This post is an electronic version of my presentation at the NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference in Charlotte, November 2018. It includes links for many of the apps and concepts discussed.
PROLOGUE: BEFORE WRITING
Before we sit down and write—on a device or on paper—there are many other things that happen, and which technology can help with, such as collecting random ideas, thinking out a problem, planning your writing, and outlining.
The problems this solves: How to keep from losing ideas; how to organize lots of ideas; how to gather all ideas in one place (or keep all ideas in all places)
- Notes (Mac, iOS, iCloud): Simple, free, auto sync to all Apple devices
- Microsoft OneNote (multi-platform): multi-level organization, free, auto sync
- Evernote (multi-platform): complex, free (sync 2 devices and other limits) or $8/mo
- Google Keep (online and mobile): relatively simple, sticky note-like; free, sync
- Simplenote [by creators of WordPress] (multi-platform): free, syncs
- Phone apps: too many to list
- Audio notes: phone apps (iOS: Voice Memos; Evernote; Google Keep)
Tip: Select one (or two) apps of any type and use only those
Mind Mapping / Concept Mapping
The problems this solves: How to generate ideas; how to find connections between concepts; how to build characters; how to brainstorm in a structured way
- MindMup (online, freemium)
- SimpleMind (multi-platform, freemium)
- FreeMind [open source] (Mac and Windows, free)
- Scapple [by the creators of Scrivener] (Mac or Windows, $15)
- MindNode (Mac, $40; iOS $15)
- Canva Bubble Maps (online, freemium)
Tip: Use one of these only if it’s better for you than working on paper
The problems this solves: all the problems with not planning; and how to impose structure on an unruly first draft.
- Outline tools in Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, etc.
- Snowflake Pro [by Randy Ingermanson] (Mac or Windows, $50 when purchasing the companion book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method)
- Story Planner for Writers [by Liternauts] (Mac $15, iOS $5)
- Story Planner [by Joanne Bartley, 21 planner types] (web-based | free – $40/year)
- Aeon Timeline: visual timeline creator (Mac and Windows, $50; iOS, $20)
Here’s an immutable truth: The words will not write themselves. Considering how hard that job can be, our tech should not make it any harder. This section considers the hardware and software decisions that can make your writing life far easier.
The problems this solves: the eternal Mac or Windows question; the cloud question; the form factor question; the “can’t this thing just work” issue.
- Laptops: pay extra for a solid-state hard drive (lighter, quieter, faster)
- Test the keyboard; consider an external bluetooth keyboard for tablets and phones
- If you use more than one device, synchronization is key
The problems this solves: Microsoft Word (and Apple Pages, and Google Docs) is not designed for writers, or for long documents, or for documents divided into chapters and parts, etc.; how to have my writing on all my devices and keep it in sync; how to find a writing environment you love; how to keep copies of the work before I edited it
- Word Processors
- Writing Apps
- Scrivener: made for writers by a writer (Mac or Windows, $45; iOS available)
- Storyist: Scrivener-like (Mac, $59; iOS $15)
- Ulysses: text only, distraction free, multi-markup formatting only (Mac and iOS, $5/month or $40/year cross-platform)
- iA Writer: text only, distraction free, multi-markup formatting only ($20 Windows, $30 Mac, $5 iOS, free on Android)
- Screenplays and stage plays: Final Draft (Mac or Windows, $250; iOS available)
Tip: Most apps have free trials so you can play before you have to pay
- Phone / Tablet Apps
Tip: Synchronization matters
Writing Without Typing
The problems this solves: can’t get the words down fast enough; carpal tunnel pain.
- Dictation Options
- Transcription Options
The problems this solves: shiny objects (metaphorically speaking); the barrage of incoming texts and emails; attention deficits of various shades.
- Remove distractions
- Freedom: app and website blocker (Windows, Mac, iOS; $7/month, $30/year)
- Focus Mode (Word) and Composition Mode (Scrivener)
- Pomodoro Technique (25 + 5) (e.g., Focus Keeper)
- Motivation & Mindfulness
The problems this solves: where’s all my stuff?
- Long Works (multi-chapter: novels, memoirs, etc.)
- Option 1: All chapters in one document
- Option 2: Each chapter in its own document
- Option 3: Use app that is a container (e.g., Scrivener)
Tip: Also see the section below on version control
Spell check is not all there is. There are other sophisticated tools available and useful— though not a substitute for human editing and not foolproof. We also have to consider the question of where to keep the prior versions of the work as you edit.
Checkers: Spelling, Grammar, Proofreading
The problems this solves: find the easy stuff that your eye overlooks.
