Software for Writers

I am making a big effort to get much more seriouser about being a writer.

First, I had to decide if this is indeed my “job” or was it a hobby, something to keep me sane(ish)? I decided that yes, writing is my job. A job that I love but a job nevertheless. I need to treat it as such.

Second, I had to look at my habits (most of them bad) and do some changes. I realized I needed to set a schedule of sorts. Not a day-to-day schedule, but a monthly and yearly one. Perhaps goals is a better word to use than schedule. Whatever.

Third, I had to look at the tools I use. Are they sufficient? Detrimental? Top notch?

Fourth, I have to get better organized. I have so many copies of drafts and rewrites and all that. I am a digital hoarder. I don’t need that many. Sure, they don’t take up much room but it’s a PITA when I need to find something or figure out which is the best version, the last version, the original, etcetera.

To accomplish these goals, I started by looking at the tools I use and trying some new ones. I briefly tried index cards. So many Big Name Authors use them that surely they were a useful tool. And I am sure they are. But for me, not so much. I don’t write by hand very well. Not only is it barely legible even to me, but I have a bad habit of gripping the pen so hard, my hand cramps before I have the first paragraph. Instead, I think I will carry a stack with me so I can do some thinking away from the desk. I have notebooks but sometimes the space needs to be bigger. Flipping over the page with a line saying “refer to x” isn’t as good as keeping it all on the same index card or even numbered index cards.

Years ago, I used a software for mind mapping / brain storming called Inspiration. I really enjoyed it and have done some cool brainstorming with it. I decided to look back into it and to also poke around to see what else is out there. Inspiration has come down in price ($40USD). I downloaded a trial version of it since I have no clue where my original disks are for the version I had. I also downloaded a trial of NovaMind 5 and another called FreeMind.

FreeMind is very simplistic yet complicated. There’s not much on the screen which keeps it uncluttered but then you have to poke around to find what you are looking for, which is not good. But it is free, which is great.

Inspiration hasn’t changed much, at least from what I remember. It is easy to use, very user friendly. This is because it is geared toward educational purposes, not business purposes. They have a slightly more grown-up version called Webspiration but I wasn’t impressed and I don’t need to collaborate with anyone. And what if I don’t have internet access? Inspiration is $40 for the boxed version and the download version. WebspirationPro is a monthly fee from $6 a month for one person, $15 per month for 5 months for mid-sized projects, and $39 a month for 12 months for larger projects. Not sure how the project size is determined. And the per month fee for the last two are per user, up to 99 users.

NovaMind frustrated the crap out of me. The only help I could find was via videos. I didn’t want to listen, I wanted to read, skim, and go right to what I was looking for vs analyzing the speaker’s Australian accent. I went to their forum to see if there were any written documentation. I found it and quickly figured out how to do what. Once I got the basics, I knew which one I wanted.

I bought NovaMind. It’s expensive. The “platinum” version is $150, the “pro” is $80, and the “express” is $40. I got the “pro” because it had almost all of the platinum and what platinum had, I don’t need.

I also am demo-ing Scrivener, a writing tool that lots of writers use. I really don’t like it. I am what they call an “organic” writer. I sit down and write. I don’t plan much ahead of time. Sometimes all I have is a title, other times a concept, other times just a “what if…”. So a software that helps me to organize ahead of time as well as as I go just is too much work. And learning it isn’t that easy. I just want to open a document and start typing. Figuring out where it should go is not what I want to do. Nor waste time doing.

Same problem with yWriter. Too many bits to keep track of. My brain just does not work that way.

What I have come down to is I will continue to use OpenOffice. I love it lots and lots. I will also use TimeSnapper, a time log/use whatever program. It will help me to track what I do during the day while sitting at the computer. It tracks whatever the active window is doing by taking screenshots and keeping track of time spent. It even gives percentages. I wrote about it a while back. Of course, I still have WordWeb (excellent program!).

I will spend this weekend getting them all to meld together with me in the middle. On Monday I will start my new job. My basic goal is to have at least 50% of the day (sitting here at the computer) working on writing. Anything over that is a bonus.

Below are links to the programs I mentioned.

