A lot of writing advice revolves around boosting productivity, or just finding the time to write. While those are important skills to master, and writers absolutely need to nail the basics of plot, character and structure, there are tools and other tech you can invest in to help your author career.
Whether it’s a platform for your website or the way you backup your files, you need to get on board with technology. They can speed up your process or stop you from losing your work-in-progress.
Let’s have a look at the tools and software you can use to speed up your writing - and make it flexible enough to fit your schedule.
Choose the right software for writing
There are plenty of actual writing tools available, whether you want to use a pen and paper or something a little quicker. Microsoft Word has been a staple word processor since 1983, or you could try Google Docs as an alternative. That's got the advantage of regular auto-saves, and you can access your files from anywhere without emailing multiple files to yourself.
But if you're a serious scrivener then there's one particular programme that can definitely help you get on top of your writing.
And that’s Scrivener.
Scrivener is available for both iOS and Windows. Think of it like a giant folder that can contain all of your research, character sheets, notes, and novel itself. You can divide your novel up however you want, but a common method is to divide chapters into scenes, each of which has its own note card.
You can view these virtual cards in a ‘top down’ fashion, allowing you to drag-and-drop the scenes into a different order. Much easier than copying and pasting from one document to another!
The old-fashioned note card method
You can also filter scenes according to theme, character, location, or any other system you might use. Importing Word files is fairly straightforward and you can backup your Scrivener files to a form of cloud storage (more on that later).
Scrivener also has formatting options so you can create Kindle files or PDFs right inside the software. True, you can now format beautiful ebooks using Vellum but that’s only available for Mac, and it’s also only a formatting tool. Scrivener helps with writing too.
Be aware that the learning curve is very steep but there are a range of useful tutorials online. You can also try Joseph Michael’s very helpful Learn Scrivener Fast course to help you get the most out of it.
Store your notes and research in a simple way
Scrivener does let you store your research right there in the software. But sometimes you want access to it from other computers - maybe you found a brilliant weblink on your lunchbreak, or while browsing the internet on your commute, and you want to save it to check later.
You can use Google Docs for storing your notes and research. Or you can make your life much easier and use Evernote. This virtual notebook allows you to install the app on 2 devices, and you can clip whole web pages, search across your notes, and set up notebooks for each of your projects.
As an example, you might set up a notebook for your newest book. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction (or even academic), this principle still applies. Within that notebook, you create separate notes according to your needs. So you might have notes for each character, individual strands of research, weblinks to check later, or even images that inspire elements of the story.
An example Evernote notebook
Whatever you add will sync across your devices. So that weblink you save on your phone at lunchtime is right there on your PC when you get home.
And that’s just the free version. The paid versions offer far more features, such as forwarding emails directly into Evernote, accessing notes offline, and searching for text within PDFs or Office files.
Keeping your writing error-free
Writers don’t like to admit that they need a little help with their writing. But everyone needs a second pair of eyes to check for commas, or identify those pet words that we just can’t stop using.
Software like ProWritingAid or Grammarly will help you to work on your grammar and spelling. ProWritingAid offers a free web-based version that will let you check everything from grammar to repeated words and ‘sticky’ phrases.
Both programs offer free Chrome extensions that pick up the basics, so it’s a good way to decide which you prefer.
Just be sure you review their suggestions before you accept them. Both programs will sometimes suggest changes for words spelled a specific way, like brand names, and you need to ignore them. They’re not foolproof compared to a human proofreader and editor, but they’re a good check before you send your work away.
Make sure you never lose a file again
We’ve all had that moment where a laptop or PC has frozen. We’ve stared in horror, or turned the air blue, to think of that lost work. Especially if the computer has to go to the great tech graveyard and we can’t get at the files any more.
Talking about storage is probably teaching you to suck eggs but it’s well worth a mention. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned external hard drive - as long as you remember to copy your files to it on a regular basis. So even if you’re unlucky enough to contract a virus that gets into your cloud storage, you’ve still got a version of your files on your disconnected drive.
But you still need a backup schedule to make sure you copy the files. And it can be awkward if you lose your file the day before you were due to back it up again.
Cloud storage can help alleviate these sorts of problems. Dropbox and Google Drive are two of the most popular solutions, although there are others available. Google Drive syncs with Google Docs and gives you 15GB as standard. Dropbox gives you 10GB, although both services expand the amount of storage through subscription services.
Both platforms also offer a desktop version that allows you to access your files right inside Windows Explorer. They also eliminate the need to email files to yourself; simply log in on a different machine, download the file, and re-upload once you’ve made the changes. Then it’s right there next time you log in.
No more having to fumble around for a USB stick
Google Drive even lets you access every version in the previous 30 days, which is helpful if you’ve written over the wrong file.
Just make sure you backup whichever solution you choose to an external drive you can disconnect when not in use.
Establish your writer platform online
If you want a career as a writer, at some point you’re going to need a website. It’s much easier to build a platform before you have books to sell, so you can set up a site no matter what point you’re at in your writing career.
While free services might seem attractive, Wordpress or Squarespace are better places to start for a serious website.
Squarespace offers drag-and-drop functionality, while self-hosted Wordpress is a content powerhouse that lets you run a professional website that’s customised to your needs. They’re also excellent platforms if you want to start a blog - find out why blogging is so important to fiction writers.
Whichever you choose, you can make a site that’s as simple or as feature-filled as you need it to be. That’s the beauty of these platforms - you can customise them to suit you and your writing.
And that’s ultimately what you want from your technology - solutions that suit your own writing career.
Over to you! Which tools and technology do you use to make your own writing life easier?