Let’s Talk Tools: The Livescribe 3
Like many writers, I am somewhat old school in my first draft habits. While I certainly partake in, and enjoy, the ease of the laptop and tablet, I prefer recording the first go-round with a pen and paper. There’s something very visceral about shaping letters and words and sentences with one’s own fingers. With looking down and seeing callouses covered in ink and accidental finger prints on glaringly white paper.
There’s a problem, however. And that problem has a name.
Paranoia based on legitimate concern, mind you. Pieces of paper, even whole notebooks, are very easy to misplace. They can fall out of a bag or end up in the trash after a table-cleaning sweep or your kids can mistake them for fort-war ammunition. If the clunky thing does make it home, you spend hours you could be using to craft new sentences and pages typing things into your word processor. If you have a working scanner (I don’t at the moment) you can stand there and feed your hand written pages in one by laborious one instead, which takes oodles of time you could be using, once again, to make new words. You can take snaps and upload them to the cloud of your choice but, again, if you’re anything like me, it is entirely possible that your phone will get lost or dropped or fall prey to another disaster between one moment and the next and then you’re left with the evaporated/destroyed notebook issue once more.
All those words, all that effort, gone, never to be retrieved. You may be able to reconstruct them, but there are turns of phrase or inspirations that allow the writer a brief glimpse and then fade into the brain detritus of everyday life. You could dig for hours, months, or years and you probably won’t find them again. You might very well recapture the thing but never the spirit and the spirit is what survives editing and cutting and pasting and rewriting to make the thing yours.
I thought Mod Notebook was going to solve some of these problems with their scan feature. It didn’t. Because you have to fill the notebook and send it through the mail before you have your backup. Not only do you risk your work with your own incompetence, you’re expected to hand that sacred text over to an organization notorious for not getting things where they were going in a timely fashion, if at all.
Because my anxiety disorder isn’t bad enough at baseline.
What to do?
I tried a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. It’s okay, but the Pages app sucks monkey butt and the keyboard that is easily portable is way, way to small for my actual grown-up sized hands. I got very little writing done because I was backspacing to correct every third letter, which got old very quickly. Using the touch screen on either iPad or phone presents the same issues.
So, back to lugging the laptop.
There’s another option.
The Livescribe 3.
Livescribe makes several different Bluetooth enabled pens, priced by capability. The 3 is spendy, a little over $200, which makes it an actual investment. It’s an investment that’s paid off for me in the two weeks I’ve had it, however. It has saved me time, it has saved me brainpower, and it has saved me a lot of worry over loss of precious words. I’ve had extra writing time because when previously, I wouldn’t have bothered for fear of losing my work, I can fire up my pen and my phone to catch all the scribblings and know that, because the data was saving to the app and not the phone itself, if said device were to become mangled, I’d still be able to access the writing on my iPad or, indeed, any device onto which I could download the aforementioned app.
The translation from ink to image is quick, accurate, and no more difficult to read than one’s own handwriting (admittedly, I have some weird handwriting quirks). The image pixelates a bit, but none of the detail is lost in the digitization process. Any new writing uploads to the app automatically the next time you open it on a given device.
The pen is thick, which I prefer that as I have larger hands, longer fingers, and find my knuckles tend to cramp up with a thinner pen. The grip is textured and comfortable, though it is hard (no gel here). My hand went several hours without cramping up. The ink cartridge (a very thin, short, metal version of ballpoint pen innards, is easy to change and doesn’t leak).
The paper is specific to the pen (it looks like a sort of dot matrix) though there are a variety of types: lined, unlined, grid, etc. You can choose the one that best suits your general needs or individual tasks. I read somewhere that there are free templates you can print yourself. I am too lazy to go looking but power to you!
The Livescribe app enables you to tag whole pages, or smaller cells, of text. Digital files are searchable by date or tag, which gives the user several ways to find the data they need down the road. A couple of click gets you a PDF that can be exported to a variety of other programs (Google Drive, Dropbox, email clients, Kindle app) smoothly and easily, so not only is your data safe in the cloud, you can back it up to the nth without any hoop jumping whatsoever.
You can create sound files with the pen. I haven’t tried it yet, but it might come in handy for moments when writing isn’t appropriate. Like at stoplights.
There are, as always, some negatives: you have to remember to charge then pen if you want it to upload immediately — it does still write normally when turned off or out of juice. You constantly fear for its very expensive safety. Because I crave order, I have each project in a separate notebook, which means planning ahead for which ones I need to have with me or weighting my bag down. Unlike the Circa I’ve been using for years, pages can’t be moved around, added, or subtracted without tearing or taping, which I doubt would work given the notebooks are coded for the upload.
There is a handwriting to text function. It’s terrible. Perhaps the system needs more time to learn my handwriting, the way Siri needs time to learn your voice. Maybe my handwriting is awful or there’s something about it that makes digitization tricky. Or maybe that part needs a little more work.
I use retyping as a way of editing and rewriting, so I don’t mind having the handwriting files as a first draft and inputting them as a means to creating a second draft (that is hopefully better and easier to read). The big thing for me is having those handwritten files somewhere safe (double storage in the app and as PDFs in Dropbox, which I could also, potentially, email to myself).
I’ve had a hard time setting the date and time, which isn’t all that important to me, but may be if you plan to use the pen to make voice recordings, take dictation, or to make notes on meetings or scheduling. There’s also a small design flaw in that the mini-usb for charging is under the stylus tip on the back – not a big deal and and of itself but you have to take the tip all the way off to plug the pen in which, in my life and world, is begging to loose the damn thing. A hinge or some such would be stellar on the next model.
All that said, I highly recommend the Livescribe if you’re a first draft (or any draft) by-hander. I haven’t tried any of the other models, but I imagine they’re all pretty solid given the functionality of this newest one.