Category Archives: My Writng Toolbox

New Writing Tools

I write. A lot. It doesn’t matter where or when, if I have a few free minutes, I write. At the doctor’s office. On the bus. Sometimes when I’m grocery shopping, an idea will strike me and I’ll whip out my iPhone and write it down.

My iPhone is my main writing tool because I always have it with me. Well, not always—I don’t take it into the bathroom. But other than that, everywhere else. It’s small, handy, and it doesn’t take up much room in my purse.

About the only thing I don’t write with it is blog posts: I find it too limiting. But I will write a post in another app, then copy and paste it into my laptop, then transfer it into Open Live Writer (OLW),  my blogging tool of choice.

I first discovered OLW when Microsoft created it and made it available for free. Since then, Microsoft has abandoned it and turned it over to the free software community, which continues to support and improve it. The latest release is dated 23 May 2017, so it’s not updated all that often.

My Writing Toolbox

While I do most of my writing on my iPhone and iPad, there are three desktop programs I use as well. In addition to OLW, I also have Scrivener and Papyrus Author.

I’ve had Scrivener for a couple of years, but I rarely use it. I just found the learning curve too steep for my poor little brain.

I downloaded Papyrus Author (PA) last month out of curiosity, and have been playing around with it since then. It seems to do everything Scrivener does, but without the learning curve.

Besides, the basic version is free. If I decide to keep it, I’ll probably upgrade to the Pro version, which has several style analysis tools not offered in the basic version.

On the other hand, I have Grammarly Premium, so I might not need to upgrade after all.

I also have the free Grammarly keyboard on both of my mobile devices. The keyboard is free and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store.

Both Papyrus Author and Scrivener are designed for heavy-duty, serious writing, and I can recommend both of them. Grammarly is like having a style manual at your fingertips.


I used to use Ulysses on my mobiles, but recently deleted it, because I wanted a tool I could use on all three of my machines, and Ulysses is only available for iOS and MacOS. Not Windows. But if you’ve got a Mac, give it a try.

Summing Up

That’s it for my laptop. In my next post, I’ll cover what I use on my iPhone and iPad.

Until then, thanks for reading!




Leave a Comment

Filed under Blogging Tools, My Writng Toolbox, Papyrus Author, scrivener, Writing Tools

Yet Another New Tool!


As a writer, I find the biggest problem with modern technology is all of the potential distractions. I love writing on my iPhone, iPad, or laptop, but it’s too easy to get distracted by email, IMs, Google searches, etc.

For example, I’ll need to check Wikipedia for information. I find it, but there are so many interesting links in the article, and 30 minutes later I’m down the rabbit hole with Alice only to discover when I surface that I’ve lost my original thought.

Enter the AlphaSmart Neo. Originally designed as a basic word processor for schools, it’s found a new following among writers. It originally cost $200 per unit, and it’s no longer being manufactured. But you can find them on eBay–which is where I bought mine (brand new) for $20.

So what’s the big deal? it’s really quite simple: it’s a word processor. It doesn’t connect to the Internet, so it affords me hours of distraction-free writing. Once I’m done, I can connect it via USB cable to my laptop, open a Word or Libre Writer or Scrivener document, and send the file over from my Neo.

It powers up almost instantaneously, relying as it does on 3 AA batteries which folks I’ve talked with say will give me about a year’s worth of power, or roughly 700 hours.

Mine arrived today, and so I’m still getting used to it. I’ll be giving a more thorough review in a week or so, after I’ve had the opportunity to put it through its paces.

Oh, yes: I wrote this article on my new toy! It’s more like writing on a typewriter than on a computer. And another thing: it only displays 4 lines at a time, so there’s no temptation to go back and edit as I write.

It has a spell-checker, with the option to add new words to the built-in dictionary, as well as a (very primitive) thesaurus.

When I turn it on, it returns to my last position in the last file I was working on, which is handy.

I also like being able to add to a file without caring about where it fits best: I just write without editing, and then edit the document once I’ve sent it to the laptop.

