Writing Tools for 2014

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toolbox

I meant to post this at the start of the new year, but if you’re like me, the weather and tax season has put you behind schedule. For those of you who made writing resolutions, here are some tools that will help you stay on track. Most are free or very low cost because, let’s face it, they don’t call writers starving artist for nothing.

Let’s start with tools to help you research, plan, and outline. My number one planning tool is Evernote. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Evernote by now. For those of you who haven’t, please let me be the tenth person to recommend it. There are many servers out there for writers to store their ideas, outlines, and research, but this one is free and very user friendly. You can access your notes everywhere, even on your phone by downloading the free app.

I used to save all of my notes on a flashdrive, my desktop, or on random pieces of paper. I was always worried I might lose or break my flashdrive, my motherboard would fry, or I might lose my scrap pieces of paper (or not be able to read what I wrote on them). With Evernote, your notes are safe because they are stored on a server. Unlike the random pieces of paper and multiple notepad method utilized by many writers, it is easy to locate documents and notes in Evernote, especially when you use tags to categorize them. I mainly use this site for outlining and to collaborate all of my notes and ideas. When everything is in one place, everything falls into place.

I’m not an app expert, but I found a few for free that i’m trying out. The first one is A Novel Idea. It’s a free app that helps you outline, plan your characters, scenes, and record ideas. Document your setting, theme, tone, POV, plot, and so forth all on one app. Yes, you can do the same thing on a piece of paper or in a notebook, but I like it because I can plan my novel anytime, even at work. It looks like I’m sending a text, but I’m actually writing a character sketch or planning a scene. For what it’s worth, it cost nothing and it’s very easy to use. Give it a try.

Another app I downloaded is the IEW Writing Tools app, created by the Institute for Excellence in Writing to help writers improve their writing. I put this app in the outline category, but it is also a helpful writing and editing app because it gives advice on how to start sentences, what to avoid in your writing, etc. There are charts and list to help you organize your writing. The list are very helpful. There’s a preposition list, transitional word list, and even a list for synonyms for “Said.” It’s like carrying an abridged writing guide in your phone.

Now for some tools to help you while you write. My favorite writing aid of all time is the Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Hopefully you’ve heard of this tool. It is exactly what it says: a thesaurus for emotions. Whatever your characters can feel, the thesaurus has the definition, physical signals, internal sensations, and mental responses to appropriately describe it. With this book, no longer will your characters shiver when they should tense, or cry when they should cringe.

Sometimes we need a little help getting in the writing mood. There is a website for that. OmmWriter is a website dedicated to enhancing the writing experience. You choose the font, background color, and keystroke sounds to create the perfect writing environment. When you are done you can save your writing as a textfile or PDF. OmmWriter isn’t expensive either. Instead of a monthly fee, they except a monitary gift. I believe the minimum is four dollars. For writers who love ambience, this is the perfect site for you.

For those of you who write traditionally, while I don’t have a notebook of choice, I do suggest a certain type of pen. I know in a previous post I stated all pens are the same, but I stand corrected. The perfect writing pen is more than a pen. For instance I have a ballpoint pen with an LED light and a touch screen stylus. This comes in handy when I need to jot a note in Evernote, or highlight a section from the Emotion Thesaurus, because the stylus works so much better than my finger. With a multi-functional pen, you may spend more time playing with it than writing, but I find the versatility more helpful than distracting. And you know, that light comes in handy when you drop candy or your flashdrive on the floor (or to flash in the eyes of kitties trying to lay on your laptop or chew your mouse chord).

Pandora is not technically a writing tool, (not on the official website anyway) but anyone who has read the NaNoWrimo forums or talked to a writer who uses music as their muse knows Pandora is a necessity. You choose a station and Pandora will select music to match your taste. It’s free, or for ad-free listening, you can purchase it for roughly $40 a year. I’m tempted to go this route because nothing interrupts the writing flow like a commercial about a man looking for his ATM. Aside from the commercials, the only drawback is that you can only skip so many songs before the licensing agreement steps in to stop you. Other than that, I think it’s a great tool to create the “write” mood.

I am very open to suggestions or comments on my selections or any helpful tools you use that I have not listed. What are some of the best programs, servers, etc that you used in 2013? What do you plan on using this year?

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Writing Rituals that Work

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We all have them. You know what I’m talking about. No, not germs (though this is true). Quirks. Things we do as writers that we think we MUST do to write–or write well. Writers swear by certain times of day, particular pens, certain chairs, foods, even fonts. To be honest I can’t write without serifs. Without our rituals, tricks, traditions, whatever pretty name you call your vice, we all know what happens when we try to write without them: we don’t.

To be frank, you can write with any pen. The free pen from your bank works the same as a Pilot or BIC. You can write on patio furniture, not just your favorite chair. And you never need a bobble head, stuffed animal, figurine, or other trinket nearby to write. They have no power. Trust me, I’ve rubbed the bellies of troll dolls raw trying to make wishes happen. So what does work? Here are some writing rituals to replace your old ones; they may seem weird, but they are backed by science.

imagesCASR4JGQThe usual writing position is sitting up: back straight against the chair, feet flat on the floor and elbows in the correct position: your keyboarding teacher would be so proud of you. This position says one thing, focus. A study from the School of Psychology has discovered the best position to write may be lying down. They found that people were able to solve problems faster while on their backs then sitting up. They’ve attributed this to chemicals in the brain being more present while we are standing: chemicals that may block focus. As silly as it sounds, I find this works. That is why we get so many eureka moments when we are in bed. Try this and that 3 a.m. epiphany moment can come to you any time of the day. Just be careful not to fall asleep.

Drinking is one of my writing rituals. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for the perfect teas, wines, and energy drinks to stay focused and energized while writing, not to mention inspired. Most drinks only deliver on one of those criteria. It seems that the key to writing well is to drink two beverages. Coffee is famously associated with writing for obvious reasons. Did you know beer may be beneficial as well? Instead of explaining it, I found a chart that shows why the best drink combination may be to drink beer while you plan and coffee while you write.

photo provided by digitalsynopsis.com

photo provided by digitalsynopsis.com

So next time you get ready to perform your daily writing ritual of sitting cross-legged on your favorite chair, with your coffee of choice, and only red M&M’s because red helps you write better, with your action figure (a.k.a. writing buddy), try a couple of the things above. Let me know what works. Better yet, what are some of your weird, tried-but-true writing rituals that help you stay focused and inspired?