Tag Archives: proper tool

Tea Rose Garden: A Filofax Adventure

Filofax and NotebooksAs a writer, I use agendas and composition books to organize and brainstorm my novels and short stories. The act of putting a pen to paper helps my creativity. When an English friend showed off her Filofax agenda and explained how she used it to organize her novel, a larger Filofax to keep her notes, timeline and other details organized and a smaller pocket sized one to hold all the index cards that she used to outline her novel, I became intrigued. One look at the luxury leather, the metal snaps and all the little stationary accessories that could be used with it, I fell in love. My first Filofax was a Crimson Personal Malden. The leather was soft, the agenda opened flat and I found that I could keep my novel’s notes at my fingertips.

I discovered a community of Filofax users and collectors at a blog called Philofaxy. There I discovered a myriad of tips on how to become better organized by using the planners. Filofax owners used their scrapbooking skills to create dividers, decorate their diary pages and attached charms to the rings of their binders. Each luxury binder became a unique expression of the owner’s artistic vision.

Filofax is a United Kingdom based company and most of the owners of the agendas live in Europe. When the members of Philofaxy met in order to show off their personalized binders to each other, these gatherings were held in London. Filofax agendas are difficult to find in the United States, only a few specialty shops carry them, and a meet up would be the only way that I could see one in person before I purchased one from an online catalog. Since the meet ups were only in London, an opportunity to hold a Filofax that I was interested in before purchasing it was nil. The United States Filofax owners decided to change that. One of our Philofaxy members decided to see if there would be any interest in setting up the first Filofax meet up in the Los Angeles area. A dozen ladies RSVPed on Facebook, a few committing to travel in from other Western States, and the plans were confirmed.

When the appointed Saturday arrived, I set off in my car to Old Town Pasadena. The freeways in California were busy even on the weekend. My google map app sent me in the wrong direction once I made the city streets. It was good that I had tucked a few paper maps of the area into my glovebox. I ended up parking at a nearby metro station and then walking. I passed by many small boutiques, including stationary and art supply shops. It was amazing to see so many of these types stores all in a single city block. At last, I found myself in front of small shop with large windows and a cloth awning over the doorway.

Friends meet at the Tea Rose Garden

The front of The Tea Rose Garden was an indoor atrium with stone tiles on the floor, rustic iron furniture painted in distressed cream, and hanging plants. In old-fashioned cupboards, an abundance of bone china plates and teacups were on display. In the rear, behind the restaurant area, was a functional florist shop where several short women were busy creating arrangements with roses, daisies and carnations. Our Filofax group gathered around several tables in the front beside the large windows. The women were of a variety of ages, from a young child all the way to seniors, each one present due to their love of Filofax and stationary. All the ladies had brought their collection of Filofax agendas. I had considered myself an addict with four of them, but there were ladies with far more in their bags.

Jennifer Reyes from PhilofaxyOur coordinator, Jennifer Reyes, gave a short lecture about Filofax agendas and held up the various binders that we had brought with us, discussing the different colors that each range came in and the variations of the different sizes. This helped to break the ice and soon we were freely passing around the Filofaxes that we had brought. We examined the various agendas with their myriad of pockets, felt the leather with our hands and were able to compare the construction between the models of the ranges.

I was astounded by the creativity that these ladies showed via the paper arts. Some had taken photos, glued them onto cardstock to make dividers, others had used a criscut to create paper shapes to jazz up and personalize their dividers and pages. Washi tape was placed in their agendas and various stamps were used to not only help organize their Filofaxes, but to decorate too. Their skill made my simple attempts at patterned dividers seem quite humble.

Filofax and Coleto Multi PenOne lady passed around a Filofax with a Coleto multi-pen inside the rings where it nested until needed. I happened to have brought my own Coleto, that I use during editing, and put it into my Personal Malden as an experiment. The clip on the Coleto seemed to mold around the rings and it gripped them securely. It was as if the space were designed to fit the pen. I can take the Coleto with me when I wish to color code in my agenda instead of in a separate pen holder, which makes the Filofax more user friendly.

Soon the English tea was served by the wait staff. We had a choice of iced tea or a private blend of hot Earl Grey Tea served along with platefuls of tiny crustless sandwiches, fresh fruit and scones with Derbyshire cream. We Americans thought that having a English tea was appropriate for a Filofax meet up since most of the gatherings were held in London. This idea was spoken of with mild amusement by our modern day members across the pond. However, we all enjoyed our lunch at the Tea Rose Garden and the Filofax fellowship that we participated in.

