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).

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Genna Warner
    May 31, 2011 @ 00:05:25

    I too have wonder what I would do with an iPad. This actually makes me think there are a few things I could do with an iPad with the suggestions in this post. Now I will have to ponder it for a while. :)


  2. Michelle Sagara
    May 31, 2011 @ 00:22:15

    It’s not the only thing I use the iPad for, of course :). But it’s how I use the iPad in my working paradigm. I tried reading books for review on the iPad, and discovered that I like reading books. When my eyes deteriorate, though, I’ll probably be much more inclined to ebooks, because I’ll be able to change the font sizes. There are things that I do like the iPad for that have nothing to do with work.


  3. Kurt
    Jun 06, 2011 @ 23:10:20

    Hello Michelle. It occurs to me that, as a Mac user, you may be appreciative of the new features within OSX 10.7 Lion. ( Of note is the Resume feature which, as a writer myself, I can see as being the most valuable feature of the list.


  4. Aaron
    Jun 08, 2011 @ 15:36:53

    A bit off topic, but you don’t have a general “contact the author” web submission page and this may be better suited for your LJ:

    How do you feel about self-published authors or established publishers being able to retroactively copyedit e-books and release ‘new and improved’ versions of their texts? Do all future copyedits have to go through you (the author) for approval? Do you think that there is potential for abuse if people fundamentally change the structure? Would you go back and change minor details (e.g. eye color)?


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