Dr. Anastasia Trekles
Even if you are an author who abhors having too much technology clogging up your writing space – as many people do – we all know that computers, the Internet, and other devices can make our work a lot easier. What you may not know, however, is that there are some cool, specialized apps out there that can really save you time and effort. While there are literally dozens of products out there for writers, authors, and publishers, here are a few of my personal favorites that can address some of those troublesome writerly issues.
1. Scrivener ($45 with a 30-day trial, Mac/Windows/iOS) is a tremendous app. You can write with it. You can arrange scenes and chapters with it. You can construct outlines, create character and setting profiles, and brainstorm with it. You can organize research with it. You can even work on the same file from multiple devices (like a computer and an iPad). Scrivener might stop short of cutting julienne fries, but it does pretty much anything you’d expect from a full-service writing suite. If you’re willing to spend a little money and are looking for something more than what a typical word processor offers, this is something to check out, particularly if you write novels or other long-form works. Scrivener is designed to help you sort out the chaos of developing things like books and dissertations in a relatively easy-to-use interface.
2. Google Drive (free) is Google’s free set of office apps that includes Docs for word processing, Sheets for spreadsheets, and Slides for presentations. Now, while none of these apps has quite the same level of sophistication as their equivalents in the Microsoft world, they offer the ability to collaborate with other people very easily, and without cost. With Docs (or any of the other tools), you can share your document to others and allow them to add comments, edit, and assign tasks to one another. You can always track what changes have been made so that you can see how the document developed over time, and you can go back to previous revisions if needed. So, no work is ever lost forever in the digital abyss, even if your partner accidentally deleted those crucial last three paragraphs.
3. Dragon speech-to-text products (pricing varies from free to $300 depending on product and device) allow you to boldly go where people in Star Trek and other sci-fi venues go when they work with their computers – speech-to-text. It’s a technology that’s been around for a long time and has progressed a lot over the years, yet outside of communities such as persons with disabilities, you still don’t see too many people talking to their computers. Maybe it’s because it’s still less than socially acceptable to have a conversation with your laptop in public. Or, maybe it’s because voice interfaces take a little getting used to. Either way, if you have trouble typing, don’t like to type, or just need to move around more when you have a really good idea brewing, Dragon NaturallySpeaking (PC/Mac, full-featured) or Dragon Dictation (mobile) can be lifesavers.
4. Calibre (free, Windows/Mac/Linux) isn’t so much a writing tool as a formatting tool, but it can fit a special niche for many authors, especially those who self-publish. Calibre allows you to create e-books from any document in a variety of formats, including MOBI, EPUB, PDF, and Kindle, and gives you full control over all settings. You can set up tables of contents, manage your metadata, and even test everything out to make sure it works, all in a relatively simple user interface. I recently used Calibre for a textbook project I was working on, and it made short work of ensuring that the MOBI and PDF documents – with an extensive table of contents – were accessible to readers. A cool added bonus of Calibre is that it can read any e-book file, so if someone sends you a document in an unusual format, you can open and read it right there, no extra tools required.
5. Grid Diary (free version or add Pro features like cloud sync for $4.99 – currently iOS only) came into my life recently when I was looking for a tool that would encourage me to write a little about something every day. Sometimes, looking at the expanse of my half-written novel in Scrivener is a bit overwhelming; on days like that, I need some extra motivation. Enter Grid Diary, a cute, innovative app that presents you with a series of blocks that ask you questions each day, such as: What are my goals for today? What would help me have a better day tomorrow? What am I grateful for? You can customize your grid, or let Grid Diary provide you with a template for your daily diary, but either way, it’s extremely easy to use, and the unique configuration gives you a chance to step out of your normal “zone” for a bit and just write about whatever comes to mind in response to your prompts. Who knows, it might be just the thing to get you out of that pesky writer’s block.
So, there you have it, some neat tech tools that can ease the work of any author out there. Will they take the words out of your head and put them on the page for you? Nope, computers aren’t that smart (yet). But, even if you normally plug along with pen and paper – or a digital equivalent – these tools may help fill a niche. But keep in mind that these are just the top five that I use in my own work, so I can attest to their overall usefulness. There are many more out there that might be even better for your needs, and spending time doing a little research is highly recommended!