Tools For Writers

by limebirdkaiser

We live in a wonderful world with full of ones and zeroes buzzing around the old internet. Are you taking full advantage of the tools available to you?

You might think: This sounds boring and dreary. I’m an artist, not an egghead! This kind of stuff isn’t for me!
Not for you? Read about the day that LimebirdKate lost her work in progress to see why this is for you.
And if saving your hard earned words from being eaten by the void isn’t enough for you, maybe a few free tools for planning and organizing your work will get you interested.

DropBox

If you take only one thing away from this article, make it this: DOWNLOAD AND USE DROPBOX TO BACK UP YOUR WORK.

What it does:

Dropbox runs in that “Cloud” you might have heard about lately. Install it on your desktop and write a few great pages. Then head to the coffee shop and pick up where you left off on your laptop without batting an eye. Forgot your laptop? Guess what: use your smartphone.

There’s a web interface too, so you don’t have to install any programs if you don’t want to. This also means that anything you save to your dropbox is available on any computer with an internet connection. Download your opus to your great aunt’s PC and get to work while the rest of your family sleeps off the Christmas ham.

Dropbox syncs your files between all your computers in addition to the Dropbox servers. So, if Dropbox disappeared tomorrow, all your files would still be stored on all your local machines.

Dropbox has a “Public” folder which can generate URLs for each file inside it for easy sharing with, well, the public.

Non-Public folders can be shared with other Dropbox users on a per-user basis. So if you want to share your “Family Vacation Pics” folder with just your mom and sister you can. Or you can share your “Rough Drafts” folder with all the friends you meet on Limebird for easy peer feedback.

Dropbox also keeps a history of versions as you change the files in it. So if, in a fit of trusting, you share your folder with an unsavory character who Replace-Alls “the” with “boobsLOL”, you can restore your files pretty easily. This may or may not have happened to me or someone I know.

As far as security goes:

There’s always a risk when storing your files online. But, as we’ve seen, there’s a risk to storing your files only locally as well.

Dropbox isn’t a no-name startup company run by amateurs with the threat of going out of business overnight. It’s a fairly large and respected site. I think you can trust it as much as you would any other site on the internet.

Available on:

Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android
Plus a browser based interface!
There’s no excuse not to be using this.

Price:

Free for 2 Gigabytes of storage, which is more than enough for any text files you want to store. Pictures and videos will eat up your space a lot faster.
You can get more space by referring friends to Dropbox or you can just pay for it. You almost certainly won’t have to worry about that, though. Personally, I’ve been Dropboxing pretty liberally for over a year now and I’m using a little under 6% of my available space.

Simplenote

Go grab a Simplenote account here.

What it does:

Think “Dropbox Light”. It stores and syncs text files only. Simple text only, so no italics or bold allowed, sorry. But no frills means no distractions. Plain white space; you just fill it up with words.
I write just about everything in Simplenote to start with, including the rough drafts for NaNoWriMo, this year and last year.
Simplenote allows you to tag each note with multiple categories for easy organization. Make a tag for “Future Story Ideas” and never again forget a moment of inspiration. Tag your chapters with names to see a snapshot of your story by characters.

Available on:

Simplenote.com is available anywhere you have an internet connection and a modern browser.
For fancy off-line solutions, you can download a number of front ends here.
There’s something for whatever operating system you’re working on.
I can personally vouch for the official Simplenote iOS app and the Windows-only Resoph Notes.

Price:

The web app is free and most of the front ends are as well. The official iOS app and Resoph Notes are free for sure.

yWriter/Scrivener

Grab yWriter here.
Grab Scrivener here.

What they do:

Where Simplenote’s beauty is in its simplicity, yWriter and Scrivener take the opposite approach: they do it all.
Both programs allow you to organize your stories into chapters and scenes. Then reorder them easily. Then take notes, create an outline, get daily word counts and set goals. Tons of great features.
Remember to save your working files in your Dropbox account so you can access them from anywhere.

