Dear Anne #4 – The Right Tools for the Job

Dear Anne,

Have you ever tried to eat spaghetti with a spoon? Dig a hole with a rake? Hammer a nail with a screwdriver? Of course not. Maybe you could accomplish those feats with those tools, but if you want to do a job well and do it timely you have to use the right tool for the job.

This week I want to tell you about the right tools for writing. Some of these may be common sense to you and some of them may be new information, but they are all extremely valuable to writers. So I’m going to make a list for you to go through and acquire what you need for the projects you’re working on.

1. A good laptop. Maybe this goes without saying, but in today’s mobile environment some people are attempting to write on tablets and such. I don’t recommend this, mostly because you’re limited in your saving/backup capability and in your software options. If you don’t have a laptop, it’s time to get one.

2. Word processors. It’s tempting to write directly into a blog or to write only on paper, but don’t. Getting to know a good word processor is absolutely essential. Microsoft Word is by far the most popular and probably the strongest as far as features. It’s available on PC, Mac, Andriod, and iOS, so that you can continue working on you mobile devices when you need to. Corel WordPerfect is also an option, though not as popular and I don’t know much about it. (I use Word.) There’s also Libre Office and Open Office, both of which are free. Libre Office is probably the more powerful and frequently updated, though Open Office is more popular. Apple also has a word processor called Pages, which is powerful enough, but if you can get Word on Mac then you might as well use Word. You can even go through Google Drive (see below) and use their line of free word processing programs that are designed to work easily with their cloud server. Save everything in .doc or .docx files, and if you are trying to share with someone who doesn’t have MS Word, use .rtf (it’s a more universal file format.)

While we’re on the subject of word processors, if you don’t already know how to type properly or haven’t yet taken a keyboarding course in school, do it as soon as possible. Sometimes your writing speed may be limited to your typing speed, because your brain will certainly outrun your fingers. And that’s very frustrating at times.

3. A back-up system. Learn to back-up everything you do with a deep sense of urgency and paranoia, as if the whole world of computers is about to crash and eat all your work at any moment. Fortunately, there are several cloud based options that will do this automatically. Google Drive and Microsoft Onedrive can both be configured to run in the background of your computer and automatically save everything you do to the cloud. Add one of them. NOW. And put all of your writing folders in it. Both of these offer online editing of your documents and sync with their own word processors. You don’t have to use their word processors to back-up files, but if you’re going to edit them remotely or with a mobile device it helps. Dropbox is also an option, though it doesn’t offer as much space in a free account as the other two and doesn’t have any built-in editing capabilities. You may want to consider more than one back-up strategy, such as having everything auto-back-up to Onedrive, but once a week or so copy everything to Google or Dropbox. You may even want to keep a flash-drive or external hard drive nearby and periodically copy your material there, too.

20111128-gremlinParanoia. The computer gremlins want to eat everything.

4. Evernote/Onenote – Both of these programs are very similar. They are digital “notebook” systems. You can setup notebooks with sections and pages, just like you might do a three-ring binder. Evernote is free. Onenote is a Microsoft program and is built into Windows now, I think. Both work really well and have mobile versions for your tablet and phone. Onenote may have the edge organizationally and Evernote is a little simpler to use, though it’s not as touch friendly. They both sync online and you can access your notes from a computer anywhere anytime. Use these to keep track of your ideas and notes for projects, and you can update them with your phone on the go if some inspiration strikes. I use both, because I can’t decide which I like best. This is where I do all my pre-writing and brainstorming before I actually get started on a project, and it’s where I keep my ever-growing list of future book ideas. (These programs are also good for school notes or any other thing you want to keep organized digitally.)

Some writers find it easier to keep a small notebook and pen with them at all times to jot down ideas. That’s fine if you like that. But I still highly recommend that you take all those ideas and put them into one of these digital programs, because notebooks get messed up…and they’ll take your ideas with them. Notebooks have gremlins, too.

5. Scrivener (and other writing software) – This is a word processing system (I put it that way because it’s so much different than a standard word processor) designed specifically for writers,  especially those working on long projects. It breaks down each chapter or section you’re working on into different “pages” that can be tabbed through easily, so that you’re not scrolling forever like you would in Word. Each of these pages can be moved around if you decide to rearrange your document, without having to do complicated copy/pasting. Each page also has a place where you can put in a description of what’s in that chapter. There’s an outline function that lays it all out so you can see exactly what your project looks like. Scrivener also auto saves, so you don’t have to worry about it…you can just concentrate on writing. When your project is ready, you can export it as a single file in Word, where you can put the finishing touches on it.

scrivener screenshotI wrote Acolyte in Scrivener (the first book I’ve done with it) and I’m working on Winter book 4 in it. I also wrote a non-fiction book that I hope to release in July, and I’m writing this series of letters to you with it! Here’s a screenshot. You can see the list of chapters in the working outline on the left. I may not write all of those you see, btw. This program is NOT where I’m keeping my future letter ideas. That would be in Onenote. (Notice also that both Google Drive and Onedrive are working in the bottom corner.)

This is certainly not the only software designed with writers in mind, but it’s really the only one I know and it’s what I use. Here’s a link to several others compared side-by-side – http://creative-writing-software-review.toptenreviews.com/; and here’s a link to the snowflake software (I’ll talk a little about snowflake later) http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/products/.

Most of these things will work best and shine with long projects that need a deeper level of organization. If you’re just doing short stories, then a regular word processor will do just fine.

6. Standard tools – It should go without saying that you need to have a good dictionary and thesaurus handy. If you’ve got internet access while you’re writing, then dictionary.com/thesaurus.com (two sides of the same site) are extremely helpful. I LOVE thesaurus.com. Along with this, I recommend getting a good baby name book for coming up with character names. (Scrivener and some of the other writing software have name generators built in.) Also get The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I haven’t had this one for long, but I instantly regretted NOT having it as soon as I got it. They have two other books, The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus (I have all three), but I think The Emotion Thesaurus should become a standard tool for every writer.

7. Writing space. This isn’t exactly something you get, but something you need to create. You’ll need to talk to your parents about this and get them on board if possible…I know you have a full house! But you need to be able to get away, to focus, and to have a creative writing space that helps inspire you to put words on the paper without distraction.

That’s it for now! Time to make sure you have all the right tools to help this writing journey go a little more smoothly. If you have any questions about how to actually use some of these things when you get them, we’ll discuss it in chat.

Until next week, go write something!

-k

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