Writing can be as simple as inscribing thoughts on a scrap of paper. Yet as we progress along the writing journey, we often need more than pen and paper to jot down ideas, brainstorm, plot out structure, write our stories, keep track of characters, relationships, timelines, settings and research insights.
Just like an artist or a carpenter, a writer benefits from the right tools of the trade.
So what tools do you need?
Only you can say- for what works for one writer may not work for another and vice versa. After all, writers come in all different, shapes and sizes. Some of us are plotters, others are pansters or ‘tweeners. Some prefer pen and paper, while others of us are at home with a keyboard and the digital world.
I’m still exploring the possibilities, trying to find what works for me. Here are some tools I've stumbled on that you may find useful.
Pens or sharpened pencils with reams of paper, note books, files and journals.
Word Processor such as MS Word (PC) or Pages (Mac) or Open Word.
While I generally type my stories, I like to have a notebook handy to jot down ideas wherever I might be. I usually have a separate notebook for each project I’m working on. Some writers have scrapbooks in which they record snippets of dialogue, descriptions, photos, drawings or mementos of place (a dried leaf or flower, a ticket stub, a scrap of fabric) that can be used to stimulate memory and ideas. In addition, journaling can be a good way of working through specific writing issues like writers' block or a tricky plot problem or applying insights from other writers or theorists.
|MS One Note|
Notes can also be kept electronically. Programs like MS One Note or EverNote can store text, diagrams, images and links to webpages. I particularly like MS OneNote which has a journal-like structure – major topic areas can be put in a titled “journal” which has major sections and pages within the sections.
With Pinterest it is possible to set up specific boards and ‘pin’ images or websites relevant to characters, settings or specific books. Boards can be public or private. I have a public one for my Tamrin Tales.
Mindmaps can help with brainstorming and planning. They are visual schemas/drawings that arrange concepts in a nonlinear organic fashion. The first mind maps were on paper but these days there are many digital mind mapping programs that can also include images, audio-visual files, web links etc.
Other programs may help you draw diagrams, tree structures or even genealogies and maps.
Spreadsheets like MS Excel can you keep a record of your submissions or chart plot structure and timelines. Time management systems like Todoit or Trello are helpful to keep track of the different tasks, competitions and submission opportunities.
Then there are sites that provide royalty free graphic and digital programs that help manipulate the images.
While the more sophisticated programs can be expensive, many useful ones are available free of charge, give a free trial period or are available for a minimal price.
Specifically for Writers
There are also specific programs designed for writers. While yWriter provides a distraction free text pane for typing; Scrivener, WriteWay or WriteItNow include a basic text editor with sophisticated organizing and formatting functions.
These programs usually have:
|WriteWay with Character pane open|
- a basic text editor,
- basic templates for different types of writing
- a tree structure that allows you to access and arrange your file into chapters and scenes
- cork board and card system that allows you to arrange and rearrange scenes or chapters easily
- character sheets to record vital information about characters (I like how character information accessible through a character window pane in both WriteWay and WriteItNow)
- a place for research links that can be attached to a relevant place in the document.
- formatting options (that can help with converting to e-book formatting etc)
Tailoring it for your own use
All this might seem a confusing array of possibilities, which may or may not be relevant to your current needs. However, it doesn't hurt to experiment to find out what works best for you.
For instance, one problem I find with Scrivener and related programs, is that research links are tied to a single project. This is limiting for me as I am writing many stories in the same world and often with the same characters and settings. A website (something like my own Wikipedia) would be perfect for the task but I obviously don’t want all the details of my unpublished work accessible to the public.
So far I've tried Realmworks – a database system for storing character, setting and story lines for role playing games. While it has many of the features I want, I found it complicated to use and too rigid.
Another possibility might be a wiki like Docuwiki or Twiki – while this is often used as a collaborative website and requires some technical knowledge,it would allow me to have an offline site with hyperlinks to store, link and access the variety of information about my world. Some parts of which I could make public at a latter date.
So tell me – what are the tools of the trade you use or would recommend to others? Why do you like using them? Do you think there might ones you haven’t tried that could be useful for you?
Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology. Her short story, “The Herbalist’s Daughter” was published in the Tied in Pink romance anthology at the end of last year. She has almost finished her Master of Arts (Writing) at Swinburne University and continues to work on her Akrad's fantasy fiction series. You can read some of her short fiction here.