I envy those writers who still use a pen and paper to get their words down. Writing by hand has a very warm quality to it — like choosing to listen to vinyl over an mp3. One of my professors always recommended starting by hand, in a very special book dedicated to writing.
I never listened to him.
I own countless leather-bound books, all which have the first few pages scribbled in, and I still abandon them. They populate my apartment like orphaned children, largely neglected but very beautiful. Every time I run into one of those books, I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice…” and then I return to my MacBook Pro and laugh because the computer is cackling:
“What are you going to do when you want to revise your words, sucka?”
This post is dedicated to process — a collection of apps for writers that I use that are dedicated to research and production. I’m a Mac user because my profession dictates it, but for writing I cleave to the platform because the apps designed for it are frequently much more elegant in their design than their Windows counterparts. (I am biased, by the way: I believe in integration across multiple devices and using beautiful software with smart user interface design because its pleasing to do so. Writing is hard, the software you use to do it should enable you to work smarter about it. Not harder. End of story.)
You shouldn’t be restricted to using just your laptop if you want to write. Inspiration strikes anywhere and for me, it’s a much greater loss to not jot down a note because I forgot to pack a pen. I use a smartphone and tablet, and I do have an iCloud subscription to sync a variety of software to ensure that backups are available just in case something goes screwy. Dropbox is always a failsafe too. Today, however, I just want to name drop a few of the desktop apps because I’ve gotten a couple of questions on Twitter about it. (I social share my word count, partially to motivate other people, partially to prove to myself when I forget about it later on when I’m having a particularly bad writing day that it is possible.)
Mac Apps for Writers:
Far be it from me telling you what you ought to be comfortable using, let me just disclaim this by saying I’ve used Word to write 300k documents before. I’ve used Pages. I’ve used StoryMill, and a couple of others. I’m often attracted to the new and shiny, but these apps are my staples. The best thing I can suggest if you’re on the fence for whatever reason is download a trial where possible, and give it a spin. It’s the best way to find out if an app will fit your work habits.[one_sixth centered_text=”true” animation=”Grow In” delay=””]
Yes, You want to join the Cult of Scrivener
If your ideas are fragmented and you think breaking down your plot into manageable chunks is easier to handle than trying to write straight-through, Scrivener’s for you. It allows you to compartmentalize chunks of your plot while breaking down the work so that you can set smaller writing goals for yourself as you construct your story. It lets me keep all my research alongside my manuscript for easy access, and sustains a variety of files from web pages to pictures to have on-hand just in case I need immediate access to them.[/five_sixths_last]
Some Key Features:
- Snapshots let you create multiple iterations of a scene, so you can always go back to a previous version and compare for differences in the text
- Create custom fields to track characters’ points of view, settings, or parts of the narrative that you might want to revise later
- Add keywords to your documents to follow up on for revision
- Corkboard lets you slam down plot points and rearrange them before, during, and after writing
- Create Alternative Scenes right in the manuscript and label them so you can mix it up later
- Identify which stage of revision you’re in (First Draft, Second, Third, etc.) and create custom classifications in case you need something different
- Set word count goals for the overall manuscript, chapter, or scene by scene. Then proceed to smash them.
- Show off to your writer friends when the little progress bar goes green using Scrivener’s Twitter integration
The Wake the Dead “Rig”:
Disclaimer: I’m hiding the pertinent stuff, obviously. No spoilers here. Even the faux “draft” is a b-side that might be assimilated into something else someday when I have a moment to revise that godawful sentence structure (Jeez, what’s going on there?) Wake is written in third person. I just wanted to give you an idea of what a custom setup in Scrivener looks like, and since this manuscript is getting all my love and attention right now — and since I’ve polished my binder to a state of perfect working order — this is what you get. You can change the icons too. Scrivener has bunch of customs you can apply to your folders.[/one_sixth] [five_sixths_last]
Scrivener’s Little Brainstorming Brother, Scapple
It wasn’t that I was actively looking for brainstorming software. It was more the problem that trying to write down the ideas in a fury and then trying to make sense of the resulting spiderweb of connection lines that was irritating me. I also didn’t want to pick up a complicated app to accomplish something that should be very straightforward. Enter Scapple — advanced note taking that lets you connect the dots, then drag those dots directly into Scrivener.[/five_sixths_last]
Some Key Features:
- No bullshit note taking
- Custom note colours and fonts
- Import images to notes
- Ultra ridiculously easy to use
- Imports into Scrivener without any fuss
Aeon Timeline integrates with Scrivener
Backstory. I never though I’d need a timeline app until I realized that the backstory to Wake skips back into the past (at the longest) 2000 years. I have a character who was born in Alexandria. It just happened like that, and even though the narrative takes place in the contemporary era, I still needed to figure out the connections between the players. Enter Aeon Timeline — more than just an engine to calculate the intersection points where characters are born, meet, and die, it lets you drill down into the series of events that you establish by arc, setting, or plot events.[/five_sixths_last] [one_half]
Some Key Features:
- Form relationships between people, places, and events
- Create arcs to establish multiple timelines in the same document
- Load in research materials, like photos or external links
- Sort by keywords
- Automatically calculates character ages in years
- Custom fantasy calendars for you speculative fiction writers
- Import your timeline to Scrivener — so you can effectively build a visual timeline of events in Aeon, and import the structure into Scrivener to start writing. Check it out.
