My Writing Tools

Since the interview I had with Arthur Macabe was published, several people have asked me to elaborate on my writing tools. So here we go…

Liquid Story Binder XE

Liquid Story Binder XE

About fifteen years ago, I used a program called Liquid Story Binder XE by Black Obelisk Software. I loved it. It was an incredibly versatile program that combined word processing with various organizing tools (outliners, mindmaps, etc.) and the whole thing could be run off a thumb drive.

I used the program for a decade, writing short stories, articles, my work on Tonight @ 11:30, and to organize the hundreds of Kenneth Snipps letters into a manuscript. But the software’s developer stopped updating it in 2011, to focus on writing his own novel. The result was the program began to slip into obsolescence.

That’s when I found Scrivener.


Scrivener

Scrivener

If I could only use one writing program, it would be Scrivener. 

The software was developed for writers, by writers, and it has almost everything I need. The binder allows me to organize my writing, research, characters, notes, and everything else, exactly how I want.

Originally Scrivener was only available for Macintosh computers. But in 2010 a Windows version was released and I promptly purchased it.

The big criticism of Scrivener is that it’s got a steep learning curve. I suppose that may be true if you just dive in and try to figure things out for yourself. But the program includes a brilliantly structured tutorial that takes you into all the various features that it offers. It takes a couple hours to work all the way through it, but it’s time well spent. The greatest thing about Scrivener is that it allows you to work in whatever way is most productive for you.

Since the release of the Windows version, Literature and Latte (the software’s creators) have also developed mobile versions of Scrivener that can run on iPads and iPhones. 

Scrivener for OS

By saving my Scrivener files to Dropbox, I can pick right up where I left off on my laptop or home PC, with my mobile devices. It’s seamless and works perfectly. 

The Compile function in the current Windows version of Scrivener can be a bit wonky. Setting things exactly the way you want can be difficult. However, it is being revised for the next upgrade. 

Version 3 of Scrivener is now available for Macs, and the Windows version is currently in beta. You can download it and check it out for free HERE.  


Microsoft Word

Word is the industry standard for publishing. Professional editors, literary agents, and publishers all require it. It’s an essential piece of writing software.

Microsoft Word 2010

I create my first draft of a manuscript in Scrivener because it’s better at holding all the various thoughts, notes and research that I have on a project. But once the first draft is complete, I compile the file into a Word document, and that is where all my subsequent drafts and revisions occur. 


Editing Software

I am atrocious when it comes to grammar. So I utilize two different programs I’ve discovered compliment each other.

The first is Grammarly, which is available in a free version that has some limitations.  I pay for the full version which includes a desktop app, as well as built-in error checking in emails, social media posts, and just about everywhere else. 

Grammarly interface

My first editing pass begins with Grammarly. The software isn’t perfect, and it’s also no substitute for an actual, professional editor. But what it does is get the stupid mistakes out of way. It also catches redundancies, passive voice, and other things that weaken writing. 

Once I’ve made the changes, I next run the document through ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid interface

This software is like Grammarly on steroids. It analyzes the manuscript and generates a detailed report breaking down Style, Grammar, Readability, and much more. It’s remarkably thorough. 

Why use ProWritingAid and Grammarly? 

If I was only interested in correcting my manuscripts, I could just use ProWritingAid. But the reason I use both is that Grammarly catches mistakes in my daily correspondence in real-time. It also works with a plug-in for Microsoft Word. For me, both are important parts in making my writing better.  


MasterWriter

MasterWriter software is marketed as a go-anywhere word-processor with cloud storage, but I don’t use it for that. I pay for the subscription because it includes the best thesaurus and dictionary I’ve ever used.

MasterWriter’s dictionary

There are obviously no-cost options available online. But this one has no annoying advertising, and more importantly, it lets me dial into exactly what I’m looking for, in a way the other services can’t touch. The options are extensive. If you work as a poet or songwriter, you will love the versatility it offers. You can find words based on their number of syllables, rhymes, alliterations, and much more. It’s has a clean, easy to navigate interface, which makes finding what I’m looking for a breeze.


Evernote

All the other software I’ve discussed here is used in the actual process of composing and editing a manuscript. But perhaps the most important application I use on a daily basis is not actually a writing tool.

Evernote is an organizational and note-taking program that allows you to keep track of just about anything.  When I first started using it several years ago, it was to have quick digital access to all the cooking recipes I had compiled over the years. It can save data files, mp3s, images, and also includes a PDF viewer.

The more I used it, the more I realized it was the perfect tool to keep track of all the various pieces of my writing work. I created folders for each project I was working on, and that made it easy to drop in quick ideas that popped into my head, no matter where I was. In an instant, I could jot down a great piece of dialog, or character detail, and easily find it when I needed it later.

The desktop app makes research a dream. A widget called “web clipper” can save an entire web page to any folder I want in my database. 

Evernote interface

I can use tags to refine my searches, and the software uses text recognition so that even handwritten notes that I’ve added as photographs, can be quickly scanned and located with the search function. 

The software runs on every one of my devices: Home PC, laptop, tablet, and phone. It’s available in a basic version for free. I’ve paid for the yearly subscription which allows for unlimited storage and costs about $5 a month. The service is rock-solid, and after years of use, I’ve never had an issue. It’s also constantly being improved. It gets my top recommendation. 

Finally, just to be clear, I’m not compensated in any way by these companies. I’m not a spokesman. I paid for these services out of my own wallet, and I recommend them only because I’ve found them to be effective tools that help me do my job more efficiently. 

So, there you have it. These are my tools of the trade. What about you? Is there some software that helps you work better? I’d love to hear about it. Post a comment or send me an email using the button at the bottom of the page.