A Word On Writing Tools

Words Worth Writing

You like to write, right? Then you want the right tool for the write-job. I’m talking about typing on a keyboard; no pens or pencils, sorry. Some tools are exclusive to Apple devices (Ulysses). Others are ubiquitous (Google Docs). In this write-up, I share some ways I’ve tried writing. And at the end, I throw in links to several writing tools.


Drafts And Notes

When it comes to blogging, I’ve typed my drafts in several places over the years. For simplicity, my habit was writing in the WordPress editor. But because it took time to craft a draft, I wanted to save a “hard” copy somewhere besides the WordPress.com servers. So I searched for an outside tool.

For a long time, I drafted my stuff inside note apps: Apple Notes, Evernote, or OneNote. My main problem there was copy/pasting my text into WordPress. It always led to formatting frustration! Boo, hiss! On top of that, images were not included, which made my “hard copy” documents incomplete. So I abandoned notes apps.

Types Of Typing Tools

Now we get to dedicated tools for typing all the words. The default standard for years was Microsoft Word. It works, but it’s also bloated and resides inside Camp Microsoft, so not for me.

Last year, with my tent staked in Apple Camp, I dove headlong into Ulysses for my iPad and iPhone. It was my first time to use Markdown, but I took to it well. I wrote about Ulysses before, and it’s an excellent app to get your thoughts out of your head!

One of the key features I loved was its ability to take my draft, with images, and publish straight to WordPress! This avoided all the text formatting hassle. But there was a huge problem in general: the iPad had no physical keyboard! The Bluetooth keyboard set-up I used was a kludge.

Then I pulled a ditch and switch. Out with the iPad, in with a laptop – Chromebook! Since this more or less meant camping with Google, I’ve been enjoying Google Docs! Allow me to gush on Docs for a paragraph or three.

Docs

I’m sure you’re familiar with this word processor. Like Microsoft Word, Docs has the traditional features you’d expect. Word Count tool, check. Full-screen and distraction-free, check. Keyboard shortcuts for easy text formatting, check. Google Docs is clean and simple, not over-stuffed like Microsoft Word.

A stand-out tool in Docs is the WordPress Add-on! This awesome widget lets you post text and images straight into WordPress as a draft. It even allows you to include Tags and set the post Category. Docs also lets you keep a “hard” copy of your blog post using the save-as-PDF option.

You can also augment Docs with a cool Power User feature: Keep! Google’s own note app, Keep, is a wonderful tool on its own. But it is also included in the side panel of many Google web apps. So while writing inside Docs, you can open Keep notes next to your draft and copy/paste text or add notes to your Doc. The Keep side panel is also handy for quick reference to any web research notes you have. And in the Keep app itself, you can convert any note straight into a Google Doc!


The Write Tools

You might like Docs, you might not. Thankfully, there are many other options. Here are a few to consider. You want the right tool for the write-job. (Special thanks to Nicole Bianchi for the list ideas.)

Scrivener – Writing a novel? This is what you want. It’s on Mac and Windows. If I ever get serious about my own fiction fantasy, I’m gonna need to try this for myself. (But I don’t wanna give up using a Chromebook.)

Reedsy – I’ve not used this one (yet). But from my initial account set up and skimming over the site, I like what I see. Looks like this is a good tool to get serious about writing a book and publishing.

Draft – I have not tried this one, but it is intriguing. The most interesting feature to me is Hemingway Mode!

Hemingway Editor – This handy tool is sweet! I’m still new to it. So far, I love the grading feature. It lasers in on common writing problems. Passive voice, adverbs, and complex sentences get highlighted for easy fixing. It’s like having a personal editor mark up your draft for you!

Grammarly – It’s like a spell checker on steroids. You might already know about this one, but if not, install the web extension in your Chrome browser; give it a try!


What’s your writing tool of choice? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Keep Is A Keeper

Good Options

What do an elephant and a light bulb have in common? They’re both logos for jotting down your thoughts to help you remember or process them later. There’s much good to say about writing notes by hand, but if you’re into digital note-taking, then there are several good options to talk about. The one I wanna focus on is Google Keep (the light bulb!), because as much as I like Evernote (the elephant!), I keep coming back to Keep (you know I had to do that).


Weighing The Two

Last year when I ditched my iPad and switched to Chromebook, I upended my workflow. I had used Apple Notes and Ulysses to write all my “stuffs.” Both were great, but they were pretty much Apple-only. And when you go Chrome, you’re going Google

The first obvious new choice for my notes was Google Keep. But its differences from most digital notes apps made the transition uncomfortable. Or maybe not noteworthy. So, for journaling, I ended up settling with Journey. And for the rest of my note-taking, I landed on Evernote. I was so enamored with Evernote, I blogged about it!

