Writer’s Tools: The Coded Kind

The writer’s toolbox is something that is much referred to in Stephen King’s, On Writing. The writer’s metaphorical toolbox is filled with a knowledge of grammar, punctuation, syntax, vocabulary etc. But what if there was another kind of toolbox? One filled with programs that can help you get your novel written, or edited? Or even help you sharpen the contents of the toolbox in your brain? It turns out that there are many resources for writers online or in app form. Here are my top writer’s tools of the coded variety:

FOR REMEMBERING: zoho notebook app

Inspiration can come at the most unexpected times. It’s a disaster if you don’t catch an idea before another thought jumps into your brain. Never forget/mislay a good idea again by installing a notebook app on your phone.

My mobile came with a basic one preloaded and it was grand for a while, but I found that over time my writing-related notes ended up lost among to-do lists and shopping lists. There are hundreds of notebook apps available but I opted for Zoho’s Notebook app. The app is compatible with Android and iPhone and is an intuitive and aesthetically beautiful thing.

You can store writing, PDF documents, images and audio in individual notebooks. Multiple notebooks can be opened up so that you can assign a notebook to each project. In the screenshot above, you can see that I have a notebook for my novel, a notebook for my blog etc.

Although it wasn’t specifically designed just for writers, it feels like it was, with inspirational quotes (mainly from authors) popping up every time you open a new notebook. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but just look at those notebook covers? Look at them! Beautiful. They could only ever contain worthwhile things.

For vocabulary: wordnik

I love my thesaurus and dictionary, but even though I have my physical books right beside me on my desk, I rarely use them. More often than not I end up using online versions. It’s just quicker. Wordnik brings a number of trusted online dictionary and thesaurus entries together. In terms of its role as a synonym generator, I prefer it to a standard one. It’s so extensive that it will make some more obscure/tenuous suggestions, but that makes it a little edgier than your average thesaurus.

FOR WRITING: SCRIVENER

I was amazed to attend my writer’s group and learn that many of them hadn’t heard of Scrivener. I sent them to read my blog post and so that’s where I’m sending you. Read all about it, here.

FOR SYNTAX & CULLING zombie WORDS: HEMINGWAY

When I got to the final draft of my novel, Hemingway was a lifesaver. It identified stylistic offences that verge on the criminal in modern writing. It highlighted the use of the passive voice, adverbs, weak verbs and lengthy sentences. Trust me, by the time you reach your final draft you won’t have the energy to go looking for these things to weed them out. Do yourself a favour, save yourself the time and heartache and get the Hemingway app, here.

FOR GRAMMAR, TYPOS, AND PUNCTUATION: Grammarly

Grammarly identifies misspelt words, grammatical mistakes, and mistakes in punctuation. When suggesting that a word is misspelt, it checks for context, which is really clever. The app works across the web, meaning that it’ll also flag up errors in your social media posts and blog posts.

Is the app making me lazy or complacent? No. In fact, Grammarly is making me a better writer. I’m a person that learns best by doing. For example, I read a book on punctuation to improve my difficult relationship with commas. It was a painful read, but I managed to wade through it. When I’d finished, I put it down and promptly forgot 99% of the rules listed. This is why I love Grammarly. Each highlighted error comes with an explanation as to why it has been identified as a mistake, and I’m instinctively making fewer errors. I’m being conditioned to write better.

If you use the basic Grammarly plus Hemingway you should catch MOST serious errors for free.

Get Grammarly, here.

to avoid distractions: Freedom app

The internet is by far the biggest distraction for most writers. The momentum of the first draft kept me away from the internet, but I found that going into the second draft a few bad habits began to creep in. I ended up downloading this app. I highly recommend it. The app blocks listed sites at specific times/for specific durations on multiple devices. Simple, but effective. Your productivity will increase significantly. Get the Freedom App here.

to tap into the musical muse: Spotify

Some people detest any kind of music when they write, but many more of us love a bit of musak! Spotify recommends music to the user depending on their taste, and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can download. I’ve created a number of playlists for writing. A general one, a playlist for tension, love/sex, violent scenes, fear, fun and sadness. All are available here.

To cure writer’s block: writing prompts

There are loads of wonderful ways a person can unclog a word blockage, but if they don’t work, there are websites and apps for that. I’ve listed the best online/ appy writing prompts on a separate post, because there are too many to list here. They are all unique, and great in their own special way. Click here to have a look at the best of them.

What apps/programs/websites do you recommend to aspiring authors and why?

Why Writers Need Antagonists in their Own Personal Narratives

Motivation is something that we all find hard to muster at times. There are loads of ways to reinject it into your life, but I’ve discovered one way that not everyone knows about: identify your nemesis. Lots of writers advise you to ‘write for your ideal reader’ but I think ‘write to destroy your enemy’ might work better for those of us that like their goals with a little more spice.

