Writing tools: Index Card app for Windows 10

Earlier versions of Windows included an application called Cardfile, which made it so you could create simple index cards and shuffle through them. Cardfile was useful for keeping track of contacts or recipes, but it was of very limited use for writers.

For Windows 10, however, there’s an app in the Microsoft Store that has become a regular part of my writing process. The app, called Index Cards, creates highly-customizable cards that can be used to track characters, settings, or anything else.

You can download the app for free, but to get the most out of it, I recommend shelling out the paltry $5 for the Pro version, which includes a number of useful features you’ll miss out on if you opt for the free version. The free version is still useful, though. Some of the features I’ll show in this post are not supported in the free version.

Cards can be created in a number of formats and styles. They can be colored, lined, blanked, or use a graph pattern. Templates exist for various list styles, a dot grid, and more.

To further help you organize your cards, you can attach colored tags to the top. You can type on the cards, or, if you have a computer that supports a pen (or fingertip), you can write on the cards, Cards are two-sided, just like the real thing, and you can use different designs for the front and back.

I can’t show you how I’ve used Index Cards to keep track of characters without giving away more about my story than I’m willing to reveal, but these samples should give an idea of some of the things you can do. I refer to my cards all the time as I write and revise.

Here’s a sample from my story, one that doesn’t give away too much:

Basically, you can do just about everything you can do with actual index cards, and much more. The only thing that’s difficult to do is shuffle cards. You can move them around a virtual tabletop, though, rearranging at will. You can use card and ink colors to easily organize types of characters, settings, or whatever.

Index Cards is easy to master, and it’s as versatile as you’d want paper index cards to be, with the added functionality of a well-designed computer program.

One of things I really appreciate about Index Cards is how responsive the developer is. For a free/$5 app, he can’t be making that much money, but he responds to user requests and updates his app frequently.

If you write on a Windows computer, and especially if you have a touch screen (but even if you don’t), this app is a must-have for organizing and tracking story elements.

 

Review: Rocketbook Everlast Notebook

It’s no secret that I love notebooks. So when I put together my Christmas wish list this year, it included the Rocketbook reusable smart notebook. And I got one.

So, how does it work?

The Rocketbook Everlast is a reusable notebook that can be set up to automatically upload pages to favorite online services. Unlike the Rocketbook Wave, you don’t microwave the notebook to erase it. You simply use a damp cloth or even a paper towel and wipe it off. While the Wave claims you can erase the pages five times, the Everlast doesn’t have that limit. You can supposedly erase it as many times as you’d like.

One caveat is that you need to use a Pilot Frixion pen. The good news is that these pens are inexpensive, easy to find, and come in various sizes and styles. Pens are a very personal choice (indeed, like notebooks), so some people might not be happy about being forced to use a specific brand, but I find the Frixion reasonably comfortable and smooth enough on the Everlast’s glossy pages.

There are 18 sheets, 36 pages, in my notebook. The notebook comes with a black pen, but you can use any Frixion pen, with whatever color and thickness you like. It also comes with a cloth, but you can use any cloth you’d like.

When you’ve completed your notes, use the Rocketbook app to take a picture of the page and upload it to your favorite online service. At the bottom of each page there are seven faint icons. If you mark one, the app automatically uploads the page to the location you configure for that icon, which can be common cloud services or email. For example, I configured the first icon to upload to a specific directory on Google Docs. When I used the app to scan the page, it worked flawlessly, quickly dropping either a PDF or PNG (your choice) to my folder.

With good OCR software and better note-taking penmanship than mine, you could theoretically turn your notes into text files that you can copy into Word or whatever editor you like.

The notebook is network agnostic. The connection is handled by the mobile app, so whatever your phone or tablet is connected to is your notebook’s connection.

Another thing I like is that the pages use a dot grid rather than lines. Lines can be restrictive and I often ignore them. For people whose notes include sketches and doodles, a dot grid is great. Or for people like me who like to avoid rules and borders when brainstorming. Revision is for coloring inside the lines. Drafting has very few lines, and the lines are very personal, defined by needs that can change constantly.

