From the seasoned one

What tools do you use when you write?

As I’ve learned to write, I’ve spent a lot of time, and a little bit of money, finding tools that help make the process easier.  Like everything else in life, which tools are best is a matter of opinion.  This post is about the tools that I’ve either used in the past, still use, or just found and love!

Let’s start with Scapple.  It’s a very cheap, but very powerful, product by a group called Literature and Latte.  One common bit of advice for new writers is to plot out your story with index cards and tape them on a wall, or use a corkboard, so you can see how your story will flow.  This helps to find plot holes and work out other issues.  You can use it while you write as a reference to keep yourself on track and not meander in the wrong direction.  Also, if you ever come down with the dreaded writer’s block, you can use the notes to figure out where you’re stuck and why.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a wall space large enough to use for this kind of endeavor.  If you’re like me and it takes you months or years to write a story, having a wall full of index cards isn’t really an option.

Scapple overcomes those problems.  It grows in size as you add new cards to it.  You’re only really limited by the size of your screen.  You can use different colors on the cards for main ideas, scene ideas or character information.  You use arrows and dotted lines to make connections between the cards.  I’ve been known to hook my laptop up to my television to get a large screen to work with and to be able to see the whole thing at once in a readable size.

Check out a sample screen:Scapple
This is probably my favorite writing tool.  I’ve used it for several stories now and while I’m not a full-on plotter, this helps me get the ideas for a story down quickly and shows me what holes I need to fill.

Available for both PC and Mac lovers alike, the price is unbeatable at $15 US for a household license.  Check it out if you want more information.  https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php.

Just a couple of reference tools.  I’m not one to carry a dictionary or thesaurus everywhere I go, but usually end up needing one or the other when I’m nowhere near my reference books at home.  The ones built into Microsoft Word are practically worthless.  When I really need them, I love the sites http://dictionary.reference.com/ and http://www.thesaurus.com/.  They are free to use and work well.

Ok, now what program do you use to write?  There is a wide variety available out there at many different prices.  I started with Microsoft Word as that is what I had available to me at the time.  As I’ve spent time researching what other writers use, I’ve found Word to be a predominate choice.  It has great tools for tracking changes when working with other people on the same document.  As well as the reference tab for creating a table of contents or bibliographies.  However, while it works great for fanfiction and college papers, I found it rather lacking with novel writing.

With Word, I had to keep several files for each story.  One for the story itself, one for character descriptions, one for research notes, and another to keep track of timelines.  Each time I needed to reference a character, bit of information I needed, or the timeline, I had to stop and open the files.

The other problem with Microsoft Word is it is expensive to buy.  Sure, Microsoft sells various versions for businesses, student and home, and the new cloud version, Office 365.  But it has never been an easy purchase for people that have limited income.

Now I know people are going to start saying they use Google Docs and it’s free!  I only have one thing to say about that.  You get what you pay for it.  I tried using that once when working on a document in a group format.  To say it was a frustrating experience is an understatement.  If it works for you, great!  Keep using it!  But in my experience, it is not something I would want to use long term.

In my hunt for a better writing tool, I used a few trial versions of pricier software packages and can’t say I loved any of them.  It was only when I tried Literature and Latte’s Scrivener that I knew I found gold.Scrivener
This software allows you to build a better structure for your novel, so you can divide out chapters into folders and scenes within those folders.  It has places for quick notes, labels for chapter, scene, notes, character info, etc.  I love the ability to label which stage a scene or chapter is at, such as first draft, revised, final draft, etc.

For each chapter or scene, you can create index cards to summarize them and then view those on the digital corkboard.  Similar to Scapple, but lacking some of the freedom of movement.  Scapple is free flowing, the corkboard within Scrivener, structured.  I use this to keep track of chapter summaries and also, the summary of scenes within each chapter.  It makes it easier when I’m looking for a specific scene that I need to alter.  Example below from my unpublished novel, Seer:

Novel Summary:
Corkboard

Chapter Summary:
Corkboard Chapter

Scrivener CharacterScrivener also has areas for character information, location information, and research.

To the side is a menu to allow easy access of these areas.  I create a sheet for each character and divide them into groups for better organization.

Every author has a different way of keeping track of character information and how much information you need for each novel/character varies.  Another great capability in Scrivener is the ability to create a template and use that template from area to area.  I suggest creating a template for your characters and use that template to ensure you don’t forget to write down the information you need.

Scrivener Research

The research area is fabulous and easy to use.  You can store pdf documents, links, pictures and every bit of information you have ever found in one easy to reach spot.

 

Scrivener Save Type

Finally, you can compile your Scrivener document into many other forms to share with others, pdf, rich text, Word, electronic versions (.epub & .mobi).

If you have plans to self-publish, this software makes creating the needed file formats easy.

 
There are more features than I have time to describe.  In fact, there are many books available that have been written on the program to help with learning it.  I’ve only scratched the surface.  The best part is the price.  Available for both PC and Mac, for only $40 US, you can purchase a household license and it’s more powerful than Word or Google Docs.  Check out the website for more information or to purchase: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

The final tool I want to discuss is one I found only the other day via a blog post from http://romanceuniversity.org/  ProwritingAid.com is an editing/grammar service.  At its simplest, you paste text into the editor and have it analyzed.  A summary returns showing issues and errors such as, overused words, sentence length, clichés, grammar problems, sticky sentences, repeated words or phrases, and dialog tags.  A couple of screen shots are shown below:

Anaylsis Summary

Grammar Report
This is an awesome service for finding issues with ones writing and making it cleaner and stronger.  Good beta readers can be hard to find.  If you’re not an English major, finding a beta reader or a service such as this is a must!  If you’re serious about writing and wish to query agents someday, you need your writing to be topnotch.

They offer a variety of services at different prices.  I’ve chosen the one year package for a trial, but from what I’ve seen so far, this is a service I’ll likely continue with.  Check it out for more information at: https://prowritingaid.com/

Finally, the last tool every writer needs is a great backup plan.  Hard drives stop working all the time.  Houses burn down, a pipe bursts, lightning strikes.  You name the disaster, it has happened to someone and they’ve lost valuable work.  If you have ever suffered the pain of losing a document, you understand this.  It is impossible to recreate the work exactly as it was before.

Never trust your hard work to one place.  I use a variety of tools, external hard drives and Microsoft’s One Drive to back up my work.  While I’d never recommend putting financial information out in the cloud, my stories are backed up there daily.  Microsoft offers 15GB of space for free.  Check it out: https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-us/plans/

If you’re not a Microsoft fan, that’s all right.  There are many other services out there one can use to back up material.  Some are free, some not.  Find one and use it consistently and you won’t be one of those crying because you’ve lost years of work.

Until next time…

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