Electronic Helpers

This is the information age. Our brains are so overloaded with information from multiple sources that we have a hard time keeping track of everything. We are bombarded from all sides with information – online and offline. When we are online we check our email, update our status on Facebook and check to see what all our friends and family and doing. We tweet, retweet and read tweets. We have our favorite blogs bookmarked. Then there is our smart phone – we can be online wherever we are – we can even check our email in the bathroom or on the road (although this is a very bad idea unless we are in the passenger seat). Even if we decide not to stay connected, there are so many sources of information – visual information from billboards, buildings, and street signs. Auditory information from the radio, our surroundings, and people we interact with.

How do we keep track of ideas about our stories – either the one’s we are wrestling with or the ones that bubble up from our subconscious? It’s easy to have a great idea or hear the perfect conversation in your head – but much harder to keep track of it to be able to use it later in your story.

Enter the wonderful world of electronic helpers.

You have a smart phone, right? If you have a smartphone there are a number of voice recorder apps available that you can use to record your random thoughts and brilliant – or not so brilliant – ideas. If you don’t have a smartphone you can call you phone number and leave yourself a message – this is a technique that I found very helpful when I was working in a traditional office (as long as the idea isn’t about killing your boss – then it’s NOT a good idea to leave that message while in earshot of your co-workers).

Handheld voice recorders have lost popularity with the advent of smartphones. I have two but I have no idea where they are. They proved very useful before I had my smartphone though. I carried one with me in my purse and it was a snap to record messages while driving. Just a flick of the on/off button and voila – idea recorded. Handheld voice recorders are actually much safer than smartphones. With a smartphone you have to unlock it (your phone is password protected, right?), find the app, choose the app and then activate the app – all of which requires actually looking at the phone – not a good idea when driving. On the other hand, a voice recorder only requires you switch it on – must have a simple button on the side and can be operated without looking at them. (Note to self: locate handheld recorder.)

Okay, say you’re not driving when the idea or perfect conversation strikes (and they usually do crop up when we are driving, don’t they?). You could use your smartphone very easily then. One caveat with using an app on your smartphone – make sure that the recorder can easily be transferred to your computer! The first smartphone I had I found a great voice recorder app – super simple to use and I was able to categorize my recordings. The problem arose when I tried to load them onto my computer. The makers of the app had forgotten to include an easy transfer protocol in the free version (forgotten or deliberately excluded?). I ended up listening to the voice messages and typing them – a pain in the patootie – unless you are a whizz at dictation. (Dictation? What the heck is that?)

Okay, say you’re in a public place and the idea pops up – an idea that you absolutely don’t want to have overheard. Having a two-sided conversation between your characters in a public place can cause some really scared sideways glances, even if you have a Bluetooth and pretend to be talking to someone. Which reminds me of the time we were in the MacDonald’s in Philadelphia and the woman next to us was having a one-sided argument – we thought she was on the phone with someone. Until she turned to us and we realized she wasn’t wearing a Bluetooth – ooops. Quickest I ever ate a big mac!

But I digress. If you have ideas you want to keep track of you could write them in a notebook or on your computer. We won’t cover using your computer here. Notebooks are a great investment. I strongly suggest having one in every room, one in your purse and one in your car. The trouble with notebooks is this – if your handwriting is anything like mine, you may not be able to read what you wrote in a year or two, or even next month.

I’ve recently discovered Smart Pens and electronic notebooks. I remember seeing them when they first came on the scene a couple of years ago and thought they would be a good investment. The notebooks are still a little pricey but well worth the investment for story ideas. I probably wouldn’t write my entire draft on an electronic notebook but this is the perfect place to keep track of ideas that you have for either the work-in-progress or the next couple of stories. Once the marvelous ideas are transcribed into the notebook you sync them with your computer., Easy peasy. The caveat here is that you have to remember to turn the pen ON. You can choose to store your notes online or only on your computer, depending on which Smart Pen you purchase. An online option is a good idea if you use multiple computers.

Another electronic helper is email – yes, email. I may be behind the curve here, but I discovered this trick a couple of months ago when I had to transfer files from one computer to another and I couldn’t find my zip drive. I saved the file to a draft email on one computer, and downloaded it from the draft email on the other. Not rocket science, but very useful.

What are your favorite electronic helpers? How do you use technology to make your writing life a little easier?

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