Of course, a plain old notebook is pretty near perfect, and this is a new thing that can be improved with time, but it’s great if you’d like to store notes digitally rather than in a pile of notebooks on a shelf or closet.

So, I’m not about to throw out my unused notebooks and use this exclusively, but it gives me another option that works great for some tasks.

NOTEBOOKS!!!!!!

Like many writers, I have an obsession with notebooks.

One of my favorite things about summer, in fact, is that the stores have “school” supplies for great prices. They might become cheaper as we get closer to the start of school, but they are still irresistible right now.

This morning, I needed to run to Target for drinks and dog food. I ended up also getting these:

It doesn’t matter that I already have several unused notebooks. When comp books are 50 cents, leaving the store without at least six is not possible. Not for me.

Comp books are my favorite.

I have many favorites.

If comp books are great, how great are those little mini comp books? Great enough to be my favorite.

My favorite notebook is next to the mini comp book. It’s a slightly larger notebook with a fabric cover. And it lies flat when opened.

Sometimes at work meetings, they pass out these great notebooks. Those are my favorite!

And then there’s the great notebook I got for my birthday. It even has a pocket. No wonder it’s my favorite.

My favorite notebooks are made just for writers. How can any writer not love these?

And can a desk really be a desk without one or more yellow pads? They may be simple, but they are a workspace essential. And that’s why they’re my favorite.

Then, of course, there’s the sticky note. Maybe not technically a notebook, but they’re beautiful, and easy to color code, and you can put them anywhere, and they’re my favorite.

I have other notebooks. There are few places I can go in my home where I don’t have a notebook nearby. It might come as no surprise, but whichever one I’m using is my favorite.

Now I’m thinking about buying another one. I think a dot-ruled notebook would definitely be my favorite.

Different sizes, shapes, styles–each helps me in a different way. The only notebook that is not my favorite is one that can’t hold up to being used, a cheapie that falls apart or where the ink bleeds through too much.

Review: The Writer’s Data-Book by Amber Florenza

The other day, I was browsing Amazon, looking for interesting writing stuff, and I came across The Writer’s Data-Book by Amber Florenza. It costs just under $7 and I was curious, so I bought a copy.

 

Writers who like to plan your books meticulously will find a lot a lot to love in this book. Even if you only sketch out a few characteristics and useful facts, the worksheets Florenza provides will be useful.

The worksheets focus mainly on characters, although there are pages to help you put together an overview of your book and even draft the dreaded synopsis. Mainly, though, the worksheets give you a place to fill out information about your main characters and the “secondary characters ¬†who matter” and “secondary characters who exist,” as the book calls them.

Among the more interesting pages, useful even for pantsers, are worksheets that help you keep track of a character’s family and pages where you can sketch out the floor plan of a character’s house or other important places.

Many of the left-hand pages throughout the book are lined for notes, and there are blank pages at the back of the book where you can draw or mind-map or whatever it is you like to do.

One interesting element I don’t remember seeing before is the concept of flavors for your story. There are a few worksheets where these flavors are included.

The book is clearly a Print-On-Demand book. Mine is dated the day I ordered it. It is available in several colors so you can choose your favorite, or even color-code your projects. The author has also generously provided instructions for printing additional pages that are easy to locate online. In fact, I suppose if you really wanted to, you could print pages without buying the book, but that’s cheating. The author deserves something for the work she put into planning her worksheets. Nowhere does she ask you not to do that, but the workbook is reasonably priced and includes those extra spaces for notes and sketches, as well as some pages that are not available for download.

Although the book is a plotter’s dream–or could be, if it included more worksheets for scenes and other plot elements beyond the basic book summaries–I think pantsers can also use it for ideas or to track certain details. There’s no rule that says you have to fill out every line, but we all need to keep track of stuff. It’s a good deal at $6.75, especially since we can print more pages. Even if you use something like Scrivener to keep similar notes, sometimes there are advantages to the old analog way of doing things, especially if you want to make sketches on note paper.

If you’re looking for something to help you plan your next story or make notes about your current work in progress–especially information about characters–give this workbook a try.