Saturday, March 16, 2013

Notebooks for modern writers

How do you write? I mean how do you turn the fevered imaginings that are the seeds of your work into the digital file that you can then release on an unsuspecting world? Most people use a keyboard but, to steal a classic quote from our esteemed opposition, "There is another!" It uses pen and paper and has been around since... before they had pens and paper!

Without a doubt, it's more efficient to create your work electronically (the subject of a future article) because there is no conversion needed or further transcription however there is much to be said for handwriting you first draft. Many find writing more intuitive, perhaps from memories of filling school notebooks with fantasies, and there's nothing easier than pulling out a notebook and pen and scrawling out your plot-bunnies.

You remember notebooks, right? They don't take batteries nor need charging, they don't take a month's salary to buy, they do graphics as well as text in 'true to life colour' and I've even spilled coffee on them without them dying on me and taking all my work with them to electronic heaven! I still use one occasionally, usually one of a pair of Moleskines, but you are always faced with the problem of keeping them, carrying them, losing them, finding them, storing them, searching them and, ultimately, transferring the information in them to an electronic form that you can build on! This is an outline of a scene in a prospective flash fiction series which I dashed off to show how I use my own notebooks...

First of all I don't attempt to get a finished product. What I'm putting down is a snapshot, stream-of-consciousness outline. I know I'm going to have to type this out later and it is at that point that I will check for grammar, spelling and style (how many times have I used that word in the last two pages?) I don't struggle to make up names for people or places, it is peppered with corrections and notes and it is quite likely to end in mid-sentence because I have had to stop writing to get off the bus!

The first thing to do is to get an image of the page. Now, obviously, this what scanners were made for but, with very few exceptions, scanners are not made to carry around in your pocket so, to use one, you have to be either at home or in a library, etc which severely limits your option.

Luckily most of us have the next best thing, a mobile phone with a camera, which is quite sufficient for text. The snap on the left is one I took of my example page, basically I just put it on the floor and took the photo. Its reasonably good, you can read it if you play around with it, but I've downloaded a neat little Ap that can smarten it up with a few clicks! Called Snapseed, it is a matter of a couple of minutes to rotate, crop and automatically correct the brightness and contrast so that I end up with the graphic below. Remember, all this is done on my mobile phone, so I can do this anywhere - on a train platform, at work during lunch - giving me something useful to do with the phone besides play Angry Birds.

So we have our notebook text recorded for posterity - they'll have it 22nd century textbooks when we our genius is finally recognised! If you use your notebook for artwork - and I've seen some stunning work! - you'll want to take high resolution scans but for a working author's notebook this does me admirably. When you come to transcribe your work, probably on your desktop computer just open up the enhanced graphic and your word processor and off you go! I can do this on the run with my netbook, MiniMe, but if you feel the urge to get a head start on your phone you can do so direct from your notebook.

I have done this on Evernote, another phone ap I have which links my phone, netbook and any desktop via 'the cloud'. At this point canny Evernote users will jump in and shout, "but you can take your scanning shot direct from Evernote!" Yes, I know this, but can you open the image and the text window at the same time so that you can read what is on the image and type it into the text window? I know that you can annotate Skitch but can you save those annotations as text? I'd appreciate some feedback on this. If you have the money, the most viable option of using a notebook with Evernote looks like being the Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine.

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