Available on:

yWriter for Windows
Scrivener for Mac and Windows although the Mac version is more robustly developed at the moment.

Price:

yWriter: FREE although you can register your copy if you like the program.
Scrivener: free…for 30 days. Then $40 US.

WriteOrDie

Check it out here.

What it does:

WriteOrDie’s tagline claims that it’s “Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity”. Write as fast as you can. Pause for too long and your existing words are slowly deleted. While I can’t vouch for the quality of the work it will produce, it will help you achieve your daily word count.

Available on:

Another webapp, available wherever your internet is.
There are downloadable versions for Windows, Mac and Linux, plus apps for iOS.

Price:

The online version is free, so why would you pay for the desktop versions or the iOS app? Both are about 10 bucks US, though, if you’re interested.

WordPress

WordPress Available Here

(Thanks to Paul Handover for suggesting WordPress for this article)

What it does:

You’re looking at it. Limebird’s site (minus the forums) are all hosted by WordPress. It’s a quick and dead-simple way to publish your writing (or anything else) to a blog.

Why would you as a writer need a public place to showcase your work? Afterall, you’ll be published and famous soon enough, right?

Well, until you’re big enough to snub all us little guys in public, WordPress gives you two invaluable tools for your writing: Encouragement and Accountability.

Sign your friends and family up for your blog. They’ll get emails or RSS feeds whenever you publish. Your mom will type, “great job, boo-boo!” in the comments and you’ll feel like a champ! When a STRANGER leaves a comment or signs up to follow you, you’ll feel like an author.

And when you don’t publish? Everyone will know. There’s no slacking off when what you’re doing is public knowledge.

Available on:

Another webapp, available wherever your internet is.

Price:

The basic version is free, if you don’t mind your site being called YourSite.WordPress.com. It’s something like $17 dollars a year to change it to YourSite.com

How about you?

Any helpful tools or tips that you’d like to share with us? Leave ’em in the comments!

Edit – This post has been updated to include the comments below. LimebirdBeth.

42 Responses to “Tools For Writers”

  1. Kaiser, this is so awesome! Thank you so much for taking the time out to look at all of the available products to help us writers, especially at Christmas.

    I’ll definitely take a look at Dropbox! The thought of losing my work petrifies me!

  2. Fascinating. Yet I find my “flash [thumb] drive” still handy. The iphone and apps are something I am not quite into …. but with all the new tech stuff – boggles my old fashioned mind. I do see this as importanat issue and more so in future. I may have to get iphone eventually, but to write from it ? Doubt it now, but who knows.

    • Oh man!
      I completely forgot a killer feature of Dropbox: sharing files and folders!
      I need to go back and edit the post, but collaboration is something you can’t do with a thumb drive.

      I write a lot from my phone, actually. I use Simplenote for jotting down ideas quickly. All the notes you save are searchable and organized.
      A teeny blue tooth keyboard and a phone are a great combo for easy travel writing.

  3. Ergh . . . Write or Die scares me!! LOL But I do use Scrivener (I’ve written several posts about my experience with it on my blog and a combo post should appear at the IMPire). Didn’t even make it through the trial before I just forked out the minimal fee and bought it. I’m still discovering all the features but so far, love it!

    I wondered about Dropbox. I think I’m too paranoid. I have lots of “what if. . .” questions. Being able to access any time, any where is enticing, though.

    • Were you using Scrivener for PC or Mac?

      Dropbox syncs your files between all your computers in addition to the Dropbox servers. So, if Dropbox disappeared tomorrow, all your files would still be stored on all your local machines.

      • I’m using Scrivener on PC.

        Ah, yes, that was one of my “what if” questions re: Dropbox. I think it’s the control freak in me as well – gadzooks, I just openly admitted I’m a paranoid control freak!! LOL But that was a concern. My other concern is privacy. How secure is Dropbox?

  4. I awoke at some ungodly hour during the night to find myself worrying about not backing up more words than I care to think about, and, hey presto, Limebirdkaiser has all the solutions – well done, and a big thanks. Agree with Kathils that Write or Die would shut down what creative juices I might have (and that’s a big question in itself!). But will check out Scrivener.

