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Episode 026 | Choosing Your Writing Tools

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NaNoWriMo is as good a time as any to really pay attention to your tools. It’s a month-long challenge that deliberately pushes most people to write a little faster than they would like. As a result, it’s great at helping writers shut their inner critics up for a little while (or at least turn the volume down on their nagging). It’s great for that. It serves that purpose well.

However, it’s a lot of writing, and it’s not a great time to have your systems working against you! Even though you’ve created more time and thought about some things to try to make the most of the time you’ve had, and maybe you’ve even put together a bangin’ outline, you still don’t want to be out searching for notes that you took or fighting with your computer program.

This week, ahead of our November 1st start date, I’d like for you to make a few decisions.

1 Decide What You Want to Use to Store Ideas, Notes, and Research. Whether you prefer to go old school and use post-it notes, notecards, notebooks, or binders or whether you make use of your digital options (apps on your phone, files on your computer, etc.), figure out your way and then stick with it. I mean STICK. WITH. IT. Ideally, you’ll have everything in one place so you don’t have to go chasing across a variety of platforms and methods to find where you put that great name you came up with for your antagonist or what year the protagonist’s grandmother (and mentor) was born. People do everything from keeping a notecard in their pocket (a la Anne Lamott) to keeping a single notebook (tabbed or otherwise), like Judy Blume, who goes through it at the end of every book to make sure she got everything important, to sending themselves emails to being the world’s greatest Evernote or Bear user. Some people might choose to take all their notes in a google file. Or choose a specialized program like Story Planner or Campfire. Or make great use of the research organization features in Scrivener. Again, there is no one right way, just your right way. Go find it. And consider checking out the options listed in today’s show notes, with links to a variety of programs.

  1. Analog

  2. Post-It Notes

  3. Notecards (Anne Lamott is a fan of this method.)

  4. Notebook (Judy Blume is a fan of this method.) – easier with tabs!

  5. 3-Ring or Disc Binders – easier with dividers!

  6. Digital

  7. Voice Recorder Apps: BrainToss

  8. Digital Post-In Notes: Post-It Plus (App)

  9. Index Card Apps/Software: Story Skeleton/Google Keep

  10. Web Highlighters: Diigo (Can also pull from Kindle)

  11. Note-Taking Apps/Software: Bear/Evernote/

  12. The 10 Best Note-Taking Apps in 2019

  13. Plotting Apps/Software: Story Planner/Campfire/The Novel Factory/Edward/True Novelist

  14. Or you can always use whatever software you use to write your novel draft. (See “Draft Management System Digital Resources” below.)

2 Decide how you’re going to create and manage your drafts. Again, old school is fine. If you’re a longhand writer who later types it into Word, awesome. If you like to create your first on a typewriter or wordprocessor, you go. If you dictate your story into a recorder, cool. Or if you’re a person who’s happy to go directly to digital, but likes to do things in fits and starts, maybe Speare is right for you. If you’re somebody who likes the classics, Word or Google Docs is a good fit for you. The cool thing about these three programs is that you can usually get access to them across platforms and different browsers. If you do go this route, I would urge you to make excellent use of the outline feature to make it easier to navigate around the larger document. Scrivener and other writing software programs like Storyist, yWriter, Ulysses, and Novlr were designed for just this reason. They are tailor-made for longer documents and make it easier to move passages around, click between chapters, even use split screens to view your research notes while you’re writing, compare drafts of the same chapter, or have two chapters up at the same time. Or perhaps you’re into dictation, but you like it when Dragon or Google Voice Recognition goes ahead and types it all up for you as you speak. All these methods work fine, just fine. Finding your method, device, or program is the key.

  1. Analog

  2. Longhand (Notebook, Binders)

  3. Typewriter

  4. Wordprocessor

  5. Dictation

  6. Digital

  7. Thought/Word Hybrid Processor: Speare

  8. Word Processors: Google Docs/Word One Docs/Pages

  9. 32 Best Google Doc Add-Ons in 2017

  10. The Ultimate Guide to Google Docs for Writers (+ workflow video & PDF checklist)

  11. Writing in Google Docs (vs. Scrivener!) – Heartbreathings video

  12. Writing Software: Scrivener/Storyist/yWriter/Ulysses/Novlr

  13. Best Book Writing Software

  14. Scrivener Review

  15. Scrivener, Novlr, Ulysses Comparison

  16. Dictation: Dragon/Google Voice Recognition Diction (Chrome Add-On)

3 Decide how you’re going to keep track of your drafts. Maybe you like to print out your work every day and store it in a binder or stack it in a sacred stack on a shelf above your desk with a paperweight that has some special meaning to you. Or maybe you are just as happy leaving it in the digital world and have a filing system that has a folder for your project and a system for clearly identifying which draft it is. In either case, it’s important to a) make sure you have a chosen and protected storage location and b) make sure you always put it back where it belongs when you’re done working on it for the day. And make copies/backups. Let’s avoid wailing and gnashing of teeth where we can, okay?

A quick note on Scrivener: There’s a reason so many people are shouting about Scrivener from the mountaintops. It really is the Cadillac of writing programs, and the cost for a one-time lifetime license is very reasonable. However, it’s not the only game in town and it has a steeeeep learning curve for most people. NaNoWriMo and Scrivener always have a deal going for NaNo participants where you:

  1. Get an extended free trial period

  2. If you decide to buy, you get a discount for being a NaNo Participant

  3. And you get a bigger discount if you win NaNo

It’s worth at least checking out to find out what all the fuss is about. If you do, I would 100% urge you to a) take the time to go through the Scrivener Tutorial provided with the software and b) when in doubt, search YouTube for quick tutorials on whatever you’re struggling with. Someone will have made a video on it, I promise!

If your writing habits have atrophied a little, I would strongly suggest you try doing a Word Count Snowball. Check out Kristen Martin’s excellent video and free spreadsheet download to help get you started!

Next week, we’ll be talking about the most important systems of them all. I’ll catch you then, but between now and then…

Happy writing, people!


  1. NaNoWriMo’s YouTube Channel

  2. NaNo Prep 101 – NaNoWriMo

  3. Episode 007 | The 5 Stages of Writing

  4. Episode 001 | Pro, Amateur, Hobbyist, Dreamer

  5. Episode 015 | 5 Essential Systems for Writers

  6. How to Become a Writer: 12 Baby Steps to Help You Reach Your Goal – Scribendi

  7. 30 (Free) Writing Apps To Help You Through Every Stage of NaNoWriMo – The Writing Cooperative

  8. 10 Amazing Tools for Indie Authors – Paul Teague

  9. 10 Best Free Writing Apps & Tools – ProWriting Aid

  10. Best Writing Apps & Software – Bryan Collins

  11. Creative Writing Tools – Eva Deverell

#ywriter #braintoss #novlr #GoogleVoice #dictation #dragon #wordcountsnowball #NaNoWriMo #storywritingsoftware

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