After the shiny newness of Evernote wore off, I began to encounter some challenges. First, as I wrote my draft of a Novella for NaNoWriMo, I had quite a bit of frustration with simply typing into the Evernote web app. The cursor would jump randomly and inexplicably to the top of the page or seem to disappear for a moment. My flow of writing would derail. After this happened across many days, my confidence in Evernote’s reliability was shaken.

The other thing about Evernote that trips me up are the multiple interfaces. The web interface has three possible setups: an old one, a new “Classic Editor” one, and a beta version of that. Then there’s the Android app sprawled out on my Chromebook. Finally, there’s the iPhone app version. Not only do they look quite different from one another, they do not have feature parity! One version will have “word count,” for example, but another won’t. So I had trouble sticking to one version.

Over several months of using Evernote, Google Keep was ever present on my Chromebook and iPhone. For certain types of notes, Keep works best. Mostly, it excels at short temporary notes like digital Post-It notes. Also checkbox lists! That makes Keep sticky. It’s simplicity gives it utility. So I kind of ended up using Keep and Evernote, plus Journey, to record my thoughts. Of course, I also use Google Docs for blog drafts. This spread of apps and services is a bit much.

I don’t know if it’s Keep’s simplicity or something else; somehow I kept getting drawn to it. Weird? Maybe. But true. Keep’s simple interface is totally consistent across my iPhone and Chromebook: web app, iOS app, Android app. And although Keep is simple, it has some super handy and powerful features. But maybe the biggest advantage it employs is its omnipresence – its integration into Google’s other apps.

When in Google Calendar, or Gmail, or Docs, you will also find Keep. Off to the right side, in a consistent and persistent slide out column, Google Keep’s notes appear. You can read or copy text from them and vice versa. One surprising ability lets you save an email from Gmail into a Keep note as an attachment. One more great feature lets you automatically turn your Keep notes into Google Docs. Like I said, super useful stuff!

So I found myself at a strange yet not surprising switch on the track. Stay on the Evernote train, or go all aboard the Keep locomotive. Using both is simply too much for me. I need simpler. And while Google is notorious for killing off some of its products or services, I believe Keep has proven to be an indispensable part of Google’s platform and is here for the long haul.


Pick One

The Evernote app is still on my iPhone and Chromebook. But I’ve slowly started to transition fully to keeping all my notes in Keep. But it’s hard to let Evernote go because it still has many strengths. Yet this is what I do. I try different techy things, I rely on some for a long time, then I switch things up, keep things fresh. For now, Keep is a keeper.


Do you switch things up, or have you stuck with one tech solution for many years? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Taking Note Of Evernote

Notable

Is it possible to geek out about notes? Would that be nerding out instead? Either way, as I like to trek through tech, I look for the best solutions. Many companies offer apps, services, or entire ecosystems. One that is the epitome-of-noteworthy is Evernote.


Best Notes Ever

This month, I re-discovered Evernote. The last time I really used it was 2014. Since then, I’ve relied on first-party apps: Apple Notes or Microsoft OneNote or Google Keep. I’ve switched between these over time, depending on the main computer I was using. (I’ve tried Simplenote and used Ulysses too.) They’re all great in their own ways, having pros and cons.

But Evernote sticks out. Unlike the big-three, it’s a third-party solution from a company dedicated to the task at hand: note taking. It’s mission is a singular focus on using notes to organize your life. This is Evernote’s expertise.

Also, I’ve been fond of the green elephant for a long time.

Being a blogger, writer, and thinker, I love jotting down or typing up what’s on my mind. It gets my thoughts out of my head in front of my eyes to see. It’s a satisfying process of organizing my brain.

Simply put: I note my notions.

All The Goods

The first thing that surprised me when I started trying out Evernote recently was the interface. It’s much cleaner and leaner than years prior, yet I found all the tools and features one might want. It’s polished now, and as I began using it, I noted (ahem) how easy it is.

Evernote uses a simple folder (called Notebooks) plus tagging system for organization. You can even have Stacks of Notebooks. To me, this makes a lot of sense. I’ve used apps that employ only a folder system and apps that utilize only tagging. While simplicity is a virtue, Evernote gives the option of both. It’s neither too little nor too much.

One of Evernote’s most impressive features is the Web Clipper. The thing is awesome! It’s easy to add it to your web browser. What I love about the clipper are all the options to share anything on the web to Evernote with precision and ease.

Let’s say you’re doing research online and find an article with a quote you want. You can grab the whole web page, just the quote alone, or simply bookmark it, to name but a few options. Then, without leaving the web page, you can file the content into any of your Evernote folders, tag the content, and add remarks to it. And this all takes place inside a simple elegant drop down window in your browser. It’s incredibly useful and well done!

