Category Archives: Tools

More iPad Writing Apps That Authors Love

Hands Holding iPadI tend to not use tablets to do my writing. I am more comfortable using my Alphasmart Neo as a digital typewriter, keeping my iPod Touch nearby for research, serve as a dictionary, or to provide music if I don’t like what is playing at the coffeehouse. However, I am discovering that more writers are turning to their Apple iPads as full flung writing devices, forgoing even their laptops in favor of the lighter weight, smaller tablets.

The following is a personal review of iPad apps that family and friends have recommended to me. These apps are all focused on creative writing: some favor markdown language, others are great PDF annotative apps or additions to your favorite note taking apps and one is a great companion to blog writing. I have not been asked to review the app by the developer nor do I have any financial stake in their product.

If you love iOS apps, please also click over to an earlier post: iPad Writing Apps that Authors Love.

Penultimate
iOS 5.01 and later, iPad only
Free

Many writers are used to jotting research notes in a Moleskine notebook with a favorite pen, but with the advent of the iPad, many are turning their offices paperless. The Penultimate app for iPad has been purchased by Evernote and now seamlessly integrates with their note based system. Handwrite notes in the classroom, on the go, or in your office and your sketches will automatically be saved in Evernote. If you have Evernote premium, your handwritten notes will be searchable. Penultimate imitates different paper and pen options to make your writing experience on the iPad more comfortable. If you already use Evernote, this is a no-brainer addition to your already robust note taking system.

iAnnotate PDF
iOS 7.0 and later, iPad only
$9.99

Save your manuscript to PDF and use this app to read and annotate it in your iPad. You can choose different types of text to write with from pens, highlighters, stamps, straight-line, typewriter, underlines, strikeouts and more. Copy and paste your annotations from one document to another. You can connect iAnnotate with Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive, iTunes, or open PDFs from emails and the Internet. The PDF reader aids in the editing and revising process by taking your manuscript from one source and allowing you to view it as if it was a printed work, giving you the ability to see your words in a new light. If you are looking for a way to removing printing your novel and using a red pen to mark it up, this might be the solution you are looking for.

Notebinder
iOS 6.0 or later, iPad only
$6.99

I found this PDF note taking app to be interesting because it integrated audio and video capabilities along with your note writing. It reminds me a little of the Livescribe pens that were very popular a few years ago. It allows a little more customization of the screen, is compatible with Pogo Connect and iPen Styli, one touch access to your notes, the ability to easily timestamp notes, and it can switch the touch screen to make it more left hand compatible. However, I find that the import/export is not as robust as the previous reviewed iAnnotate.

Goodreader
iOS 5.0 or later, iPad only
$4.99

This PDF reader has won many favorable reviews for its robust features and integration with many online systems. You can read pretty much anything on it: books, maps, text, and photos. You can even view movies with it. Goodreader can be used for manuscript annotation since you can write on the PDF as if they were printed pages and can even handwrite in the margins. It has all the annotation goodies that you would expect in an app. Exporting is a breeze due to the numerous methods you can utilize. You can import/export via USB cable or a wifi connection, from email attachments and set the app so that it auto syncs with your favorite cloud server. Goodreader connects with Dropbox, Skydrive, Google Drive, SugarSync and many other online servers. Of all the PDF readers I’m reviewing in this article, I feel that this one is my personal favorite.

Editorial
iOS 6.0 or later, iPad only
$4.99

If you love to write with Markdown, this is a minimal app to do that comfortably with on your iPad. With a simple swipe to the left, you can switch from an in-line markdown preview to full HTML preview of your document. The smart keyboard is designed for writing markdown and includes all the special characters you will need. The app comes with 50 pre-configured actions, but you can add to them with your own python scripts to make it even more customized. Your documents sync with DropBox.

Blogsy
iOS 5.0 or later, iPad only
$4.99

While I would not use this app to work on a novel or short story, it is helpful when writing blog posts, something I do almost every day for my writing platform! One of the reasons people buy iPads is so that they can get work done on the go. You can maintain several different blogs at the same time with Blogsy on the following platforms: WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, MoveableType, Drupal, Joomla, Tumblr, Squarespace and MetaWeblog. Use the built-in web browser to drag and drop videos from YouTube, photos from Flicker, Picasa, Facebook, Instagram and Google image search at the touch of a button. Style your blog posts with bold, italics, text alignment and more. Easily change the image and video properties and alignment via menus, write and edit in HTML, toggle comments on and off, and much more. You can also schedule your posts, create online drafts and pending-review posts right inside the app. It also has markdown support. It is no wonder that this app has received so many rave reviews all over the internet.

