Archive for October 30, 2018

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

By now, Dear Reader, you’ve figured out that I distract as easily as the average Thieving Magpie, especially with shiny objects (technology) on the line. Time to get a new iPad rolled around mostly a defensive move to stay ahead on the ongoing app update arms race (one day I will actually keep a device until the onboard battery dies…just kidding) and so I got just the one I thought I needed an iPad Pro with Apple Pen.

The technological lure of going paperless, except in key places proves irresistible, if I can find the right note taking app to go with it. And then I used the pen learning about the trade offs inherent in any technology. More on that later, first the app search. Or even a little bit about the Apple Pen. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

The Apple Pen, also sometimes referred to as Apple Pencil, is the latest and mostly greatest shiny new thing figuratively pulsing BUY ME in the Apple Store or other tech retailers. It’s white about the size of a Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil (size is important in this story) and it reacts with compatible Apple screens (newer iPads, iPad Pros and eventually new iPhones) to help people write, draw, ink and color things on screen.

I had seen about three of these at my Wednesday comic book creators group and everybody else creator group in the hands of artists doing artist things. They seem happy in the sense of not complaining, though one friend wrapped his up with quite a bit of baby blue electrical tape for a super wide grip (getting there with size). Using their artist specific apps they grind out pretty impressive work. Monkey see, monkey do, so obviously when I deal my old iPad back to the Apple Store, I’ve got all this in mind for the replacement.

What the Apple Pen does is mimic a wide range off writing, erasing and drawing tools. Depending on the apps you buy, you’re supposed to replace ballpoint pens, pencils, ink brushes, paint brushes, markers and maybe even crayons. Artists need these tools presented in mass quantities designed to create pictures meant to maximize images with trillions of colors. Writers need a note taking app that allows for doodling, but generally mimics pen on lined paper.

During this time, I’ve made some kind of amusingly douchebag commitment to myself to write more first drafts by hand instead of straight to type. I picked up a bunch of ballpoint pens by Cross, mostly to say I have good pens. But, just because the mechanical guts of each is exactly the same not all are created equal. For instance, the small pen with the rubber stylus tip really serves as a replacement ink cartridge when I run out. Why? It’s even smaller than the Apple Pen and the couple three times actually writing with it just didn’t sit well with my hands and wrist.

Before my purchase, I’m slashing out words related to the various chaotic imaginary worlds with which I will thrill you (apologies, I do need some hubris for this job). Of my pens, I naturally gravitate to the larger barreled ones with diameters somewhere between 9mm and .45-caliber bullets.

Concurrently, I use 6” x 9” spirals as the cheapest way to have lots of writing area that still fits in my bag. And I can write straight through for two hours straight, or more. All of this works together to leave my arm a little sore at the elbow and sometimes the wrist, no matter what tools I use. But, I maintain that the bigger pens causes less stiffness in my joints than the small ones.

So of course, in hoping to achieve the same effect of scribbling away on my many paper notebooks, on which I then spill coffee and/or freak out and throw into the recycling because I shouldn’t need so much paper, I buy technology where the writing tool is smaller. A trade off between writing ergonomics and green. So now, iPad and Apple Pen in hand, I need the right note taking app.

I start with the app branded by Moleskine; they sell 6” x 9” notebooks with nice covers. They swear that Ernest Hemingway used their products back in the day. I’ve used their paper notebooks and they’re fine, if you can afford to pay four times as much over the generic spiral and can refrain from spilling coffee. During this time I investigated note capture pens (see post), the Moleskine option that I hated was the poor by comparison competitor to Livescribe (also a part of this story).

So despite not exactly liking my two previous experiences with all things Moleskine, I download the app that promises to digitally emulate most of their 6” x 9” notebooks: lined, unlined, graph and storyboard with possible later in-app buys for other classic notebooks. Someone really didn’t do their coding homework with regards to making the Apple Pen work the way a writer needs them to work.

I couldn’t find much in the way of a ballpoint emulation where the stylus presents a uniform width of letters; I tend to write using nibs between .5mm and 1mm and just like it that way. Instead, getting distracted and leaving the Apple Pen nib paused on the writing screen trying to take a moment to consider the next word had a tendency to bleed onto the imaginary page like a fountain pen. The pencil feature proved hard to read and…Bye, Felicia!

Next, the simple act of changing keywords in the App Store brings me Notes +. The tools presented include something more like a ballpoint pen. The words all come out uniform in either the default width or the one I chose and I could expand with other tools and a wide range of other tools and paper emulation. Problem, sometimes on both the screen and saved file words that I wrote would arbitrarily disappear as if Big Brother is randomly censoring me from Fiction-Land. I really don’t like having to write over and over so…Bye, Felicia!

About this time, I feel discouraged that the Apple Pen is an expensive paperweight and the iPad has only replaced the old one as an extra data screen. But, I’ve only tried two out of at least six apps. I changed the keywords slightly and find GoodNotes 4.0, a name I recognize from the old days when note taking meant typing with a little bit of drawing capability. The early version I had saved the output to other computers as impossibly small files that you’d need a magnifying glass to read. But, it’s been a few years. I do the download.

Good thing I did. I finally found the note taking app that gave me a consistently readable printed text on screen and kept every word I wrote until I erased it. Success! I have my app even if it cost me $14 in mistakes to find this app. Yes, I suppose I could almost pretend to be an artist with a few of the extra tools I don’t yet need, but until I need something I don’t need to learn it.

So I set up GoodNotes 4.0 to have individual notebooks ready for several of my upcoming books. And a general notebook for all the small pieces necessary to keep my in progress projects moving forward. I’m happy, until…my elbow stings.

So now that I have my app, I use it enough to resume the stiffness in my elbow. I do thirty seconds of research on writer’s elbow, a subclass of tennis elbow. Most of the advice I can do. Regular breaks, yes. Ice the elbow and wrist, yes. Stretch things, yes. Good posture, especially sit up like at school writing on a flat surface instead of balancing the notebook/iPad on my knee, yes. Wider grips on my tools, just as soon as I find the right store. But, write from the shoulder, who are we kidding?

My handwriting or rather printing style has developed from years and years of possibly doing things wrong that packs a lot of words into smallish spaces. I’m not sure that I can unlearn this style to put the heavy lifting onto my shoulder, which leaves treating the currently minor stiffness (it doesn’t hurt just yet) in my wrist and elbow in terms of battle scars justly earned – “These wounds I had upon Crispin’s Day.”

There you have it, a slightly rambling exploration of note taking apps to help writers do their work mixed with some of the physical costs of all that writing. I’ve already sold out to my Muse (Calliope, I think). I’m not stopping, so I have to do things slightly differently. More later, as I learn it.

Post’s over! Go home!