Writing Tips

The Author’s Utility Belt: Five Must-Have Tools

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this!

Writing a book is a long and frustrating journey, and just like any good adventurer, you’re going to need the right supplies if you want to stand a chance. After around three years of digging and poking around, here are five apps/items that have made writing my novel a little bit easier.

1. Scrivener

highres-scrivener-logo
Photo cred: LizCovart.com

The best investment for my novel I’ve ever made. Ever.

I was fourteen when I first stumbled across Scrivener. The first thing I noticed was the price tag: a whopping $45 both on the Macbook App store and Literature and Latte website. For a kid who hoards her Christmas iTunes gift cards as if they’re made of platinum, dropping all of them down on just one app was crazy talk. I was ready to just stick with Word or Google Docs at that point, but the number of times I ran into Scrivener on writing advice blogs kept bringing me back.

Eventually, I gave in. I poked around a bit, read almost fifty reviews and downloaded the 30-day free trial (which isn’t a month long, but actually a month of use). The trial lasted me almost three months, allowing me to pound out and track around 25,000 words. Needless to say, two weeks in, I was already hooked and bought it in a heartbeat. I’ve had it for three years now and Scrivener is still my favorite app on my computer.

It makes writing so easy. You can take a novel through all of its stages, from frantic idea scribbles to early drafts to exporting to professional editors, without ever needing another application. The flexible binder and drag and drop design makes it easy to reorganize your novel’s chapters without any loss of structure or flow. You can track your progress on a macro scale with the outline feature and take down those micro details in the notes tab on the side. The chapters instantly sync up with your DropBox account and back up with every close, so you never have to worry about forgetting to save. The developers have thought of nearly everything and pack in a ton of features tailored towards novelists, in a way that doesn’t hinder or distract from the writing itself.

But don’t worry, they even thought of you non-novelists too! While the app is tailored towards authors, there’s plenty of templates for scriptwriting, poetry, and any other writing project you might take on in the future. It’s so fantastically put together that there’s very little missing in my opinion.

Just because it’s packed with features, of course, doesn’t mean that the developers stopped innovating. Just recently Literature and Latte released their iOS version of the app, allowing access to your entire manuscript through your iPad or iPhone. You get all the features of Scrivener, making it perfect for when you feel like editing but don’t have your computer lying around. The app itself syncs in real-time, so you can move from laptop to tablet almost seamlessly. Despite all the changes, both my computer and iPad app rarely (if ever) crashes and the help videos on their website make it easy to answer any questions. Updates come out pretty regularly and the crew at Literature and Latte seem to always look for new ways to improve the software.

Beyond the beginning learning curve and higher price tag, the only thing I’d say that bugs me is the distraction-free writing feature. It fills the screen with white and displays just your writing in a size of your choice. Don’t get me wrong, I do most of my writing in there and it gets the job done. But if you’re like me and you have no idea what pacing means, staring at a white screen with black text for hours on end can make your eyes seriously hurt. Of course, I assume staring at anything for that long without moving or blinking does that, so yeah, I should probably go outside more…

Bottom line is: Scrivener is fucking awesome.

Don’t just take my word for it though. There are dozens of authors, video game writers, and other amazing people using Scrivener that love it just as much, if not more than I do. Check out what they have to say here.

2. OmmWriter

ommwriter.png
blog-ception much?

Hey! I thought you just said we wouldn’t need any other apps besides that Scrivener you’re so in love with.

You right…But for that eye burning thing, this OmmWriter app pretty much solves it.

OmmWriter is a minimalist-style word processor. You can pick it up on the Mac app store for $5.99, plug in some ear buds and get to work. There’s a neat little sidebar of setting adjustments (for music, fonts, sizes, and backgrounds) and a word count and text box that all disappear as soon as you start writing. All of its features are really intuitive and with a bit of clicking around you can pretty much find your favorite setting in around a minute or two.

Overall, this is my get-lost app that I pull up when everything around me is super loud or the stress in my brain gets louder than the outside. The backgrounds and music options are all really soothing and there’s something about the underscore style cursor that just helps the writing flow. I’ve gotten some of my best blog posts, chapters, and speeches pounded out in this little app and it’s been a great addition to my writer’s toolbox.

3. Pinterest

pinterest
I SPEND TOO MUCH TIME ON THIS APP. SO MANY PINS, SO LITTLE TIME.

Beyond the thousands of cooking recipes and diy hairstyles there are to look through, my favorite use of this app has been for inspiration diving. I’m a very visual person, so looking through pictures of beautifully drawn settings and characters is a great way of getting those brain juices flowing and beating out writer’s block. I mostly pin character art so that I can sketch out my characters and, while it’s not for everyone, I find that drawing them out is a great way to really picture them in my head.

Not only can you find some awesome art in there, but there’s millions of writing tip articles and prompts to sort through. You can follow some boards with a few taps on your smart phone and get daily links to fresh writing advice. As a matter of fact, I’ve found some of the coolest writing blogs with the help of Pinterest.

4. A Notebook and Pen

img_6658
Damn right I put my logo on my notebook…

Carry a notebook and a decent pen everywhere. Keep them in your bag, bring them on plane rides or trips to the cafe or even trips to the bathroom. You never know when inspiration will hit…or when boredom will hit and inspiration will follow.

I don’t know how many times a plot hole filled itself or a lightbulb went off and that idea was lost because there was no paper to write my thoughts down. Thoughts leave as soon as they come, so make sure to get them down as fast as possible. There is no worse feeling than losing a good idea. Sometimes they come back, and sometimes they don’t.

At the same time, bringing a notebook ensures that you aren’t just sitting around waiting for inspiration like some sort of lump. You gotta chase inspiration consistently, even if it means making lame doodles in your spare time or writing the same sentence over and over again until the letters look all weird. Write down your thoughts, pick up on small things in the world around you, and fine tune your observation skills. Inspiration will come.

5. A Giant Ass Cork Board

corkboard.jpg
This isn’t mine but it’s still pretty cool. Photo cred: TrubyWritersStudio.com

I love my cork board so much. There’s something super satisfying about stabbing the push-pin through an index card and being able to move your ideas around with your hands. Virtual Pinterest boards and Scrivener cork boards are great, but nothing beats having your words scribbled out right in front of you and being able to organize it all by color or section. Something about cork boards too gives the perfect amount of creative freedom: enough to get your ideas flowing, but not too much that they flutter away.

But beyond moving ideas around, cork boards are perfect for loose outlines. I like to sort out my novel in sections and make an index card for each scene so that I can see exactly what happens. I move my scenes around and test them in different places before I write the outline. Of course you could copy and paste in a spreadsheet, but it’s a lot easier to test it out on a board and clean it up in a spreadsheet later. Plus, it looks pretty cool when you finish.

 

And that pretty much wraps it up. Got a writer essential that I missed? Lemme know in the comments:)