Writing Tools

The Best Apps for Any Kind of Writing

18 April 2014

From Lifehacker:

Writing is a very personal practice, and as a result you have a million writing-focused apps to choose from. From distraction-free apps that take up your whole screen to feature-packed mainstays like Microsoft Word, we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the writing software that’s right for you.

There was a time not that long ago where your choices for writing apps boiled down to plain text or Microsoft Word. Things have changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, you have almost too many options. So, with that in mind, we’ve tested out a ton of writing software to pick our favorites depending on what your needs are.

. . . .

For Novelists Who Hate Microsoft Word: Scrivener/Ulysses III

Microsoft Word might be the default app for writing a novel, but it’s not necessarily the best. If you’re looking for something created with long form writing in mind, both Scrivener and Ulysses III are excellent choices.

Scrivener ($45) is a Windows and Mac app that gives you a single place to dump all your ideas and writing. It includes tools to keep notes, collect research, outline, and organize your writing. With all that, you can navigate to different sections of your text, jump around to different parts of research, and find whatever you’re looking for with powerful search options. Basically, Scrivener is like Evernote for longform writing, and if you’re looking for a way to organize and write in the same place, it’s an excellent option. Scrivener also integrated with Simplenote if you want to take your writing on the go.

Ulysses III ($44.99) for Mac takes a similar approach to Scrivener, but simplifies things a little bit. It uses plain text or Markdown for writing, but also includes statistics, notes, exporting, organization, and more. The Markdown support means you can use it for regular old blogging just as easily as for novel writing. Ulysses III fits somewhere between a minimalist writing tool and Scrivener. It’s feature packed, but offers a ton of options for hiding those features away too. If you want to take your writing on the go, Ulysses III integrates with Daedalus Touch on iOS.

. . . .

Editing is often the hardest part of writing, but you won’t find a ton of tools specifically made for dreaded task. That said, you have a few great options for apps that help put a spotlight on your mistakes, spot repeating words, and help you clean up your writing a bit.

Hemingway is a web app that highlights problems in your writing. Once you paste your text into it, Hemingway highlights hard to read sentences, adverbs, complex phrases, and passive voice. What you decide to do with that information is up to you, but it’s a great tool for editing it you’re the type to use too many adverbs or drop into passive voice.

On the Mac, we like Marked 2. Technically, Marked 2 is just a Markdown previewer, but it includes a ton of tools for writers. You’ll get word counts and a ton of advanced document statistics, but its best feature is “Visualize Word Repetition.”  This mode highlights words that you repeat throughout the document, which is helpful if you’re the type to repeat phrases a lot.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Why Johnny Can’t Format [a book]

11 March 2014

From author Andrew Updegrove:

One of the big frustrations of writing a book is that while Microsoft Word can be used for creating and formatting a book, it’s a real pain in the neck for ordinary mortals to use it for that purpose.

. . . .

Why is that true, do you suppose?

Well, here’s the answer:  it’s because Microsoft wiped out all office suite competition 20 years ago, before anyone making word processing software for general users thought there was a market for such functionality. After that happened, unless Microsoft thought it could make money making it easy to format a book, no one was going to do it. And since Microsoft’s products are targeted at business users, and businesses don’t write books unless they’re actual publishers, well, then, you’re just going to be out of luck.

What about the money Microsoft makes selling Word and Office to home users? That’s very small change compared to Microsoft’s sales to large, “enterprise” users. The main reason that Microsoft serves the home market at all is because one way that Microsoft was able to create, and then maintain, a monopoly was by being sure that everyone that used Word at work could use it as home as well, and therefore didn’t have a motive to learn a different program.

. . . .

Well, contrast the status of Word with that of mobile phones – devices that barely existed seven years ago, and look at the hundreds of thousands of apps that have been created to do just about anything on them, often for free.  Or (if you’re old enough to remember) with how fast features got added to word processing packages back when WordPerfect and a few other contenders were still viable. Every new release brought new tricks – borders, colors, shapes, embedded objects, and much more.  After WordPerfect was chased into a tiny corner of the market, Microsoft pretty much put Word on the shelf, except to come up with trivial and unnecessary “innovations” like adding the Ribbon (now being phased out). Once WordPerfect was out of the way, Microsoft never even bothered to get rid of some obvious bugs (how many thousands of times have you had to click “no” when the pop up asks “save changes?” when all you did was open a document).

