Bullet Journal plannerAnyone who knows me, even casually, knows that I have a problem with paper goods. Pens, stationery, wrapping paper, journals, notebooks, planners…it’s an addiction. I used to carry a full planner, but now that my life is less plannable, I use a bullet journal, like the one you see at left.

But as much as I love paper, I am a hybrid personality. I think more creatively with a pen in my hand, but I am also hugely computer-centric. (In fact, most of my early relationship with my husband was based on the fact that I was his tech support person.)

I write my novels for the most part by hand. Every scene starts out written in a notebook, then gets transcribed into the computer, where it’s edited, cleaned up made to make sense, and sent to an editor. Then the editor sends it back to me, I print it out, and make all the edits by hand. Then I enter the edits into the computer and send it back.

Unlike many of my friends, I am not a huge fan of Moleskine notebooks. They’re okay, but they don’t take fountain pen ink as well as Rhodias. Of course, Rhodias don’t come in the gorgeous colors that Leuchtturms do. Moleskines aren’t bad. They’re just not my very favorite. (That one up there, that’s a Leuchtturm Bullet Journal from the original Kickstarter campaign.)

When LiveScribe first came out with their pens, I gave them a shot. But the LiveScribe pen was bulky, heavy, and ballpoint. It was a miserable writing experience. (I believe they now have gel pens, but the pens are still far too big for my hand; this is because they have recorders in them, which some people need but I do not.) I have fairly severe arthritis and very severe tendinitis in both of my hands—anything heavy is gone within a minute. I did really enjoy their notebooks, though, and wrote two novels in them with regular pens.

Moleskine Smart Writing SetSo when Moleskine advertised the “smart writing set,” I was hesitant. Not so hesitant that I didn’t immediately run to the Moleskine store on my way to a board meeting so I could test it out, you understand, but hesitant enough that I didn’t jump immediately on the bandwagon and order it online sight unseen. When I went into the shop, I scribbled with it, tried the transcription, etc, and in the long run I bought it.

Now that I’ve had a few days to play with it, here are some of my first thoughts:

  1. This is a toy.
    Yeah, I am enjoying it, and yeah, I will use it, but I am not entirely sure what the audience for it is. Too expensive for students (it was discounted slightly on release day, but still not cheap), it’s geared toward people who are hand-writing notes who then want to share them, edit the scans, etc. If you do that often, you don’t want to be tied to a flatbed scanner. That sounds like business professionals/graphic artists, but most of them already have digital tablets they’re comfortable with. I would have loved this in college, but I couldn’t have afforded it.
  2. It’s a lot of fun. Seriously. You watch your writing appear on the screen as you write in the notebook. That’s not worth the money, but it is worth a mention.
  3. The pen is very nice. It’s a Neo Smartpen branded for Moleskine. It’s skinny and light in the hand and writes very quickly with gel ink (almost too quickly–my handwriting is messier than it is with a slower pen that creates drag on the page). [Updated to add: This takes a universal D1 mini style refill. You can get a number of brands in both ballpoint and roller; I might try another one to see if it writes more slowly. Plus, I noticed I could get a five-pack of purple refills, which makes an enormous difference!]
  4. There’s some cool stuff in the app, like the ability to highlight text or change the color of your ink, etc. If you were taking notes at a presentation or something and wanted to keep them in your computer, this would be a handy way to do it. I am the kind of person who writes whatever comes into her mind when it enters, so the ability to go back later and separate that stuff out (“Don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning!” in the middle of a marketing meeting) is pretty useful. You can also erase things like that in the app before you archive the notes or share them with someone.
  5. I’d hoped the app would have somewhat trainable handwriting recognition, but it does not. Here’s what happened with my handwriting, which is admittedly loopy and rather messy, especially if I am sitting on the couch as I was when I wrote the notes below. I wanted to check out the sizes of the other possible notebooks I could use.

Notebook sizesMEO NOTEBOOKS:
} approximately
Plain: N F xD
Ring: A5
Of course, there is also the moleskin smart
notebook which is susutly narrower than
their usual notebooks.
NEO also makes lined pads in various sizes.
And an undated. planner
uws SJ s s
If you use windows, NEO Makes software
so you can print yor own paper.
I have not been able to get a straight answer about
pen rears.

So, what would I use it for? Well, as I said, I tend to think creatively when I have a pen in hand, so this is one of the first things I did.

Chart drawn in moleskine

Now, once I’ve written that out for all my major characters, I’d normally put it away. It helps me think through my characters but I rarely refer to it later. I don’t really need to type up the chart–I usually have the notes scrawled around if I need to remind myself of character motivation. I could, of course, simply take a picture of those pages of a notebook, but I usually don’t; I just dig them out later. It’s not worth buying a whole system to outline books, but having this available on mobile devices is handy.

(Also, there MAY be a way to get the system to transcribe something you’ve written horizontally, like this chart, rather than vertically, but I haven’t figured out what it is. The transcription is a stroke transcription–it records your pen strokes and makes sense of them based on where they occur on the page–so you can’t just switch the page orientation. I am sure this is something for which there’s a simple solution, but it’s worth a mention because it could be really annoying if you were expecting something else.)

The other thing I think I would find it very useful for is taking minutes at meetings. If I can get my handwriting neat enough, I should be able to write minutes down and transcribe them. They’re usually pretty neat and I like the fact that the transcription keeps the formatting.

I am a lousy designer, but I can also see this being useful for people who frequently draw things out before writing them. Floor plans, mapping, etc.

Now, if someone wanted to create something I’d REALLY use, Pilot could take this technology and make me a Coleto pen with it, or a fountain pen. The camera aspect means that you can’t really create a separate piece that sits on a regular pen—it would mess up the pen’s balance, but also the internal cameras have to be focused at a specific distance so you can’t just attach it to any pen—but a girl can dream. In the meantime, the Moleskine is a fun addition to the arsenal.