All that is cool. But how reliable is Evernote? Can you trust it with the fruit of your mind? To that I can say in the span of about 10 days, I’ve added over 100 notes into various folders with tags, links, web clips, and have applied some text formatting. And I’ve done this on the iPhone app and both the Edge and Chrome browser on different computers. So far, everything has been syncing flawlessly.

Finally, one of my biggest reasons for relying on Evernote is because it’s cross-platform. Being a third-party service that works on the web and in smartphone apps, I can use it in Apple-land or in the Google-verse, for example. Evernote is cloud-first; I like living in the clouds.


Note To Future Self

I’ve jumped onto different note-taking platforms over the years. I gravitated towards the built-in notes app on whichever device I had because of its system-level integration. The default app is the easiest to choose and use.

Now I’m hoping and planning to stick with Evernote for the long haul since I can take notes on any device (iPhone, Chromebook), and because it has shown much improvement over time. Evernote will likely stay great or become greater.


What’s your fave note app? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Journey To A Journal

Destination Journal

If you do a little Googling, you’ll find a lot of sites that cover the benefits of keeping a journal. In sum, journaling’s good! Besides my blog, which is sort of a public journal, I’ve written in a private journal for years. I’ve always used different note-taking apps, and I’ve tried a few dedicated journaling apps. Now I’m trying out one that’s new to me: Journey.


Journey Is The Destination

Somehow, Journey had slipped under my radar. I found it by searching the Google Play Store for journaling apps. Since I rely on a Chromebook, I wanted an option that worked in a web browser in addition to using an Android app. Journey covers those bases, plus there’s an iOS app for Apple’s mobile devices.

So Journey is a cross-platform app made by a third-party, meaning it’s not an Apple, Google, or Microsoft product. That said, it utilizes Google Drive for all its backup and cloud sync tasks, so it should be dependable. The advantage of using a third-party service is that it works on all the major tech-ecosystems and isn’t trapped inside a walled-garden.

For me, that means switching between an iPhone, a Chromebook, or a Windows PC won’t be a problem. There’s no need to migrate all my journal entries from one app to another; I just log-in to Journey and get all my stuff! I could have my iPhone in my left pants pocket and an Android phone in my right (because I’m a nerd-geek like that); my journals would be in sync just the same.


Pros and Cons

My first impression of Journey is that it’s a lot like the Day One app (a highly acclaimed journal app made for Apple devices, now also on Android), even using almost the same shade of blue. It’s got your main section that shows all your entries in chrono-order (Timeline), newest at the top. There’s also a calendar view, typical in many journal apps, that shows which days of the month have entries.

You can also view journal pages by photos and by location. Finally, there’s a section called, “Today.” There you can view overall stats for your journaling, like how many entries you’ve made, how often you journal, and what your average mood is over time. It even shows you what entries most reflect your various moods.

This section also offers more (journal coaching, entry prompts, fitness tracking…) if you upgrade to one of the paid versions. There are a few coaching prompts in the free version, which is the one I’m trying now. In fact, it is not even ad-supported. There are zero ads in the app, except for the repeated nudges throughout, which remind you that there’s more offered if you buy or subscribe. So far, those elegant “ads” have not been nagging; time will tell if they wear me down.


There’s a lot to like with Journey. I’ve been trying it in three places: iPhone app, Android app on my Chromebook, and the web version in the Chrome browser. And I’ve encountered zero sync issues. All my entries made on each interface appear everywhere without fail.

The look-and-feel of the smartphone apps is consistent and pleasant to use. You can ‘tag’ and ‘favorite’ entries (still in the free version) for easier searching later. And despite there being a lot of features, the app isn’t cluttered or convoluted. Journey is simple, neat, and easy.

I’m finding that the more I use Journey, the more I like it! I didn’t think the calendar feature would really be important to me. But now with several days of usage, I can easily see my journaling streak visualized!

After depending on note-taking apps for years to do my journaling, at first I found it hard to get into Journey. I was not comfortable with the idea of using yet another app to do what I have always done. But I have found that Journey’s singular focus on journaling has allowed me to quickly and easily jump into the app and let my thoughts flow. The date and time is automatically recorded and displayed prominently. I can even back-date journal entries in the free version!

Then after more use, I found something really cool about Journey that I never had in my note-taking apps. When viewing an entry, you can swipe the page left or right to see the adjacent day’s entry, which also shows the tag, weather for that day, and your mood. I love it! I can thumb through my journal like a physical journal and casually browse my thoughts over time!