English Tea Is Served
English Tea Is Served

Filofaxes and Friends at the Tea Rose Garden
Filofaxes and Friends at the Tea Rose Garden

IPad Writing Apps That Authors Love

iPad and WriterAs a writer, I’m a big fan of writing without internet distractions. When I go to my local writing group’s coffeehouse write-ins, I do bring a laptop, but I hesitate to turn the wifi on for fear that I will end up spending my time surfing the web instead of writing. Yet, there are times when connection to the internet can be useful. For this reason, I keep my iPod Touch beside my laptop for research, to use as a timer, or to provide background music. The action of having to leave my primary writing device to call on the internet is usually enough to keep the insidious Facebook and Twitter at bay. I use well known iOS apps such as Evernote, Dropbox, iTunes, Clock, and Kindle on the go. I can recommend any of these as must-have apps whether you write directly on your iPad or simply use your iPhone or iPod Touch for research as I do.

For those that are thinking of using their iPads to do creative writing, I’ve assembled a short list of iOS apps for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch that go beyond the usual recommendations for using Evernote, Dropbox and iTunes that you see everywhere else. I hope you’ll find these apps useful whether you use your iPad to actually write your text or simply use it as a research tool by the side of your main writing device.

All the apps reviewed below have been tried by me at one time or another. I have not been asked to review the app by the developer nor do I have any financial stake in their product. These are simply apps that I personally have found interesting.

For more reviews about iPad apps, please visit my other post: More iPad Writing Apps That Authors Love.

Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.2 or later


This was one of the first writing programs I uploaded into my iPod Touch, on recommendation of a Nanowrimo buddy, and I find it useful for brainstorming or writing notes. I can use it as a straight word processor too, although with my small iPod screen I don’t do my main writing with it, preferring to use my other writing devices. On an iPad, it would be a good basic word processor paired with a bluetooth keyboard. What the app does is walk you through the steps of writing: Pitch, Synopsis, Chapter Outline, then then writing your Content. You can create a storyboard with color-coded index cards. Add, edit, and reorder chapters. It will track your page and word count, a real plus during Nanowrimo. Manuscript has a built in thesaurus and dictionary, in addition to other research tools. Finally, it is dropbox compatible. I find it a great place to store story outlines, character sketches and location descriptions since I can create these files in Scrivener, upload them to dropbox and then download them into Manuscript for easy viewing.

Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.2 or later

One of the most highly recommended iPad writing apps is Pages. While it is one of the more expensive apps to purchase, it is feature rich and intuitive to use. It is compatible with MS Word or plain text files. Pages is dropbox compatible, can print via AirPrint, or converts your file to PDF to share via email. You can import files from Mail, the web, or your Mac or PC using iTunes file sharing. Most of my writing friends that write with their iPads use this app as their basic word processor. Due to its MS Word compatibility, it makes any file that you create with it easily transferable to your PC at the end of the day.

Clean Writer
Compatible: iPad
requires iOS 4.3 or later
99 cents

Clean Writer is a distraction-free plain text editor for iPad. Most options are hidden from sight and it has customizable color themes and font selection. The app only uses plain text files such as .txt, .md. html and will not open .doc, .rtf or .pdf. It has a live counter of characters, words and lines, can be set to auto-save your files and creates intelligent file name defaults that prevent accidents. Another interesting feature is that you can use gestures on your touch screen to pinch a font, tap for a quick jump and swipes for files. It is compatible with dropbox or you can sync via iCloud. Clean Writer is a wonderful candidate for people that write via markdown and has a preview and conversion function for this style of writing. There are other text writers for markdown writing on the market, but this one is fully featured and at a much lower cost.

Dragon Dictation
Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.0 or later

My husband is the one that originally brought Dragon Dictation into our household. He dictates reports for work and then sends them to his assistant via dropbox. I grew intrigued with using voice to create text in apps and other writing programs. I find that the Dragon does a good job. You will need to set aside time to train the app to your voice, but it does not take long for the software to learn your speaking style. I find that Dragon is great for quick notes on the fly when I’m in a quieter setting. I do not find it good for write-ins at coffeehouses since when I’m in a public setting, I tend to keep my writing more private. However, I think that since it is free, it is a great app to add to your arsenal of tools to use. When you want to take a quick note and don’t want to pull out your bluetooth keyboard or hunt and peck on the screen keyboard, Dragon is the way to go.

Writer’s App
Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.3 or later
99 cents

I normally keep my character sketches, location descriptions and chapter notes in a Filofax planner. I find that flipping through the pages can locate the information that I need quickly and I do not need to worry about dead batteries on the go. However, by using paper, it is difficult to transfer this information back into my computer organizational system.

