Guest Post: Tech Tools for Writers

This is a guest post by Carson Craig. Carson is a student and author with a steampunk novel coming out later this year. I invited him to write a post on tech tools for writers. Thank you, Carson!

As a sidenote, I (C. J. Brightley) also use and love Scrivener. If you’re a writer and you ever write out of order, or write with multiple points of view, or write anything that requires lots of research (such as hard SF or historical fiction), Scrivener can be a lifesaver. Keeping track of multiple storylines, lots of characters, lots of research, or scenes that need to be moved from one place to another… all these things are so much easier with Scrivener. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Tech Tools

After starting my first novel, I quickly realized that writing it would only be half of the battle. Yes, staying motivated and meeting your word count goals are important, but as you begin to develop your story, you will soon learn the importance of organization. The first few thousand words may seem like a trivial task, but as your plot, characters and settings evolve, organization becomes more challenging. On top of keeping your writing organized, you will be challenged with keeping your files, research, and notes organized, and easily accessing anything you need to reference. After learning this the hard way, I decided to share some useful tools to help you avoid the headaches I have encountered.

1. Scrivener – Perfect for Keeping Your Writing Organized

The first tool, and the most useful so far, is Scrivener. It is a great, inexpensive software that you can try out for free for 30 days. I am not affiliated with the Scrivener product. I am recommending it as customer who has found the product very useful and easy to learn.

Useful Templates for Manuscripts, Screenplays, etc.

When you begin a Scrivener project, you have the option of choosing from a set of templates based on the project you are undertaking.  If you have already started your writing in another program, such as Microsoft Word or Open Office, you can easily import and organize your text.  My book, Steam Age: Titan Projectwhich consists of 44 chapters and over 90,000 words, was broken into chapters and scenes within a matter of minutes.

Notes, Keywords, Research, Media and Your Writing in One File

One of the greatest features of Scrivener is that it keeps all of your notes and research in the same file as your manuscript (or other writing file).  Scrivener also has the ability to import media files.  By utilizing the split screen feature, you can easily write on one screen while reading your notes, listening to interviews, or looking at an image on the other. On top of this form of organization, you can also assign notes to your sections, along with keywords.  This makes all parts of your writing easily searchable.

Compile and Export Your Work To Several File Formats

Scrivener makes compiling your chapters and scenes into one file extremely easy. Exporting is simple, from rearranging chapters, to deciding which parts to exclude, to deciding what format you want the end product to be.  Within only a few clicks, you can have your entire book reorganized in the order you want and exported in ebook format.

Great Tutorial for Beginners

I can’t outline everything Scrivener has to offer within one post.  I recommend you check it out and download the free trial.  You can run through the tutorial in less than an hour and learn nearly all aspects of the software and how to use it efficiently. If you are still unclear on all of its aspects, I have a post on my website called Why You Should be Using Scrivener for Your Writing that goes into a bit more detail.

2. Evernote – Clip the Web and Save Your Research

Most of you have probably already heard of Evernote, but if you who haven’t, I recommend checking it out. This service has both a web component and a desktop application.  You can sign up for a free account and install the application to your computer within minutes, keeping both accounts synced at all times as long as you have an internet connection. Make sure to grab the Clipping Tool for your browser.

Clip Articles, Pages and Portions of the Web

Evernote makes gathering information for your writing easier than ever. As you search the web for important dates, details, and other necessary information for your writing, you can easily save what you see for later reference. The web clipper, which is placed in the top of your browser, saves articles and pages to your Evernote account. You can assign keywords and comments to what you clip for easy organization.

Easy Syncing on All Platforms

Once you have saved notes or clipped the webpage, you can quickly go back to reference whatever you need. Evernote can be used on Android and Apple devices, along with desktop applications for both Mac and Windows. You can access your account anytime on Evernote’s website, making forgetting key information a thing of the past.

3. Dropbox – Sync and Backup Your Writing

Dropbox is another key tool for my writing. By placing my novel in a Dropbox folder, I can easily access it from anywhere, on any computer, smartphone or tablet. The best part: when you make a change to the file, it syncs to your Dropbox account, which then syncs to all devices linked to your account. I could type out my outline on my laptop, go to campus and work on it on a library computer, then check it on my phone to read over it. Dropbox is free up to 18 gigabytes of storage (as of this posting). You can also earn extra storage by performing a few easy steps, such as sharing Dropbox with your friends.

Google Drive and SkyDrive – Two Alternatives to Dropbox

If you already have a Google account, Google Drive is a great alternative to Dropbox. It has almost the same features and can be placed on the same systems. SkyDrive is another option, although I have not used it.

4. Wappwolf – Backup Your Novel in Several Locations

If you are like me, you have your novel saved in several locations. I personally save it to my hard drive, external terabyte drive, Google Drive and Dropbox. Instead of having to perform the monotonous task of saving in four different locations each time, I can save it in one folder and Wappwolf will take care of the transfers from there. There are other uses for it, but I found it a great tool as an author. I can now rest easy knowing my book is safe in case some of the systems crash.

5. Google+ – Get Feedback on Your Work and Find an Audience

Although this plays more into marketing and spreading the word about your book, social media sites are great for finding an audience to help you improve your novel. With these sites, you can find mentors, editors, and beta readers to look over your novel and give you feedback. Google+ has proven to be far more beneficial to my writing than Twitter and Facebook. Because Google+ has an easy way to find and join communities, you can locate an audience that will be more than happy to comment on your work and help you progress as a writer. You can also assign people to circles, to keep individuals organized if you are trying to approach them for different purposes on your writing. Building your presence across other platforms will be necessary, but I recommend starting here.

Additional Considerations

This short list should help you start bringing your next story to life, from researching to organization to formatting to backing up your work and finding critics to help you improve the overall final version of your novel. There are many more tools out there. You might also consider:

  • Liquid Story Binder – Helps you stay organized, but also generate timelines and much more
  • yWriter – Much like Scrivener, but without some of the bells and whistles. If you want free software with fewer features, check it out
  • Odesk – great place to hire freelancers online who can help you with any part of your book, whether it be editing, illustrating or formatting.

The Most Important Tool

The most important tool to the writer is their mind. Make sure to constantly be training it, whether it be reading, listening to podcasts, or just meditating. Keeping a fresh mind and finding time to build your skills as a writer will help you develop over time into a much better author. If you have other tools that I did not mention, please feel free to leave a comment to share with the rest of the readers.

Bio: My name is Carson Craig. I am the author of the steampunk novel Steam Age: Titan Project, which is currently being edited and planned for release later this year.  I blog at about writing and book marketing.  I want to help others overcome the difficulties I faced in writing and marketing my novel.  I have also posted sample chapters to my novel on my website.  While I am not focused on writing and marketing my book, I am studying mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky and networking within the entrepreneurial community of Lexington, KY. 

Twitter: @carsonwcraig Google+: Carson Craig