Does a Smartpen Make for Smart Writing? by Heather Novak

Many of you have been with me through this crazy journey of researching, buying, and testing the Livescribe 3 smartpen. But for those of you who are new to the party, please allow me to recap…

While looking through a Sharper Image catalog — because really, who can resist? — I discovered there was a piece of technology called a “smartpen.” What is a smartpen? A device that takes your handwritten notes or drawings and converts them to either a PDF, JPEG, or editable text. Sounds like a writer’s dream, am I right?


I write all of my first drafts by hand, away from the temptation of the internet and the desire to delete everything I did that day only to start over. I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer, and handwriting makes me focus on getting the story out and to the end. Then, I retype everything into the computer and polish it 3958447 more times. 

My biggest concern is that I’ll lose my notebook. Also, I hate retyping my notes. A smartpen sounded like a dream come true.

So I did my research, watched YouTube videos, read Amazon reviews, read tech guides, narrowed down my options, compared everything from battery life to price, and landed on the Livescribe 3 (for Mac – this pen specifically works better with Mac products) for $125-ish. Here, the “fun” began. 
…or did it?

I’ll not go into the tech side, quite frankly, because I’m currently sick with a cold (seriously, who gets a cold in August?!) and the thought makes my head hurt even more than contacting customer service FIVE TIMES (which I did). But you can read about the Livescribe 3 specifics here.

I ordered the pen from Amazon with a set of replacement ink cartridges from Cross, an approved Livescribe replacement (if you use the wrong ones, the camera can’t pick up what you’re writing). The reviewers were right, the Cross brand ink is smoother and much nicer than what Livescribe came with. They were like $7 for two cartridges, not bad.

The pen itself is nice. It’s heavy and about the size of a permanent marker. The “special dot” paper is alright, no complaints there. Here is a sample of my awful handwriting. And I’m not being modest, my handwriting is crap. Just ask my middle school handwriting teacher – straight C’s for this gal.

Next to my terrible sample, you’ll find the somewhat close Livescribe translation.

 livescribe writinglivescribe text


Not to terrible for a first run! Yeah, it doesn’t like to capitalize, but it is what it is.

So now I want to get my text into an editable word document for my computer.

But wait.
I can’t.
Seriously, WTF?

This started my 5 calls to customer service, hours of swearing, and countless pleas for the boyfriend to double check that I haven’t gone completely off my rocker. Apparently I missed the fact that unlike the previous generations of Livescribe smartpens, the Livescribe 3 offers NO way to export your handwriting to a computer, only to iPhones and iPads, or some BS.

Um, what? Seriously? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Sure, I can send it all as a PDF, but then it’s a pain in my a** to get it into word. Evernote proved useless for this as well and the Livescribe desktop…let’s not even go there. So, after hours of customer service “help,” and I use the word “help” loosely, I was ready to return the blasted thing. 

I had it boxed, shipping label on, UPS scheduled, when suddenly I came across an interesting review on an older generation smartpen’s post listing the pro and cons and cheats to each pen. Here I figured out that I can convert the handwriting to text directly in the Livescribe app (which I knew) and then copy it to my Microsoft Word app, which of course I have on my iPhone. 

The formatting in Word is awful, but again, first draft:

word app

Bypassing all the extra apps they wanted to give me, this worked. From my word app, I can put my story in, edit it if I’m so inclined, and export it as a word doc whenever I’m ready. 

The pen fits in my purse, so do the smaller notebooks. Cheaper and easier to carry than a laptop or iPad (although my birthday is coming up and an iPad would be awesome – hint hint). I find myself fishing out my pen to use on lunch, when I’m sitting on the couch, when I’m on a long drive (as a passenger of course), everywhere. It hates when I cross things out and really doesn’t like profanity (“dammit” turns to “dave-get”), which keeps me from going back again and again to correct something. I’m being forced to keep on going, despite the fact that I hate the word choice.

No time to agonize over “chilled” or “windblown.” I can fix that in draft 2.

The conclusion?

I’m keeping the pen. When all is said and done, I spent about $130 on the thing, not including the additional notebooks I’ll need (they run about $15 for 4). But, it keeps me writing and writing often. It keeps my head in the game and my pen to the paper (pun intended). It also gives me a backup of my notes, synced automatically to my app, for when I ultimately lose my notebook.

I think the pen’s software is a bit of a joke and the customer service is as effective as chewing bubblegum to change the weather. However, a tool that can keep me writing is priceless

If you can afford the pen and aren’t a software idiot (thankfully, I’m not completely helpless), this may be a good item for you. Make sure to check your return date and keep your receipt handy.

All in all, only 3 I’m-going-to-stab-someone-in-the-eye-with-this-pen out of 5.

Fun Fact Alert! August 13 is known for: 

  • Happy Left Hander’s Day!

Wishing You Laughter & Good Books,
Heather Novak
Bold. Bewitching. Breathtaking. 

Find me at:
Twitter: authorheathern
Facebook: authorheathernovak

Author of Hunting Witch Hazel featured in Falling Hard (A New Adult Anthology).

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Hunting Witch Hazel Trailer

Available Now!
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About Heather Novak, Author

Bold, Breathtaking, Badass Romance. When she’s not pretending to be a rock star with purple hair, Heather Novak is crafting romance novels to make you swoon! After her rare disease tried to kill her, Heather mutated into a superhero whose greatest power is writing romance that you can’t put down. When she’s not obsessively reading or writing, Heather is trying to save the world like her late mama taught her. Heather lives in the coolest city in the world, Detroit, Michigan, with her very own Prince Charming. (He even does dishes.)
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2 Responses to Does a Smartpen Make for Smart Writing? by Heather Novak

  1. Heather, had to laugh out loud at this. I’m so not techy and would have stabbed myself the full five times had it been me. Why they can’t make it easy is beyond me.

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