This writer’s app reminded me a great deal of my Filofax in that while it is not a word processor, it is an easy way to store those certain character details on my iPod in a way that they would be easy to find. All my characters can be found in one place, locations in another, chapter outlines/synopsis in yet another, and so forth. It also has templates to help you create the sketches of your characters if you haven’t done it on your own before. All the contents of the app can be sync via iCloud to all your iOS devices. While I am not certain that I would want to give up my Filofax and fountain pen, if you are more the type to want to keep your files on your iPhone or iPad, this might be an excellent research tool. At 99 cents, it is at a bargain price too.

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus
Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.3 or later

Having a good dictionary and thesaurus on hand while writing is a must-have. I love having this in my iPod Touch in addition to my paper bound ones that I keep in my writing bag. It is best used when your iPad or iPod are being used for researching tools beside your main writing device.

When you look up a word in the Dictionary or Thesaurus, the app provides synonyms, antonyms and similar and related words to help you make your writing more interesting. It has a “fuzzy” filter when you are not sure of the spelling of word to help you find it in the dictionary. You can create a favorites feature that helps you make your own categories and lists of words. Your last visited words are saved in a history so you can quickly go back and recheck words. A new feature to the app is that you can snap a photo of text and it will scan the words and translate them. You can even play a mean game of hangman in it when you are bored.

Index Card
Compatible: iPad
requires iOS 5.0 or later

Index Card is a writing app that looks like a corkboard, similar to the one that comes standard in Scrivener. It allows you to capture, organize and compile your story ideas much as you would do with an old-fashioned board and paper index cards. You can drag and drop the cards, tap a card to open it for editing, swipe the editing screen to go through your project one card at a time or scroll the list of cards to browse your whole project. The app is compatible with Dropbox or with iTunes file sharing. There is an option to print your index cards from the app via AirPrint. What makes Index Card unique is that it is also compatible with the Mac version of Scrivener! You can use this app on the go to develop your chapter index cards and then import them into Scrivener to develop them into full content files later. My friends that are heavy Scrivener and iPad users recommend this app highly.

MiTypewriter For IPad
Compatible: iPad
requires iOS 5.0 or later

I had to include this app in the list, as a distraction free writing environment with few frills. The app simulates an old-fashioned typewriter complete with all the sound effects. You can write your email with this and then send it either via image or text. When you want to erase your text, you use the backspace key. The Fonts, that come in either black or red, are “Old Typewriter” or “American Typewriter”. It does have a minimal document management system and it is compatible with AirPrint. I’m a writer that switched to a mechanical keyboard to return to having the “typewriter sound” when I write in my studio, so I personally found this app to be appealing for writing on the go. I can not recommend this app for writing long pieces of work, but for email and notes it certainly seems like fun.

Lists for Writers
Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.3 or later

This has proven to be one of my better research tools when I’m out writing at the local coffeehouse. The app is a hodgepodge of lists to help you brainstorm new ideas. There are lists of names, character traits, plot lines, occupations, verbs and more. It has a functional dictionary built in and a place to keep writing notes that you can later upload to your main computer. I keep this app on my iPod touch, but it would work on any iOS device. The iPad users in our writing group had a easier time reading the information of the lists as compared to myself on the smaller iPod. It was a real hit among my Nanowrimo compatriots last November.

Inspiring Written Creativity: Morning Pages

Morning Pages with Fountain PenAs the sun crawls up from the horizon and spills light through my window blinds, I experience that twilight when I’m halfway between sleep and being awake. It is a time when the characters of my novel often speak to me through visual renderings of upcoming scenes. I walk with these people, feel their angst and share their hopes for the future as good wrestles with evil and love finds a way through it all. I shake off sleep entirely and go through my day. Sometimes I remember the scene clearly enough that I can write it down and other times it goes back into my subconscious, perhaps to be lost forever, or to undergo another evolution the next time I dream. This is the best of times when you are a writer. Your story has a grip on you and will not let you be. You can not stop writing even if you wished to.

What about those times when it is not so easy? When life has thrown you so many distractions that your mind is a muddy mess and inspiration seems to have deserted you? It is time for the writing tool known as the “Artist Way”, or more simply, the habit of morning pages to help see you through.

Morning pages are three regular pages, or 750 words, of stream of consciousness writing. It is written as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. These are not outlines, plots to stories, a daily journal, or anything that you would want to show to another soul. You probably would not even consider it true writing. These pages are for your eyes only and can be about anything and everything that crosses your mind. You don’t need to plan to re-read these pages unless you want to, that is not their purpose. You do this every morning to write without your inner editor and to practice getting words on the page. As time goes on, you’ll realize that intriguing patterns and thoughts will begin to emerge in your notebook.