. . . .

As someone who has spent his entire vocational and avocational life behind a keyboard, that’s a heartbreaking story.  For starters, I’ve had to make do without beloved WordPerfect features like the “show codes” function. With that little gem, when you found that you were having trouble with some element of formatting, all you had to do was hit two keys and Voila!  There was the actual format command causing the problem.  Just delete it, and problem solved. Or easy macros.  Type whatever you want, hit a couple of keys, give it a name, and whenever you want that module or series of actions again, just hit a few keys, and Voila! again.

Link to the rest at Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

Forgive PG for a little WordPerfect nostalgia, but he remembers that the command was “reveal codes.”

PG briefly spoke with the original CEO of WordPerfect a few days ago and he is still a very pleasant, albeit aged man.

The Computer Mouse Still Roars

5 March 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

I said goodbye to my mouse last month. It was time to advance, I thought, to a higher plane of input, a trackpad that works like a tablet’s screen. Instead of point and click, I’d swipe and flick.

A few weeks in, I was missing my mouse. Moving a folder across a 27-inch iMac screen with the trackpad was like lugging a grand piano across the Sahara—I had to keep taking breaks along the way, as I ran out of pad.

This can’t be progress. Determined, I rustled up a dozen of the latest input devices, regular mice and trackpads, but also vertical mice, pen- and knob-shaped mice, a touch-screen stylus, even a controller that lets you wave your hands around without touching anything, a la “Minority Report.”

What I discovered: Thirty years after the Macintosh took the mouse mainstream, I couldn’t find anything more precise or comfortable for operating a computer. More important, I found the mouse has managed to reinvent itself over the years—it’s like the Madonna of PC peripherals.

. . . .

To test my efficiency using a mouse and other input devices, I used a program scientists developed to study the speed-accuracy trade-offs in human muscle movements, called Fitts’s Law. My scores, based on clicking scattered dots on a screen, were at times nearly twice as fast with a mouse as with a trackpad. Most hands are more relaxed on a mouse, so starting and stopping are easier, say the ergonomists.

. . . .

A touch-screen monitor on a desktop or laptop sounds good, but it invites what some call “gorilla-arm” fatigue. After forcing myself to use only the touch screen on a Windows 8.1 laptop, I found myself propping it up at an angle in my lap so my hands could rest on the side.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG has tried a zillion mice and his current favorite is the Logitech Mouse MX. His least-favorite mice are the ones that come free with a new computer.

How To Use Evernote for Writing Fiction

18 February 2014

From Lifehacker:

Evernote makes a great writer’s companion. It’s available on just about every platform, so you can collect and organize your notes wherever you are. You can take notes in your paper notebook and scan the pages. Hell, you can even write on the shower wall in crayon and snap a pic later. (You’re welcome for that crayon tip, by the way. It’s awful when you think of something in the shower and can’t write it down.)

. . . .

You can set up Evernote however it suits your personal workflow. I’ve seen some people who use a single notebook stack named Fiction, but since you can have only one level of notebooks inside a stack, that wasn’t quite flexible enough for me. I set up separate notebook stacks instead:

  • Fiction-General. This is my catchall stack for things that don’t fit into a specific project. It serves as a scrapbook for web clippings, photos, text and audio notes. It’s also where I store other ideas about fiction, such as my reading list and websites about writers and writing craft.
  • Fiction-Challenges. I like to give myself little challenges to encourage daily writing, even when I’m not working on a specific project.
  • Fiction-Novel. I keep a separate notebook stack for each novel. I only have one in there right now.
  • Fiction-Short Story. I also keep a separate notebook stack for each short story.

. . . .

I use my Fiction-General stack for basic research and collection. Here’s how I organize it:

  • _Writers. I use this notebook to store web pages and articles about (or by) writers I like. The underscore at the front of the word keeps it at the top of the list in Evernote.
  • _Writing Craft. I also love reading about the craft of writing. I use this notebook to store that kind of thing.
  • Ideas to Explore. Whenever I come across an article or a quote or whatever that I think might make for good story fodder in the future, I toss it in this notebook.
  • Photos. I like to take lots of photos of people, places, buildings—anything really. Sometimes they give me a basis for descriptions I might use in a story (in which case I move them to a more appropriate folder later). Sometimes I use them for writing challenges. But I also use this notebook as sort of an inspiration bucket. For the most part, I don’t tag or organize my photos in this notebook. I like flipping through them because you never know what ideas might bounce into one another and give you inspiration for something new (Hey, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!)
  • Reading List. I actually use GoodReads to keep up with my reading list, but sometimes I want to make a quick note instead of logging on somewhere else. This notebook is temporary storage.
  • Writing Scraps. You never know when a fun turn of phrase, a little bit of dialog, or an awesome title will come to you. You have to have a place to keep them. This is probably the single biggest advantage of using Evernote for me. It’s a great way to store and browse all those little scraps. You can type them, write and scan them, or even dictate them using the Evernote app.

