Writers, like many artisans, love to talk about the tools and techniques of their trade. Honing and tweaking their systems becomes a near-obsession in itself.
I last wrote about this topic a full two years ago and thought it was worth a revisit. So, here is an updated look at the landscape.
The tools used roughly fall into three buckets, reflecting the larger workflow process from mind-to-notes-to-draft-to-refine:
- Organizing and Capturing Research and Idea Synthesis
- Committing Words to Paper
- Editing. Rewriting, Revising
List of Organizing Tools
- Sectioned Notebook / Binder
- Index cards / Whiteboard & Sticky notes
- Smartphone camera to take a picture of your hen-scratch and napkin sketches.
- Hierarchy of folders with files on your computer. There is no one ‘right’ way to do this, but needs to make sense to your sense of organization.
- Evernote, a cloud-based note-taking software that is available for download on nearly all mobile devices for free. Capture text and images wherever you are, tag them and organize them in a virtual notebook. The storage costs are based on how much you use within a month. For text-notes, a free account is often sufficient.
- Microsoft OneNote is similar to Evernote, and free to download on Windows, Macs, iDevices and Android. Your notes are stored in web-based storage, either the freemium OneDrive service or in OneDrive for Business. The killer feature for OneNote is Microsoft Office integration, stellar handwriting recognition and its ubiquity on devices.
- Scrivener, a full-blown writing suite that mixes both the notebook and card-sorting metaphors in an intuitive way. It is well-suited for organizing large writing projects or as a warehouse for all your writing needs. Not only is it great at planning, but it integrates writing and editing phases as well. There is a learning curve, but those that like it, like it a lot. There is a long-overdue iDevice version imminent. Those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem will be all over this.
- yWriter, similar to Scriviner, but at a much lower price tag (free). It’s not as polished, but is a well-supported Windows option. Did I mention it was free?
List of Writing Tools
- Pen & Paper or a good notebook.
- Plain text, because sometimes it’s best not to worry about formatting and about getting the words out of your braincase.
- Markdown, because sometimes a little bit of formatting is required in plain text. If you write for the web and haven’t looked at Markdown yet, you should.
- Microsoft Word, the ‘go-to’ standard for almost everyone. It’s everywhere and it works. It has outlining, layout, styles, grammar and spell checking. Many plugins are available to extend its functionality. The best way to get Microsoft Word these days is to subscribe to Office 365.
- LibreOffice / OpenOffice, very similar to Microsoft Office, these are reminiscent of earlier versions of Office. Even though OpenOffice still exists and is actively developed, LibreOffice is considered its spiritual successor. It’s Open Source and free to use. The biggest challenge is in document fidelity with Microsoft Office documents. If you work primarily in this tool and keep your formatting simple, you’ll be fine.
- Google Docs, part of Google’s web-based suite, offers a complete and free-to-use document processing experience with plenty of add-ins to extend functionality. Documents are stored in Google’s own format in their cloud service but can be exported as Microsoft-compatible downloadable documents. As with LibreOffice, there are some document fidelity issues to contend with if you’re using tools outside of the Googleverse.
List of Editing Tools
- ‘Words-to-Kill’ list & Thesausus
- Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar tools and your brain
- Free/Cheap Web-based tools: ProWritingAid, Hemmingway, Grammarly, AfterTheDeadline. These are great tools to assist in identifying common writing errors: readability, passive voice, adverbs. They are quick-and-dirty, first-pass editing tools but no real substitute for greymatter. Your mileage may vary.
- Desktop tools: Scriviner, yWriter, StyleWriter, AutoCrit. These are more robust and often more expensive tools, but can do a great job. The same caveat as above applies.
All that laid out, I dare not make any attempt to determine the ‘best’ set of tools to use. There are many factors including: access, budget, learning styles, comfort and personal preference.
Did I miss any? What tools do you use? Shout out in the comments below.
© 2016, Doug Langille. All rights reserved.
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