How to Write Morning Pages:

1. Get a notebook. I happen to like inexpensive composition notebooks that can handle fountain pen ink, but any simple spiral notebook will work. Make sure that the pages are of standard size. Do not use a mini-journal.

2. Find a pen. I happen to indulge in fountain pens, but any pen that you are comfortable using will do.

3. As close as you can to the moment you wake up, take out your notebook and start writing. Make sure you write three full pages, not front and back, but three in total. It should take you no more than twenty to thirty minutes. Even if you have nothing to say that morning, you can write the same sentence over and over again until you reach your word goal. This will not happen often. Eventually your subconscious will break through and you will have things to say.

4. Rinse and repeat. It takes 30 days to form a new habit. Give yourself time to let this one become ingrained. You will find over time that when it comes the time to write your story or article, the words will flow from you far more easily and ideas for your writing projects will be more numerous.

NOTE: For those of you who are more electronically inclined, there is a website that has been formatted to accommodate Morning Pages. It is designed to track your 750 words of writing each day and it will chart your writing as to subjects and emotions based on the words that you use in your daily writing. The account there is free and it gives you a bit more connectivity with the net if that is your desire.

I am an intuitive thinker and find that connections come to me when I least expect them to. Insights into problems in my life or situations in my stories usually happen when my brain has been intensely activated and then is allowed a rest for a short time. Morning pages can serve as that burst of stimulation as I get rid of issues that might be bothering me, spilling them from my mind, and then experience small epiphanies later after I’ve left the problem for a time. Writing first thing in the morning is also a great way to capture those dream sequences of stories before they disappear into the aether. You will see the patterns of your stories more clearly or be able to go back and capture “lost” ideas more easily if you use Morning pages as one of the tools in your writing arsenal.

Photo from knittinandnoodlin

Benefits of a Mechanical Keyboard for Writers

DasKeyboard Model S Professional Model KeyboardAs a writer, I spend an incredible amount of time poised over my computer keyboard. I’d been using the standard membrane keyboard that came included with my PC desktop for many years. The keyboard was silent, it worked smoothly and I did not give it a second thought. One day, I was browsing the writing forums at Nanowrimo and came across a thread about mechanical keyboards. The writers raved how their typing speed improved and how much they enjoyed the loud clicky sound when they were typing on mechanical keyboards. They likened the new mechanical keyboards to the sound and feel of the old IBM Model M keyboards of the 1990s or even the older Selectric typewriters of the 1980s.

I confess that I first started typing on a Selectric typewriter and I used the IBM Model M keyboards during college. It had been ages since I had used either, but I remembered the tactile feel of these keyboards and the pleasant sound that my old typewriter made as I churned out my first novels in my youth. Would a mechanical keyboard turn back the clock in a positive way for me? I was intrigued.

There are four different types of cherry switches on a mechanical keyboard, the most popular are blue cherry and brown cherry. The blue are louder when you use them and have the greater tactile feel. Many writers consider the blue cherry to be the best for writing. The brown switches still have click, but are somewhat quieter. Since I was used to a silent keyboard and tend to write at night, I thought that the quieter switches would be a better fit for me.

With the old flexible membrane keyboard, I had to completely depress each key to make it function. There was little tactile feedback and it was virtually silent. Also, the keyboard is designed to prevent “ghosting” which means that the most keys I can depress at nearly the same time is two. This caused typos as I wrote since the keyboard could not react fast enough for my typing speed.

blue cherry switchThe mechanical keyboard uses a cherry switch underneath each key. There is no need to depress the key completely to make it work and due to the N-key rollover, up to six keys can be pressed and register without fail. Not only does this mean that the response time of the keyboard is faster, but typos are fewer because the “ghosting” has been removed. When each key is depressed, there is a click that sounds like an old-fashioned typewriter.

The quality of workmanship in the mechanical keyboard is higher. A membrane keyboard works until 5 to 10 million keystrokes have been performed. The mechanical keyboard will continue to perform for 50 million keystrokes. So while they are more expensive to purchase, they do last much longer.

When my husband asked me what I might like as a Christmas present, I mentioned to him that one possibility would be a mechanical keyboard for my computer. Much to my surprise, Santa delivered a handsome DasKeyboard with German made brown cherry switches under my Christmas tree. I was able to test drive the keyboard at last.