I have a friend, let’s call him ‘Randy’. We have an inside joke about the number of ‘enemies’ that he has and that it seems to get longer by the week. Many of these people aren’t even aware that they are on his mile-long blacklist. They might have committed some small slight against him in the distant past, and Randy is still holding onto that grudge like a baby clings to its teething ring. It’s something that we laugh about together a lot.  It’s all a big joke of course, except that on some level, it isn’t. Many of the people Randy has selected for his blacklist are in the same line of work as him. What he is doing is selecting competitors to measure himself against. He picks people that he secretly admires, and guess what? He works hard to better himself and surpass them, all the while motivated by pure hatred. And he succeeds every time.

I’m not the most competitive person. I’ve mentioned this before. I’m really good at telling myself that ‘I can’t’. Completing my first novel taught me that this is a terrible attitude to go through life with. But if someone else tells me I can’t? Lord help them! I shall absolutely prove them wrong!

So I’ve decided to fabricate a feud (in my head) with a fantastic author for the craic, and see how it goes. I won’t reveal the name of the author, because the odds of me ever surpassing her are slim to none. But in my head she’s an awful bitch– she propositioned my husband, laughs at my fashion sense and most importantly, she mocks my writing daily on her Twitter feed. She is totally innocent of these charges and completely unaware of my existence, but I will vanquish her (not literally, but yes, literally) one day.

And so this brings me to the blank screen not lightly. Not lightly at all. Today I sit with grim determination on my features and burning vengeance lighting a fire under my fingers.

And I will write angrily. And I will write well. But most importantly, I will write ’til I am done.

Why Starting Novel #2 Will Make You Question Everything

I started my second novel at full pelt and full of enthusiasm.

Finally!

A shiny new project to work on!

I felt more confident going into this novel than the first for three reasons:

  1. This one had been simmering away in the back of my head for a couple of years so the outline was clearer in my head.
  2. I knew I could write a novel.
  3. I had studied and put into practice the rules.

So this time around, it should have been easier. But it wasn’t. And I couldn’t understand why.

I pondered this question… ate a bar of chocolate…pondered a lil bit more….drank some wine…then took a nap, woke up and pondered further. I think the nap did it. Like a scatterbrained Sherlock Holmes I reached several conclusions:

Conclusion 1: I know how to write a novel

When I started writing the first draft of novel #1 I was in awe of the fact that  I was actually writing the novel. After so many false starts over the years, I was finally doing it. I was dreamy-eyed. In love with my progress. Book #2 is so different and I wasn’t expecting that. The first draft process feels completely different. I think that the reason why is that this time around I know that I can write a novel and I realise that the first draft is an achievement, but I’m acutely aware of the fact that it is only one step in a process. I’m conscious this time around that there’s a long way to go yet. So I’m not feeling that sense of achievement that I did with the first. The excitement is still there but the road ahead is more daunting than before.

Lesson: The first draft of your second novel will feel different because you know that it’s only a small part of a long (but exciting) process.

Conclusion 2: I have greater expectations of my writing

I should be a much better writer now, shouldn’t I? I should know what I’m doing, right? The process should be easier and should yield better quality writing faster, correct? And the thing is, I am better, it just doesn’t feel that way right now.

With draft #1 of my first novel I didn’t care about the fact that I didn’t know what the novel was ‘about’ yet. I didn’t really care about the fact that there were enormous plotholes or that the grammar was bad or that the dialogue didn’t flow immediately. I didn’t see any of this as I wrote because I was just being carried along by the momentum of my writing. I didn’t have time to stand still and take in the minutiae. And this is the best way to write first drafts. But it isn’t how I’ve been writing this one. Now that I’ve learned how to self-edit, I can see everything that’s wrong with my prose. I can see the problems as they emerge and it is making me stop and want to fix them now rather than later. This is sucking the momentum from my work and giving me time to dwell on the things that need fixing rather than being content in the knowledge that I’m getting shit done.

I had forgotten that the rule, first beautifully articulated by Ernest Hemingway:

‘The first draft of anything is shit’

STILL APPLIES TO ME! This rule applies to all writers and all first drafts.

Lesson: Your writing is better, it just doesn’t feel that way yet. The first draft of EVERYTHING is SUPPOSED to be shit so cut yourself some slack.

Conclusion 3: I started to close to the end of my last novel

I took a very short break between finishing my first novel, of which I am very proud, and launching into the shitshow that is the first draft of my second novel. This closeness in terms of proximity means that I’m subconsciously comparing the two in terms of quality and feeling as though my writing has deteriorated. I need to constantly remind myself that I’m comparing my new novel to something that had undergone four drafts before it got to the stage where I was happy with it.

Lesson: Be aware of the fact that you may judge your first draft of your second novel against the final draft of your first. You aren’t comparing like with like.