Tools of the Trade Part Two

I promise I will go back to more specific writing related posts (which are less frequent), after this post.

I used to keep all of my notes in Claire Fontaine notebooks — the ones with graph paper pages, instead of lined or blank ones. I fell out of this habit when I got my Newton MessagePad 2000 (later upgraded to 2100), because there is still no device that’s better for handwritten input. Except for the aforementioned notebooks, of course.

When I wrote, before I had luggable computers, I sat in front of an IBM selectric.

So I had notebooks and multiple different pens. I did love computers and word processors when they finally arrived in my life, though. I loved that I couldn’t run out of paper, that I didn’t need to change ribbons, that if I wanted to change a paragraph, I could change it without retyping everything. However…

There were things I did on a typewriter which translated perfectly to a computer. And there are things which I did in notebooks which didn’t make that transition as seamlessly. All this to say that there are things which I just don’t do on a computer. It’s not that I can’t, of course; programs exist for everything. It’s that I don’t. I was given an iPad as a gift. Like many people, I couldn’t really see what I would do with one; I have a laptop if I need portability, and I have an iPhone if I want to listen to music (or make phone calls, even). The iPad, from the outside, seemed like something I wouldn’t really have much use for.

As it turns out, I was wrong. Because the iPad isn’t a computer, to me; it’s a notebook, in the older sense of the word. I use it for all the things I don’t do on my computer. Not everything I do on the iPad is work-related, but I’ll list the applications I do find useful for writing-related tasks.


First, iA Writer. It’s in the mid-range of app prices at $4.99. (The biggest surprise for a former Newton user is the price of the apps. Given what many of them do, they are soooo cheap in comparison to their desk-top counterparts). It’s an application for writing. You can use one font. In fact, you can use one font and you can’t add any emphasis. The font is specific to the application; it’s a monospace font. It has the usual built-in on-screen keyboard, but adds a bar for punctuation that writers commonly use, and it synchs with dropbox.

I don’t do a lot of writing on the iPad, but I’ll write if I have a long wait at the doctor’s office, or similar places. I find it clean, simple, and easy. I thought, when I got the iPad, that I would have to spend money on a physical keyboard – but the onscreen keyboard is good enough for the amount of writing I do.


One of the things I have never done on a computer is a To-do list. One of the things I use daily on the iPad is — wait for it — a To-do list. Lists were one of the things I composed in my paper notebooks. The app I currently use is ToDo. It is also $4.99. I use it for writing; I have recurring daily tasks (book words), and when an idea for a blog-post strikes me, I’ll jot it down in the list. You can have multiple lists – for home tasks, for work tasks, for whatever-you-want tasks; you can tag every item and search for items by tags. You can make a ToDo item a project. For instance: The West short story collection. When you make a project, you can then add individual items – an item for edits on each story, an item for finding a cover designer, etc., etc. I track things like page proof due-dates as well.

(I use a different application for gift lists and home lists: Sorted. It’s much simpler, but I really like the way it looks. I make things like Christmas Lists or packing lists (for travel) using this. Which is not about work, but it’s a small digression. It’s 0.99.)


As more publishers transition their offices to an electronic work-flow, I’ve started to get contracts — in email. Usually as .pdfs. Some of those, I need to print and sign in ink, but some of them, I can just “sign” electronically and send back. I have resisted buying Adobe Acrobat just to alter a pdf to this extent. However…I can do this on the iPad for a cost of between 4.99 and 9.99. At the moment, I’m using PDF Expert. I have a saved signature, written in i-ink on the iPad. I can drop it into any part of the pdf, and when I email the pdf to myself, my signature is now there. So are any changes I make, any visible text I add, and any notes; all of my highlights and scribbles or strikeouts are also preserved in the pdf.

If I wanted to do exactly the same things on the Mac, I would need to pay a minimum of 139.99.


Before iPad, I’d often idly wondered how much time I spend on each book, on blogs, on short stories. myWorkTime, at 2.99, made the curiosity far less idle. I found set-up very intuitive and very simple. It works like this: you create clients (in my case, publishers for novels, editors for short stories, and myself for blog posts). After this is done, you set up projects for your clients: so if the client is DAW, I create projects for all the novels I have in progress. After the projects are done, I can create tasks for each one – as many, or as few, as I want. “Writing” is always one of them, and is the obvious one – but since I have to review copy-edits and page proofs, and I also have to revise, I’ve added those as well.

Each level — client, project or individual task, has hours associated with it. If I want to know how long it took to write the book, I can look it up; if I want to know all of the time that went into a book, I can look at that, too. I can set a dollar value per hour worked, although in my case it’s academic.


Those are the writing related applications I use most frequently, although I have dictionaries (ummm, a few) that I refer to if I’m not actually sitting in front of my computer.