CloudOn
iOS 6.0 or later, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad
Free

As a writer, many of us are used to working in the Microsoft Office environment. CloudOn allows you to use your iOS device to access your Word, Powerpoint, Excel files easy to access and use on the go. You can edit documents, spreadsheet and your presentations from anywhere you travel, be it an editor’s office or the local coffeehouse. Transport or store your MS Office files via Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive. The app version of Office is minimalist and streamlined, but it is fully compatible with your computer Office programs.

Cymbol
iOS 5.1 or later, iPad only
$1.99

Cymbol gives a unique functionality to your iPad’s keyboard. This is an app designed by writers for writers and provides a fast access to those special characters not available on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. On Cymbol’s ready scratch pad, you can save a variety of enhanced character sequences, symbols and other snippets to then be cut and pasted into your written document. Cymbol provides common symbols such as the pilcrow (¶) and section symbol (§), copyright (©), trademark (™), text glyphs such as the number abbreviation (№) and other typography. The application includes full sets of subscript and superscript numbers used in math, chemistry, and physics documentation.

Recommended Writing Programs of Nanowrimo Authors

Computer ProgramsNanowrimo is a wonderful month of the year. You join together with other writers to write that novel that has been inside you all your life. One of the other aspects I enjoy about Nanowrimo are the forums at nanowrimo.org. There are a myriad of topics discussed from story adoptions, cafes where you chat with other writers your own age and recommendations about software, hardware, and resources for writers. One thread that caught my eye was about the favorite writing programs used by my fellow wrimos. I will be listing the top five below and giving my opinion about each one. I am not being asked by the company to write a review or paid any money to do so. This is simply my own view on each of the programs.

Scrivener
$45
PC or Mac

Of all the writing programs out there, Scrivener has taken Nanowrimo by storm. The company makes both a Mac and a Windows version of the program, with an iPad version on the way. The program allows you to organize your files in a myriad of ways. You do not have to write from beginning to end as you did the past with word processors and there are plenty of features that make this program ideal for writing novels. One my personal favorites is the project target where it tracks my daily word count and the entire word count of the project. The program does not have an easy learning curve. You will need to ease into the program, grow used to it and explore the hundreds of features to find the subset that works best for your writing style.

If you are a participant of Nanowrimo, you can get a 20% off coupon for the program and if you write the full 50K words and “win”, you will be given a 50% off coupon for the program.

This year, there is a new Timeline program called Aeon that integrates with Scrivener to add to its functionality. If you win at Nanowrimo, there is a discount to purchase the Aeon Timeline program as well.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will realize that Scrivener is my writing tool of choice. In fact, I’m writing this blog post with it. I first learned of Scrivener via my first Nanowrimo and I used my first win to purchase the program the follow year when it finally came out of beta testing.

YWriter
Free
PC

While YWriter is similar to Scrivener in the way that it organizes your work, it has fewer bells and whistles. For some people this is a positive aspect, making the learning curve of using YWriter much easier. The program is also free to download, which for some makes it a real writing winner! I have a wrimo friend that uses this program for her writing exclusively and really seems to love it. The price is certainly right!

MS Word
Price varies, starts at $99 for student version
PC

MS Word is the old gold standard of writing programs and most writers do have a copy of it on their computers. It is expensive, but because of its universality, it is a program that is recommended to keep in your tool box. A few aspects about Word that make it a little more difficult is that you can’t organize your files in a binder, you must organize them in your computer’s file program. For me, this meant that sometimes my projects got lost. However, I find that as I write professionally, there are times when a client requires the file to be in MS Word. For this reason, I do keep the program on my desktop.

Write or Die
$10
PC, Mac, or Linux

This word processor has a built in timer. When you stop writing, it creates annoying situations to prod you back into writing. Many wrimos love this program because it boosts their word count. It is certainly inexpensive enough and works on many platforms. I have used this program myself and find it fun to use, but I wouldn’t use it as my everyday writing program. It is more something that I pull out for Nanowrimo only.

