Scott D. Parker
Can you be a writer without using paper?
I’m a writer and I use a lot of paper. I make notes on yellow legal pads, I make lists of character names on a giant spreadsheet printed out on an 11x17 tabloid-sized piece of paper. In the past, I have used hundreds of note cards to map out a story. Those note cards would then be pinned to the cork board in my office. And don’t get me started on post-it notes that I’ll use to jot down random pieces of things for the story and post them on monitors, laptops, keyboards, or the desk.
Then there are the drafts. Yes, I know there are folks who write and edit within whatever word process they’re using. I can do that, too, but more often than not, I prefer to print it out and read it that way. Sure, I format the manuscript to be single spaced and I print on both sides of the paper, but still, if I have a 300-page manuscript, that’s 150 pieces of paper.
Suffice it to say, when I’m writing a novel, I simply use a lot of paper. This amount goes up and down depending on the length of the writing project. For shorter pieces, I usually don’t have all the background stuff, but I still have the various drafts with all my marks in green ink.
Late last year, I got to thinking if there was another way, a paperless way, to brainstorm, write, edit, format, and publish stories. I came up with a qualified answer: Yes, I think so, but certain equipment and apps would make this job easier.
Equipment and Apps
First off, I needed a new iPad. Mine was a second generation that basically did nothing for me other than allow me to read comics and ebooks. If this was going to work, I needed new tech.
I purchased a refurbished 2020 iPad Pro with a second generation Apple pencil. Wow. Is this thing amazing. Granted, when you’re coming from a 2012-era iPad, most anything is an upgrade, but I’m particularly impressed by the fact that I can get an entire ‘piece of paper’ on the screen at the same time.
The pencil is super cool and seamless. There is no visible lag at all. Among the coolest things: a simple double tap on the pencil changes the function to the eraser (while another double tap shifts it back to the pen). Thus, without even changing your hand position, you can write, make a mistake, erase, and start writing again in seconds. Tres cool.
I paired my Bluetooth Apple keyboard with the iPad and use the device as my primary means to write. But I do not plan to take the iPad to the office (yet) so I compose in Google Docs. That way, I can sync my Chromebook and bring it to the office. It’s rugged and a single unit so it’s been my preferred in-the-office personal device for over two years now.
When it comes time to edit the completed file, I use GoodNotes. Not only does it allow me to edit PDFs. It’s really neat to have the iPad in my lap, pencil in hand, and just read and edit the text. It’s pretty much paper-like, but still digital.
This app is good for general note taking. So far this week, I’ve worked on two short stories, completing one and more than halfway through the second. As such, I don’t necessarily need a notebook with character names, etc., but when I start a new novel, this will be the place where I store said notes. It syncs to my phone so when I’m out with my Chromebook, I’ll have my notes. Granted, I can’t use (nor would I have) the pencil with the iPhone, but that’s no big deal.
Here’s a screenshot of page one of the completed short story.
From there, I’ll be able to make those changes in the manuscript and nary a piece of paper will be needed.
While I have not yet published anything, I already know how to do that part. I’ll spell it out in a future post.
I have an entire process flow, but I want to test it first, work out any kinks, before I share it.
So, am I the only one who is writing without paper? For you other paperless writers, what are some of your preferred tools and apps?
P.S., Happy Birthday, David Bowie. Still miss you.
Interesting process. I was a handwriter for a long time, clocking about 65k in a couple of notebooks on one story. I'd type up yesterday's production before moving on to fresh writing; the slightly edited draft was pretty darned tight, really.
My current laptop is a gaming-grade desktop replacement, so it's not really portable. I grabbed an older HP laptop we had sitting around to take with me because the handwriting just got old. That machine is barely serviceable for what I need; it originally shipped with Win 7. I'm sort of in the market for a newer machine though.
I'm an Android/PC guy and have always resisted Apple tech for some reason. Maybe it was an anti-bandwagon thing? But it sounds like a good process.
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