I’m old enough to remember writing my school paper with a typewriter. Well, an electric one at least, after all, I’m not that old. But technology has come a long way since then (thankfully!). With literally thousands of products available to writers, I have a handful of favorites:
- Scrivener. I am absolutely in love with this writing software. It is specifically geared towards writers so it has all the cool stuff that I wish Microsoft Word has. With a click of a button, you can add chapters, scenes and notes. It has a corkboard and index cards for quick reference to chapters and scenes. It also functions as your personal “pinterest” board so you can drag pictures, web pages, even movies and sound files into your research pile– no more toggling between different pages and apps.
It has character and setting sketch feature, which also lets you upload pictures and other media. Your Mr. Alpha Hero is a dead ringer for Ryan Gosling? Go ahead, upload his picture to your character sketch. We all need to have our inspiration at the click of a mouse. It also has fun things like a name generation tool. Your half Japanese/half Indian hero needs a name? Go ahead, try it. I did. How does “Toshi Patel” sound? With all these fancy capabilities, my one absolute favorite feature of the software is that when I close out, it opens right where I left off—no more searching through a 200-page manuscript (I know, it’s the little things). My biggest beef with Scrivener though is the lack of an app. For several years now, Scrivener had ran into issues launching an app but at least we know they are working on one. We just don’t know when it’s actually going to come out. However, there is a work around it using Dropbox. Here’s a link to the easiest instructions I’ve found on how to do it http://michaeljholley.com/2013/11/06/how-to-sync-scrivener-with-your-ipad/ . My tip if you ever want to use Scrivener? Take the 15-minute tutorial. I did not find it particularly intuitive at first so save your self the frustration and sit through the tutorial. There is a free 30-day trial (a great sign that they stand behind their product). The software costs $45, which is worth every penny—I assure you.
- Dragon Dictate. You don’t type faster than you talk? Me neither. That’s what makes Dragon Dictate a useful tool—it cuts your writing time in half. It takes awhile for you to “train” the software (probably a few hours which is no different than learning any other software) but patience pays off with this software. It’s not only faster than typing but it has the added bonus of the writer hearing his/her words, which can improve flow of dialogue in a story. One issue with Dragon Dictate is that it does not offer a free trial. Considering the price-point ($199 for the Mac version and $99 for the PC version), it’s a major turn off when you cannot try the software before buying it. I purchased my copy using the teacher/student discount rate of $99 (for the Mac version; there is no student/teacher discount on the PC version). If you are not ready to make this investment and you’re a MacBook user, Apple has its own free Dictate software. Its interface is very similar to Dragon Dictate. Although the Mac Dictate is a capable software that can handle your average e-mail or document, it lacks the finesse of Dragon Dictate. I do think that Mac Dictate is a good “starter” software to see how you would like dictating before making the investment on Dragon Dictate.
- Dropbox. I have tried a few cloud storage but I find Dropbox the easiest to use and the most cost effective. Its basic two-gigabyte plan is free, and if you refer friends you can get more memory. I used the free plan for a long time which was plenty if you’re only storing documents. But I’ve upgraded to their pro plan that offers 100 GB for $9.99 a month, which lets me to store all those cute selfies my 6-year-olds love to take (they start so young these days). Like many software, Dropbox has an app so you can access your documents from your mobile devices. I know some of the other wenches prefer Google Docs which also gives you cloud storage. Like Google Docs, Dropbox also allows collaborative changes to the document by simply sending out an automatically generated link for sharing. As an aside, while writing this article, my brilliant self lost thousands of files (don’t ask me how as I don’t know what I did) that were on Dropbox. After trying very hard not to curl up in hysteria, I found that Dropbox allows users to retrieve previously deleted files. Score for Dropbox! So happily, I am now reunited with 2,000 of my files. However, the ability to retrieve previously deleted files is limited to their paid subscription.
- Hemingway Editor. The aptly named app, lets you know whether your writing is too complex, i.e. sentences that are too long or hard to read. It also highlights adverbs. Hemingway Editor is especially helpful for someone like me who tends to write run-on sentences and write in passive voice. It’s a good slap in the hand for correcting bad habits. But it’s strictly, from my perspective, a statistical tool rather than a stylistic tool so that in the end the writer has to go with his/her style of writing, regardless how many times the app yells at you for using too many adverbs. The app is a little pricey at $6.99 but it is available in desktop and mobile platforms.
- ProWritingAid. This web-based editing tool is free. But the best part is it gives you a typing report, very similar to Hemingway Editor, but with two significant features: it checks for clichés, and gives a grammar report that offers an explanation and alternatives. Another interesting feature, which I have not used yet, is the ability to contact an editor or submit your work for line edits for a fee. ProWritingAid also offers premium membership which is based on an annual membership starting from $35. So far, for my needs their free editing tool has been more than sufficient so I have no experience with their paid membership. So, if you do try the premium membership, please let me know how you like it.
Technology more than ever has made writing (and to a greater extent reading) easier and more accessible to many of us. Of course, alone, none of these gadgets and apps will write the next great American novel. In the end, it is up to the writer to do what he/she does best: write (and then write some more).