What is your favorite writing program?

Why Is Klout Good For Writers?

KloutA writer’s platform is centered on their blog or website. All channels lead back to it and it is the cornerstone of all the social media “legs” that prop it up, such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Yet, there is another “leg” an author should add to his writer’s platform: Klout, the most overlooked and unappreciated service on the Internet. Many authors view Klout as a popularity contest worthy of an eye-roll and a snort of derision. “Why would I need to waste my time on gaining a number that measures my social media popularity? Isn’t that too high school for me to worry about?”

Yes and No.

Like it or not, Klout is becoming a factor in many of the third-party services used to manage your writing platform or to find writing clients via social media. In these services, the Klout Score is offered to the author as a way to evaluate twitter or other social media followers. You will find it used in Wikipedia, LinkedIn Job Titles, +K, Odesk, Hootsuite, Tweepi, and the Bing search engine. Whether we wish it or not, Klout is slowly gaining favor as a means to measure your influence in social media. This number may translate into dollars when it comes to sales. It is not a perfect system, but it does give others a sense of how much influence you exert in the social media world.

How to Start with Klout.

The first step in adding Klout to your writing platform is to sign up for a free account. Connect whatever social media networks you frequent. Klout supports Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Twitter, Wikipedia and Instagram to create your Klout Score. As of 2013, after Microsoft invested in Klout, Bing was also added as a data influence to your Klout Score. You can also link up YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, Tumblr, Last.fm, and WordPress, but at present, these networks are not part of the algorithm that determines your Klout Score. Consider them to be optional.

The Klout Score ranges from 1 to 100, with the higher scores equaling a higher ranking in the users online influence. Of all the networks, Twitter is the one that Klout looks at the most closely and I would recommend that, at bare minimum, you have a Twitter account to link to before you start your Klout account.

Klout measures influence by using the data from Twitter, such as your follower number, retweets, list memberships, how many spam/dead accounts are following you, how influential the people that retweet you are and your unique mentions. This information is blended in with the data from your other accounts to get your final score. The average social media user has a score in the high 30s to low 40s.

Some authors believe that posting a thousand times and getting a few responses will raise their Klout Score. This is not the case. Klout doesn’t measure how much someone talks, but more about how many people listen and respond. Keep that in mind as you work on increasing your social media standing and your Klout Score.

Set It and Forget It

Once you have your Klout account set up it will give you your first Klout Score. Your score is based on your interactions for the past 90 days. Don’t be upset if your first score is low. This will change gradually over time as you work on the other legs of your writing platform. Don’t spend much time looking at Klout and worrying over your score. Think of it as a stock market with its ups and downs, it is more a long term response than short term. As you build your Twitter, Facebook and Google+ presence, your Klout Score will naturally rise. I check mine once or twice a month. It gives me an idea how my networks are doing at a glance. What I look for is a steady rise in the number that shows that my social media network and connections are growing at a slow, but healthy rate. If my Klout Score dips more than one or two points, I know that something is going wrong and I should look into my networks to see what is going on.

Your goal is to build up a Klout Score that is 50+. This shows that you have an above average social interaction rate and are more likely to be able to market your book successfully. Several publishers are known to look at an author’s Klout Score to determine if they have enough social media connections in order to market their books. If your Klout Score is too low, they may not offer you a contract no matter how good your book is. People on Twitter and other services will be more likely to keep you in their networks because your score will enhance theirs and the ball keeps on rolling as your connections grow deeper and more complex on the Internet.

So is Klout worth the effort? Considering that all it takes is the time to set up your free account, about a half hour at the most, and then letting it run in the background unattended, I say that it is. Klout also offers “perks” to those that sign up for the program and want to spend more time on the site. I feel that this aspect is optional. As a writer myself, I would rather put my time into writing for my blog and working on my books than seeking freebies on Klout, but this is a personal opinion. You might decide that free cups of coffee and other small goodies are worth the effort.

Preparing Your Nanowrimo Writing Kit

Writing Kit 2013Every October I prepare for National Novel Writing Month. Nanowrimo promotes the act of writing 50K words toward the rough draft of a novel. People join together all over the world to support their fellow writers and to help all of us cross the finish line toward success. Most of the writers of Nanowrimo are beginners. The participation in Nanowrimo can be a submergence learning experience where new ideas, techniques, and tools are all explored at a rapid rate to get the beginner writer off in the right direction. Although I am now a published writer, I still look forward to Nanowrimo because it gives me that huge energy boost and camaraderie that keeps me going on a new project.

