The pursuit of writing has many stages: there’s the research and inspiration gathering, the planning out of an idea, the actual pounding out the words on a keyboard (or in a notebook), the revising and organizing where a story is headed, and the submitting and publishing of (mostly) completed work.
For each stage, I have found tools that help me pursue my craft better and with greater convenience. I have compiled a list of my personal favorites, though I’d love to hear about your favorite writing tools in the comments!
Like many writers, I love to read – and I read broadly. From the Washington Post to Buzz Feed to Harper’s Weekly Review to Wired Magazine to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency to Mary Oliver to Isaac Asimov, I am scouring the world for inspiration.
Which makes it challenging to remember where I read what, like in the case that I need to reference something I read in an essay I’m writing.
Evernote solves my problems by compiling links from everywhere – it acts like a smarter Pinterest. I can save links from articles I loved, take photos from the pages of books, record voice memos, set myself reminders, and write lists. It integrates with my web browsers, my iPhone, and my Apple Watch so I can literally add to my Evernote folders from anywhere.
Basically, it’s like an extension of my brain – or maybe a robot secretary?
It’s worth upgrading to the Plus plan (only $2.99 a month) so that you have less limitations on how many notes you can add per month to your Evernote folders.
In my opinion, Microsoft Word is still the best word processor out there. I’ve been using it for years and years, tried to switch to Pages on my iPad, didn’t like it, and now I’m back to my staple. It can be especially handy for passing revisions back and forth with editors or between the members of writing groups. (Though I’ve worked with other editors who prefer Google Documents as a place to revise – but I’m old fashioned, and think Microsoft Word is just more functional and intuitive).
You can buy subscriptions, which charge you a monthly ($6.99-9.99/mo) or yearly rate ($69.99-$99.99/year) which includes Cloud storage, or you can buy the programs outright as a download for use on one computer ($149.99). (Personally, I think it’s cheaper in the long-run to download the program and purchase it outright.)
The ubiquity of desktop computers lies behind us. I currently own a Dell XPS-13 laptop (soooo much cheaper than a Mac, and equally functional) which has very limited hard drive space. To compensate, I back up ALL my writing files (and everything else) to Dropbox – and I can access those files from any device I own. Whenever I add or change a file, the file automatically syncs to all the other dropbox folders on my various devices. I can access any file, video, or photo saved to Dropbox from anywhere – and I can also easily share those files with anyone I want.
And, best of all, the age of losing unsaved work (or perhaps losing a hard drive) has ended – I know that even if my house burnt to the ground, my writing is safe on the Dropbox servers. (Another way to gain double protection? Upload your files to Google Docs. Then you’ll be double safe. 👍👍)
You can buy a pro subscription for $9.99/mo or $99/year to have 1 TB of space to store any file you like. It’s my hard drive in the clouds.
You can write a book in Microsoft word, or on an iPhone, or on a type writer, or even in a notebook. Millions of writers through the centuries have done just that. They organize their thoughts on note cards, lay out pieces of paper with summaries of chapters on a long table, write their character descriptions on a chalk board, or scribble the Pentateuch on papyrus. Book writing can be done using just what you can hold in your hands.
But Scrivener can do all this for you digitally. You can write chapters and scenes on individual documents within Scrivener (documents that look like Microsoft word documents), and then you can create a grouping of documents, which automatically crelates an outline on the left side of the screen.
You can also add a crazy amount of information to the backside of each document, where if you click the right button, you’ll find a digital cork board – you can write a short synopsis for each document, you can label each document as a particular category (“chapter,” “character notes,” or “scene,” for example), you can label which number draft that particular document is (“final draft,” “draft 1,” or “unedited,” for example), and you can compile notes on each document – perhaps noting which characters show up in each document, or reminding yourself of exactly what to revise when you return to this document next. Additionally, Scrivener can format your document when it’s ready to send off to a publisher so that it looks professional.
The design could use some work (and it’s not a super intuitive program), but as I’ve been writing my memoir, Scrivener has been vital in helping me see the big picture so that I don’t get lost in individual scenes. With Scrivener’s help, I am able to see where the story is headed and which scenes are vital to get there.
When I graduated from college, literary magazines stuck up their noses at the Internet – you sent in submissions by mail, with envelopes and stamps. (Imagine!) And then writers were asked to send attachments by email to editors, who would hope you weren’t sending a virus that would destroy their hard drives (probably sometimes you were).
And then submishmash happened (the predecessor to Submittable), where you would pay a small fee to submit your work to a server, where an editor could access it and digitally and mechanically tell you whether she’d like to publish it. It changed everything. Where editors once felt too swamped to respond to the thousands of submission they received, Submittable did it automatically for them.
Obviously, Submittable makes life easier for editors. But as a writer, I also appreciate the design of Submittable for a few reasons. You can upload all your information to the website, and you don’t need to reenter your basic data (such as contact information) over and over again. You know your submission has actually reached its destination because you receive a form email confirming its arrival immediately – so you don’t need to wonder if the Postal Service delivered it to the neighbor next-door instead. You can also see all the submissions you’ve made through Submittable in a big list, stating whether they’ve been received and whether your submission is “in-progress,” in which case you can bite your fingernails as it’s been breathed on by a grad student or volunteer reader. And when an editor decides your submission isn’t right for their magazine (or in the one-in-a-million chance that your piece has been accepted), you receive a response telling you the news – instead of publishers and editors excusing themselves from getting back to you because they’re too busy. (After all, it only takes a few clicks to send a form rejection email back to you.) In some ways, it levels the playing field.
Submittable is also free for writers to join – publications pay fees to use the services (on a sliding scale), though occasionally publications will set a submission fee for writers wanting to submit work (usually $2-$3 for general submission, and $20-$30 for a contest).
All in all, I appreciate the convenience of such a service.
I used to keep track of my submissions in a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. Now that method feels ancient when I compare it to the simplicity of a website like Duotrope, where for $50 a year I can log submissions, search their database for places to submit my writing, save favorite “writing markets” and contest deadlines, and use their statistical analyses to understand my likelihood of being published by various magazines and websites.
(I also appreciate the fact that my “control panel” frequently reminds me that my “acceptance ratio is higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets”!)
The functionality and design needs some work, in my opinion – like, why would I care whether other people who have submitted work to the same magazines as me have been accepted or rejected? And wouldn’t it be nice to have Duotrope email you reminders about upcoming contest deadlines that you’ve saved to your favorites list? But overall, it serves my purposes: searching for writing markets and keep track of my submissions to those markets.