Dramatica is great for plotting
I might’ve mentioned that I’ve been participating in Camp NaNoWriMo’s April edition. Someone in my cabin mentioned Dramatica, and after a little poking around, I realized that this will probably get me through my first revision. I’m a pantser by nature, but I suspect to suss out plot holes I might need a little help. Dramatica offers a story overview that leaves no stone unturned. It lets you determine each part of the plotting process by asking questions so you can fill in the blanks.[/five_sixths_last]
Some Key Features:
- Exceptionally well-documented. It’s complicated software and you will live within it for a couple of weeks, going through the details of your character and her motivations. Best familiarize yourself.
- Great example library
- Will produce a full plot outline for you at the end, covering all the bases and making sure you don’t miss any holes or overlook the points where a character needs to grow to overcome her next big hurdle.
- Follows a character thoroughline, and places emphasis on relationships and motivations rather than events. Overall offering a deeper perspective, I find, to the approach to story. (Hence the reason it’s going to become a mainstay for my second draft. I’ve got the sequence of events in place, Dramatica is going to help make sure it all holds together because of those pesky character arcs.)
Watch the Overview Video, Because I feel like I’m not doing it justice:
Full feature list available on the Dramtica website | $149.99[one_sixth centered_text=”true” animation=”Grow In” delay=””] [/one_sixth] [five_sixths_last]
Add Evernote to your arsenal
Evernote, in my process, is a stopgap solution. If Scrivener was prepared to release a Mobile or iPad version of their software that would integrate with the desktop version, I’d likely dispense with it. It captures images, notes, photographs from your camera, scribbles, and web pages all very effectively, and syncs the data across a number of devices. I mostly use it to compile research which I later parse and import into Scrivener in my research binder.[/five_sixths_last] [one_half]
Some Key Features:
- Free version available!
- Multi-platform: use it on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or access via the website
- Capture direct from the web — whole freaking web pages. (I also use this to save recipes.)
- Some wonk with the lack of drag and drop in notebooks, but I tolerate it because it keeps my mess of research in one place.
Full feature list available on the Evernote website | Free and $45 yearly Subscription available for high-capacity users[one_sixth centered_text=”true” animation=”Grow In” delay=””] [/one_sixth] [five_sixths_last]
DayOne for journalers and notetakers
Don’t even I can’t even. Write every day. Do it. Talk about your breakfast if you have to. DayOne is a fast, beautiful, well-designed, well-built little gem of a journal application and it is my mainstay. I literally use it every day. I jot down notes and everything in between. I snap selfies. I take photos of my kickass cooking. I talk about my adventures. I talk about the places I want to go. Journalling eventually becomes a part of you when you do it often enough, and DayOne makes sure that you do – it sets a reminder for you to make sure you put down the words.[/five_sixths_last]
Some Key Features:
- Syncs across multiple-platforms
- In app photos, weather, music, and geolocation
- Automated backups
- Dropbox and iCloud sync
- Password protection
- Intuitive user interface and dead sexy design + typography
- Social sharing to Facebook and Twitter at your discretion
Persona’s Just Okay
I purchased Persona because I got lazy. I’m sure this happens to every writer at least once: you’re hurrying through your draft, and you want to figure out some logical link between character A and character B and why they don’t get along, but you can’t be bothered to pick up a book about character archetypes, so you google a bit. I ended up picking up a copy thinking Persona would be much more involved when it came to character creation, but the reality is that there are only sixteen types of character split into good guys and bad, and while you can input a few notes, there are only so many variations you can produce by pitting archetypes against each other. The information is basic, at best. I still needed to go out and buy a book in the end to flesh everyone out. (Not worth the $50 bucks I paid for it. Sometimes doing things the hard way is better for the process.)[/five_sixths_last]
Some Key Features:
- Decent foundational array of archetypes to compare against each other based on strengths and weaknesses
- Character Name Generator
- Pretty icon
Full feature list at the Mariner Persona website | $50 on their site
Hope some of this helps. If you’ve come across a really awesome character builder, please let me know. I’m still in the market for something to replace Persona.