the Author

Tools of the Trade Part Two

Posted in Business, writing.

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 Responses to Tools of the Trade Part Two

  1. Genna Warner says:

    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. 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 says:

    Hello Michelle. It occurs to me that, as a Mac user, you may be appre­cia­tive of the new features within OSX 10.7 Lion. (http://​www​.techradar​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​s​o​f​t​w​a​r​e​/​o​p​e​r​a​t​i​n​g​-​s​y​s​t​e​m​s​/​m​a​c​-​o​s​-​x​-10 – 7‑lion-features-explained-959299) 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 says:

    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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