One of the main things that I do to prepare for the event is to put together a writing kit. It allows me to participate in the local write-ins that take place at various hotel lobbies, coffeehouses, and libraries. Every writer has a unique kit that they assemble to aid them in the writing process.

I start out my writing kit with a designated bag. I will keep this bag packed with all my writing gear at all times. It allows me to pick up the bag and go on a moment’s notice. I know that everything I will need will be available in the bag. I’ve used everything from a grocery sack to a cloth tote bag. My current writing kit bag is a Solo Laptop Tote. It looks like leather and is stylish, but not extremely expensive or heavy. It is large enough to hold all my gear and offers my electronic devices a bit of padded protection. Any laptop bag or backpack should work for this purpose.

Next, I pack in my Alphasmart Neo. I prefer the Alphasmart to a laptop for drafting. An Alphasmart has been my go to device for Nanowrimo for the past four years. I started with a $30 Alphasmart 3000 for my first Nanowrimo write-ins because at the time I could not afford a laptop computer. The AS3K has a run time of 700 hours on 3 AA batteries. Basically, I pop in the batteries and I’m good to go for the year. The screen is LCD and easy on the eyes, unlike bright computer screens or tablets, and it has no Internet capability. Unless I deliberately turn on a device to access the Internet, such as my cell phone, I am not distracted by Facebook or other on-line time wasters. I credit the AS3K for helping me reach my 50K word goal for the first time. The following year, I upgraded to the Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has a more ergonomic keyboard, the 8 built in files can hold more data and the screen is somewhat bigger than the AS3K. I find that my typing speed is faster on the Neo. It makes a great keyboard for computers and tablets, needing only an USB connection to operate. The Neo is about the size of a small Mac Air laptop, but is much lighter in weight and far more durable.

Mighty Brite Duet LED LightI store the Neo in the laptop portion of my bag and I bring along a few accessories to go with it. I keep my USB printer cable in the bag, it is the way that my Neo accesses my computer at home. I use it to upload my writing at the end of each coffeehouse session. I also have a Mighty Brite Duet light system that I clip to my Neo in dark situations or to write at night when I’m camping. The Mighty Brite has two LED lights that can light up my keyboard evenly. It was originally designed to be a music stand light for musicians, but many Neo owners equip their digital typewriters with this light because the clip is strong enough to grip the back of the Neo’s housing. Finally, I bring along a rubberized lap board. It provides a grippy place to perch my Neo if I’m writing on my lap or gives a more stable surface for my device when writing on a table. The Neo never gets hot, but the bottom is a little slick. The board keeps my Neo from sliding off my lap. The board I use is a Logitech Portable Lapdesk.

Logitech Lap Board

I bring several paper bound books with me. First is a composition notebook with the outline, character sketches and other notes for my novel. With it I have a pouch with a fountain pen and a Coleto Mult-pen for color coding. Perhaps it is old-fashioned, but I find that when I’m brainstorming new ideas, I do it better on paper. I index the front of my notebook so that I can easily find the sections inside where my notes are and I always have blank pages available for writing down new ideas on the fly. The other two books I bring are a Pocket Webster’s Dictionary and a Pocket Thesaurus. I like having the means to look up words without having to rely on electricity or wifi access in a pinch.

The final device I like to bring is my iPod Touch with earbuds. Usually, the general din of the coffeehouse is fine as background noise, but sometimes the PA system is not playing something that I find pleasing. When you put on earbuds or headphones, people also take this as a signal that you do not wish to chat and you can carve out more writing time for yourself that way. My iPod Touch is set up with several apps that I use for research, including a dictionary, thesaurus and an app called Lists for Writers. I also carry a cell phone, but I tend to not bring it out unless absolutely necessary because it is too easy to pull out a game or to read Facebook when I do so.

All writers have unique items that they like to bring to write-ins during Nanowrimo. The key is to keep all the items in a single, portable, bag and only bring what is necessary to promote good writing habits while you are away from home. Do keep in mind that local write-ins are a great place to talk about writing and gain advice from your fellow writers. Do not close yourself up completely when you attend a write-in. Most of the habits that I have as a writer were learned as a Nanowrimo participant. Open yourself up to the information available during the November writing push and most of all, have fun!

