I’ve always viewed a printer as an essential in this business. I’ve owned some kind of laser ever since they came out. Nothing else can cope with the task of turning out manuscripts of several hundred pages or more.
But now? The ten-year-old Kyocera is still chugging along, but rarely gets used for anything except day-to-day correspondence. I used to print out as many as three or four draft manuscripts, then a final copy to be dispatched to the publisher and agent. The last is pointless today — people want Word files sent by email.
And I don’t need printouts myself. Finally I’ve worked out a digital proofing regime that is successful. It’s taken a while and hasn’t been cheap but I now know what I need to make revision on screen work. It’s something dead simple: a pen.
I’ve been messing around with tablets ever since they came out. They never worked for me for a very simple reason. Most are fingertip, not pen devices. In other words they don’t use a digital pen, just a blunt stylus that is not particularly accurate and usually obscures what you’re doing.
When I revise I want an exact analogy of the way I worked with paper: an A4 printout I can mark up with a digital pen. You can’t do that with a stylus. You need a tablet with a digitiser and a pen. The only one generally available of any note today is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
I wrote a while back about how much I was impressed by this device. The process is simple. I export a pdf from Word to Skydrive. Then I import the file into the Galaxy, mark it up, export it back to Skydrive and go back through the corrections and changes line by line against the original Word file.
As near perfect as it gets. The Note’s own S-Note software is hopeless for this. Several cheap pdf apps around do the job proficiently though. I prefer EZ-Pdf which allows you to revise page by page, commit any changes and remembers where you were too. The Note’s light, has a long battery life and is easy to use. It’s also down to not far north of £300 right now which seems a bargain to me.
If I had one criticism it would be the modest resolution of the screen. This isn’t a problem marking up an A4 manuscript but typeset galleys are a bit less readable.
Doubtless a higher resolution version is on the way. But I don’t expect to see typesetting for a while so I’m not worried. In theory the new generation of Windows 8 tablets ought to be good at this too. But you need to be picky.
The first Windows RT tablets don’t have a digitiser pen — just the same kind of stylus you’ll find on an iPad and other Android tablets. Lenovo are promising a digitiser Thinkpad Tablet 2 which could be promising. There’ll also be a digitiser on the new Surface Pro tablets due from Microsoft.
Three problems. Windows 8 tablets seem ridiculously overpriced to me. Some, such as those from Samsung, are 11-inch screens which look to be on the big side. And finally Microsoft’s own pdf software may look great in principle. But so far it can only ink in black. No other colour. As we all know, markup should be written in red — and must be for corrections sent back to most publishers.
So Windows has some way to go here. If you need something right now the Note is pretty much the only game in town.
That’s the end of this brief run of articles. In a nutshell my writing future is on Windows, mainly through Microsoft Office 2013, using a desktop and monitor, and I won’t be printing things out again. I want my working life to be as simple as possible so that I can focus on the hard part: the writing.