Mind mapping software:

Word Processing / Writing software


    TimeSnapper – $25
    WordWeb – $19 for single user, $59 for “language” pack. Also has additional dictionaries available individually or as a “bundle” for $99 (this is the best deal).
    F.lux – screen dimming software, easier on the eyes – free
    Lexia font by K-type – love this!

File Sharing Software

My brother was here visiting back in early August. One day we were talking about computers and the like and I mentioned the difficulties I’d been having with network file sharing. I used to use a decent program called Network Magic by Cisco/Linksys. It allowed file sharing, maintained the network, and did it well. Except it was flaky at times and then they stopped supporting it with no warning at all. It did great in keeping intruders out of the network but the file sharing was non-functional. When I got the laptop just prior to the GCLS con, I tried one more time to get it to work but gave up. I had been using MS Win 7 “homegroup” thing but it would, at seemingly random moments, kick everyone off the homegroup and I’d have to start over again. Plus the “share this folder” didn’t always share everything in it. And the homegroup only worked when you were, you know, home.

He said he uses a free program called Ammyy and some other program I have since forgotten the name of. VNS? VNDS? Something like that. That one he had used for a while but it was not reliable. He had just recently started using Ammyy and loved it. While on field trips, he can access files on any of the work computers that have it. Or grab a file on a computer in another part of the building without having to go to it and move it via a memory key. As long as the computer you are using and the remote computer have internet access, it connects. The only problem he has had (and I do as well) is it keeps forgetting the “contact book”. You can export the .bin file then just import it back when it has a brain fart.

No software is actually installed. There’s the initial file to download but it doesn’t install, it just runs the .exe file. Open it, run it, and it finds your IP and gives you an access code unique to that computer. You then go to Computer #2, do the same thing. Once it is “installed” and running on both computers, you access them via the unique code. He said it was a pain at first because you need both computers in the same room/building or someone at the one you aren’t. The program needs permission on the remote computer at the time of contact.

Then….done. You can view the entire computer. Open files, transfer files, run programs, everything. The only that that does not show up is the background image. No matter what the setting is, it changes the remote computer to the Windows 7 Basic color scheme. As soon as you disconnect, it goes back to whatever you had it on before.

I installed it that night on all 3 computers. Worked like a charm. (except when I got the codes mixed up and opened a connection to the computer I was on. It opened the window then had the image in the image in the image….cascade effect. Like a mirror aimed at a mirror.) The next day, I went to their cabin and could access my desktop (via the Internet) at home. Cool. I moved files, opened files, even played a game. If you click the X on the connect box, it closes it completely. If you click the minimize, it goes to the tray. It will not wake one up (like laptops that go to sleep) but it will work if the remote computer is in screen saver mode. The program has to be running on both computers before it will work. Since it isn’t installed, you have to open it again if you turn off the computer. For this desktop, that’s not a problem since I rarely turn the poor thing off.

One problem I’ve had (besides the contact book issue) is it is very sluggish. Even opening an OpenOffice file, it was moving slow. I don’t think I could actively work on a document that is on another computer because it would drive me nuts after just a few minutes. And I doubt you could play a graphic intense game (like WoW).

You have to be careful which keys you use, though. The Ctrl and the Alt keys on your keyboard won’t always work on the remote computer. There’s icons at the top to use instead.

You can’t drag and drop a file from one computer to the other. You have to use the ‘File Manager’ which works a lot like a FTP program. Easy to do.

I’ve used it a lot since I installed it. If I leave the house and know I’ll have the chance to work, I copy the latest files from the desktop to the laptop and off I go. Then, when I get home, I copy them back. You can sort the File Manager by date which makes it quick to compare time stamps. It also helps me in keeping backups of files on both computers. If I need another file that I didn’t update, and if I am somewhere that has Internet access, I can get them. Way. Cool.

Contact book

File manager

Main screen options

New Software Trial

I’m trying out a new (to me) software called F.lux. What it does is adjust the output of your monitor depending on the time of day. Daylight it has the full “sunlight” and night time has a “warm” tone. I tried to take screenshots but since it is the monitor, it doesn’t show up.

