December 21, 2013

Writing for ten bucks

If you've got an iPad and you're a writer, you're in luck. There are three apps that are very useful for wordsmiths -- and the total cost of buying them is, you guessed it, ten bucks.

One is free. I confess I avoided SimpleNote for months because it's, well, simple. Turns out, that's a good thing. It's an app for jotting down notes (which you can dictate on your iPad, if you'd rather). The app is simple beyond belief. When you first open it, it's just a white screen with a plus sign. Click the plus sign to add a note. Then add an appropriate tag, and the tagging process instantly creates an organized system (like the one you see at left). After a time, the tags become your "file system". You call up notes by clicking on the appropriate tag. And when you're done, you synch with the SimpleNote web site. Nothing could be, you know, simpler. And there's a desktop app too, so you'll always be able to access a perfectly synched version of your notes on your desktop, your iPad or your iPhone.

I've already raved about another app, Carbon Fin Outliner. You can read my post about it here. It's terrific for keeping track of your writing tasks, and again, is very easy to sync. (I really can't decide if the word is sync or synch. In my book, it's a toss-up.) Back to Outliner: You can create a header and put sub-headers under it, and put sub-headers under those, ad infinitum. Instant organization. I love it and it only costs $5. And as with SimpleNote, you can access a synched version of your outlines on the internet, in this case, at the Outliner Online web site. So again, it's synched on your desktop, iPad and iPhone.

The third app is called Index Card. It's just that: a set of virtual index cards. You create a project with one click and then add cards to it. A nice touch is that you can color-code the cards to provide another level of information. (e.g., yellow means a certain character is in the scene, pink means draft text, etc.) And though it doesn't allow you to create sub-groups, that's not a deal killer for me. Somehow, just seeing your info displayed on nice, orderly cards is helpful.

One of the things I like about Index Card is that you enter a title for the card, and then a synopsis (a summary of whatever you want to record). Both remain on the face of the card -- but you can write much more than can fit in the displayed space. In other words, you'll see the card with text cut off at the end, if you add a ton of words. But all you have to do is click the card to see the whole note. Better yet, if you've enabled "long-form" in the preference pane for the project, once you click on the card you'll see not only the header and synopsis, but a long-form space below this where you can type or paste any amount of info. So each card is really a deep well. (There's even a way to enter "secret" info on the back of a card. When you print the cards out, what's on the back won't be included. That's just for you to see.)

Beyond this, you can sync each project with DropBox, which is a simple thing to arrange. If you've got an account, you just click sync and it's done. Sync the project the next day, after you've edited the content, and DropBox will ask if you want to overwrite what's there. Say yes, and it backs up the new info and deletes the old version. Easy. This one is also only $5. And you can export data in a range of formats, including RTF (rich text file).

As a special bonus, I discovered that Index Card is perfect for creating timelines. One of the things that's tricky when you're writing a novel is keeping track of the dates within the story. I set up a timeline project in Index Card. Each card has the date (as the header), the event (as the synopsis), and in the longform space I can put whatever additional information I want.

Now, here comes the great part: one of the ways you can view your index cards is as columns. (I tried, but cannot find a screenshot of this.) When you choose column view, it makes the cards thin (from left to right), and the display now moves from left to right, rather than top to bottom. In other words, it's like a long stretch of timeline that you can flip through to see events in the order that they occurred. This is a huge plus for me.

With these three apps, your writing process becomes more manageable. They've certainly enhanced my writerly existence. I was able to put all my notes for the new novel into these programs. And now that it's all there, it's a snap to find any relevant part of my research or view my timeline. Very cool. I recommend all three highly. 

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