. . . .

When it comes to tagging, less is more. I like to use just a few tags that I know I’ll use reliably. I’m already organizing my notes using notebooks and stacks and Evernote’s search feature is pretty solid. I do use a few tags though:

  • Each story I’m working on gets a two letter tag, usually based on the title. That’s mostly backup for me just in case I misfile something to a notebook outside my fiction structure.
  • I also use tags for character names because sometimes I want to store those notes outside my character sketches folder. It’s also helpful to tag scene notes with character names because when I use List view on the scenes, the tags column gives me a quick look at where characters are appearing.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

PG has been a big Evernote fan forever. It’s very flexible. For example, unlike the author of this article, PG uses tags extensively and many items will have three or more tags so he stands a better chance of being able to find what he wants months or years after he’s forgotten any language that might be in the underlying note.

If you’re not familiar with Evernote, most of its functionality (and probably all that most people need) is available in the free version – See Evernote

StorySkeleton, An Index-Card Story Mapping App

30 December 2013

From Cult of Mac:

StorySkeleton is an amazing app that’s been around for a little while, but a recent update to add iPad support has made it even better. At heart, it’s a kind of index-card-based note and outlining app for writers (screen, fiction and non-fiction) to help structure and plan stories. But the design is fantastic, making it easier to use than most other alternatives.

Oh, and it exports directly to native Scrivener files.

. . . .

The app arranges your notes (scenes, I guess) as index cards, and you can reorder them by drag and drop or by using a special rearranging mode (this mode was designed for the iPhone version and isn’t really needed on the iPad).

You can color-code your cards, assign a “type” and a “plot point” to the header of each card (these are both customizable), and you can group the cards into stacks (and stacks within stacks if you like).

Link to the rest at Cult of Mac and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

10 Essential Non-Writing Tools to Help Writers Write

6 December 2013

From PBS:

The last decade has seen an increase in programs to help writers plot, write and read their books — but there are also plenty of non-writing tools that writers can use to help them create their masterpieces.

. . . .


If you’re working on a Microsoft Word file or similar, regularly save your file to Dropbox. That will keep an archive of all previous saves (just in case the worst happens and you accidentally delete the whole thing! It sounds silly, but it’s guaranteed to happen to every writer at some point in their careers). It’s free to download and easy to use.

. . . .


Most computers come with sticky notes in some form or another. They look and work a lot like Post-it notes that you can stick to your desktop to remind you to do something. They’re also great if you need to quickly jot something down in a rush, like a new scene or story idea.

Link to the rest at PBS

Passive Guy is a big Dropbox fan. All current projects are saved in Dropbox by default. It’s not just a backup solution, however. It also allows you to automatically replicate files across computers. If PG sits down at Mrs. PG’s computer, with Dropbox, he can pull up any file on his own computer. Ditto for the notebook, the netbook and the tablet and the smart phone.

Dropbox is highly useful in its free form, but if you want to store gobs of files there, you’ll need to buy a subscription (reasonably priced).

One tool that should have been on the list is Evernote. It’s the simplest way of remembering everything. Send something to Evernote – web page, document, email, pdf, photo, and it’s there forever. You can create lots of different notebooks – one for each project, for example. You can add one or more tags any note to make things easier to find or search on the contents of a note.

Like Dropbox, all your Evernote stuff is on the notebook, tablet, smart phone, etc. There’s a huge online community of Evernote users you can tap for ideas.

One of PG’s most recent daily-use tools is DoIt. Basically, it’s an easy-to-use to-do list that lets you easily schedule and categorize reminders, then check them off.

PG isn’t a heavy-duty Getting Things Done person, but DoIt is perfect for that level of organization if you are.