It is an odd program and it took me a while to figure it out. When it installs, it goes to the task menu section and is already on. You right click the icon in the tray and access the options from there. Clicking the program name in the start menu does nothing. I almost uninstalled it, thinking I had screwed it up.

Accessing the menu:

The Change Location allows you to put in your zip code, city, or GPS coords. and it will know your sunrise/sunset times.

The Change Lighting is the fun part. But it is also where I got lost again.

See the greyish dots at the daytime and nighttime? Those slide to change the settings. When you first look at it, that area is kinda further greyed out and it gave me the impression it was unavailable or already set.

The next fun part is the Preview.

You select it and it it will do a speedy time lapse and your monitor will change as the “sun” goes along the line.

There’s also the disable option like if you are doing photos at night or whatever.

Like I said, screenshots won’t work and I tried to take a photo and it really didn’t show up then, either. My screen is kinda beige-ish to orange-ish. When I click the ‘disable’ option, it slowly fades back to regular then, when I uncheck it, it slowly fades to the nighttime. It will take some getting used to. I am interested in how it does with eye strain.

One potential issue is with games. I was playing a full screen game when it dimmed. I thought we’d had a power surge or something until I remembered the software. It was sundown! Some games will be too dark and I’ll have to exit F.lux then remember to turn it back on.

I do like how it softens the white screen of OpenOffice. I used to have a ‘migraine’ color schemed I’d set up for myself but no longer use it. I think this will be better maybe.

The software is free and my download was bug free. For now, I have the firewall set to ask me whenever F.lux wants to access the internet. Their F.A.Q. page has some good information, including how to use it (duh, should’ve looked there first).

I’ll use it for a week or so then let y’all know how it goes. If any of you try it, let ME know!

Apps for Writers – Reviews

Today I finally got a new router and finally got the laptop to working through it. I said some words, banged my head several times, plugged, unplugged, replugged, reset, called my brother twice, said some more words…you get the idea.

So now the laptop is attached to the net via wireless. Cool. Once I was certain I had that down and everything was working, I then went to work on getting the iPod Touch to also be on the wireless network. This wasn’t as painful but there’s a lot of info out there (better than I could find for the router) on how to do it. As soon as it was connected, I got to work on figuring out how Quickword and DocsToGo can be synced with the laptop.

Quickword was so easy. I opted to “mount as a drive”. At the bottom of the opening page is a URL ( You then go to the Network section of your computer and make the Touch a part of the network using that URL. It is easy and I did it the first time. Once that was set up, it is a simple matter of dragging and dropping documents in and out of its network folder. The other way, and is even more simple, is to enter in that URL into your web browser. Quickword can only read .doc (and I think .txt) so I had to open and save a document from .odt (openoffice format) to .doc. Then drag the folder into the other and boom, there it was on the Touch. However, and you knew there had to be, the Quickword app has to be open before it will transfer.

And I found out why. That URL? That’s for Quickword only. DocsToGo has a different port it uses so the URL ending is different. So unless Quickword is open, the network won’t see it, just like if a computer on the network was turned off.

DocsToGo wasn’t quite as easy. First, I had to download another software for the desktop. Then I had to add the device. Then I had to enter a code into the device. DocsToGo has a URL, too, although I’m not sure what it is for. The other software is simple enough, although I can’t seem to get the document on the Touch to transfer to the computer. I’m trying again right now and the transfer, if that is what’s happening, is taking a very long time.

The third app I tried, and may have actually liked, is called Notebooks. But it has a major flaw, in my opinion, and that is in editing. Here’s an example. I write this sentence: “Sitting in the waiting room, doing nothing but wait, is a pianful experience.” With DocsToGo and Quickword, I can put the cursor directly in the middle of the misspelled word and correct it. With Notebooks, just like the built in Notes, you can’t select the middle of a word. I can only select the end of the word and hit backspace. Rather annoying. I kind of liked its ability to stack a “book” within “books”. Meaning I could have a “book” named WorldBuild and inside it have books called characters, geography, archery, etc. But that annoying edit bit will drive me nuts far too soon. And I’ve tried software like that before and grew to dislike the dozens or more folders with bits of the novel scattered throughout.