    Couple of additional thoughts from me. The first is that WordPress, as well as being a fantastic platform for Blogging, is also a useful tool for sharing. It’s easy to set up a WordPress account that is either totally private or available to nominated persons only. And the price is right! 😉

    My second thought is not in the area of ‘cloud’ services but nonetheless still worth passing on. That is the office products suite of programs from Open Office – see http://www.openoffice.org/ Sure many will know of Open Office but if any of you do not and want to save on the costs of MS Office, then give Open Office a try – free to use and fabulous conversion tools to and from MS Office.

    Happy Christmas to all.

    • That’s a good point about WordPress.

      In addition to sharing your stuff, I think posting what you write in a public place adds a bit of personal accountability.
      During NaNoWriMo, I knew that if I didn’t make my daily word count, then all my friends subscribed to my site would see that I missed an update that night.

  5. Great post! And thanks for the reminder about Dropbox – I’ve been meaning to check it out. I like the “Write or Die” idea because of the challenge it presents. I suppose, depending on which words it deletes, I might not like it in practice!

  6. Great info! I have a question about Dropbox. If you’re able to access the files from anywhere, what is the level of privacy/protection against other people seeing what you’re writing? I am slightly nervous about theft online…

    Also, can you elaborate on wordpress sharing? I like the idea of having all of my blogging/sharing in one place–if I’m understanding this correctly.

    As far as Scrivener, I plan to buy it because I can get it 50% off for having “won” NaNoWriMo. However, because I am a Windows user, I am waiting to see reviews on the initial windows version before I purchase it…Regardless, I have heard rave reviews on the Mac version and that’s why I’m eager to get it.

    Thanks for a helpful post, limebirdkaiser. Perfect info on the heels of my debacle! 😉

    • I’ve been using Scrivener on PC for about a month now and love it. I didn’t even get through the trial period before going ahead and getting the license. It’s made me a different kind of writer, I actually plot more now. I did a couple posts about it on my blog ~ they might give you some idea what it’s like.

    • Re your WordPress question, go here http://en.wordpress.com/features/ and scroll down a tad and you will come across this feature description:

      Privacy options, including members-only blogs
      WordPress.com allows you to have a completely public blog, a blog which is public but not included in search engines or our public listings, or a private blog which only members can access. If you want a public blog, but only occasionally post something private, we have a per-post password option too!

      WordPress has become a very powerful tool. Shout if you want to exchange telephone numbers; happy to call you and chat some more. P.

      • Hey Paul, this is good info to have. I will research it further, thanks.

        Yes, that’d be great to chat about it as I have specific questions that probably won’t be answered directly via the link you mentioned. We can use my limebird email account to exchange phone numbers if you like:

        limebirdkate@gmail.com

      • Paul,
        The WordPress features site you linked to is chock full of great tips and ideas for WordPress.
        I’m learning more about WP each day. For example, LimebirdBeth showed me that you can set up a blog with multiple authors that can all submit stories, but one “editor” who approves and publishes them.

    • Dropbox has a “Public” folder which can generate URLs for each file inside it for easy sharing with, well, the public.
      Non-Public folders can be shared with other Dropbox users on a per-user basis. So if you want to share your “Family Vacation Pics” folder with just your mom and sister you can. Or you can share your “Rough Drafts” folder with all the friends you meet on Limebird for easy peer feedback.

      Dropbox also keeps a history of versions as you change the files in it. So if, in a fit of trusting, you share your folder with an unsavory character who Replace-Alls “the” with “boobsLOL”, you can restore your files pretty easily. This may or may not have happened to me or someone I know.

      As far as Dropbox’s security goes:
      There’s always a risk when storing your files online. But, as we’ve seen, there’s a risk to storing your files only locally as well.
      Dropbox isn’t a no-name startup company run by amateurs with the threat of going out of business overnight. It’s a fairly large and respected site. I think you can trust it as much as you would any other site on the internet.

