Tag Archives: Typewriter

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.

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

$3.99

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.

Pages
Compatible: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
requires iOS 4.2 or later
$9.99

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
Free

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
Free

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
$4.99

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
$1.99

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
$2.99

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.

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.

Author Interview: Keith Dixon

I met Keith via my No Wasted Ink facebook page and am delighted to include him here on the blog. Welcome Keith to the readers of No Wasted Ink.

Author Keith Dixon
Author Keith Dixon
Hi, I’m Keith Dixon. I’ve had a varied career as a proofreader, copywriter, professor of English and business psychologist. I have a house in Cheshire in the UK but I’m currently spending a lot of time at my partner’s place in France. I hope eventually to sell up and live with her on a permanent basis!

When and why did you begin writing?

My first memory of taking writing seriously was as a teen, making up stories and scripting episodes of The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel, on British TV. I never got as far as sending in these scripts, which is probably just as well. In my late teens I bought an old manual typewriter and started writing short stories and, eventually, novels. I think many writers have a didactic streak which comes to the fore in one’s teenage years – you think you see the world much more clearly than the ‘old folk’ around you, and want to set them straight. So you start making up stories that somehow embody the immortal life lessons you’ve learned at age sixteen …

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I wrote 7 novels between the ages of 20-22, but of course none of them was any good. But in my late twenties I won a playwriting competition which led to the play – about Isaac Newton – receiving ‘rehearsed readings’ at two major theatres in Manchester and Chester. That was when I started to think I knew how to put words together. Unfortunately it was then a long time before I had the freedom to write books again.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The Private Lie is the second in my series of ‘Sam Dyke Investigations’. Sam is a tough private eye based in the North West of England who gets caught up in the malevolent activities of two thuggish twins. Sam is trying to help his son, whom he hadn’t met before the beginning of the book. The son turns up after eighteen years and demands that Sam must help him. So Sam agrees to find his son’s missing girlfriend but before he knows it is engaged in a battle with two gangland twins. Mayhem ensues.

What inspired you to write this book?

Two things: I’d read about two men in Manchester who ran a building/construction company, but were in fact gangsters smuggling dope and so forth. The construction business was more or less a cover. Secondly, I’d seen a guy in a coffee shop in a mall. He had on a tight black tee-shirt and bulging muscles, with a shaved head showing just a little hair. And he was with a delicate woman who I took to be his wife. I wondered why someone got themselves muscled up like that, and what it was like for them to be out on a shopping expedition in a mall. This became the basis for my two steroidal twins.

Do you have a specific writing style?

The genre I write in is the hard-boiled, noir private eye school, and there is a kind of style associated with that – wisecracks, first-person narration, dames and bad guys. From Chandler and Hammett through Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer and on to Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, there is a kind of ‘perspective’ that the private eye must take in order to justify what he does (and though there are of course exceptions, it is usually a he). So the style focuses on actions at the expense of reflection and uncovers individual motivations as the book progresses. There are helpers, comic characters, danger and moments of drama. The writer’s job is to harmonise all these elements into a ‘voice’ that makes sense as a person speaking to you, and also has some kind of moral vision or understanding of what’s going on. I’m becoming more interested in that aspect as I write more. Another wrinkle is that of course these books are usually written by Americans, with all the vivid language that entails – a challenge for me was to transfer that into the UK.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

The Private Lie is obviously a pun on Private Eye, but I also built in several references to the ways in which people lie to themselves or sometimes keep the truth from others – so it’s not an outright lie but perhaps a sin of omission instead.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I don’t actually believe in an abstract ‘evil’ as I know some people – and some writers – do. My experience as a psychologist tells me that people act on motives and drives that they’re not always aware of – they justify their actions to themselves or do things – even bad things – as a way of coping with the world they find themselves in. So I hope that some of the bad guys in the book are shown to have some redeeming features or vulnerabilities that they can’t help, any more than they can help the behaviours that we would call wicked or malicious.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I think it’s true that practically everything in this book is made up! In my first novel, Altered Life, I did use my background in business psychology and consultancy to create an environment for the story. Here, it’s research and knowing the physical places in which the events happen, and that’s all.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

An endless list. Mostly American writers – Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Salinger, Steinbeck, Heller. More recently, James Lee Burke. As a writer, what I find inspirational is their ability to capture lived experience in sentences. Trying to write well AND write within the constraints of a genre is an interesting task and one that needs constant study. That’s one reason I started my blog, Crime Writing Confidential – subtitled ‘What crime writers do, and how they’ve done it.’