The keyboard was solid and heavy, at least three times heavier than my old membrane keyboard. It needed two USB connections, with a PS/2 adapter, to allow for N-key rollover, and much to my delight it had volume and playback controls for my media player along with the standard keys. The design of the keyboard was minimal with a classy ebony finish and an understated blue light to show that it is on and functioning. A grown ups keyboard.

When I first started to use the DasKeyboard, I found it uncomfortable. The noise was much louder than I expected and I had trouble concentrating on writing due to this. The feel of the keys was different than the membrane keyboard and I wondered if I would adjust to it. The only initial positive aspect of the keyboard was that I liked the heaviness of the unit and found that it stayed put on my keyboard tray where my old membrane keyboard used to slide around a bit due to its light weight. I wondered if I had made a mistake in switching to this new keyboard.

It was the second day after I had hooked up the DasKeyboard that I noticed that I was starting to feel more comfortable on it. My fingers began to reach the new distance between the keys and my touch became lighter on the keyboard. My fingers started to fly and my typing speed soared. What I found astounding is that while my speed was increasing, my typos were decreasing. It was as if I had a thought and it instantly transferred to the computer screen via magic. I felt a sense of excitement when I realized this. There was a true positive difference in using this keyboard after all.

The typewriter sound was the final adjustment. It took longer to grow used to the clack of the keys, but now that I’ve been using the DasKeyboard for a month I realize that I rather like the noise. It says “writing” to me. There is a zen quality to the sound, a rhythm that enhances my writing experience. I find that I enjoy creating on the DasKeyboard more than on the silent, flat keys of my laptop. I wonder no longer. The DasKeyboard was no mistake, it is a true aid to my writing comfort and I consider it an asset in my writing tool box. I will never go back to the silent membrane keyboard again.

NEC MobilePro 900 as a Writer’s Tool

Wandererchronicles Nanowrimo Writing KitBeing a member of the Alphasmart community, I have developed an appreciation for older electronics. I’m very happy with my Alphasmart Neo for writing rough drafts and it is my go to machine for NaNoWriMo in November. However, after the writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo is over, I generally have revisions to do. The small screen of the Neo is simply not suited for this. One day I was surfing the machines that other writers were using for NaNoWriMo on Flickr and I came across a photo of a tiny Nec Mobilepro 900 as part of a writer’s collection along with a Acer Aspire 5100 and a moleskine notebook. It was the smallest “netbook” I’d ever seen. I thought it was simply adorable.

What is the NEC MobilePro 900? I was determined to find out more about this tiny mini-computer. It is such an antique machine that most people have never seen one before. When NEC first developed this machine for the business market back in the early 90’s, it was considered the top-of-the-line pocket PC, a fore-runner to today’s laptop. Jet setting executives would sport this handheld device that cost over $1000 new and would be able to stay in touch with their offices via cable modem or wifi, computing for the first time on airplanes or in their hotel rooms. They touted its speed, the state of the art connectivity via its gold Orinoco card and the Microsoft pocket office suite that came pre-loaded. The machine would turn on instantly with seconds to bootup and the keyboard, while small and portable, was still large enough to be comfortable to write on. Not only did the MobilePro 900 come with two CF ports, but it had a USB slot, one of the first portable machines to do so.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the device. I had considered purchasing a netbook to do my revisions at the coffeehouse, but after trying them out in the retail store I concluded that they were simply too slow to use, even for simple writing. Cost was also a factor. At the time I could purchase a used NEC MobilePro 900 with a case for around $60. Today, you can find them for even less. It made the NEC cost effective and portable enough that I was willing to give it a try.

The features of the NEC MobilePro 900:

    Instant on/off
    Keyboard is 92% of normal size
    Half sized VGA screen
    Pre-loaded with Microsoft Pocket Office
    Touch screen use with stylus
    Significantly lighter in weight than a notebook
    The unit measures 9.69″ x 5.05″ x 1.19″ and weighs 1.8 lbs. Very portable.
    Has USB connection, CF slot and PCMCIA slot – perfect for networking cards
    The NEC has 64 megs of RAM available to the user.
    A 32 meg flash ROM area where you can install programs, data and backup files.
    Battery life is around 5 to 7 hours

I’ve been using my NEC MobilePro 900 for over a year and love its portability and speed of bootup. However, it was not an instant turn it on and be able to write situation. I needed to research the antique software and old accessories that were needed to make it into a productive, non-distraction, writing machine. Once all of these adjustments were done, it has become an excellent inexpensive writing device. If you are a student or a writer without much funding to buy a full-fledged computer, I recommend that you look into purchasing a NEC MobilePro 900 on eBay. It could be the writing solution that you seek.