As much as it pains me, I will (probably) be using Quickword. The syncing of documents is the easiest and requires no additional software. Now that I can sync, I will be using it to do actual editing in the form of writing bits as it comes to me then pasting it into a document either on the computer or on the device.

IPod Touch and Writing

(note: the subject line has changed since I first wrote this. I decided to not get into the podcasts just yet).

I’ve been having fun with my iPod Touch. For those of you who don’t know, the Touch is just like the iPhone with one major exception – it’s not a phone. It uses wi-fi for internet connectivity while the iPhone uses the cellular carrier (which is exclusively AT&T). So far, I’ve used the Touch more for music and games than I have for internet stuff like email and web surfing. When/if I get the wireless network working again here at the house, I may use it more.

Anyway, the Touch is not a PDA unless you use M$ software such as Outlook. Ironic that the Apple device uses predominantly M$ stuff, eh? I had to enter in all of my contacts (granted, there’s not that many). Any notes I make using the built in application (herein known as ‘app’ or ‘apps’) cannot be transferred to the desktop.

Before I talk about what apps I have found useful, I want to discuss iTunes. I. Hate. It. You cannot add any app, song, etc to the device without using this software. While there are some programs that allow you to use the device like a USB flash drive (DiskAid), it is limited. The iTunes program is lousy. For example, I wanted to see what dictionaries, thesauruses (thesaurusi?), etc were available. Open iTunes, click on App Store, click on Reference. And there it ends. 20 apps per page, 121 pages. No way to further divide them into sections. You can filter them into release date, name, and most popular. And you can’t go directly to page 120 of the 121 because you are looking for something that starts with the letter Y. There is a Power Search available. You can narrow it down to section (applications vs music), box to select searching only the free apps, enter in a keyword and/or developer name, category (reference), and device capability (touch vs iphone). You click search and you get the results. Here’s the next major error. It doesn’t say “page 1 of 12” for the results. You click “see all” and get a list of 30 apps. Then, in the corner of the screen, in tiny little letters, there’s this “more results”. It’s not in the scrollable part of the screen, but on the frame of the software itself. Still no “page x of y”. So I have no idea how many results there are nor can I then re-search the results to narrow it down further. On the first page there is a list of developers, a very short list. is listed but it only has two apps in the search result. So finding what you want/need can be difficult unless you know the exact name or are lucky enough to hit the right keyword.

Okay, rant mostly off.

Here’s some applications I found that I have tried:

I was pleased to find the WordWeb I use so much on the computer to be available as an app. And it is free so that makes it even better! It works much the same way as the desktop version so adjusting to it was easy.

I am trying out QuickWord (by QuickOffice for $4.99), an app that reads and edits .doc format documents. I think it can view .pdf, too, but not edit them. Transferring the documents from the desktop to the device is only possible through wi-fi transfer using the IP address. It sounds unnecessarily complicated. Why not just sync, upload, or download the same as I can music and podcasts? Also, the help files are only accessible via internet connection. WTF?

Then there is DocsToGo (by DataViz for $4.99) is another .doc format app. Again, transfer is done via wi-fi or through Microsoft Exchange (a paid-for additional program). It’s got a “getting started” help guide but anything other than that is only available online. The plus for this app vs the other is that it’s available options are scrollable along the bottom so there’s more to use.

Next up is FileAid (by DigiDNA for free). While FileAid allows me to view even formats, I can’t edit anything. It is for viewing only.

I just downloaded another one called Notebooks (by Alfons Shmid for $5.99). I’ve not tried it yet, though. It is touted to be for thought processing and organizing.

The recent software upgrade allows for the iTouch to do cut/paste, something the users have been screaming for. Doing so is relatively easy as long as you don’t have big huge fingers.

Speaking of typing, the keyboard is not that bad. It is much much easier if you are a touch-typer vs hunt and peck. I type mostly with my thumbs. Letters are on the screen with numbers and most punctuation accessible via another key that changes the keyboard. Another key on that one takes you to another punctuation keyboard. Hitting the space bar automatically takes you back to the letter one. This would be a major PITA if you needed to enter a series of numbers. The comma is on that second screen and, again, hitting the spacebar automatically takes you back to the first one. QuickOffice has the spreadsheet capabilities and I wonder if it works the same way. You can turn the device sideways to make the keyboard wider and more accessible.

