Whatever Works, Right? (A quick look at three writing tools)

Writing Tools

I’m still in the early phase of my next long-form work in progress. Naturally, a lot of my time has been spent thinking about pre-planning, outlining, and rough drafts.

That train of thought brought me to the topic of this post: writing tools. I work hard to try to keep an open mind about them. I like to be flexible and even things that don’t work for me tend to teach me something about my process. 

For a little change I thought I'd pick three relatively practical, concrete things that help me with my writing.  

1. Paper and Writing Utensil

The one constant throughout all my experiments is good old paper. I don’t draft much on paper, but a lot of my process work is handwritten.

I prefer graph style paper, but I’ll take narrow or college ruled sheets. I’ve never liked wide-ruled. For some reason it always feels clunky to me—or maybe I’m most comfortable when I can cram a slew of words on a page. I don’t like frilly edges, so the sheets have to have perforations or not be ring bound. Legal pads are okay, but I used them a lot while I wrote academic papers and I don’t like falling into that mindset when I’m writing fiction.

I own about ten Moleskine notebooks of varying sizes. I stash one in my purse, reserve one for travel notes, and have a couple others reserved for later projects. Yes, I know that they reek of pretension, but I don’t care. They are well crafted and they feel nice.

I am not as picky about writing utensils. I prefer fine points to broad tips. Mechanical pencils sometimes feel best. At other times I like a pen. I like classic black ink or bright colors depending on my mood. For some reason my process notebook for my first novel length manuscript was one of those Mead gimmicks that needed a special pen so I could write in rainbow ink. Because—why not? A neo-noir semi-comic quest mystery with literary references obviously cries out for fabulous, frivolous color.

It isn’t just a sense of tradition that appeals to me. I find it easier to scribble down ideas on paper. I find it easier to see some tricky connections when I have them on paper. My notes are always filled with arrows, bubbles, asterisks, weird doodles, asides, and arguments. I’m no scientist, but I’m fairly certain that between the creative, visual, and muscle movements involved in it that I’m getting the brain to light up in different areas. Even if that’s false, it still feels good.

I have a new notebook for the current project and it’s filling up. I’ve already run one pen dry.

2. Pinterest

I hear a lot of snark directed toward Pinterest from some quarters. I’m going to resist most of the urge to rant about the nasty core of a lot of those dismissals and emphasize that you can find a wide range of interests reflected on the site.

I have a board or two where I pin things that inspire me. Sometimes they suggest characters or settings. The art boards are great for weird and beautiful images. All of it engages my imagination and I get story ideas.

Cruising around looking at what attracts other people is a fascinating exercise as well. It’s inspiring in its own way.

The last benefit is how the site has helped to open the internet to me. I’ve discovered so many websites because of Pinterest. It’s a huge bonus.

Sure, there are other sites that offer the same kind of thing. I get it. I’ve even tried some of them. It just so happens that Pinterest has the right balance for me. I like the controlled social aspects of it. I like the distance. I like the ease.

3. PDF Expert 5 by Readdle

This one isn’t about writing process, but it has helped with the business aspect. Dealing with contracts is so much easier.  

We used Adobe for the first contract, but it was awful—a clunky, messy, chore. My husband did some research and recommended the new one. PDF Expert is worlds better, in my opinion. I like it so much that I'm pretty sure I've thanked him for the choice at least four or five times. I'm always so keyed up when I'm dealing with contracts and things that every tiny bit of comfort and stability in the process is welcome. I just don't want to muck it up. This app makes me feel more in control. 

 I can open the contract in the app. My signature is stored on it. I have my initials stored there as well. Signing and initialing pages is about as easy as pressing and selecting. I can type in information as well. Once everything is squared away I can send it on its way. No scanning, no fumbling.

Okay, to be perfectly honest, I still struggle to remember which icon does what, but I’m sure the more I use it the better it will get. With luck and a lot of work, I hope to get the opportunity to use the app more and more often.

I also recommend getting a stylus unless you have dainty fingers. You can adjust the line size of the signature, but there’s not much to be done if your finger signature is shaky. My first effort looked quite childlike—not exactly professional. The stylus helped.

It can do a lot more with pdfs (more markup options, stamps, text insertion, merges, etc.). I’ve kept it simple so far.

As far as I know it only available for the iPad. It costs $9.99. It’s been great for me and worth the money. I recommend it. I’m sure there are other fine programs that could do the job, but I’m sticking with this one.

(Thanks, again, Adam! Best. Tech Support. Ever.)

That's all for now...

I’ll take advantage of the obvious joke and sign off. Whatever makes writing easier, more effective, or fun--is a mighty fine thing and worthy of celebration.

Use them in good health—and thanks for reading. Cheers!