- Spell check
- Grammar check
- Grammerly: grammar (online, app integrations; free & premium versions, $11-30/mo.)
- Hemingway: grammar (online, free; Mac and Windows apps, $20)
Helpers: Style, Grammar
The problems this solves: how to uncover your mistakes and quirks, including the ones you didn’t know to look for.
- ProWriting Aid: style and grammar (multi-platform, app integrations; free and premium versions, $50/year)
- AutoCrit: style (online, $10-80/month)
- Master Writer: word choice ($10/month)
KEEPING YOUR WORK SAFE
We don’t want to lose our work. Period. For your writing or any of your device’s contents, you need a multi-tiered system to make sure that your current data is safe no matter what, and that you can go backward into prior versions of your work if needed.
Here’s some terminology you need.
- Storage is where your data is saved, day-to-day. Primary storage (the original data) is usually—but not always—the hard drive on your computer. Some apps, such as Google Docs, and some devices, such as Chromebooks, use cloud storage (a server somewhere out on the internet) for all files created using them.
- Backup is making a copy of what’s in storage. There are essentially two kinds of backups: selective backups (some files but not all, such as the file you just finished editing, or only your writing files), or complete backups (that is, your entire computer system). You can make a local backup (that is, in the same place as the primary storage), such as when Word saves a backup copy on your hard drive when you exit, or an external backup (that is, to another device). The external backup can be a physical device such as a USB flash drive (for selective backups) or an external desktop hard drive (for selective or complete backups), or it can be a cloud backup (that is, uploaded to an internet backup service, such as Backblaze). Backup is similar to, but not the same as…
- Sync is a service (such as Dropbox) that copies your files from one device to others via the internet (or “cloud”) and keeps them all the same, so that changes to one are reflected in another. All syncs are technically backups, since you’re making copies of files, but they often don’t keep legacy copies—older versions of the files, like a backup does.
The problem this solves: losing your work in a systems crash or loss.
- Automatic Selective Backups: If your application supports it, enable automatic saving and automatic backup copies
- Use an External Drive
- USB Flash Drive: least good option; manual, critical files only, small capacity, easy to forget to do
- Desktop Drive: best local option, can backup entire systems, easy to hide and remove from the house when needed. Software needed for automatic backups (Mac: Time Machine; Windows: requires third-party, such as Duplicati or CrashPlan). If primary device is a laptop, will have to remember to connect the drive at certain intervals.
- Cloud Backup: best option; automatic, set it and forget it
- Backblaze: $5/month unlimited
- Carbonite: starts at $6/month
Sync Across Computers and Platforms
The problem this solves: having the same work on multiple devices.
- Dropbox (2 GB free, 1TB $100/year)
- Google Drive (15GB free)
- Microsoft OneDrive (5GB free; 1 TB with Office 365, $70 or 100/year w/family share)
- iCloud Drive (5GB free, 50GB $1/month, 2TB $10/month – can family share)
Tip: Create a multi-tiered system, including at least one cloud option
The problems this solves: what happens to the prior versions as you edit? What if I want to go back? What if I want just some of what I wrote back?
- Option 1: Overwrite and don’t worry about old versions.
- Option 2: Make a copy of the work before beginning edits (e.g., using Save As or backup software
- Option 3: Print hard copies at intervals
- Option 4: Use software that makes backups for you
- Automatic in Google Docs (document level)
- Automatic (customizable) in Scrivener (document level)
- Manual in Scrivener (Snapshots)
- Set up automatic backup systems available in the software
- Create a copy before major rewrites or revisions
OTHER THINGS WE COULD TALK ABOUT…
Sharing (working with others, separately)
- Methods for sharing: Email, flash drives, Dropbox, cloud document sharing
- Editing/Incorporating Edits with Track Changes
Collaborating (working simultaneously)
- Cloud platforms that allow multiple editors at once
- Scrivener to Word
- Scrivener or Word to Final Draft
- Any format to email
- Any format to PDF
Submissions & Queries
- Tracking: DIY Spreadsheets, Query Tracker, Submittable
- Finding places to submit: Manuscript Wish List, Publishers Marketplace, agency web sites, Twitter, etc.
- The process: From x to y (sometimes via z)
- For example:
EPILOGUE: YOUR TASK LIST
1. Select your writing software
- Scrivener strongly recommended. Try before you buy, and save 20% with the code CHARLOTTELIT.
2. Try out some new apps
- Grammar & Style apps
- Focus apps (save 40% on Freedom yearly or forever plans with the code CHARLIT)
3. Clean up your old versions and create a sensible storage system
4. Set up a multi-level backup system