Am I a Paper Person? A Review of the reMarkable Paper Tablet

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In an age when artists and authors are constantly tempted to surrender their focus (I’m looking at you, social media!), the reMarkable e-ink tablet promises a creative experience free of distraction.  That’s a lofty goal, but the reMarkable crew of Oslo, Norway has made it their philosophy since the tablet’s crowdfunding campaign of 2016.  Now, after years on the market and several big firmware updates, consumers are finally able to gauge how well the company delivers in their commitment to Paper People.

Full disclosure:  my writing process has always begun with putting pen to paper.  Given this, I was intrigued by the idea of an e-ink tablet replacing the many stacks of notebooks lining my desk.  But is the reMarkable tablet really an organized and distraction-free creative experience?

My biggest gripe with the reMarkable came before I even purchased it -– the price.  At $599.99, the “Paper Tablet” would be a hefty investment, but the potential of focus and productivity was worth the risk, so I went for it.  Unfortunately, a few days after purchasing the tablet, it went on sale for $499.99, leaving me feeling a little defeated.  Fortunately, after a quick correspondence with the excellent reMarkable customer service, they refunded me the difference, effectively softening the blow of the price-point.

I received the reMarkable in under ten days.  The package included the 10.3” e-ink tablet, a reMarkable pen, ten additional pen tips, and a charging cable.  I was immediately impressed by how sleek and lightweight the tablet is.  And when they say the CANVAS display has the texture of paper, the company isn’t kidding.

After charging the device, I booted up Codex, the custom Linux operating system, and tried my hand at syncing the tablet to the reMarkable app on my phone.  This was a pain-free experience, though many users have had problems in this area.  With the tablet and the app in sync, anything I created would automatically be sent to a dedicated cloud and downloaded onto connected devices via the onboard Wi-Fi.

In my estimation there are four primary uses for the reMarkable tablet:  writing, sketching, reading, and annotation.  Writing and drawing on the e-ink device is surprisingly smooth with the battery-free stylus offering virtually no lag.  The interface offers a variety of options, from pencils to markers to pens, some of which are even pressure-sensitive.  Though the device is entirely in grayscale, there are enough style choices to offer a diverse writing or sketching experience.  Most impressively, though, the system now offers a writing-to-text option that converts handwritten words to editable text that can be e-mailed and further formatted in a traditional word processor.

The reMarkable tablet also doubles as an e-reader for PDF and ePUB files.  Text is stark and readable even in direct sunlight, though it lacks a backlight to read in the dark.  Even so, for a simple device on the go, the reMarkable serves its purpose well, especially for annotating text.  With such tools as a highlighter and its wide array of writing implements, the tablet presents a great way for notetakers to edit uploaded papers in real time.  In fact, a large part of reMarkable’s customer base are students using the tablet to stay organized in class or notetakers in office settings.

Still, though the reMarkable adds a simple approach to the creative process, the device can be slow at times, especially when loading or navigating particularly large files.  Uploading and downloading also requires some patience as the cloud synchronizes everything.  And that writing-to-text option?  Though it’s definitely a game-changer when writing longhand, the software isn’t exactly 100% accurate in its translation from handwriting to text.

Overall the reMarkable is a neat little device that boosts the creative process by stripping away the distractions plaguing artists and authors alike.  The feel of writing on the system is satisfying and has, indeed, replaced the many notebooks that occupy my office.  The battery life isn’t too shabby either as I’ve only had to charge the device once a week after moderate use.  Though the price is steep for such a niche technology (the reMarkable is currently $499.99 on remarkable.com), it is a dream come true for a writer such as myself who drafts in longhand.  There are negatives, to be sure, and many opportunities to further optimize the device, but the reMarkable offers a unique e-ink experience that delivers on its promise of distraction-free writing.

If you are interested in picking up a reMarkable, be sure to head over to Amazon today!

Notes from Purgatory – (Don’t Over)kill Your Darlings

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Ambition is to the mind what the cap is to the falcon; it blinds us first, and then compels us to tower, by reason of our blindness. But alas, when we are at the summit of a vain ambition, we are also at the depth of real misery. We are placed where time cannot improve, but must impair us; where chance and change cannot befriend, but may betray us; in short, by attaining all we wish, and gaining all we want, we have only reached a pinnacle where we have nothing to hope, but everything to fear.”
-CHARLES CALEB COLTON, Lacon

I’m not going to lie, I’ve left a lot of projects at the wayside in my time as an author.  Most of them were mercy-kills because certain ideas weren’t worth pursuing over time or their plots simply weren’t panning out.  Even so, there were others that were genuinely good, ones that might’ve blossomed into compelling stories had I not suffocated them with unbridled ambition.  Such an unfocused perspective on my work sometimes contaminates my writing process before I really get to the meat of my stories.  By then I’ve already lost interest because these stories aren’t living up to such implausible depth.

What I mean to say is I overkill my darlings.