The word completion capabilities are a device thing, not an app thing. So far, I don’t like it. I’ve had several arguments with it on the spelling of a word I was trying to enter in a note. But I’ve never been a fan of word completion doohickeys anyway.

I was reading a review of an app and learned how to take screenshots within the device. Now if I can figure out how to transfer them to the desktop, I’ll have some images of my later reviews for these apps.

If anyone uses any of these or some other I haven’t found yet, please let me know! I’d love to hear from other writers about how or if they use the Touch or if they use a PDA instead. I opted for the Touch because the industry says PDAs are a dying breed and software is getting difficult to find and maintain.

In another post later, I’ll share all the apps I have installed so far. I love the Touch, I just wish it didn’t have that obnoxious “iPod” in front of it. Cannot tolerate the “iThis” and “iThat”. In yet another post, I’ll discuss the value (or lack thereof) of podcasts.

Back It Up!

Sheesh. I’m gonna chuck the modem.

We have Charter Communications for our cable, internet, and phone. Great price and I like them. We’ve had the internet through them for a long time. They provided a Motorola Surfboard cable modem. I think it is the original one. Anyway, the modem is connected to the two computers via a Linksys wireless router. Lorna’s computer, the Dell laptop, is hardwired. The Toshiba, the one I am using, is wireless. At first I thought it was this Toshiba acting up. Then I checked to see if the Dell could get on line. Like the Toshiba, it does, but it takes fooooorrrrrrever to load a page if it does at all. Some websites load partway then think about loading the rest. Sometimes, I can hit stop/reload and it finishes. Tomorrow (or maybe tonight if I feel like it) I’ll bypass the router and see if that helps any. The reason I am certain it is the modem is that the lights on it keep going off and on. The Surfboard has 4 green lights for connectivity and an orange light showing activity. At times, only the top light and the second is on with either the second one blinking or the third blinking. I did a reboot (simple unplug) which worked for a few hours then I did a reboot and reset. But it keeps doing it and it is very frustrating.

If bypassing the router is no different, then I’ll call their tech support. Sometimes there is a reset or something they do remotely.

Anyway, I’ve been trying for the past several days to post this message about backing up work.

As a writer, my documents can’t be just recreated from data elsewhere. Unlike numbers in a spreadsheet, a lost manuscript will never be the same if re-written because the hard drive crashed. I’ve discussed backing up work before but its been a while. This is your reminder (and mine!). I back up my manuscripts to 3 different places. I have an external hard drive and I have a hidden, password protected directory in one of my websites. And, when I remember to can, I upload files from the external drive to the Dell.

I use Ipswitch’s WS_FTP Pro to upload chunks of files. I use the program’s faster (and lighter) Upload Wizard to upload one or two files, such as images and such. There are other online ways to save files. There’s places that let you upload files to their site and they keep it safe for you. Kinda like a safe deposit box. My webhost, Dreamhost, has a Files Forever option but I’ve not really looked into it yet.

The external hard drive is the old one from the Dell. I wiped it clean, reformatted it, and got an external case. It connects via USB cable and is hot-swappable, which I like. I have a flash drive/memory key but I keep losing the damn thing. Flash drives are getting cheaper with bigger capacity. External hard drives are also getting cheaper with huge honkin’ space on them. Someday I hope to have a networked hard drive system where I can access files from any networked computer in the house. Not sure if I want to do the remote access way, though. For now, when I want to put files on the Dell, I upload them to the ‘net then download to the Dell. Yeah, complicated and why don’t I just plug in the external drive? ‘Cause the poor half-dead Dell won’t recognize it, that’s why. I really ought to shoot it and put it out of my miser.

A lot of people save files on CDs for their backups. I’d do that, too, except I don’t have rewritable ones. I’d just be wasting CDs since I do backups weekly or even daily when I am actually working. Regardless, be sure to mark each CD with the date so you can quickly grab the one you want. I’d suggest putting manuscripts on a CD of their own.

Okay, well, that’s all for now. I’m going to hit ‘publish’ in the hopes it actually gets saved and put on the site. Sigh.