Using Mind Maps For Creating Novels

Mind Map with Cross Beverly Fountain PenTake a word. Place that word in the center of a sheet of paper and circle it. Let the word tease your brain. Allow related ideas, words or concepts to be inspired by this word. Write down those new ideas around the word. Draw lines to connect them. Major categories of your ideas radiate from this central node to lesser categories and sub-branches, creating a spider’s web of images, colors and text. The final form might seem to be a jumble, yet it is a direct mirror to how the human brain thinks. A mind map is a diagramming tool and is used to generate, visualize and classify ideas as well as solving plot problems, and making decisions about which way a story should progress. Your map should be visually stimulating with color coded branches and boxes.

When I’m first beginning a novel’s outline, I like to use mind maps to help generate characters and plot points. The character information will be plugged into various character sheets and the plot points and their branches are turned into outline bullet points.

Overall Plot Mind Map

    Start with a central Node, the title of your book.
    Create Hubs around it: Characters, Timeline, Settings, Plot.
    In each hub, brainstorm ideas that fit in each category.
    Turn your map into a general outline.

Next I generate mind maps for each of the points that I come up with in the hubs. Two examples are:

Character Generation Mind Map

    Write the name of your character in the center of a sheet of paper.
    Around the name, write several hubs around the name: emotions, habits, relationships, location.
    Around each of these hubs fill in the related information.
    Take this mind map and transfer the information you’ve brainstormed into your character sheet.
    Keep the mind map as a reference in the file with the character.

Plot Generation Mind Map

    Think of an moment in time that will happen in your novel.
    Create hubs around your central event node.
    Hubs: Characters in event, new events that spawn, emotions felt, character growth connected with event.
    Link each events node in a loose timeline to create a rough plot outline.

I am a paper person and write my mind maps in a composition notebook with my fountain pens. However, there are several programs that will create mind maps that are not only neatly printed, but will transfer directly into Word documents or into your Scrivener research files. One of the benefits of using these programs is that you can convert your mind map into an outline form in the program and plug this directly into Scrivener.

I have included a review of five of the the mind mapping software programs below. I have not been approached by any of the makers of these programs to review their software, this is simply my own recommendation. All of them are either free or have a basic starting program that is free of charge.

Freemind

This was the first mind map program that I used when I started creating the maps. The program is free and easy to learn. I find that it is still somewhat linear in design and relies mainly on text. However, you can color code the text and branches and it does create a neat looking map. I can recommend it, but I do not find it as visually appealing as some of the other programs that are available on the Internet today.

Xmind

I love the visual maps that this program creates. While it still retains the text based aspects of other software mind maps, it includes enough graphics to personalize your maps and make them more into the visual tools you need to create characters and plots. The program also will export your maps in a myriad of formats, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, PDF, Text, RTF, HTML, PNG, JEPG, GIF, BMP, and Freemind, making it easy to integrate with MS Office or Scrivener. The program has a basic version that is free and a paid upgrade if you need more features. However, I find the free version seems to work well enough for most uses.

MindMeister

This mind map software is probably the most minimalist in the list, but sometimes being simple is an asset. You log into the service and can create a fully functional mind map using directional arrows and the insert key to add your nodes. Once you complete your basic mind map, you may export the file to a text outline, PDF, JPG, PNG, or GIF. If you choose to upgrade from the free version, it gives you the ability to export your maps to Freemind and you can make your map searchable.

TheBrain

Many people say that is is one of the more intuitive mind maping software systems available today. I enjoyed the free seminars on how to use the program to not only brainstorm ideas, but to use “your online brain” to keep your information handy and to use as a planner. This is another program that offers a free version and a paid one. It is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.

Prezi

Prezi is rather new to me. It is a mind map and yet it plays like a powerpoint presentation. You can add in text boxes, videos, or images to serve as your nodes and hubs. I found it fun to use as a general mind map, but I can see more applications for the program as you learn to use it. This mind map program is only online. If you use the free version, all your data is searchable on the internet, so I would not recommend it to be used for anything you wish to keep private. The paid version offers more security for your data.