Every workman needs the right tools to do his job. For example, a plumber wouldn’t head off to fix a blocked pipe without wrenches and screwdrivers. And so it is that a writer cannot work without his or her tools.
It’s tempting to get sucked in by all the new technology that claims it can make you more productive or a better writer, but before you go off chasing these ‘johnny-come-latelies’, it’s important to look at the job you’re trying to do. Then you can assess what you need in order to do it.
There are a number of facets to the writing process – most commonly planning, drafting or editing – and, obviously, there are different tools that work in different sections. Below I’ve given you examples of the tools that I favour, depending on the stage that I’m at.
In the past, when writing my first two novels, I didn’t plan; I just wrote. And I got into a big mess. Now, there are a few things I’m using to help me along the process:
– Scrivener – first of all I’ll say that I’m not on any kind of commission for Scrivener. But this is a great programme when you’re planning. There is a corkboard feature where you create a visual representation of all the scenes in your book and they appear as index cards. You can add the name of the scene and a short synopsis. But the clever thing is that you can also add keywords, such as character names, and then whenever the character’s name appears in a synopsis, the card is highlighted in a different colour – this allows you to check that your main character is active enough.
– If you want to go back to basics, then index cards and felt tip pens are the way to go. Using a different colour for different main characters works the same as Scrivener and you can lay them out on the floor and move them around as necessary.
– Notebook and pen – when I’m busy cooking up a plot, sometimes I just need to scribble down my ideas. They may or may not end up in the final book, but a notebook and pen helps me to be more creative. It also keeps all my ideas in one place.
I’m hoping that by using these techniques will help the next stage – drafting – to go more smoothly.
As I said, you need different tools for different jobs, and the right tools can make drafting easier. Here are the ones I use:
– Notebook and pen – once again, my notebook and pen are vital. Sometimes you can think better when working by hand and, unless your pen runs out, you can write for as long as you like – no batteries required. NB: you should never be held up by an inkless pen as you should already be carrying at least two spares. Oh, and make sure there’s enough blank pages in your notebook before tucking it into your pocket.
– My laptop – I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but I would not be without my laptop. I recently purchased a smaller, lighter device which means it’s even more portable than it was before. And that’s why I prefer a laptop to a desktop computer – I can wander off wherever I choose and just sit down and write.
– Evernote – this is another clever little note-taking tool that can connect you to your computer. For those who don’t know, Evernote exists as an app on your smartphone and also online. This means that when you’re out and about, if an idea strikes or you have a spare five or ten minutes, you can quickly jot down your next scene or notes for what happens next. Then you can access it on your computer later.
– Dictation software – this has been a vital addition to my toolbox due to increasing issues with my hands. Typing for any length of time will leave me in a lot of pain, which can only be appeased by strong ibuprofen gel. I use Dragon and once you have it trained it can be very effective. Training can take a while and will be more difficult if you have an accent. As a north-easterner, I frequently confuse Dragon with the way I pronounce certain words, and I sometimes have to put on a ‘southern’ accent for Dragon to understand. I used to just use it for typing up work from my notebook, but more recently I’ve started to work on dictating as a first draft. Again, it’s difficult but as you can write much quicker with dictation it’s a skill I have to learn.
When you’re into the editing process, you will naturally be working directly onto the manuscript for some of the time, but there are a couple of tools for the next bit.
– Scrivener – yes, I know, I’ve put Scrivener in all the sections, but it does also work in the editing process. If you decide that the scenes are in the wrong order, you can just drag and drop. The ability to move scenes around saved my bacon when I was editing Book Two and it means planning for Book Three is proceeding much more easily. It also has an outliner feature, which will give you a list of the scenes and their synopsis information. If you’ve printed out the version that you created when you planned the book, you can see what changed along the way.
– A tablet – yes, I know I’m being all naughty with the technology, but I find my tablet invaluable in the final stages of editing. It’s bigger than the screen on my phone, and I can send my manuscript to the Kindle app and read it there. Reading on a different screen gives your brain the impression and it’s seeing something new and it’s easier to spot mistakes.
These are the tools that I consider invaluable for my writing process, but it’s easy to see that they won’t work for everyone. However, it’s always worth experimenting with new things to see whether they can improve your performance.
What are your top tools for writing? Answers below, please.