    • As far as sharing with WordPress, I think Paul Handover was just saying tat WordPress is a great way to “semi-publish” your writing in a place where it’s easy (and free!) for lots of people to find it.

  7. Neat tools. I learn so much from your blog!

  8. I’ve had Write or Die for some time now, it’s actually pretty fun. You get Plenty of warning before it starts eating words, and just hitting the space bar starts the timer over again. It really helps me to focus on what I’m doing, and tune out what’s going on around me so that I can concentrate. You can use the free version online, or fork out the ten dollars (last I checked) and download the desktop version.
    In the desktop one, you can change a lot of variables, like how quickly you want it to start counting, what penalty you want (you don’t have to have it eat words at all) and what sound to play when your word count is reached. There are other variables too, such as colors, etc. All in all I found it well worth the ten dollars. It’s straight typing though, no italics or bold, etc. You get on there and just – write!

  9. I’ve used yWriter and Scrivener and have given up yWriter all together. It is a great program but Scriveners UI is more intuitive and more flexible. If you’re a very structured thinker though, yWriter might be the better tool.

    @limebirdkate Dropbox has military level security. It is the most secure service of its kind out there.

    • excellent gillian. thanks for that tip! 😉

    • This is a good point.

      While yWriter and Scrivener overlap in a lot of functionality, they have a different feel to them.

      I think Scrivener was made to give “writer types” an easy-to-use, pretty interface to get them to start admitting that computers can be more of a help to writing than mere word processors.

      yWriter was written one guy, a professional programmer by trade who uses yWriter to write his own novels. So, it might appeal more to “tech-heads” than Scrivener.

      I should give Scrivener another chance, probably. Like I said, when I used it in 2010 for NaNoWriMo, the PC version was still in its infant stage.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post! Some of the tools I already have and use…I’m must be synced with you folks. 🙂 The big tool that I was glad to find out is Dropbox!

    • Great!
      I think you’ll find that Dropbox has a lot of amazing features for writing … AND BEYOND!
      The ability to easily backup and share your files, as well as having them all sync across your multiple computers is something you’ll quickly forget how to live without.

  11. Hi to all, awoke this morning (I’m on Arizona time!) wanting to pass on another good tip/tool. Was recently speaking with my nephew Magnus who, with his lovely partner Katja, runs Meerkat Films in Newcastle, see http://www.meerkatfilms.co.uk/ Magnus was saying how difficult it was to find decent scriptwriters. For book writers who might want to try scriptwriting, Magnus recommended reading Elliot Grove’s book Raindance Writers Lab: How to Write and Sell the Hot Script. It’s published by Focal Press. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elliot_Grove and also here http://elliotgrove.blogspot.com/

    Paul

    p.s. Been using a trial version of Scrivener for the last few days and like it.

  12. Sorry, it’s me again. From David Hewson’s website, http://www.davidhewson.com/writing-a-novel-with-scrivener/ Happy New Writing Year to all!

  13. There is also a free program out there called PhraseExpress. What this does is allows certain phrases to be done with just one or two shortcut keys. So if you find yourself typing the same phrase, signature, or paragraph often, you can program a shortcut for that, or if you start typing it, PhraseExpress will recognize it and pop up an option to complete the phrase for you if you type the number 1. It also starts memorizing common typos you make and auto-repairing them for you.

  14. Just an update on my recent experience with Scrivener, or more accurately with David Johnson of Literature & Latte, the company behind Scrivener.

    Over the last couple of days, I have had a hard drive failure, resulting in the loss of my main computer, rapidly bringing an old laptop into temporary use, and the commissioning of a brand new computer and the transfer of all the critical files. I had one, possibly unreliable, backup of my Scrivener projects and, of course, I had lost the Scrivener software.

    An urgent email from me, after closing hours for UK businesses, to the company about whether or not I could download a second copy of the software provided a very supportive reply within 75 minutes.

    So not only am I back in business but have seen the company perform to very high standards. The software is superb as is the team behind it.

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