UPDATE: Some commenters warned against using Dropbox as the sole backup system for your computer. PG absolutely agrees. Some time ago, he described his backup system. You can read about it in all its OCD glory here.

Secrets publishers use

31 October 2013

8 cover design secrets publishers use to manipulate readers into buying books

From Derek Murphy at Creative INDIE

Indie publishers are slowly coming to realize the importance of an amazing book cover. Since many self-publishing authors are starting out on a very small budget however, homemade, DIY book covers are still a popular choice.

But be forewarned: although book cover designs come in a wide variety, publishers consistently use reliable, time-tested techniques and guidelines to catch your attention and make the sale. You want your cover to be different and unique, but you also want to tick all the right boxes (because they work).

The worst thing an author can do is consider their cover design like a blank canvas and add whatever they want, wherever they want.

So here are the tricks you need to know.

Read the rest, which is quite informative, here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Cooking a book.

27 October 2013

When Has Your Book Finished Cooking?

By Suw Charman-Anderson, Contributor at Forbes

One of the hardest decisions faced by any author, and something that is especially tricky for self-publishers, is knowing when your book is finished. For some, the problem is impatience, the urge to just be done with it all and to get the book out as soon as humanly possible. I wrote about this in February last year in a post called Don’t Publish That Book!, much to the disgust of some commenters. For those people, getting your stuff out there as fast as possible, getting feedback and sales, is more important than making sure it is of a high standard.

For others, the problem is knowing when to put the pen down and stop tinkering. “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, as Paul Valery may once have said, and for many writers it can become difficult to reach a point of comfort with that abandonment. There’s always something else to improve, something else to polish. I definitely fall into the latter camp, and I read back past works with a hypercritical eye that spots every tiny mistake and mentally chastise myself for being so thick as to have missed blindingly obvious flaws in my work.

So how do you know when your book is done? What is the literary equivalent of sticking a fork in it? I asked five writers how they know when a story or book is cooked right through.


Joanna Penn

A thriller writer who self-publishes under the name JF Penn, Joanna’s novels include the Arkane trilogy: Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus.

How do you know when a story/book is finished? These are two separate questions.

“The story is finished when the arc is complete, when you have explored the world of the characters and their journey is over. That can happen when the first draft is done, when you know how it all hangs together. There may be further aspects to explore, but you feel a sense of culmination, a weight that just feels right.

“But the book is nowhere near finished at that point. You now have to go through the editing process, refining and polishing until the book, the product, is finished. All writers have their own editing process, but you need to stop eventually. I don’t believe there will ever be a point when you can read a work and not want to change something, but you have to draw the line. I work through two major drafts then I use two editors and a number of beta-readers, plus the rewriting that entails, before I am satisfied that the book is finished.“


So how do you know when your novel is finished? Let me know in the comments!

Read the rest of the story here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Trying to Write When the Kids Are Home

24 October 2013

Tips for Trying to Write When the Kids Are Home

By Bridget Galbreath via WeBlogBetter

Working is one of those necessary evils in life. Nobody really wants to do it, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to afford to live.


It can be quite difficult to try to write quality blog posts while the kids are running around, playing and constantly pulling on your coattails.

If you are a blogger, don’t toss in the towel or get frustrated; instead, use these tips to make the most out of writing while the kids are at home:


Working from home has its ups and downs, especially when there are children involved. Use these tips to guide you to more effective writing so you can run a successful blog and enjoy your kids, too.

Link to the rest here.

From Guest blogger Randall.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

23 October 2013


 by Dan Gleibitzon at The Verge

Each year, hundreds of thousands of regular people pledge to write a novel. In a month. And that month is November, which is also known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

In the words of the organisers:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

It’s a pretty simple premise. Just write 1,667 words per day, each day, for a month. At the end of the month, you’ll have a novel, or something approximately like one.

NaNoWriMo is also a (totally optional) fundraiser for the purpose of promoting writing around the world.


2013 will be my fourth NaNoWriMo. The first two went fairly well for me, resulting in manuscripts quite a bit larger than the 50k word goal. Last year I stumbled and ran out of steam before I hit 20k.

My writing is still pretty bad. My plots are pulpy and cliched. But I find the forced productivity very satisfying, and it’s nice to look back at stuff I wrote years ago and find that it’s not all as awful as I thought it was.

So, is anybody else on board? What’s your story this year? Plotter or pantser?

Read the rest here and for more info on NaNoWriMo click here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

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