On the macbook, I’m currently experimenting with Spell Catcher X and Marsedit (on which this was written).

Tools of the Trade

Because I have page proofs and I cannot stand to look for any more errors at this time of night, I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about the tools of my trade.

I use a Macbook Pro as my main writing machine. This is not a religious stance; I have a PC (an Asus), on which I play games. I fully believe that a writer is more than the sum of his or her tools, and that each of us should work on whatever platform we find most comfortable.

This is my way of saying that if the comments descend into platform wars, I will moderate with the world’s heaviest hand, possibly because I have read it so many times and there is nothing new.

On the other hand, if anyone has suggestions for PC equivalents of the Mac only apps I list here, that would be great!


The first application I use — and the one I would not be without if you paid me — is Scrivener. It started life because Keith Blount was trying to write a novel, and he found none of the programs he tried up to the task of handling his process. He was not, before Scrivener, a programmer. I find his creation incredibly impressive because of this.

There are probably a thousand ways to use Scrivener; I’m not a power-user. Most of its features are features that don’t suit my writing process, so I don’t use them. The ability to break text into scenes, partial scenes, that follow a loose/tight outline doesn’t work for me; I know writers who love the program because it allows them to move whole scenes from one part of their novel to another with just a drag-and-drop. I know people who make really smart use of the filing card view as well, to denote which chapters are viewpoint chapters, or which chapters are heavy action and which are quieter. It’s not a view I use, but if you head to their web-site, you can see it in action.

I write sequentially, chapter-by-chapter, scene by scene. When I revise, depending on the book, I will sometimes break chapters into their component parts – but folder them so they’re contiguous when exported. I can tag those scenes in any way I like, and will often tag them for their structural components: things that are necessary, things that aren’t.

Only when I’ve finished a novel do I make use of the “export draft” feature, which exports the entire book as a single file, in whatever format I choose. It will change underlines to italics or vice versa, keep a running page count, and keep a wordcount if that’s necessary.

Scrivener 2.0 will also export to epub. This takes a bit of set-up and experimentation, but once it is set-up, it works like a charm, and produces compliant epubs. It will export to .pdf, .doc, .rtf and .txt as well.

At 45.00 U.S., it’s a bargain; it’s one of the few programs I own that I would pay old-school money for, if it came to that. There is a PC version of Scrivener in beta.


Microsoft Word wasn’t always a necessity, but as more and more publishers make use of track changes for line-edits and copy-edits, it’s become necessary for me. All of my Luna line-edits and copy-edits are now sent in .doc or .docx format. For that reason, I have MS Word 2011 for the Mac in my toolset. I found 2011 a good upgrade because it’s faster than the prior version for the Mac, and I find the layout of track changes clearer and easier to address.

I use it only for publisher-sent copy-edits, but those are necessary.


Flying Meat’s VoodooPad is a wiki app. I don’t have an on-line wiki–although with very little effort, I could, thanks to VoodooPad.

Why do I use it?

I keep track of the bits and pieces of information about my various worlds and the novels written in them. If I create a page for a character, every incidence of the character’s name will automatically link to that page. If I’m too lazy to do a find I just type the name in a random on-screen page and click it. I have my time-line, which is the longest single page, my gods, my visible magical effects, magic items, loose ends, characters, etc., stored in VoodooPad; it’s like a hyperlinked notebook.

You can make the pages look nice; since I’m not an .html wiz, I don’t. Except for the fonts. It’s a way of keeping the information I need in a form I can easily revise and add information to, without having a million smaller documents.

I don’t think there’s a PC version of VoodooPad, but I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t a similar application available for Windows.


I have the Oxford English Dictionary as my main dictionary. No, it wasn’t cheap – but I made humongous puppy dog eyes at everyone in my family at Christmas time. I really like the OED; it’s very comprehensive, and I find it fascinating to look at the first (known) use of various English words.

The port is not a pretty port. It confounds the operating system by ignoring most of the basic rules that otherwise govern application interfaces. The review I’ve linked I linked because it’s hysterically funny.

But to be perfectly fair, the PC port is equally horrible, and also ignores Windows paradigms. You don’t buy the OED because you expect it to be pretty, or well-behaved.


Although it doesn’t directly apply to writing, I use DevonThink as a general aggregator/database, as well. I clip web-pages, throw in .docs and .pdfs, and keep receipts. Again, I’m not a poweruser, and while mail can be archived in Devonthink, I don’t because I can’t stand the messy way it looks. Devonthink has a great search engine, as well, so all the bits and pieces of on-the-fly “that might be useful” web pages or emails that come my way get tossed into the in-box. It’s the equivalent of the shoe-box for the pre-computer age. There are very flexible ways of arranging the data: in folders, with tags, in separate databases with clones (business, writing, home).

