Last month at the 10th annual Storymakers Writers Conference, Sarah M. Eden and I taught a class about helpful software for writers. I thought a brief rundown of some of what we covered would be useful here.
Before I get started, I'll add that I was recently told about a piece on the Open Education Database, which features links to 150 different resources for writers. You'll find some of what Sarah and I discussed in that post, along with many more resources, including several I list in the back of the 2nd edition of my grammar book (available HERE). The link is definitely worth a look.
Now for highlights of our class:
The best writing software around, and it's a steal for the cost. I've seen it anywhere from about $25 to $65. Winners of NaNoWriMo often get a 1/2-off coupon. What is Scrivener? Imagine a word processor combined with note cards, binders, folders with all your research (even web pages), and so much more, all wrapped into one. Now add the ability to jump to any spot of your manuscript, switch the order of scenes by dragging and dropping them, and being able to see at a glance all the points of view (or settings, or any other identifier you choose) at a glance. And mark each scene as to do, a first draft, second draft, complete, etc. You can then export your document into several file types, including Word and other industry standards.
The program does have a bit of a learning curve, so do the tutorial and keep an eye open for blog posts and articles about it, as well as video tutorials to get the most out of it. I've written several books and novellas with Scrivener, and I absolutely love it. I learn something new with each manuscript.
Get it at Literature and Latte.
Because if you haven't lost data, you will. Be sure you have more than one type of back-up, so that if the power goes out/your computer crashes/the house burns down you'll still have access to all your work.
Every type of back-up software will have pros and cons. Some require an internet connection to use and/or to access. Some cost, some don't. Some cost only when you reach a certain level of data.
Some back-up software to look at:
- Google Drive: Free, online storage. Formerly known as Google Docs. Share-able. Can still fail, like all backup systems.
- Dropbox: Much like Google Drive. Free up to a certain data amount. More room available with a fee, as well as by getting friends to sign up. Files share-able. When working on files, they're seamlessly integrated into your software. Can work offline.
- Mozy: Backups automatically twice a day. Great for full system backups in cases of system failures. Note that it does not backup every few minutes, so in theory you could lose a day's work if you don't have alternate backups. Also saves past versions for about two weeks. Costs based on data amount.
Writers always need good ways of gathering information. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Evernote: Available on your computer and as an app. Syncs your account so all your information is accessible anywhere. Great for clipping and saving articles for research, making lists, sharing information with others, etc.
- Behind the Name: Giant searchable database of thousands of first and last names. Search by language or region of origin, religion, mythology, meanings, etc. Also has popularity charts by birth years and locations. (Scrivener has a cool name generator that does some of these things.)
- Now Casting: Database of actual actors, searchable by all kinds of facial and other physical features. Find head shot of your characters for inspiration!
Some writers rely on dictation software, and some others enjoy using it as an alternate way of getting their thoughts out.
- Dragon: The best dictation software out there. It's trainable to recognize your voice, and eventually can make the entire computer experience hands-free. It does cost, and there is a significant learning curve.
- Mountain Lion: The newest version of the Mac OS hast his dictation app built in. It's adequate, but lacks the functionality of Dragon.
Some fun ways of brainstorming and outlining your next novel.
- Storyometer: This app has all kinds of functionality, from idea, character, and plot prompts to outlining, folders, and more. Definitely check out the tutorials to learn how to use it. One of the pricier apps, but lots of fun.
- Scapple: From the people who make Scrivener. A brainstorming "cloud" tool, currently only on Mac. Integrates with Scrivener.
Whether it's staying off the Internet or keeping focused on task, we all can use some of these tools. Find what works best for you.
- Freedom: Prevents Internet access for up to 8 hours. To get on, a reboot is required. Mac and Windows. Free trial.
- InternetOff: Windows only, free. Prevents internet access for a stated period. Easy to turn off the application, though. Also can password protect internet access for kids.
- Simply Noise: Website and a free app that provides white, brown, and pink noise, with options such as oscillation, to help your mind focus. Other noises (waves, rain, etc.) for about $1.
- Scrivener's Target Tool: Built into Scrivener, and oh, so effective in keeping you writing. Set manuscript goals as well as session goals and watch the bar go from red to yellow to green as you get closer to your goal.
- A Timer: Whether it's a plain old egg timer, a clock radio, your microwave, your watch, or your phone, set a timer for 30 minutes or another period and get to work, something easier to do when you know you're "allowed" to stop when the timer goes off. Chances are, you'll keep writing, though.