I’ve been seriously writing stories since high school. Back in those days, my writing tools consisted of my imagination, a college ruled spiral notebook, a pen, and copious amounts of Wite-Out. It goes without saying the times have changed. Gone are the days of having to write out in long hand or type on an IMB Selectric while keeping a thick dictionary and thesaurus close at hand. Today, we’re overwhelmed by a multitude of tools with which to use to enact our craft, and sometimes the choosing can be more difficult than the writing.
Though always changing, here are the tools in my arsenal.
- Scrivener – I discovered Scrivener a few years ago when I participated in NaNoWriMo. It’s since become the most important writing tool in my workflow. The app is hard to describe because it does so much and does it well. I create all my drafts, make all my annotations, save my research, and export my for-publication files from Scrivener. It’s undergone a major update recently, and is available for both Mac and Windows machines. I haven’t found anything I dislike about the app yet. Everything I thought was once missing they added in version 2.0. Click the link above and download a 30-day trial for yourself. Fair warning, 30 days won’t be long enough for you to put it through its paces, but should be enough to get you hooked.
- Dictionary & Thesaurus – Though the times may have changed, I still keep a dictionary and thesaurus close at hand. I’m no longer a slave to that giant paper tome, but I still need to do regular checks on spelling, discover proper usage, and find words to better convey what I’m trying to say as I write. I can’t say I have any rhyme or reason, but I often jump between using the Dictionary app built into the Mac OS and Dictionary.com. The built-in application seems a bit more tightly curated, offering fewer word choices when searching for synonyms. However, sometimes that’s what I need when I don’t want to be overwhelmed by too many choices. The layout of Dictionary.com is a problem as well. While I appreciate the advertisements keep the site free, they’re often too distracting and make the site somewhat user hostile.
- Word – I resisted buying and installing this app for a long time. I’ve been a die-hard Mac user since its earliest days, and the thought of using a Microsoft product made my skin crawl just a little. Having said that, there’s no denying that Word is the de facto standard in word processing. Why do I need it when I have Scrivener? Well, blame it on Smashwords. When you choose to self-publish through Smashwords, you must submit a properly formatted Word doc to their ebook converter—affectionately called the Meat Grinder. While Scrivener will export a doc file—as will other apps like TextEdit—it cannot create a properly formatted one. It takes about an hour of work to in Word to properly format a short story, doing things like checking for invisibles, creating a hyperlinked table of contents, and thus create a file not only acceptable to Smashword’s Meat Grinder, but ultimately acceptable to Apple’s iBook Store. Admittedly, Word is a better product than it used to be, but it’s still a bit bloated and not very Mac-like in its user interface.
- Ebook Readers — Once I’ve uploaded my doc files to Smashwords and their Meat Grinder has successfully converted it into the bevy of possible file types, I use a handful of apps to validate the files. (NOTE: You can export a valid Kindle mobi file directly from Scrivener. You’ll need to download and plug in Amazon’s KindleGen. Hat Tip to David Hewson.) To check the Kindle (mobi) version of the file, I use the free Kindle App from Amazon. To check the ePub file (iBooks, Nook, Kobo), I used Adobe Digital Editions. The PDF versions are checked in both the Mac OS’s Preview app, and in Adobe Acrobat Reader.
- Dropbox — You do back up your work don’t you? It’s the smart thing to do, but I understand how annoying it is at times. Rather than trying to keep everything backed up on an external hard drive, I sync everything to Dropbox. You get 2 GB for free, and you can actively sync your files as you edit them. I keep all my files in Dropbox, and have the same folder synced to both my laptop and the iMac sitting on my office desk. That way I have complete access to the most current version of my work in the two places I spend most of my time. As a bonus, my office computer is hooked up to an external hard drive using Time Machine. That way, if Dropbox were to get nuked somehow, and my laptop died at the exact same time, and the iMac died a concurrent death, I’d still have yet another back up of everything I’ve ever written. Paranoid? Maybe. I’d rather take risks in my writing, not in its preservation.
- Pixelmator/Photoshop Elements — I use this pair of programs to create all of my ebook covers, edit images for this blog, and create general pieces of artwork. I’d prefer to use the full version of Photoshop (and I do have it available on my work computer), but it’s far too pricey to consider purchasing for what little need I have. Why do I use both? Well to put it simply, Photoshop Elements runs like a bloated turtle on my laptop, but Pixelmator doesn’t handle text and layer effects as well. So, unless I need to use Elements for a specific reason, I try to stick with Pixelmator.
What are your favorite writing tools? Please share in the comments.