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Imagine being an author in the early nineteenth century. You must pen your manuscript, because the first typewriter wasn’t invented until 1867 and wasn’t widely marketed until a decade later. Twentieth-century authors had increasingly helpful tools: electric typewriters, word processors, and self-publishing options. In 2020, time-saving apps for writing abound, and many are free.
Tools for Writing
Dictionary/Thesaurus: The internet gives you immediate access to reference materials. A dictionary, online or print, is essential to every writer. Language changes with time. New words are added every year. Usage changes: what was once considered substandard gains an upgrade with popular usage. Lower-case “google” started as a proper noun and blossomed into a universally-known verb. A thesaurus is also essential and available online. I find a print thesaurus easier to use, but I once thought a manual typewriter was easier than electric. Typewriters now give me a fright.
Microsoft Word is the industry standard word processor for writers. One of the main benefits MS Word has over other word processors is the ability to track changes. While it’s possible to edit a PDF or other document types, the track changes feature of Word turns implementation into a one-click function.
Scrivener If you’ve never experienced Scrivener, download the trial today and give it a test drive. Organize your entire writing project in one place: your research, character profiles, and ideas. Its built-in storyboard turns organization into a quick and simple task. You can build your project in stages, using chapter documents, reorganize at will, and Scrivener will compile a full manuscript when you finish. The thirty-day trial ends not in thirty calendar days, but when you have used it on thirty separate days.
Tools for Editing
Grammarly offers browser add-ins, integrations for Microsoft Office, and desktop apps that check grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, and tone. With the premium version, writers can customize settings, utilize the vocabulary enhancement tool, and check for plagiarism. It can be used live while writing to highlight problematic issues as they happen. (It flagged “used” in the previous sentence, for instance, suggesting I “verify preposition usage.”) It’s like having a writing coach peering over your shoulder as you type.
ProWritingAid, should you choose to subscribe, will become your best friend. A 14-day free trial masquerades as an evaluation license. Don’t be fooled: Their trial is like your hook. Once you get a taste, walking away is difficult. It checks grammar, punctuation, spelling, readability, clichés, diction, structure, pacing, plagiarism, and other areas. It will even create word clouds. With ProWritingAid, your writing will improve with little effort. For $70/year, it’s a good investment.
Scapple: Have you ever tried bubble mapping? Bubbling a full-length book on paper is a monumental task that can quickly get out of hand. Scapple to the rescue! Scapple is a product of Literature & Latte, the makers of Scrivener. The surprising thing about bubbling is the creative burst it incites.
Do it. Daily. If you write nothing else on a given day, spend at least five minutes with a journal. There are many ways to journal and even more things to journal about, but there’s little debate that journaling aids creativity. I keep four journals: a stream-of-consciousness (SoC) journal, a daily journal, an emotion journal, and a memory journal. Now that I know the value of journaling, I’ll add a travel journal the next time I travel, bringing my total to five. Which journal I choose for my daily journaling depends on my current circumstances. I journal daily, now that I’ve witnessed the benefits firsthand, and I strive to write in my SoC and one other every day. Alas, most days see me writing in only one. I’m a writer; I procrastinate. I do, however, always journal by hand. Typing is a fairly mindless task. Handwriting, however, is the opposite: It triggers a unique neural circuit, according to researchers. It enhances memory, learning, and creativity.
Whether you use loose leaf paper and a binder or splurge on a commercial journal, the important part is using it. A spiral notebook works just as well as a leather-bound diary, but I don’t recommend using divided spiral notebooks for multiple journals. You might fill one of those subdivisions faster than others, leaving empty pages in your less-important journals. I bought fancy journals for years, but recently switched to composition notebooks. I label both the front cover and the spine for easy access. When they’re full, they fit neatly together on a shelf, sorted. (I also alphabetize my spices, in case you wonder.)
Stream of Consciousness Journal
The purpose of the SoC journal is to write every thought that comes to mind as quickly as possible. A brief meditation prior to starting SoC journaling is recommended. This helps tap into the subconscious, where some of our best thoughts live. The goal is twofold: to free the mind and stimulate ideas.
Your daily journal is where you will put your thoughts to bed for the day. It’s more focused than SoC. I search for both the best and the most bothersome thoughts of my day and write about them. This engages subconscious problem-solving skills at one of the most opportune times, just before going to sleep. I have more vivid and memorable dreams most nights since I started journaling at bedtime.
Fiction authors know the importance of understanding emotion, and scientists know the importance of emotional intelligence. Emotion brings characters to life for readers who, in turn, develop an emotional attachment to our characters. The more attached readers become, the more loyal readers they will be.
The stronger a writer’s understanding of emotion—the more emotionally intelligent the writer—the more compelling characters she’ll create. Exploring and writing about your own emotions not only boosts your emotional intelligence; it can boost your overall wellbeing.
Merely writing about memories invokes more memories. Writing about one memory in as much detail as possible can invoke many long-forgotten memories. This is one instance where Scapple helps: Jump over to Scapple and add a memory to your memory bubble, then go right back to your memory journal. You’ve preserved a mental tag you can revisit, and you barely missed a step in your journaling. (I want a Scapple mobile app.)
Fiction authors can extract vignettes from memory journals to use in their writing, either as inspiration for scenes or in their full iteration as a scene. Better still is the self-knowledge gained from memory journaling, which also aids in the writing process. Authors are introspective by nature. Exploring memories expands our breadth of self-knowledge. This is one of my favorite writing activities.
Writer’s Market: Serious writers have at least one Writer’s Market book on their shelves. They publish market guides for writers (general), one for novel and short story writers, and another for children’s writers and illustrators. My use predates the internet, and I still have several older editions as well as the latest. This is one of the best marketing tool available for writers.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, available in full online through Project Gutenberg. It’s free, readily available, and awaiting you. Originally published in 1918, this is the bible of writing mechanics and easy to understand.
On Writing Well by Steven Zinsser
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes
The Courage to Create by Rollo May
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
The Art of Character by David Corbett
The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
(Stay tuned; this list will grow.)
On Emotional Intelligence
I recommend reading reviews on these books before purchasing. Better yet, check library and online lending resources to preview before purchasing. Some online resources include: Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and Open Library. Also, check back because this list is growing.
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
The Remembered Self by Jefferson A. Singer and Peter Salovey
The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Development, Assessment, and Application at Home, School, and in the Workplace by Reuven Bar-On
Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence by Professor Jason M. Satterfield