I am always discovering new book building tools or ideas to make writing a book easier. While I’ll include some of those odds and ends here, I’d encourage you to check out The Author Toolbox Facebook page for the latest tips as well as sign up for the monthly newsletter for still more links and ideas.
Tool #1: If you are writing a series or a story that spans multiple years, it can get hard to keep track of all the dates when things happened and how old so-and-so’s baby would be now. I used to print out blank calendar pages in order to track a few months of action within a single book by penciling in events and which chapter they coincide with. Currently, I create a table inside Scrivener with those same seven columns for the days of the week. In addition to recording which day a chapter’s events occur on, the calendar is helpful for things like holidays or extraneous plot events. For example, for my novel about a college football coach, my plot calendar also included the game schedule, if the team won or lost, and academic dates like mid-term exams and finals. For my dinner theater series, all three books have a single overlapping plot calendar that includes opening nights for different shows, when cast lists would be posted, and when rehearsals would start. A comprehensive calendar helps during the writing process but also helps your editor check for consistency.
While a physical calendar works for me, a friend recommended Aeon timeline as an alternative. This software was designed to help writers keep track of their characters and back-story events. It has the ability to synchronize with Scrivener, therefore adding extra power to that already comprehensive writing tool. There is also a feature to calculate a character’s age at a certain event. The software has since been discovered by project managers and legal folks to track the progress and status of multiple simultaneous projects and deadlines. One testimonial on the site was from a small publisher who used it to track the production and marketing plans of multiple books. The current price tag is $50 for a single license that can be used on up to five machines by a single user.
Tool #2: Ever struggle to find just the right word to convey the emotion of the scene or need a different way to express someone’s anger other than having them frown…again?
One of my favorite helps is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This amazingly-simple guide catalogs 75 different emotions and includes body language signs, thoughts, and internal visceral responses as well as signs the emotion is being suppressed. These lists are a life-saver when trying to create tension between similar characters who express the same emotion differently.
Another favorite tool is The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale. Think of this as a thesaurus on steroids since it contains more than a million synonyms. The alphabetical entries are subdivided by the different parts of speech or different meanings of the same word. The expanded format of this resource allows the inclusion of slang and informal words, more modern expressions, and specific archaic, scientific, or specialized terms. I’d find it hard to believe if you can’t find the right word in this giant book.
Tool #3: What if your greatest inspiration strikes in the middle of the night or in the shower or while driving? I’ve found tools to help there too.
Many recommend keeping a notebook and pen beside your bed for those nocturnal brainstorms. But not wanting to wake up my husband by turning on the light, I’ve tried writing in the dark only to end up with useless scribbles atop each other. The solution? A pen with a built in light at the tip. While a simple online search will yield multiple results, one I’ve heard others recommend is the Pilot’s Pen that comes with a spare, refill ink cartridges, extra batteries, and a hard carrying case.
For those brilliant brainstorms that happen in the shower, check out Aqua Notes. This handy pad of waterproof paper is the perfect way to record your best ideas before they go down the drain. They are currently priced at $7.00 for a 40-sheet pad (making that 18 cents per idea) or you can buy four pads and get one free. Each pad comes with a separate suction cup pencil holder too.
When it comes to those creative bursts while driving or walking the dog or even doing the dishes, it can be difficult to stop and pull out the small notebook I carry everywhere. But lately, I’ve been experimenting with voice recorder apps on my phone or iPad mini, especially those that say they will send me an email of the transcribed text. For Android phones, check out ListNote Speech-To-Text Notes, a free app by Khymaera, for an easy way to speak your notes, add to existing notes, physically type or edit them, and then share them via email. For a more comprehensive list of free apps, check out this semi-recent review of fifteen mobile apps for iPhone and Android.
Tool #4: Speaking of speaking, some authors with physical limitations or others who think better on their feet have found it helpful to use voice recognition software to “write” their entire first drafts. Dragon Naturally Speaking is one of the most well-known brands on the market and has an additional mobile option with a cloud backup, but it can be quite expensive. However, as technology improves, there are plenty of other programs gaining popularity. For example, Google Docs has a voice memo option that functions similarly and can be quite useful when capturing ideas quickly. I think this type of tool would be ideal for non-fiction writers who could easily speak or lecture on their topic in order to get the ideas into written text quickly.
Tool #5: While I personally use and love Scrivener, I know that others are intimidated by the learning curve. (Even I don’t come close to using or knowing about all the features inside the program.) However, I’ve heard about a couple of other programs with a similar feel. One of these is called yWriter, a free program for PC users which allows you to dump out your ideas when they occur and then assign them to a specific chapter or scene. It was created by a software developer who is also a multi-published author so he created the features he needed to build a book and left out the rest.
Another free software tool for both PCs and Mac is called Manuskript and offers a distraction-free writing mode, word frequency analyzer, and even a bit of story structure support using the snowflake method. This one seems to still be under development so back-up frequently in case you encounter any bugs.
In the process of trying to find links to share, I stumbled upon a site that lists several dozen more alternatives to Scrivener with customer reviews and recommendations plus direct links to the original websites. Check out their reviews here but then get back to writing that book.
Tool #6: Plan ahead and stock up at bargain prices. In today’s modern era, one could think that all a writer needs is a functioning laptop and maybe a printer with ink and paper. But a quick glance around my writing space reveals a lot of other writer-related tools like pens, highlighters, Post-It notes, planner, binders, dividers, folders, index cards, notebooks of various sizes, a stapler, paper clips, a three-hole punch, desk lamp, and flash drive.
The good news is that once a year every single one of those items is on sale and sometimes at unbelievably low prices.You guessed it. Back to school sales are the perfect time to scour the ads and hit several stores to load up on all the office type supplies you could ever want in addition to anything your kids need. Which reminds me, our family budget is tight especially with one child in college. That doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary income to invest in my writing career so I’ve made it a point to find the free or super-cheap tools to get the job done. As we journey forward into the other sections, know that I’ll be watching your dollars too.
At this point, you should have a complete manuscript that is excellent in craft, vetted by a few other eyes, and formatted professionally. Congratulations! You have built a book. Now let’s turn our attention to your platform, that place where you’ll eventually stand when you tell people about the masterpiece you have created and point them toward a store to make a purchase.
(NOTE: If you found this post helpful, you can get the entire blog series in a single book here.)