A Place To Write

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Where I pretend I write. Nice, isn’t it. (Not pictured: mosquitoes, noisy kids, actual desk the computer usually resides on.)

Of late I have noticed a disturbing trend occurring on writing blogs and groups: Write Shaming.

Write Shaming is when writers post images of their favourite place to write. Usually they attach some little story – because they’re writers, they can’t resist – about how inspiring the location is. The story about how awesome the local cafe is compared to their purpose-built study. Or how the desk was secretly trying to kill the author. The goal is that people become envious and to have them start thinking “I could write well/heaps/both if only I had a setup like that.”

This all got me thinking about an article from Patricia Briggs’ site and a recent discussion we had at my local writers’ group: What are all the cool kids writing with? Whether it be the latest liquid-cooled PC with a display that makes the term UltraHD seem quaint, or your chisel set and pile of clay tablets, every writer has their own setup for crafting masterpieces. Well, everything from Twilight fan-fic through to masterpieces.

So what better way to procrastinate during prime writing time than to discuss all the writing toys you could be buying.

Portable writing tools

This list includes:

  • Pen and notebook
  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • Tablet

In Australia Pilot Press created a Diary for Writers. It has writing prompts, weekly ideas pages, writing tips, contact details for writers’ centres, and dates for competitions, events and festivals. Of course, there are plenty of other notebooks made specifically for writers… they just kinda seem feeble in comparison now, don’t they.

The big advantage of a notebook and pen is that it gives you a consistent place to record ideas. Many famous novelists are known to have a notebook on their bedside table for that inevitable just-before-sleep brilliant idea that you’ll totally remember in the morning… More’s the pity that some of those ideas weren’t lost.

Phones and tablets are taking over the role of notebooks in this modern age. With synching programs like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, etc, able to run on all your devices, your ideas are safe to embarrass you when you rediscover them ten months from now. Phones and tablets are more than powerful enough to be your primary writing tool as well. Phones have defied the pre-smart phone trend of getting smaller, and are now sporting screens big enough to be seen by some stranger two rows back on your commute. Let’s hope the police believe you’re a writer when that stranger reports you for that twisted thing you wrote. You know the one.

Tablets and small laptops are starting to become interchangeable now. No longer are these highly portable devices in possession of processors that run at the speed of two tortoises passing notes to each other across a football field. Writing isn’t exactly a hardware draining or intensive software activity, so the choice really comes down to how much you like typing on a tablet versus a laptop. And which one has the coolest games and other procrastination tools. Even Scrivener has launched an iOS friendly app for iPhone and iPad.

One caveat to tablets and laptops is the keyboard. Some keyboards are not full-sized and can be challenging or plain infuriating to use, especially if you touch type. Although they also act as a great excuse for your pathetic typing skills. Another issue is that some keyboards aren’t real keyboards, and much like typing on a tablet or phone screen, they don’t have any tactile feedback and can lead to some hilarious typos. Turn predictive text on for sentences that make even less sense than your drunken uncle discussing politics and the economy.

coffeeshoplaptop

The writing desk and computer

Yes, yes, I know, there are some people who prefer to write things out longhand. They spend countless hours with pen/pencil in hand writing on thinly sliced dead trees only to have to spend even more hours transcribing it into an electronic format that is of any use. So excuse me if I acknowledge that this is 2017 and talk about computers for writing.

While portability can be awesome, having a dedicated space with a full-sized – possibly “ergonomic” – keyboard, a screen that doesn’t induce eyestrain from having to read documents in 4 point text size, and an internet connection that doesn’t drop out every time a car drives past and blocks the Wi-Fi signal has advantages. As above, computers are more than capable of handling the pressures of word processing, which makes the choice more about budget and what graphics package you need to run Netflix* in UltraHD. Laptops can fill the role of desktop computer here with a base station connecting a decent sized monitor, etc.

These articles cover some of the options:

http://www.patriciabriggs.com/articles/writing/computers.shtml

http://mattgemmell.com/a-laptop-for-writers/

https://techspectacle.com/best-laptop-for-writers/

starbuck_full

Writing Software**

Writing software is still oddly dominated by the “my computer came with it” word processors. Needless to say, MS Word is highly popular because people don’t know any better. Word is a highly versatile program that can do just about anything, integrates with all the plugins and add-ons you can imagine, and does a perfunctory job of being useful. In its favour it is the most supported program, which means updates actually happen, integration with programs like referencing software is a thing (hey, us science nerds care about that stuff!), and editing with tracking and commenting is excellent. MS Word is the jack-of-all-trades, and thus master of none, and has so many features there are entire lists to point out the stuff you didn’t know it had.

Of course Mac OS have their own less popular versions of the MS Office programs. But Apple admitted people liked Microsoft and let MS Office come play on their OS.

Linux users and anyone liking freeware have long utilised the MS Office knockoffs of OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Since the demise of OpenOffice and the limping of ApacheOpenOffice toward the same fate, LibreOffice is as close to MS Office you’ll get without feeling too dirty.

There are plenty of online options that all have limitations and benefits. Google Keep, Evernote, Onenote, etc, fill differing roles. These aren’t just writing and note tools, but can also save documents and webpages. Since they are cloud based, anything you have saved there is accessible anywhere, anytime. Well, unless you have third world internet like us Aussies.

The online options also extend to apps that are made for writing and not just note taking. Google Docs is the most obvious, especially with its sharing capability. Novlr is an online/offline subscription based app made by writers for writers. ApolloPad is an online writing app with features like cork-boarding and timelines – pity it is still in beta. Novel Factory is another online subscription based writing app made by writers for writers. Apparently writers don’t get paid unless they can also code software.