Not everyone is going to love this, but it means I have things in one place instead of all over the drive. If you don’t want or need multiple databases, there are similar apps that people love: Yojimbo, by Barebones, has a really lovely interface, and it’s very intuitive; Notebook by Circus Ponies, which allows the same clipping and pasting of any information (they have better integration with the overall contextual menus than Devonthink), but contains it in a “Notebook”, a visual, literal scrapbook.

I tried them all, which is why I mention them — Devonthink is, imho, the ugliest. But it does a few things the others don’t.

I’m certain there must be PC equivalents.


I want to put in a plug for software that’s in beta at the moment, even if I’m not up and running at 100%: Aeon Timeline. Aeon Timeline is timeline software, yes – but it does a few things that are incredibly useful. Entities are defined as character, places, etc. When a character first appears in a time-line event, you can set the characters age at that time — and every time the character appears on the time line, his or her age will be noted. This is helpful when you’ve flubbed ages because you’re writing at 4:40 in the morning. You can set locations and characters and look at all events on the timeline that involve them, as well; you can have multiple characters marked for the same events. You can tag all entries and search on or show tagged entries.

If I did not have 11 books worth of time-line events, I’d be using this now, because it also allows you to define your own calendar year – with month names, day lengths, etc. So for those whose fantasy calendars don’t precisely match our own, it’s ideal. When I have time, I add more of the timeline on flat paper to the program; if I’d had this years ago, would have added events as they occurred, and I would have loved it like a crazy person.

State of the Writer, May 2011 edition

I’ve been absent, and mostly quiet. I noticed this year that I am almost always absent during the early months of the year, and usually for at least the last one; I’m not sure if this is in response to the lessening of the sunlight, because I’ve never actually valued sunlight all that much.

I have been working, though. I’ve just finished the last-but-one stage of Cast in Ruin, which is a review of the copy-edited manuscript; the last stage is the review of the Harlequin version of page proofs, which shouldn’t be for a month or two. I’m working on final revisions of Skirmish now. I also realized that the 50,000 words of Touch as it existed weren’t the right 50,000 words (the short version: at 50k words, I suddenly realized that the book as it’s written is written from the wrong viewpoint character; the right viewpoint character was not at all obvious to me until that point), and I’ve set them aside for now, to concentrate on Cast in Peril (as it is now called). I submitted one new novella, Anne, to Russell Davis’ Courts of the Fey.

You’ll note, in that list, that new writing is not perhaps the order of the day. Or month. I wrote many, many pages of War, and jettisoned them. I finally have a prologue, many, many pages later, that I’m happy with. The West novels generally cause me grief at the very beginning because while I’m certain of characters & place, I’m not always certain which is the right viewpoint–and sometimes writing the beginning makes me realize that the certainty of characters and place was perhaps misplaced. I’m looking, as I write, for the moment when the book snaps into focus and the words are absolutely the right beginning for the book. I now have the right beginning for the book.

Last, but not least, I’ve been figuring out the formats for epubs. Many of my short stories were written for anthologies that are no longer in print, and I’ve been considering re-releasing them in kindle/ebook format. The research into this has reminded me of how little I wanted to be a publisher or an editor when I first started writing; there’s some need for each separate story–if they’re sold separately–to have an individual cover, and I lack, among other things, any artistic talent whatsoever. There’s some excitement at the idea of putting these stories where people can actually read them, though.

The books are trickier. A number of my writer friends are beginning to put their shorter and out-of-print works up at various ebook sites via Smashwords. Smashwords, however, requires that the publisher/author own all of the electronic rights. And with the exception of the short fiction, I don’t.

DAW owns the North American rights to ebooks for all of my DAW titles, but the earlier paper books are lost in the backlog of all of their previous backlist, awaiting conversion. DAW does not own the rest of the world English rights, and I am strongly considering making the backlist of at least the current three books available on — but each book is the work of about two full-time weeks, because the manuscript formats I do have are absent any of the later copy-edits and proofing, and they would have to be checked against the book. I also, as mentioned above, don’t have anything approximating cover art, and as an artist, I’m a good writer.

For the Luna Sagara books, all ebook rights are owned by the publisher for all markets–I have no say at all in the timing or the production of their arrival in their various constituencies. Unlike every other short I’ve written, the Luna novella for Harvest Moon, is also entirely under the purview of HLQ for the duration.

So at the moment I’m going over the short fiction, and I have a question: I was considering put up a collection–the one that would have been published by MeishaMerlin, had their doors remained open. That one contained all of the extant West-related shorts, as well as a few others. Someone pointed out that my readers are likely to have some of those stories, and it might make more sense to offer them separately.

Offering them separately would take more time, because of the aforementioned necessary covers.

Any thoughts?

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