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

At the moment, it’s James Lee Burke. Every sentence is heavy with meaning. He writes dialogue that jumps off the page and grabs you around the neck. His descriptive passages add depth and resonance to his characters’ actions. And he has a moral purpose behind his books. Plus, he’s probably the greatest writer of action sequences currently writing. The last 100 pages of his new book, Creole Belle, is one extended action sequence of the sort you might find in a Bruce Willis film. Only better.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I’ve used photographs that I’ve taken myself for my books because they have some relevance – for me, if not for the reader!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

The usual advice is to read and read and read. But it’s more than that. It’s read, then think. Read, then think. Look back at a page or a paragraph and analyze how it achieved its effects. How did he get from that section or thought to this one? How does the writer structure scenes? Where’s the conflict? So it’s a mixture of reading, thinking, analyzing and then trying it out.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To those who have already read the books, thank you and I hope it wasn’t too painful! To those who haven’t, please take a chance.

Private Lie Book CoverKeith Dixon
Cheshire, UK and central France (occasionally)

A writer of crime novels that are bitterly comic but deadly serious, with a hero who doesn’t know how to give up.

The Private Lie, published by Semiologic Ltd, photo by Keith Dixon.

Available as a paperback from Amazon.
Available as a Kindle eBook.

Prompts to Promote Creative Writing

Moleskine and Cross Beverly Fountain PenThere is an old adage, “Practice makes perfect”. As an artisan, I create product at my jeweler’s bench a few times every week. I either make simpler production pieces that keep my booth’s jewelry racks filled, or spend more intensive creative time working on complex showcase pieces that are displayed in protective glass cases. I’ve learned that as long as I keep making a few items as I go along, I never come to a point where I am unprepared for a sales venue or unable to offer a few new designs to my customers. Practicing my jewelry craft on a regular basis, attending jewelry making workshops to increase my skills, and studying gemology has all combined to make me a reasonably successful artisan jeweler.

Writing, as it turns out, follows a similar business model. To be a successful writer, you need to write something every day to sharpen your skills. I schedule time to work on my novel a few days each week and consider it as I would the time I put in on complex jewelry items. A long term fiction novel takes more time to dream up, to figure out the connections between the characters, and to create a satisfying experience for the reader. On days when I am not working on my novel, I am writing posts for No Wasted Ink or articles for magazines. I consider these works to be like the simpler jewelry pieces, they are popular with the public, I sell a great many of them, but they don’t take quite as much mental exercise as a complex focal piece. Between these projects and commenting on forums and blogs, I tend to write for a few hours every single day. Writing is like breathing. It is what I do.

If you don’t have a blog to spur you to write on a regular basis, the next best thing is to start a journal and use writing prompts to fire up your creativity and hone your writing skills. Your journal can be on your computer or perhaps in a paper bound book such as a Moleskine. No one needs to see your short exercises, but if you have an inspiring day, that prompt could be the beginning to a good short story, novel or article. Your daily writing habit does not need to be long, perhaps a few hundred words at best. You’ll find that as you write, over time your word count will increase and finding topics or stories to write about will be easier.

The following are online sources for writing prompts.

Creative Writing Ink

The-One-Minute Writer

Short Story Ideas

The Write Prompts

The Journal

Victorian-Era Writing Space

Victorian-Era Writing Space



I’ve been a fan of This Old House for many years. I came across this story of a victorian-era house that was filled with melted wiring and soggy plaster. The experts at This Old House did a lovely remodel, including this author friendly writing space up on the third floor. Read more about it at This Old House.