Dedicated writing apps aren’t always best served in the cloud or online. Feature rich programs tend to play better when they can hog your RAM directly rather than through your browser. Novel Factory has a Windows version that isn’t subscription based. Bibisco is an open source (yay, free!) dedicated writing app with some cool but standard features. WriteItNow has a lot of features, including an events chart to help with planning. And what blog on writing tools would be complete without flagellation over how awesome Scrivener is? Personally I’ve used Scrivener for years and love it. I didn’t even get paid to say that – hint to any of the app developers out there, I will cash for comment.

Like any good procrastination effort, there is a lot to compare, contrast, analyse, and digest here. I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is an entire list of add-ons and plug-ins that are great tools for writers (e.g. Hemmingway) that I may cover in another blog if people are interested. I may cover it even if people aren’t interested. That’s just how I roll.

*Netflix being the PG friendly term for any of those streaming sites you’ll be accessing.
** Thanks to Gary from my Spec-Fic writing group for his list of writing apps.

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Book review: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9)Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knew trolls were brightly coloured down there. Something to keep in mind during your next internet argument.

Adam and Mercy’s pack is quickly becoming the go-to problem solving group. Vampire dispute: call the pack. Wayward fae: call the pack. Troll rampaging on a bridge in town and threatening to kill everyone: call the pack. Since that isn’t happening anywhere else, Mercy claims the Tri-cities as their territory and any and all are under their protection. Only took a few seconds for someone to take up the protection offer and give them another headache in the form of a fire-touched human hunted by the fae.

This instalment in the Mercy Thompson series sees some of the older conflicts resolved, only to be replaced by new conflicts as the importance of the Columbia Basin pack in the wider world grows. The way Patricia Briggs has gradually grown the Mercy’s world, and the characters who live within it, has felt natural, whilst upping the stakes. Of course now that I’m up-to-date with the series, I have a fortnight to wait for the next instalment to be published.

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Book Review: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are dyed blue are you at risk of being abducted by Smurfs?

Mercy and Adam have an unwelcome house guest, Christy, Adam’s ex-wife. She is fleeing a stalker who has killed at least one person and burned down a condo. Oh, and he might be a volcano god. Even more reason for Christy to try to manipulate her way back into Adam and the pack’s life.

This instalment of the Mercy Thompson series is filled with tension. The injection of Christy back into the werewolf pack politics, the new enemy, the need to protect people who are trying to hurt you, and the suspicion of the werewolves being responsible for a rash of murders, could induce reader anxiety. Patricia Briggs has certainly left no obstacle out of Mercy’s way in Night Broken.

Needless to say, the review of the next instalment, Fire Touched, will be coming soon.

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Book Review: Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7)Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is the correct term for the abduction of shapeshifters werenapping?

Our favourite coyote is back, the rest of her pack less so. Some mad fool has decided to abduct Adam and the rest of the Tri-Cities werewolves. They also come after Mercy and all of her friends. That’s one way to invite yourself to be dinner I suppose.

Halfway through the novel I was reminded why I’ve been enjoying the Mercy Thompson series so much. Patricia Briggs sets a plot in motion but doesn’t follow the standard path you would expect. Without spoiling things, we get more plot and a different endpoint than you were initially expecting. Most authors would set that initial plot in motion and try to make the ride enjoyable. Briggs makes the ride to the shops enjoyable but also changes the destination for somewhere with ocean views.

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Book review: River Marked by Patricia Briggs

River Marked (Mercy Thompson, #6)River Marked by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are times when you really need a bigger boat.

Mercy and Adam have decided to get married and go on a honeymoon. Of course, everyone else has plans on their time, including a few odd jobs they could do. Such as figure out why so many people are disappearing near the river… At least Mercy isn’t repairing cars on her honeymoon.

In River Marked we have some reveals about Mercy’s real father. This hints at things to come as well as explaining why she seems to have been attracting trouble. As always, Patricia Briggs has progressed the series and characters, filling in the gaps in a natural and satisfying way. We never get all the answers, but Briggs is revealing them without it feeling like she has been obstinately hiding details or making them up on the fly.

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Book review: Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson, #5)Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Returning overdue books has never been quite this dangerous.

Mercy borrowed a book to help her understand the fae. But when she tries to return it she finds the bookstore owner has disappeared and several nasty foes who wouldn’t mind eating her. If only Samuel was feeling himself and someone wasn’t trying to sabotage date night with Adam she could deal with this situation.

Despite their standalone nature, the plot of the books in this series overlap a lot. While you could jump into the series with Silver Borne and enjoy it without any problems, the significance and development of the plots would be a little incomplete if you hadn’t read the previous instalments. That said, this novel feels like a turning point in the series, with Mercy starting to come into her own. Hard to comment without spoilers, and it really is just easier to read and enjoy.

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Book review: Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson, #4)Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vampire ghosts: the undead undead?

A few weeks earlier, Mercy killed one vampire too many, and now Marsilia and her vampire seethe have found out. Out of the blue pops her old out-of-state college friend with a ghost problem that she hopes Mercy can help with. What convenient timing.

It is refreshing to read a fantasy series that doesn’t get bogged down in world building waffle. Aside from being written as though they are standalone novels – whilst being a continuing adventure – there isn’t any fat on this lean series. And as the series has progressed it hasn’t fallen into a rut, nor become formulaic. I’m already halfway through the next in the series and enjoying each Mercy Thompson outing as much as the first.

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