These days, we've got new little gadgets, such as phones and tablets. They work a little like computers, only they're smaller and they have neat little programs, called applications or "apps."
I'm sure you know all this, unless you are in fact Mr. Darcy from the Regency era, who has been pulled into reality by a crazed – yet cunning – fan, and has now stumbled upon technology and this blog. If so, welcome to Quill Café! Also: Kudos to your stalker.
I know that the iPhone and iPad have plenty of applications, but seeing as I do not own either (perhaps I will borrow one at some stage and discover its workings) I have delved into Android apps, to see which ones might be of the most use to writers, at the least expense.
Communication and Networking
These may not seem like the romantic essentials that for a writer, but don't be fooled. We need to be able to stay updated with current literary happenings.
Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are two common email servers that people use on a daily basis. I'm a Gmail user myself and I have the app installed on my tablet. Not only does it give me accurate updates but I get alerts from my personal email and the one for Quill Café.
Networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be very useful...but only if you are using them for the right purposes. While Twitter is something that I use for networking purposes, Facebook is often a web of procrastination, chatting, friends and not-really-friends-but-we-met once. A whole lot of silliness. Twitter can be a black hole of procrastination, just as Facebook can be a great networking tool. It all depends on how you handle them. Remember: Beware spam and procrastination.
If you want to write a quick blog post, without all the fancy extras, then you can download an app for your blog server. The most common are Blogger, Wordpress and Tumblr. I've not used the Blogger app much, since I'm a little too much of a perfectionist to write a spontaneous straight-to-publish post, but it may be perfect for you.
I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab. The main reason I purchased it was because it suited my requirements as an ereader. The other Android functions were brilliant perks.
Amazon is a huge distributor of ebooks, so having the Kindle app was a must. Amazon is the best place to find all the classic novels, where there is no longer any copyright and the distribution is free. Great if you want to have 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' on the go!
In order to have the best of both worlds, I needed the Nook app. It is very easy to download excerpts from the Barnes and Noble website. I like that it looks like you are turning an actual page with just the swipe of a finger. I must admit that I haven't used the Nook app as much as the Kindle, as I find it harder to discover free editions on their website.
Last but oh-so-definitely not least, is the Aldiko app. If you are accessing NetGalley or Edelweiss ebooks through Android, this is the app to have. It allows you to read ePub and PDF files. All you need is Adobe Digital Editions on your computer and you can sync them to make magic.
The next app is – as Nigel Thornberry would say – smashing! Goodreads is one of the best online shelving and networking sites for readers. The fact that there is a Goodreads app for Android is what cinches it for me.
The layout for the app is simple. It has: Updates, My Books, My Profile, My Friends, Search Books, and Barcode Scan. Pretty good for keeping tabs on what's happening in a nice and non-complicated fashion. Wait...did I say barcode scan?
Oh yes! The Goodreads app has a barcode scanner so that you can snap a shot of a barcode and...let me grab a book to test it.
Okay, I'll give it to you straight. I scanned a couple of books and here's what went down. My Australian edition of Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder apparently doesn't exist (I swear I didn't hallucinate it) but when I used the scanner on my UK children's edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows it worked like a magic charm.
When it worked, it came up with the right edition and everything, which you would usually have to seek out, choose and change on the website. Very handy if you are in a bookstore and see a book you want to read. You can upload it straight away to your 'to read' shelf on Goodreads.
For good measure, I checked my copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (printed and bound in Australia) and it worked. So I think it's safe for Australians to use... It's more accurate than not.
Despite what high school teachers say (research from there doesn't have enough factual grounding, doesn't count, blah-blah-blah) Wikipedia has a lot of good information for the right seeker. While you can always bring up the internet on your Android gadget and save a site to favourites, clicking an app is so much easier. Introducing: Quickpedia - the fast way to seek!
All you need to do is type in the search bar. Gandalf, not canals. No, not handheld! Okay, I'll just type it in the slow way: G-A-N-(no one said predictive text was nice to you)-D-A-L-F. Perfect. A cute little smushed version of your good ol' Wikipedia page. It's telling me that his race is Ainur. What is that?
Next, we have Google for all your searching needs. Not all your information needs. It's not a wizard – or Ainur – like Gandalf but it does a lot. You can search for anything! I always turn to Google in my time of need. Which is often when I'm in a car (don't worry, I'm not driving) and need an address because we're lost. Google Maps may not help much (Who can read those things? Maps are weird...) but I can find addresses while on the road. Yeah!
If you're like me, you often turn to baby name websites to find names for your characters. Android has just the app for that! Baby Name-o-Matic is simple and stunning in its layout. I couldn't have found a better app for this purpose. You can search names, browse, read up on meanings, give them star ratings, and hoard the ones you are interested in for potential characters.
It doesn't have all the names in the world (I didn't find mine) but I did stumble across one of the more obscure names of one of my fictional characters. Just remember to save your sessions or you might lose everything. Lucky for me, I only lost one name rating before I figured that out...
Let's get down to writing. While you might think that the ideal place to write a novel, short story, screenplay – whatever is your forte – would be on a laptop or in a notebook, plot ideas will always come to you on the go. Writing is a constant business and you never know when you are going to need to jot something down in a place where you can easily find it later. There have even been cases of people writing novels on their mobile phones. Why not you?
Diaro is your diary app. It is passcode protected. You can choose whatever you want as the passcode, but if you forget your passcode you will need to answer a security question. You choose the answer to the security question when you create your passcode, but you do not get to write your own security question. There are a set few you have to select from.