Looking back on the corpses of stories past, I see plots that were spoiled by an old sense of grandiosity.  I distinctly remember trying to force complexity into plots that actually needed simplified.  I recall digging deep networks when a shallow pool would suffice.  I would dilute a story (and, by extension, my creative process) because I couldn’t yet focus my imagination, which is what I truly feel is the definition of creativity.

Ambition is certainly not a bad thing, but it must be harnessed with a well-developed sense of direction.  If I spend all of my time developing interconnecting rabbit-holes between my short stories instead of focusing on their plots, I’m missing my mark as an author, which is to entertain readers while delivering a memorable experience of a specific story.  As a young writer, I would often preoccupy myself with how the big picture fit together in my little literary universe.  The problem with such distraction, however, is that the enormity of the forest can easily take focus off of the beauty of each of its trees.

Now I spend less time erecting secret architecture between stories and more time guiding readers to their strange hearts.  I use ambition as a map, not a compass, and I’m ever so careful not to stray too far from where my instincts are drawing me.  I slow down to let the story tell itself to me before my imagination can interrupt the process with noisy belligerence.  I try to be creative, not imaginative.  I seek to focus my ambition to manifest a story never told, one that stands at the heart of its own world.

I still make nods to past stories, of course, and the occasional wink to those to come, but my writing process has become much more streamlined since I’ve ditched the over-analysis and meta-everything of my stories.  Now I can clearly hear my stories when they speak to me.  I can feel each setting and come to know each character.  I kill my darlings in appropriate moderation.  So I once was blind but now can see.

Notes From Purgatory: To Live and Be Alive (on the Blank Page)

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Ever since I first began writing stories in my mother’s basement at the age of eight, I’ve been infatuated with the blank page.

I still remember the thrill of punching black letters onto the white with her typewriter because the act represented true, organic creation to me.  Anything seemed possible when I began a new story.  In fact, I’ve worked hard to preserve such awe when sitting down to a new idea.  It still fuels my need to translate the strange thoughts beneath thoughts in the depths of my mind.

To me the blank page represents potential.  It is the one place where all writers are equal.  Before we all set that first word into existence, we are given the opportunity to create greatness.  We are at the same starting line as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or any of our other successful colleagues.  Sure, at their level they are almost guaranteed to deliver something wonderful, but through refinement of our craft (not to mention countless attempts at peeling away the blank page), are we not privy to the same potential of a great story?

Well, maybe.

See, the blank page is a window of what could be.  Even so, success isn’t a guarantee.  And it shouldn’t be.  Professional success is earned by those who stare at the void of the blank page and accept its challenge.  Being a successful writer means bleeding away the white with precision of craft, confidence, and talent.  Was it not Michelangelo who freed angels from blocks of marble?  Are we not doing the same with black letters on a white canvas?

To tell true, writing is making something out of nothing, imprinting the DNA of our thoughts on the very void until something new has been manifested.  We must learn to accept the challenge of the blank page, to be confident in its defeat at our nimble fingers and the sharp points of our pens.  After all, isn’t writer’s block really just confronting the nothingness with nothing to say?

So we must be fearless, alive.  We must stare into the abyss with our steaming cups of coffee without flinching.  We have to laugh.  We have to love.  We must live and be alive on the blank page.

My point here is that with any blank page there exists raw potential and, as writers, it is our duty to do the best we can with what we have.  Each cut we make into the blank before us is a history that we author.  We who write are fortunate enough to create records of who we are through our stories and that, sometimes, people want to read them.  And it is all afforded to us by the promise of a blank page.

The void will always be there and so, too, the desire to fill it with creation, to accept the challenge of “what if.”  And we must be guides through the nothingness, to bridge the void with the architecture of imagination, to say “follow me” through space and time.

Notes from Purgatory: Forget the First (an Exercise in Restraint for New Writers)

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Recently I was thinking about where I am in my development as a writer (I believe it’s important to take stock every so often to ground yourself and better define your goals) and I noticed an aspect of my trajectory I’d overlooked for years.

In a past Notes from Purgatory article, “Brevity. Soul. Wit.,” I detailed a time in my development where I was trying to impress my readers with verbosity and was (thankfully) rebuked by one of my university teachers.  After that experience, I remember going back to my dorm room and looking over a manuscript for a surreal adventure novel I’d been writing.  And then I remember putting it aside both physically and mentally.

The story, The Somnambulist, was supposed to be a multi-layered metaphor upon metaphor for the futility of the modern human condition as told through a quest of a suicidal man who finds his true self in a fantasy world he creates to save himself.  The idea came to me after first hearing Agaetis Byrjun by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.  It came in vivid images that meshed so well with the music I’d been hearing that night as I drifted off to sleep.  I had to write it.  The world had to know.

The problem was that I hadn’t refined my tools enough to properly tell the story.  After hearing my teacher’s advice (“don’t sacrifice precision of language for flash and a few extra syllables”), I stopped penning The Somnabulist and waited in an effort to gain perspective.  Not writing something sounds easy, but I was crushed because it made me reevaluate my passion for storyteller.  I felt like all my hard work had been for nothing.  But now that I’m older and a bit wiser I understand that those doubts are natural and must be overcome to succeed.