Of course, nothing is perfect. Journey is an ideal app yet with one minor drawback. The web version is functional, but it does not have feature parity with the phone apps. The only section available is the overall list view (Timeline) with all your entries ordered by date. At first, I felt this was a limitation. But it’s grown on me already because it looks and feels a lot like a social-feed (for better or worse).

At the top of the web site for Journey, there’s a big box for entering text with a formatting bar and all the features you need, although a few seem to be missing, like the ‘favorite’ option. It’s easy to type what’s on your mind and also easy to go back and edit in-place.

The online version has a web-chat feature that lets you talk with the friendly people at Journey to get help. I had some initial questions and they were answered via the chat. Nice! The journey folks have also emailed me helpful tidbits, including the chat transcript with follow-up links to help resolve my queries. Impressive!


Happy Journaling

Overall, Journey is proving to be a robust and reliable journaling service that’s very inviting to use. It’s got some kind of ineffable zen mojo thing going on.

It will take more time to decide whether or not I want to stick to a dedicated journaling app. My tried and true method has always been to use a note-taking app like OneNote or Apple Notes. As of now, I’m checking out Evernote as another alternative for journaling.

And as for other dedicated cross-platform journal apps, there is also Penzu. I tried it a few times in the past week. It is nice, interesting, and full of useful features. But it’s free version is limited compared to Journey. And overall, I like Journey better because of the way it’s laid out. Penzu tries a bit too much to replicate a physical journal. It’s a preference.

If you want or need a place to keep your private reflections, I say give Journey a try. It’s a good destination to help you along life’s journey.


Do you journal? What is your go-to place to write your mind’s musings? Chat below, or write me here! Thanks for reading!

What’s The Big Deal With Green Texts?

Lock-In

The iPhone is very popular, so a whole slew of people chat with the iMessage app. I often hear that it’s one of the biggest reasons for “platform lock-in.” That’s to say, many folks don’t or won’t stop using an iPhone because they’re chained to iMessage. But I don’t get it.


Blue Vs Green

In the tech sector, iMessage lock-in is often described as blue bubbles versus green bubbles. Why? If a person using iMessage receives text in a blue text bubble, then the sender is also using iMessage. But if it’s green, that means the sender is using an app that is not iMessage, which most often means they’re using Android instead of iPhone.

So what’s the big deal about that?

As blue is to sky, green is to grass; they’re both pleasant colors. So it can’t be the color itself but what the color means. Still, I don’t see a real problem. So what if someone sends text from an Android phone? There are only two reasons I can think of. The first is petty. The second is important.

The petty reason has something to do with status. There seems to be an air of superiority among some people who prefer iMessage and iPhone over Android and whatever pathetic chat app is used. It’s as if not only the hardware and software are inferior, but so is the person who happens to use it. I think this attitude is found in more immature people.

The important reason I can see for making a good distinction between iMessage and other chat apps is about security and privacy. iMessage texts, by default, are encrypted on the inbound and outbound side. This means whoever (the NSA) intercepts and collects your texts should not be able to decrypt and read your messages. For more on how this works, read this article.

iMessage is encrypted; that’s a nice feature. But despite how good and reliable iMessage is, it’s not perfect. Personally, I dislike how full of stuff it is. It has too many options and features and sub-menus and screens to access more stuff. The balance has been tipped from simplicity to complexity, which detracts from delight in it.

Now there is more reason why iMessage lock-in is a thing. A recent Fast Company article details some technical and related social reasons that are more important than petty. Basically, a non-iPhone text message that is sent to iMessage reduces its rich experience and, to some degree, limits functionality. Still, while there’s some merit to these reasons, I think they’re just inconvenient and a dent in luxury. In other words, no big deal.

And for more on the default Messages app on Android, check out Google’s info page here. I don’t think it is encrypted at all. Some chat features are limited compared to iMessage, but those are just bells and whistles to me. They’re nice to have, not need to have. Just give me letters and emoji and I’m good. Okay, I like the occasional GIF too, but it’s not a deal breaker if missing.


Emoji Please

So there are some reasons and my thoughts about so-called iMessage lock-in. If you send me a text and it comes in green, that’s perfectly fine with me.

Actually, what I really would like is to have what was once found on Android Messages. It used to let you change the color of the message bubbles based on the color of the contact. I loved it! My wife was all purple, my dad was red, and I was orange; it all looked very cool!

It would be more important, though, if Android Messages was encrypted like iMessage. Google, telecoms, and the NSA are collecting our texts and metadata, destroying any semblance of ambient privacy. Not good.

But hey, as long as we all get those GIFs, right? Color…encryption…just give us our emoji. 🙂


Are you locked-in because of iMessage? Do you prefer Android Messages or Signal? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!