Author Business

A writer’s toolbox: software and hardware

I can be a little bit…nosy? I love seeing other people’s workspaces, their offices or studios. I used to love home tours when I had cable TV, and am now addicted to the tiny home videos on YouTube. Heck, going to an open house is an hour well spent.

Am I alone in that?

This isn’t a workspace tour because a tour of my kitchen table would be boring…and possibly messy. Instead it’s a tour of the tools I use to write my novels and short stories. This includes tools used in the whole process from beginning to end, though not necessarily in that order — plotting (for those who know the great plotting vs pantsing debate, I tend to the plotting side though I’m still working on figuring out what works for me), drafting, and revising. If you’re a writer interested in what tools other writers use or if you just enjoy taking a peek at how others work and live, this post is for you.

Scrivener

Scrivener is technically a word processor. But it’s so much more. It’s an idea+writing organizer that I credit with getting the first book done.

Scrivener is a word processor designed specifically for authors
A shot from a real project in Scrivener, warts and all (from Circus of Devils which you can download for free)

Scrivener keeps your scenes and chapters in their own files (on the left) within the larger project. For me, that helps me focus just on the scene I’m working on. I can also keep notes for the project or scene (on the right), as well as tag content. I can also images (like who I would cast as a character) to the project.

You might ask why I can’t just use Word. For me, it’s missing some of the organizational tools that I find helpful in tracking of a 300+ page manuscript. And with ALL of the words in one place, it’s harder to focus on just the piece I’m working on.

I know some folks find Scrivener overwhelming, which I can understand. All those features are a sign of how powerful it can be, but if it’s a block to your writing, it’s not the tool for you.

Google Docs & Sheets

I love Scrivener, but I’ve started writing more in Google Docs and plotting in Google Sheets. The main reason is that I can use it anywhere. Most importantly, I can write during lunch at work. The process sort of mimics the one I use with Scrivener. I write the overall arc in Docs, copy it to Sheets to break it down further. Finally I copy that back into Docs (the grey text in the image below), and I keep the outline open (on the left) to see where I am.

Google Docs and Sheets are useful tools for writers because they can be accessed from any computer with Chrome installed.
The same story in Google Docs, warts and all

Trello

Trello is a task tracker/planning board/card sorter kind of thing. I first used this at my former day job; we used it for sprint planning.

I don’t use this for actually writing. Instead I use it to track tasks and milestones for the stuff around writing — sales, marketing activities, that kind of thing. You can add due dates and checklists to your cards.

ProWritingAid

PWA checks grammar, spelling, consistently, how often I use the word ‘maw’ (too much, btw).

There are a lot of checks that I don’t use. They’re just not worth the time they take. But the ones that are useful are very useful. For the writers out there, if you’ve tried PWA but found the online version not as user-friendly as you’d like, try the desktop version. I almost gave up on it until I realized there was a desktop version.

Microsoft Word

I mentioned Word when I talked about Scrivener. I still use Word, but not as you might expect. Instead of using it as a word processor, I use it in the editing process. I get it to read my books to me as a final check. That catches a lot of those missing prepositions, or where I’ve used present tense instead of past.

Voice Recorder

Now we get into the hardware. I have a cheap as chips voice recorder. I walk to work 3+ days a week…it’s an hour long walk. It’s either that or a bus ride that’s almost as long, so if the weather is okay, I figure I might as well get my exercise.

Anyway, to make the best use of that time, I want write more using dictation. I’m struggling to wrap my brain around actually writing while I walk, but I do take voice notes.

Notebook

Yes, I do still use a notebook. When I was writing my first book, I got some advice to help me finish it. I had been writing it on the computer, where I would go back and revise the previous scene then only write a little bit of new material. Someone suggested I write longhand as a way to force me to write forward. And it worked. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I received.

I’ve changed my writing process since then, and can write forward on the computer without going back and revising until the first draft is done. But it’s something I’d suggest to anyone who has the same struggle.

And I still keep a notebook with me most of the time. I follow a very simple bullet journal type of planning, and “Notes on story XYZ” has a place in my TOC.

Those are the main tools I use. Sometimes there’s also sticky notes and paper up on the wall, or a mind-mapping tool (like Scrapple by the Scrivener folks).

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my process, so if you have any tools you’d suggest, please share.

P.S.: I forgot coffee. Coffee is key.

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