The display is bright enough to use the Neo out of doors–at least in the shade.

Indeed, as I’m writing this I’m sitting outside in an Adirondack chair, enjoying the fresh air.

I thought about buying a protective case for it, but I’m not about to shell out a hundred bucks for a case for a $20 item!

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new tech item since 1981, when I bought my first computer–a Kaypro CP/M computer.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Blogging Tools, Hardware, My Writng Toolbox, Writing Tools

Goodbye, Scrivener

We’ve had a good run, but it’s time to say goodbye. I never used you as an actual writing program; I merely copied what I’d written in other programs and apps and pasted them in to you. So I was only using you as a place to store all my writings.

My first mistake was configuring you to use Dropbox. I wanted to be able to access you across all my devices. But that created a problem: when I launched you, Dropbox had to sync before you would open. And when I’ve got an idea for an article or story, 2 minutes is too long to wait.

So I deleted you from my laptop, after deciding that I’m never going to own a Macintosh, desktop or otherwise.

Instead, I’ve moved all of my files into Evernote.

Why Evernote?

  • Because I can install it on all 3 of my devices—laptop, iPhone, and iPad—and it will synchronize across all 3 of them.
  • Because I can fine-tune my settings to a degree that Scrivener never approached.
  • Because it has a smaller footprint, loads faster, and in general just does a better job of what I want it to do.
  • Because even if I leave my devices at home, I can access it on the web via the nearest computer.

Still, it Hurts

It hurts because Scrivener has been a good friend for the past couple of years. And like any other friend, it hurts to say goodbye.

But nothing lasts forever, right? Just as we outgrow certain friends, so it is with computer applications. And I’ve simply outgrown Scrivener.

An Aside

QUESTION: What’s the difference between an app and a program?
ANSWER: There isn’t any. Software publishers decided that “app” sounded sexier than “computer program,” and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Blogging Tools, My Writng Toolbox, Writing Tools

GoodNotes, Revisited

It’s not like me to go gaga over a new app of any kind, much less one for writing. But that’s exactly what I’m doing with GoodNotes. Although I’ve been using it for a little less than a week, I’ve already come to wonder:

  1. Why I didn’t discover it before
  2. How I managed to survive all these years without it
  3. Am I losing my mind

Okay, the last bit is a given: I’ve been losing my mind for years. And the reason I didn’t discover it sooner is I wasn’t ready for it. Simple enough. As for question 2, the same answer applies.

It took me a long time, a lot of trying, a lot of running down blind alleys, before I put together my writer’s toolbox.


Apple Notes, Apple Pages, MS Word, Libre Office, Open Live Writer, Scrivener—I’ve tried far too many of them. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve learned to live with them. And the main lesson I’ve learned over the years is this: don’t expect one program or application to do everything for you.

Very few of the programs above excel at taking notes. GoodNotes fills that gap as if it was made for notetaking. Oh, wait—it WAS!

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep I was jolted awake with the idea for a story. I was dreadfully tired, but I knew that if I didn’t write it down, I’d forget it. So I grabbed my iPhone, fire up Apple Notes, and jotted down my thoughts. This morning, after I had my tea and a light breakfast, I installed GoodNotes on my iPhone. Although the Apple Pencil doesn’t work on it, I can still write (with my finger) or type into it. Best of all, when I set it up, it immediately mirrored everything I had on my iPad—thanks to storing everything in the cloud!

And yes, I copied my idea from Notes and pasted it into GoodNotes.

And while the iPhone isn’t the best writing program, it’s good to know that, since (unlike my iPad) I carry it with me everywhere, I’ll always be able to capture my random thoughts, and be able to expand on them later.

And I’ve even learned how to create my own page template and import it into GoodNotes!

Character Sheet

It’s a basic character template I found on the web, converted it into a PDF file, and then imported into GoodNotes. If that’s something you’d like to try some time, you can find the instructions right here or watch a video here.

