Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 266 - Tools of the Trade

Every writer has tools and practices idiosyncratic to his or her work. For those of us who write, or aspire to write, these particularities are fun to talk about in an extremely nerdy way - much like page count or formatting issues. Recently, I've been expanding my toolbox, and I think you might find some of these instruments helpful to your process, as well.

Last week, I talked a lot about the environmental toll that my writing is beginning to take. Draft after draft after draft, I feel compelled to print out a script so that I can scribble all over it when going through the rewrite process. I find it incredibly hard to sit down in front of Final Draft (a new toy for me, as it has replaced Movie Magic as my current writing software), pass Go, and collect my $200 when doing edits. I need to have a physical script in front of me that I can labor and sweat over, a page that I can leaden with ink and scratch marks, where I can triple strike out words and scenes that need to go and scrawl thoughts, dialogue, and proposed revisions in the margins. I can't do any of that to my liking on the computer, and so I felt compelled to print out 120 pages (or more) with each subsequent draft. I thought that the most ecologically sound option I had was to do that on recycled paper, printing on the clean side of used sheets.

I discovered I had been remiss in my green detective work. There are a number of apps out there specifically made for annotating pdfs on iPads (mini and regular), Kindles, and other tablets. (Apologies in advance if this post seems more marketing driven than any of my others; I'm not supported by any of the below vendors. I just happen to really like the programs and services they provide, which make my writing easier.) Beyond saving paper, using the app to annotate a pdf of my script is also just less unwieldy than working with over a hundred sheets of loose-leaf. 

I started off with the PDF Master app for my iPad mini. Initially, I love it. You can highlight text, strike out, insert notes and/or text, free draw, and change the opacity and color of all of the above. There are also features that allow the user to add stamps and signatures, but I used neither of those. After I sung the app's praises to a couple writer friends and League members, I was confronted with the program's limitations. For one, there's a three-document limit, which I discovered when trying to import my producer's marked up pdf. I had to delete the app's instruction document in order to work around that. More seriously, though, the app seems to have some saving issues. Like, major saving issues. Thankfully, I emailed the document to myself the second night I used it (always email your work to yourself, friends), because it neglected to save about 30 pages of progress I made. I had to re-import from the email in order to continue where I left off. Then, on the last day, it just stopped saving after a certain point. I would mark up one page, scroll to the next, and then notice that none of my previous annotations were saved. Then, they began to disappear from the page I was working on at that time, immediately after I made them. Very concerning. 

To fix that, I took my father's suggestion (he's a bit of a tech guy and uses similar tools at work) and switched to the Adobe Reader App. I wound up completing my annotations in the ironically named PDF Master, but Adobe's product offers the same features, plus you can type in a specific page you want to access, rather than scroll through the entire document, which Master required, coupled with what I assume will be more product stability. Adobe's not small time in the PDF world, so I can only hope that their product will be more stable.

As I made my annotations, it became apparent that a finger, even one as narrow and pointy as mine, isn't as precise as annotating a PDF document on a tablet requires. Perhaps that's intrinsic to working with the faulty PDF Master (half the time I struck out the wrong text and had to hit undo), but I wanted more precision. So, I started looking into stylus pens. There are a number of them out there, but the reviews I read (and I read a lot of them), indicated that the amPen was the best. I haven't used it yet - I'll have it Friday - but it sounds as if the rubber tip with a conductor layer makes for the most seamless, efficient tracking on the tablet screen. Plus, the pen will give the added feature of feeling more like marking up a paper script, which might make the transition to digital editing smoother. 

If all goes as I hope, then I won't have to do much script printing going forward. Except, maybe, for the final version, because sometimes there's nothing more rewarding than seeing and holding the fruits of your months or years of labor.