Full disclosure: I’ve totally sold out to the man. Please assume that any product links here are affiliate links (i.e. I get a commission for referring people). While this will not affect the price in any way for you, if me making a few bucks offends you then I encourage you to just Google the product for yourself. (And then you can just fuck right off. Writers need to eat too, asshole.)
But if you’re still with me, lovely to have you here! The purpose of this post is primarily to introduce my readers and fellow writers to the tools that I personally use to make the most of my limited writing time. The purpose here is not to hawk these wares but to introduce you to the writing tools I just can’t live without. Now, these are all digital tools. While I like writing in longhand, I find working on a computer much more efficient.
And without further ado…
This is the SINGLE MOST AWESOME writing tool I’ve ever used. I almost can’t use regular word processors to write anymore. Scrivener has spoiled me. Ruined me. Addicted me.
Now, if you take a look at Scrivener the first time, it is a daunting piece of software. That’s because it does everything – EVERYTHING – that a writer could possibly need or want all in one handy place. It has templates for short stories, novels, and essays. Its screenplay templates have all the standard headings formatted and spaced correctly. It can export for editing, submission, or self-publishing.
And that’s not all! (For fuck’s sake, I actually heard the late-night infomercial voice in my head as I wrote that.) But… it really does do more. You can organize your work-in-progress into folders, which is handy for chapters. And then you can organize the scenes in that chapter into discrete “cards.” Each card can get a quick description including a title and some notes. And then it’s all available on a corkboard. No more flash cards strewn about the room! They’re all right there in my writing space. And if you ever want to re-order these cards, then you have to do is click and drag. No more messy Word documents!
And there are also places to store links, images, outside documents, and other references. You can build character sketches, location descriptions, or whatever other information you might find useful but want to remain hidden from the reader. It’s your research all collected in one place (though not where I typically keep mine… more on that later).
In summary, Scrivener is awesome. And you really don’t have to take me at my word on this. They offer a free 30-day trial to give it a spin, and if you like it then it’s only US$30 for licenses to use it on as many computers as you like.
Seriously, check it out at www.literatureandlatte.com. It’s like freaking magic.
Now I just mentioned that I don’t use Scrivener’s research tool, remember? That’s because I prefer Evernote.
Evernote is a now-ubiquitous note-sharing web app, and it’s incredibly powerful. Basically, it is your digital notebook. Want to take a few notes, like the measurements of the space in your house where you want to put that statue of giraffes Greco-Roman wrestling? Dump it in Evernote. From there, you can put it into a notebook along with other Big 5 land mammals participating in ancient contests of strength and skill – you know, a painting of lions throwing javelins, the tapestry of elephants running the marathon, that sort of thing. And where do you keep your photos of your growing collection of fine art? Also Evernote.
But if you’re like me, a) you don’t like artwork of animals doing sports and b) you’re more likely to use Evernote to jot down story ideas. I have a whole notebook devoted to ideas that I’d love to turn into short stories, novels, or series. And in other notebooks, I keep notes of all the setting details or bits of the made-up languages in my fantasy setting. My character sketches and histories often go here. Really just anything that I’m afraid I’ll forget later goes into Evernote, where it remains until I need it. And if I misplace it, then Evernote has a great search function.
On the go? Make a voice note.
Find something interesting online, like how to murder someone with a signed photo of the cast of Golden Girls? Save it with Evernote’s Web Clipper.
Want to mark up an image or PDF? Get Evernote’s Skitch app and go to town.
In essence, if you’re always on the go and want somewhere to keep all the fucked up little thoughts so that you can write about them later, Evernote is invaluable. And the price? Free.
Sure there are paid versions, for most people its free version is going to be more than enough. (That being said, I’m likely going to upgrade to Premium in the near future. I use a number of devices between home and my day job, so it would be good to be able to sync them all, and I’m looking for something to get me better organized.)
Want to check it out for yourself? Go to www.evernote.com. You won’t be sorry.
Grammarly is basically everything your spell check wants to be. It’s fast, accurate, and checks your grammar. The premium version even checks your writing style, including word choice, passive voice, and less-than-ideal sentence structure.
But I can hear your thoughts, dear reader. “Well, I never! My writing is impeccable, good sir!” First of all, it almost certainly isn’t. Writer, editor, and proofreader are all separate positions for a very good reason: skill at one does not necessarily mean skill at another. And as the creator of your literary masterpiece, you have certain psychological blind spots to its flaws (much like parents with their children, dog owners with their dogs, or a drunk guy at a Taco Bell). This is where Grammarly shines.
Honestly, I couldn’t blog without it. The real-time feedback on misspelled words and missing punctuations is both helpful and educational. It’s even available in British and American versions.
Now, to be honest, I don’t use Grammarly for my fiction (yet). This is mostly due to the fact that I write fantasy and science fiction, two genres that are full of made-up words like shaddaran and Eloria’an. (Though, to Grammarly’s credit, it only flagged shaddaran as it recognized Eloria’an as a proper name. So I added it to Grammarly’s dictionary for future uses.)
Honestly, for many people, the free version would be adequate. I personally use the paid version as it gives the very useful additional style and structure suggestions.
If you want to take your writing – especially online – seriously, then you’ll be wanting this one. You can try it out here.
So this one may seem like a bit of a stretch, I grant you, but I can promise you that few services have assisted my writing more than Dropbox. It is the peace of mind that my writing is synced and read across all my devices. Standing in line and want to do a bit of quick editing? The file is on my phone. Writing at a coffee shop? It’s there on my laptop. How about I want to settle into my study with the door closed and blinds drawn? I can still get my writing on my desktop. Wherever I am, my files are there, too.
The sync also means that if anything happens to any of my devices – the very thought of which makes me reach for the nearest paper bag to breathe into – then I still have the file here, there, and everywhere.
It’s also a handy place for me to store all my other files like images for the blogs, book covers, and social media promo files. And again, everything is available wherever I have an internet connection.
Like most of my recommended services, Dropbox has a free version. If all you’re going to use it for is for a bit of writing, maybe some images, then that will probably be enough for you (5GB). If you’re like me, however, and decide to use it for more… You may want to check out the paid version (1 TB).
Whichever one suits you best, you can check it out here.
If you were counting along, then you know we’ve now reached the end of the post. But that doesn’t have to be the end of our relationship! Sign up for my mailing list to get notifications on more articles like this one, advance copies of my writing, and FREE stuff. (That’s better than the lowercase “free,” by the way.)
So what writing tools do you use? Let me, my readers, and the gremlins that run the Internet know in the comments below.