Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Over the course of my hashtag study and composing posts for this blog, I was given the opportunity to experiment with multiple different writing tools. For my first post, I used ZenPen. For the second, I composed with Google Docs. After those were the Microsoft Word for Tablet app, a typewriter, and WordPress. All of these tools had interesting points, as well as drawbacks. But the question remains: What would the ideal writing environment be for me?

First, I’ll look at the elements about ZenPen that I like. After messing around with it after my initial post about it, I’ve come to like it a bit more. The ability to invert colors is a nice touch to make things easier on the eyes, the text is nice and big, and the interface is extremely simple and user-friendly. What I don’t like about it, however, is that it saves things in a browser window. In order to take things and move to another device, I’d have to save my writing to my computer and upload it onto the new computer. This is significantly more of a dilemma to me than it would be to others; I write very long texts and often have to work from different computers.

Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so.
Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so. 

Google Docs is my primary writing tool because it runs on all of my devices, and it’s similar to the word processors I grew up on (so it’s a lot less “alien.”). However, I’ve started to shy away from it where my personal writing is concerned. I’m glad to have things backed up, yes, but what happens if my account gets hacked? Something about storing writing on a cloud, in a document that’s easily accessed by anyone using my account, doesn’t sit right with me. Draftback is pretty cool, though.

Tablet apps like Microsoft Word for Tablet are generally a “no” for me. They’re too hard to work with, no matter what sort of setup I try to use. Even using a bluetooth keyboard, like I usually do with my tablet, proves frustrating. It’s too slow, editing is more difficult than on a laptop, and tablet apps require more effort to back up. Still, when your computer’s down, it’s nice to have a backup… and this can be used without Internet access, if you’re ever in a pinch.

Typewriters are outdated, and for a good reason–their keys jam, they require a fair amount of force that makes one’s hands hurt after writing, and typos are nigh impossible to correct on them. Still, they have their charm. The clacking sound of the keys is incredibly satisfying, as is the little bell that sounds when you reach the end of a line. Plus, they look incredibly cool. If not for the difficult points of writing on a typewriter, they’d probably be my go-to writing tool!

On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter...
On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter…

Finally, there is WordPress. I love to blog–I run a not-completely-terrible movie review blog in my spare time–but at the same time, I sort of hate blogging. I don’t like to put my thoughts into writing and then, without any middleman to tell me any flaws I’ve done, send them out to the public. (There’s a reason my blog doesn’t update often.) Furthermore, I don’t particularly like WordPress– its layout is difficult to navigate compared to similar sites, and if you have more than one blog there can be major chaos. But it’s probably the best way to reach a wider audience, so there’s something infinitely satisfying about it… if I could learn to use it well.

So, after analyzing all of these tools and apps, what can I say about my ideal writing environment? I’d say it would be a Frankenstein’s Monster composed of the best elements of all five tools: Distraction-free and user-friendly like ZenPen, familiar and stable like Google Docs (coupled with instant-saving), private and Internet-free like tablet apps, quirky and unique like the typewriter, and audience-friendly like WordPress. Since a lot of these things might seem to contradict each other, finding the best possible writing environment would require abandoning whatever elements I deem least necessary.

So, what can we really take from my intense fickleness? Mainly, that what constitutes a “good” writing environment is a matter of personal preference and nothing more. (There are people who use Notepad and nothing but Notepad, after all…) In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy K. Baym states that people’s views on technologies are reflective. (p. 28) This means that a person’s like or dislike about a site is usually caused by some personal bias for or against certain things.  As a result, the way I view these tools is more about me and my finicky nature than any real flaw with the tools themselves. My initial complaints about ZenPen were that the text size couldn’t be adjusted and it was hard to get creative; this could be attributed to a desire for a more “traditional” word processing tool that looked similar to Microsoft Word.

I’m still looking for the best writing tool for me, but switching between two or three environments every now and then provides a pretty good balance. And changing to adapt to some of the more “foreign” ones to me certainly couldn’t hurt…

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Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Kim’s Reflections on ZenPen

ZenPen was a different sort of writing tool. With its vast white spaces and lack of features, it was like an alien version of the other softwares I’ve used. It has all of the necessities of a good writing space, but somehow, something about it felt off to me.

My first issue was the look of it, the sheer amount of whitespace on the screen and the size of the text. I have sensory integration issues, so looking at a blank white screen is actually painful for me if I do it for too long. (This makes it hard to be a writer sometimes without dimming the screen significantly.) I didn’t play around with the features enough to discover that there’s a way to invert the colors, but I’ll admit that, now that it’s been pointed out to me, it does help a lot.

Regular colors...
Regular colors…
Inverted colors. MUCH better.
Inverted colors. MUCH better.

The font issue is merely a matter of me being ridiculously picky. I don’t like sites where the text isn’t 11 or 12-point font because I can’t see as much at once. There’s a benefit to this, of course, but for me it’s just frustrating.

As for it causing minimal distractions because of its lack of features, well… allow this screenshot to say my thoughts.

Screenshot 2015-02-22 at 3.20.19 PM

Returning to ZenPen for a re-appraisal, however, I found a bit more to like about it. Not being able to check my word count without setting a goal is still annoying, but everything else is sort of interesting. It’s hard to figure out what kind of writing to do on the site: it’s definitely not suited for writing a novel, of course, and it doesn’t have enough features to make for an ideal place to compose essays for school.

However, if you’re looking to jot down words quickly, it’s not a bad choice. On ZenPen, it’s not hard to reach your word count in a short amount of time if you jump into full screen and just keep tapping keys. It could be a good place to punch out a quick draft of a blog post or essay questions. It may even be ideal for beginning a short story if you just want to get to writing right away. The hardest part of writing is starting, and ZenPen makes it very easy to start.

I think I’m going to keep working with ZenPen every so often. It has potential to be very useful to me if I can get past my problems with the way it looks.

Kim’s Reflections on ZenPen