Happy New Year!
A new year is the perfect excuse for a new start. For me, that means trying to tackle all the tasks that were left pending from 2020. As I was preparing my goals, I realized that I rely heavily on a set of tools that truly make my writing life easier. And not just for writing itself. Being an author is about a lot more than writing. Especially today, we must all wear multiple hats including writer, editor, marketing expert, social media manager, sales person, customer service and several more.
Low tech methods work, of course, but there are many software options that can make our life easier, just like typewriters are romantic (and I love pictures of them) but are not the most efficient way to get a book done nowadays. So because our time is limited and because I like to take the easier route whenever possible, I depend on technology whenever possible. I thought I'd share my favorites go-to tools to get stuff done fast and free up my time for actual writing.
Basic Writing Tools
Scrivener: I would be lost without Scrivener. Totally and completely. At its most basic Scrivener allows you to write in scenes, organize those as chapters, move them around and create versions, then compile your document in a perfect format to submit. But there's so much more to it. Scrivener has many additional features though. You can set writing goals, you can run statistics, you can use the cork board to see your scene flow. One of my favorites? You can create metadata tags that show up on your descriptive panel. This allows you to customize and track information scene by scene. I've used it for characters and locations, for changes, for timeline checks.... The possibilities are endless. I have an old post that talks more about Scrivener here. Cost: Paid but oh, so worth it.
Grammarly Not foolproof but a good check to ensure you didn't miss a comma or a typo. It also gives you marks on engagement and highlights repetitions. Feel free to override suggestions though. Grammarly is designed for clarity, and it doesn't like poetic liberties and sentence fragments which are totally fine in literature. Still very helpful to polish.
Google Sheets Yes. The free spreadsheets are perfect for character forms, chapter checklists and any other task that requires lists. I create all my edit tracking there as well.
Cost: free with any gmail.
New gmail account: click here.
FreeMind/ Drawio Flowchart and mindmap tools useful for outlining visually, creating timelines and plot connections. A virtual alternative to moving cards around. These are free options. Cost: free
Critique groups: I'm a member of Inked Voices and I cannot recommend it enough. You can choose a group or create your own. The owners are fabulous and welcome you with a personal touch. I have met some fantastic fellow writers and even though an in-person group is more fun sometimes, they are a lot harder to find. There are other options online as well.
Cost: It's paid but not too expensive.
Associations and free webinars/resources: Depending on your genre and audience there might be different ones for you. But with the pandemic, a lot of associations are offering resources virtually and at much more accessible prices. I rely heavily on the SCBWI, and the local chapter in Indiana where I'm the volunteer Technical Coordinator. Check out their offerings here:
Query Tracker: The most useful way to keep track of your queries, your wishlist agents and your submission. You can group them, favorite them, mark the responses and in general keep an organized journal of your query journey. Their list of agent information is almost always up-to-date but still check the agent website for submission guidelines. Cost: Free
Publishers Marketplace: A great way to research agents because it lists their sales, it also helps you keep a pulse on what is selling in the industry in general. Considering books take a couple years to release, knowing what's being acquired will help you be aware of trends and changes. There are also news of mergers, new imprints and other industry insider news.
Cost: Paid. https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
Visuals And Marketing
Canva: Canva is a super easy-to-use tool for visuals. It has a lot of great templates and it's perfect to create social media posts, newsletters and marketing materials. A great feature: remove background from pictures with one click.
Cost: There is a free tier.
Photopea: A free alternative to Photoshop, it's great for small photo adjustments and recoloring. It does have a lot more involved features so you can really match some involved photoshop stuff if you're savyy.
Cost: Free https://www.photopea.com/
Kapwing: This online tool allows you to animate photos and put together small videos perfect for social media. It is free and quite versatile.
Cost: There is a free tier. https://www.kapwing.com/
License-free photos and gifs. While most of the time personal photos work best, in certain materials, stock photos can give a polish look. These resources are license-free which means you can use them without concerns around copyright.
Free gifs: https://giphy.com/explore/free-gif Free stock photos:
Online presence and Social Media
Wix website builder: I'm aware that the standard for authors is Wordpress, BUT, to me, Wix is easier. It has a lot of useful add-ons like forms and newsletter functions, and it is all drag and drop. Would a professional use it? If my very technical spouse is anything to go by, shudder, no. But for a writer with no website who needs a presence and something they can easily customize, I recommend it. I would buy the paid tier though to access best tools and have a non-Wix address.
Cost: There is a free tier.
Hootsuite: A great social media organizer that allows you to prep posts ahead of time and schedule them. It is a good place to keep your pictures and content that might be useful in the future. You can have up to 3 streams in a free tier.
Cost: There is a free tier.
We're authors because we love to write. Most of us wish we could retreat to a hut (ok, make that a lovely cottage) somewhere in the middle of nowhere and just write. But the world we live in asks more from us. There are many tasks that authors must complete, and all these "extras" are a part of the journey. At best we can learn to love them, at worst we can complete them efficiently so we can be free to do what we enjoy. But if you can, I challenge you to try to find joy in them: even the most reserved among us enjoy the like-minded and many of these other non-writing tasks provide rewards in connection, be it through the social media community, conferences or critique groups. There's something to learn in every step of this journey and it will actually improve your writing.
The fastest we can get our non-writing tasks done, the more time left for what we want to truly do: write
I hope you find at least some of these tools useful and if you have additional recommendations feel free to contact me.
Dare always. Keep writing.