A year or so later, I found the almost-completed manuscript for The Somnambulist I’d set aside and do you know what I saw?  Self-absorbed drivel.  I saw the unbalanced work of a novice, though one who’d had a budding command of the language.  Although I was embarrassed by a lot of what I read there (seriously, it’s like a thesaurus vomited all over my word processor), the act of self-evaluation put my development into perspective.  In short, The Somnambulist should have been abandoned because it was actually a sacrifice of both time and ego, a sacrifice that helped shape my craft for the better.

So my advice for writers of prose is to stuff away your first long, lofty composition.  Forget that first novelette or short story for a year.  When you revisit that story, may it grant perspective and clarity on your path to becoming a better writer.  You might be embarrassed by what you find in those old pages, but look past that to the potential you had.  Then look at how much better you are now.

Forget the work. Forgive the work. And see how great you’ve become.

Notes From Purgatory – In But A Few Choice Words

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The Internet, as wondrous as it can be, has clipped our attention spans to the blink of an eye.  In some ways, we’ve become creatures of impatience and in such a short time.  So in a bustling world where we angrily click away from webpages that take more than three seconds to load, how is a writer to tell a story?

Enter flash fiction.

Flash fiction, short short stories, microfiction… these are all blanket terms for a complete, concise story comprised of but a few words.  The key words in this description are, of course, “complete” and “story.”  Read any market for flash fiction and you’ll quickly find editors want a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  They all require the same conflicts, characters, tension, action, and payoff as a longer piece, but told in a page or two… or less.

Wait, how the hell is that even possible?  Well, before we dive in, let’s take a look at what microfiction entails.

As previously mentioned, a short short story is literally just that.  The range of flash fiction varies, but a word count of under 1000-1200 is generally considered the cutoff point before you enter the world of the “short story.”  1000 words?  Flash fiction.  500 words?  Flash fiction.  250, 100, 50, 5 words?  Flash fiction.  There are disagreements, of course, but length is not that important, to be honest.  The actual story and the craft required to tell it is what really matters.

The first rule of flash fiction is that it must follow all requisites for a story.  We’re not going to get much of a connection with our readers if all we give them is a vignette without any real substance.  Instead, we need to have a fleshed out plot that is driven by conflict and that reaches a conclusion.  There must be a character, a setting, motivation, and all the other components that make up a story of any other length.  The challenge is to achieve such a fleshed out story in as few words as possible.

This leads us to the second rule: every word matters.  This rule rings true for all prose, of course, but especially for flash fiction.  At such a limited word count, every single word becomes important.  This includes commonplace words such as pronouns and articles like “a” and “the.”  We must be conscious of our word choice and shortcuts like contractions if we are to write as minimally as possible.  This isn’t to say that the shortest version of a story is the best – after all, we have to preserve the flow of a piece.  We simply have to be conscious of what we’re saying and how we’re constructing a story to say what we want it to.

Because we’re dealing with constraints in length, we must be sure to optimize each word, sentence, and paragraph.  Each word should enhance the next just as each sentence should build onto what is to come, and so on.  We (and our readers) don’t have time to become muddled in long descriptions of settings or superfluous word choice.  We have to give our audience the full story by only supplying the bones.  But how?

The third rule: implication.

In longer prose, we have the time to fatten up the story, building our world brick by brick and giving our beloved heroine an awesome back-story where she learned how to fight demons from her days as velociraptor nanny.  In flash fiction, however, we have to hint at such.  The best microfiction leads the reader to possibilities that go beyond the text.  This use of implication can be seen in the famous “six-word novel” usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

The story isn’t so much about what is written here (though the word choice is certainly fundamental), but what is implied.  These six little words are ominous in nature – implicitly mysterious – meant to force the reader to ask questions.  Why are these baby shoes for sale?  Whose were they?  And, the most obvious question we’re meant to ask: why were these baby shoes never worn?  There’s a story in there, although in this instance, the reader is tasked with constructing it themselves.

I’m not sure how successful this piece would be if submitted by a contemporary writer because its a rather unique example, but it illustrates the thought-process behind the creation of short prose.  As writers, we must facilitate our readers’ imaginations, giving them enough narrative to satisfy the plot while still allowing the story to progress in the minds of our audience even after the last word has been read.  A great writer can craft a flash fiction piece that’s self-contained, but still has a developed, directed sense of what lies beyond the story.

That’s a lot to consider given only a few hundred words with which to work.

Flash fiction requires a lot of practice just like any other prose.  Editors and readers are looking for hard-hitting stories that are written with such brevity that it impresses.  Microfiction isn’t just some shortcut to getting published quickly.  Crafting a great story in the span of a page is difficult and requires precision and a real grasp of the elements of a story as well as solid narrative flow.  But when you finally have your great story idea whittled down, each word polished and necessary, you’ll find that you’re left with prose that not only delivers, but inspires.

And all in but a few choice words.

 

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