility Belt?

You might have seen that Batman has been trending on Twitter lately. Naturally when I saw it, I thought the time was ripe to do Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Batman Edition... Until I remembered I still haven’t seen Batman v. Superman and so, couldn’t possibly offer a complete review of all the Batman flicks. Not content to let the Batman theme pass me by, however, I decided instead to write about my Writer’s Utility Belt.

‘Your writer’s… what?’ I hear you cry, somewhat bemused.

You know! My writer’s utility belt! Just like Batman has a utility belt which is loaded with all deus ex machina gadgets he needs to help him save the day, so we writers all have our (figurative) utility belts loaded with all the tools (mostly apps, these days) we rely on to help us whenever we sit down to write.

… Don’t we? 😶

… No?

Well… just humour me for a couple of minutes while I tell you what I keep on mine anyway:

Physical Notebooks and a Bic Four-Colour Ballpoint Pen

It all starts with paper and pen for me. Specifically a generously sized notebook with plenty of space for scribbles, doodles and general nonsense and a Bic Four-Colour Ballpoint Pen for effective brainstorming.

I usually move onto the computer pretty quickly once I get past the initial stages of coming up with and refining ideas but in the early days of a new story, physical honest-to-goodness paper and pen are a must for me.

Jotterpad

I’ve got to be honest here: despite the fact I’ve written manifold positive reviews about various mobile writing apps, I don’t actually use them very much for writing. Don’t ask me why, but I just find them really awkward to write with, no matter how good they might be.

That being said, if you’re sitting on the bus, on your way into work with no hope of getting home to your precious notebooks, you might want a quick and easy way to write down ideas (or whole chapters) that suddenly pop into your head. For me, Jotterpad for Android does the job nicely.

Scapple

For me, one of the toughest parts of writing a story is bringing order to the chaos of my original ideas. Even once I’ve got my basic plot and characters figured out, there were still be a lot of plot holes and other loose ends to tie up before I can create a functioning chapter outline.

When I’m deep in the throes of figuring all this out, I can easily lose track of where I am. There is often too much material to sift through for me to simply write it out in a linear fashion. That’s when Scapple by Literature and Latte, the virtual corkboard comes into its own. You can spread out all your thoughts in whatever order you like, linking them together (or not) as you see fit. Ideal for mind-mapping and general idea sifting, it’s helped me out of more than one bout of writers’ block and plays a key role in all my writing projects.

Typewriter

I’ve spoken before about free writing; a pre-writing technique in which the writer takes a few minutes to write anything and everything that comes to mind without pausing to edit. It’s a technique I swear by to get me started in the morning, and yet it’s also a technique I found almost impossible to master given my tendency to edit as I go…

Until I discovered Typewriter – Minimal Text Editor. This simple ASCII text editor has no editing functionality whatsoever. No deleting, no copying, no pasting, nothing. All you can do is add text and once you’ve added it, you’re stuck with it. It can probably serve quite a few functions, but for me, it’s my go-to app for free writing.

Scrivener

Well of course, it had to be here. Scrivener is the app that I, along with many of my writer colleagues, use to create my story bibles and to write my actual manuscript. I also use it to keep my daily writer’s journal.

It’s powerful. It’s popular. It’s surprisingly affordable. I can’t remember the last time I ever considered writing a manuscript with any other app and I doubt I ever will.

What about you? What’s on your writer’s utility belt? Are there any particular apps or tools you rely on to help you write? Share it with us in the comments below!


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what reaches your utility belt.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]