This week, I’ve picked out handful of software programs and web-based applications that perform tasks crucial for The Freelance Life; digital aids that solve problems that writers face daily. For more tips and bits on my Freelance Life, follow me on Twitter @jonreiss and for more interviews and past articles check out my Tumblr.
Special programs for writers have become a racket all its own. For aspiring novelists there are at least five applications claiming to aid the experience of prose writing, software like Scrivener, Storymill, Storyist and Nisus Writer. At first glance, they all seem to me, a waste of time, but I could be wrong, and perhaps we’ll explore them in a future post. (Scrivener is nothing short of revolutionary for organizing long, multi-section work. –ed.)
There are mountains of apps out there that do the exact same thing (and many things that need doing, for which there are no programs) here are some of the most useful tools I’ve found.
Google Reader (free): Here at The Freelance Life, we’ve been touting the importance of RSS readers and feeds for months, and there’s no better way to do it than with Google, partially because Google’s Reader centralizes your feed with your mail (now if only anyone used Google+ we’d neverhave to leave the warm bosom of Google). Google Reader makes reading about what’s happening in your chosen field of interest quicker, smarter and more digestible. If you’re at a loss for outlets with which to fill your feed, check out our series, What’s In An RSS Feed.
Instapaper ($2.99 for a smartphone app): One of the best reasons for writers to live in New York as opposed to other cities is the subway. Sure it’s crowded, often brutal and (if you’re anywhere off the L train) constantly shutting down, but it also gives you time to catch up on your reading. If you’ve ever come upon an article that you desperately wanted to read, just not at that moment, Instapaper gives you a way to store those articles with a simple click. Articles are saved to the app on your phone, perfect for later subway reading. Just make sure to update before you descend into MTAland.
PDFPen ($59.95 OUCH! Get the free trial before you commit): Nowadays, you should never have to print. Yet, without fail it seems like every time a contract or W-9 is involved, I find myself trucking over to Internet Garage to overpay for internet access and printing, and on top of it all, having to actually mail the sucker. I swear, The USPS just no longer works. Have you ever seen an action movie where the car chase just narrowly avoids a Postal Service truck and letters go flying out into the street? I am positive that is what happens every time I send mail. With PDFPen you can fill out all of your forms on your computer and, best of all, sign them.
Express Scribe (free): Being a good transcriber is necessary in the writing game. Whether it’s quotes from drunken partygoers or two-hour long conversations with drunken band members or similarly intoxicated audio bits, it can take Zen-like patience to transcribe. Having discovered this tool, I have no idea how I ever managed beforehand. Essentially, Express Scribe is just a Dictaphone on your computer that makes it possible to move forward and back in different, often tiny increments. It also enables you to speed up and slow down playback speed. Going from iTunes to this, for transcription purposes is hugely liberating.
Kaleidoscope ($39 or free trial): This piece of software saved my life. That’s a bit dramatic, but it indeed seemed like a godsend when I discovered it, and to this day I don’t quite understand how it works so well. Long story short: Having written a 400-page novel, I reached a point where I decided that it needed to be drastically cut, and cut I did, like half-blind Army barber, until one day I woke up having completely forgotten my reasons for wanting to cut so much in the first place.
With Kaleidoscope, you can take two drafts of the same document, even if it’s a 400-page novel, and compare it page by page. Even if you’ve cut major sections, Kaleidoscope will line it up, and show you exactly where you cut, or added text so you can review crazy changes you made while on a coffee-fueled tear, and restore, or decide that they may have been good edits after all.
IA Writer ($8.99 or $0.99 for iPad): There are quite a few programs like this one, IAWriter is just the newest and arguably, the best. IAWriter is a simple, no frills word processor that will occupy your entire screen giving you nothing a blank page and cursor. This is one of the many “concentration apps” out there for writers. WriteRoom is another, the main difference is WriteRoom gives you a black screen and green cursor like an old school DOS screen, and IAWriter provides a white screen with black cursor. It’s just matter of preference. Although, IAWriter is about $20 cheaper.
The Interview Duo
Recording interviews in this day and age can be a major pain. Don’t ask me why, it seems like it should be simple, but if you’re a freelancer, with no access to a landline the solution isn’t as easy as you might think. With a landline you can just put the call on speaker and record with your iPhone’s recorder app. If you don’t have a landline, you can try putting the call on speaker and recording with a Dictaphone, but my experiences with this have not been great. After much trial and error I’ve found the ultimate interview app duo to make the process as easy as possible. (Using a digital recorder and an iPhone on speaker has always worked pretty well for this reporter–Olympus makes a good one. Also, you should ALWAYS make sure the person you’re speaking with knows that the conversation is being recorded and is okay with that. It’s common courtesy and a legal formality. –ed.)
Google Voice: Google Voice gives you a new phone number, which will ring to your current phone. You can pick the number so you can try and spell out fun things on the keypad, like mine spells UR SSEXY. With this number you gain many cool features. For instance, any voicemail messages left on this number will be immediately transcribed and sent to you via text message. The most important feature though, is call recording. Google Voice makes it possible to record any incoming calls on your phone with crystal clear sound. All you’ve got to do is receive the call, press 3 and a female robot voice will announce, “Your call is now being recorded.” The only hang-up here is having to request that your interview subjects call you, which can seem unprofessional.
Recorder for iPhone: It’s unbelievable how difficult it is to record outgoing calls. Apparently, there are legal issues involved, particularly if a call is being recorded without a person’s knowledge (Don’t do this! –ed). However, this $1.99 app for the iPhone has found a way around it, making it possible to place a call and have a recording of the conversation, which can then be downloaded to your computer or phone. There can be issues with this system though. Awhile back I interviewed author Justin Taylor for Brooklyn Based. The whole thing was a major frenzy. I received his new novel a day before the interview and read it all that evening. Using the Recorder makes cell service somehow all the more elusive, so I ended up having to sit outside on my front stoop in the dead of winter for the entire interview. Finally, when it came time to download the interview, the file was layered over itself four times over, making the entire thing incomprehensible. It’s always been my worst fear to have to re-interview an artist whom I admire, luckily it’s only happened once, and to the nicest possible subject. I was lucky in this instance to find a way to doctor the file through hours of Ableton and Garage Band work, eventually making most of audible. Moral of the story, for interviews, use Google Voice whenever possible.