Computer Stuff

I am still having to run a fan to keep the computer cooled. I have a 6″ AC clip-on fan hooked to the cart. In the warmer weeks prior, this was fine. But now that it is cooler (it is currently 55F), my mouse hand is freakin’ freezing! So when I am not playing a game, I turn the fan off.

With the Dell, I went through several different cooling systems, none of them lasting long. Right now the Dell (which is miraculously still alive!) is using one by Vantec. It is cheap plastic and bows in the middle. Sheesh. The one before that isn’t being made anymore. It connected (like most of them do) via a USB cable. The end on the fan itself was on a removable USB hub. Sounds good except that hub had to really be set right before the fan would work. I also have a USB fan by Thermaltake sitting at the back of the Dell directly onto the heatsink.

Now with the Toshiba, the heatsink is on the side so I have to be careful what I put on that side so the thing gets adequate air. I also have a short piece of 2×2 along the back to raise it up off the table. Anyone have any advice on laptop cooling? What works?


I also just bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 (DNS). I got an email (from a company I have bought stuff from before) announcing they had a great price at about a third of the cost. So I grabbed it. I’ve used voice software before with mixed results. ViaVoice was decent. I’ve had several older versions of DNS. I’ve only had it for a few days and have done limited training with it. But I will say that first impressions are this thing rocks!

First off, when setting up the user profile, I had to select a language. I selected US English (duh). Then, I got to choose SOUTHERN US English. How cool is that?

I’ve used it in several different situations and overall, I’m really impressed with this software. I can talk in a normal voice, without pausing to clarify words, and it keeps up fairly well. I have to get used to saying punctuation, though. I don’t think about it as I use a keyboard, ya know? I figure I’ll work with it during the day then in the afternoons and evenings, when the house is noisier, I’ll use the keyboard to edit and continue.

There’s this “DragonBar” thing that is always on top of whatever. I dislike things that do that. Sure, I can take away the “always on top” check mark, I guess.

Then I found out I could make that go away and still get to almost everything through the tray icon. Right-clicking is the way to go, dudes.

On the other hand, Nuance (who makes/sells DNS now) is heavily attached to Microsoft. Which means it is designed to work with Word and I would assume it does it quite well. But I use (OO.o), dammit. So when it scans the My Documents (which isn’t where I keep my manuscript files anyway) to build up the vocabulary and dictionary, it only scanned in the .rtf and .txt. It skipped the .doc because this laptop doesn’t have Word installed. It also offered to scan emails to further learn my writing style but only works with Lotus somethinganother, MS Outlook (every hackers dream), and some other MS based email. Not Thunderbird. Really annoying.

But, it will open and any other program that is listed in the Start Menu. I renamed a few things to make it easier to say (“ Writer” was a bit long). I can dictate into OO.o but I am limited in some things. Not sure what exactly. Mostly I think in controlling macros (which I don’t like) and accessing other MSWord stuff.

A few other bugs I have about it: it came in a DVD. Not a CD, a DVD. Luckily, this Toshiba reads both. But what if it didn’t? Would a CD drive read a text DVD? And, with all that it downloads onto the computer, it does NOT download and install the .pdf extended help files. WTF? I found them (the written itty bitty manual mentions many times where they are) and drag/dropped them onto the desktop. What a silly little thing to not do automatically.


I am doing my laptop shopping again. The Toshiba came to me used but in great condition. It has a few weird quirks (don’t we all?) and I knew from the beginning it was only a temporary fix to my laptop problem. Anyone have any recommendations? I like the Lenovo stuff. And Dell for the most part. I abhor HP/Compaq and I want to stay away from no-name brands and cheap brands. I need a “desktop replacement” computer. I use it constantly. 12-16+ hrs a day (I have no life, ya know) I like the bigger screens (my eyes are 43yrs old and not getting any younger). I don’t want lightweight, I want usable. I want one that is easier to keep cooled. I will wait until the next MS OS comes out since Vista is Satan wearing a “Blue Screen of Death” mask.

Speaking of which, am I the only one freakin’ about the idea of MS Sync in cars? They can’t get their OS right and they want to be in my car? I don’t think so!