One of the best video tutorials on GoodNotes can be found here on YouTube.

Really, I haven’t been this excited about an app since I discovered Scrivener! Which, incidentally, I need to upgrade in the near future.

My Only Complaint?

Very few serious writing apps offer you a trial/demo version, and GoodNotes isn’t one of them. But considering the extra programming effort to create a separate version, I can understand it. After all, it costs less than $8.00 to buy it—and I’m okay with that.

Leave a Comment

Filed under My Writng Toolbox, Writing Tools

Still Another New Writing Tool

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” –Jane Austen, in “Pride and Prejudice.”

“It is also a truth universally acknowledged, that a lonely writer in possession of all of her faculties, must be in want of the perfect writing tool.” –Robyn Jane Sheppard, in “This Blog Post.”

Finally, it is also a truth universally acknowledged, that there ain’t no such animal.

So what’s a poor starving writer, sitting day after day in her Lonely Writer’s Garrett,™ to do? Well, in my case, my memory is good enough to remember my high school science class, where we learned the Scientific Method. (I guess Mr. Wantshouse was right: he said there’d come a time when I’d use these lessons.)

For those of you who have forgotten–or never learned the Scientific Method, it’s really quite simple: try something. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

“Wait a minute, Robyn,” I hear you say. “Isn’t that just trial and error?”

“Ah, yes, Young Grasshopper. But the difference is with the Scientific Method, you make notes and keep detailed records so you know why it did or didn’t work.”

Yet Another New Writing Tool

Wow! Two new tools in as many days. How special! Look, in at least one way, authors are like computer programmers: programmers are always looking for a quicker or easier or more elegant way of solving a problem. And why? Because they’re essentially lazy!

And so are writers. While we may love our craft, there are days when we absolutely hate the work involved. “If only I had a better plot/character/story-line.” Sometimes I’ll even find a misspelled word and instead of correcting it manually, I’ll just click on it and let spell check fix it for me.

On Word Processors and Text Editors

What do you write with? Microsoft Word© is the industry heavyweight. It’s a powerful writing tool, but for many people, it’s too powerful. Not to mention expensive.

LibreOffice is an excellent replacement for Microsoft Office©, and it comes with a fine word processor. Still many people just don’t like the idea of having an entire suite of programs taking up disk space on the off chance that one of them might come in handy one day.

Text editors are stripped-down versions of word processors. They don’t do any fancy formatting, and they save their files as simple .txt files which can be read by any other text editor or word processor. But they usually don’t do any kind of spell checking, unless you install an additional program for that, so why not stick with a word processor?

Enter FocusWriter

My latest discovery is FocusWriter, a free word processor. I mean “free” in the same sense as “free beer,” as well as “free software:” it’s yours to use at no cost, and you’re free to give it away to anyone who wants a copy. If you download a copy, there’s an option to send its creator a $5 tip, but it’s not required. But hey! It’s worth it!

What’s so special about it? Consider the following, taken from the program’s “About” file:

FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free word processor. It utilizes a
hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of
the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it
while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in
your work.

FocusWriter allows you to customize your environment by creating themes
that control the font, colors, and background image to add ambiance. It
also features on-the-fly updating statistics, daily goals, multiple open
documents, spell-checking, and much more.

Additionally, when you open the program your current work in progress will
automatically load and position you where you last left off so that you
can immediately jump back in.

And the writing surface itself? This is a screenshot of the main editing screen:


The toolbar at the top is only visible if you mouse over it. Otherwise, you never see it.

When you’re ready to save your work, the default file format is OpenDocument Text (*.odt), but you can also choose from a list:

  1. OpenDocument Flat XML (*.fodt)
  2. Office Open XML (*.docx)
  3. Rich Text Format (*.rtf)

Summing Up

FocusWriter isn’t for everyone – it’s not the right tool for going back through and editing your work – but it’s a lovely little app with a very modest footprint that stops you keeping an eye on Twitter all day.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Blogging, My Writng Toolbox, Software, Writing Tools