Diaro works just like a diary. Your entries will be organised by the date in which you write them. There are a few other options like categories (also a set list) and tags (which you can create yourself) as well as a GPS feature, but as far as I can see that only involves writing in the name of the place yourself. You can add pictures, but they do not show up in the body of text, only below the entry. This app would be great for taking notes throughout the day or even using as your own personal diary.
Genial Writing is quite the different story. It is an app which allows you to create simple notes and add images. This is not an application for the typed word, but rather a place where you can hand write your notes. There is only a certain range of widths and colours, and you are unable to write on the pictures, but if you have a photo that you take while you are out, and you want to write a few details about it underneath without having to worry about predictive text getting it wrong, this is the app for you.
Outliner was an app I was excited to look into. I have always been a little bit of a mess when it comes to writing outlines, especially since I half-jot them down on random pieces of paper that never find their way home.
It took me a little while to work my way through this app. First, I had to add a new outline. It became obvious to me soon enough that this app acted more as a check-off list. You added activities, dates for them to be accomplished by. and could tick them off when you were done with each. This could be a very useful app for someone who is disorganised – which I am – and needs a checklist or vague outline to tick off their progress as they progress with their writing.
I've never been much of a poetry writer myself but I remain in awe of people who do it. It's a passion and a way of expression, just like any other form of writing. I stumbled upon this app called Poet's Corner. With it, you can post poems for people to read and comment on. All you need to do is post the title, your name and the poem. If you are looking for a small outlet for poetry, and a way to connect with other poets on the go, this might be a good app to look into.
If you want a simple place to write, which gives you a word count, then My Writing Spot is the perfect application. If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, but can't sit down at a computer for hours at a time, having this app on the go could be fab. You could even have a separate document for each chapter.
Coming back to outlining and delving into brainstorming, I think I've found just the thing. Thinking Space works just like a brainstorming diagram, where you can create bubbles upon bubbles, and plot points branching out from plot points.
If you are exploring an idea for a story, want to have fun, but still have enough of a structure while forgoing random runaway bits of paper, this is an app to look into. I think if I wanted to make a family tree for my characters, this would also be the way to go.
Looking for some great quotes to fuel a bout of inspiration? I discovered Wisdom Quotes, a great app with thousands of quotes, organised by categories and authors. It's a great find that I enjoy looking through. What writer doesn't like a wonderful quote?
QR Codes are taking over. You see them everywhere. We even have our own for Quill Café. If you're out and about and you see a QR code that you're interested in, QR Droid is the app you need to efficiently snap that code and access information on the spot.
Tarot cards are a tool that many writers use for brainstorming and character and plot development. If you want to be able to take Tarot on the go, without fishing out a pack of cards in awkward places, then you need the Galaxy Tarot app. It has the key meanings for all cards, and uses the Rider-Waite deck. It is a great tool for if you just want a new perspective on where your story is going, or even a different approach to a specific character.
Proceed with Caution
I thought I would throw in a few applications to beware of. No, these aren't bad applications, scams or viruses of any kind. These are perfectly good applications that can suck a writer into the land of procrastination. These are the kinds of apps you do not want situated right next to the app you are meant to be using. Oops, I clicked the wrong one. Oh well...
Let's start with the most dangerous app of all: Angry Birds. I was first introduced to it through my writers group back in Wellington. Several of my friends had it on their phone. I would confiscate said phones so that they would focus on writing...and play the game myself. It was like I was the worst AA sponsor in the world. If there isn't an Angry Birds Anonymous already, there should be.
It doesn't help that there is also Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio. I have an addiction to this game, which I cannot bring myself to take off my tablet. I also have the compulsion to get all three stars before I move on to the next level. Does this make me awesome at Angry Birds? Yes. Does it make me less productive? To that I say: Productivity...what's that?
Let's not forget about YouTube. If you manage to pull yourself away from Angry Birds, you're probably watching YouTube videos. Don't deny it. I see you there... While YouTube is a great place to find book trailers, you can find yourself hours later wondering where the time went. The answer: YouTube ate it, at your encouragement.
Do you like to play 9-by-9 Sudoku? You can choose from difficulties easy to extreme, and resume games you put on hold. There is a timer, but it does not continue to go until you have your game resumed. Sudoku is said to be good for the mind, but don't think you can't be sucked into it like any other past-time.
Mahjong has always been a favourite of mine. You can choose between many different layouts (even the @ sign) and just pass the time away, trying to unlock the enigma of what tiles are where and pairing them off. Even now, I have to pull myself away from its lure.
If you have an addiction to card games on computers, then steer clear of Solitaire, Spider Solitaire and Freecell, all of which can be found in this Solitaire app.
If you are going to get caught up playing a game with someone else, take caution. Procrastination is like yawning. Those sloth-like attributes are catching.
Chess is a favourite of many to pass the time in a sophisticated manner. When I was ten, I sucked at the game, but still played it as a social past-time.
There was a point in time when I was so addicted to Checkers (or Draughts) that no amount of music could help me escape the fact that I would later go over possible moves – and entire sequences – in my head. I just took a test run on the app. I suck now. Curses!
If you are passing the time on Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman apps instead of writing, I'm sorry. You need help. Find an outreach program. Something less violent than Angry Birds Anonymous.
Are you a fan of the Harry Potter novels? Maybe even a little obsessed? There is no shame in it...but brace yourself. I have discovered a Harry Potter Trivia application. Oh yes. I'm not quite sure to what extent the trivia runs, but it is quite appealing. What fan could resist? You can sign up and test your knowledge against other Harry Potter fans.
So...there you have it. A range of applications to be aware of. I hope some of them are useful to you, and that you do not fall into the clutches of procrastination.
Do you use Android apps? Which ones have you found to be most useful to your writing?