7 Tools To Ease The Writing Process
(And To Stop You Banging Your Head Against A Wall)

1.) SimpleNote 

This is one of my favourite writing tools — if it can even be called that. It’s basically a notebook for your iPhone. I know plenty of people use EverNote (which is similar), but I prefer SimpleNote. The minimalist layout is clearer, and it’s easy to sort your ideas into groups so you don’t end up with hundreds of different notes. Also, it syncs across multiple platforms, including Scrivener, which is a massive bonus for me. I’ll talk about Scrivener in a minute, but being able to sync my ideas directly into a novel document saves time on copying and pasting. Plus it’s free. So what are you waiting for? Download it and get to work. 

2.) Scrivener

One of Scrivener’s best features is the ability to keep all of your work in one place. With Word, you tend to end up with about fifty different saved files during a project. One marked RESEARCH, another saying SECOND DRAFT, a third called CHARACTERS, and the list goes on. When writing, you might have ten different tabs open at once and be constantly flipping between pages (usually copy and pasting), which can be exhausting.

In Scrivener, you open a single document and all of your drafts, ideas, character studies — everything you could possibly want — is all in that single document along the side tab. You can click and choose whichever you want to work on. You can also split the screen to work on both, or drag and drop items from one document into another, all without leaving the original screen. Not only that, but the file auto-saves every two seconds to help prevent any lost work, and is generally more stable than Word documents. In the time I’ve used it, it’s yet to crash once. 

It’s especially helpful during the editing stage. Having all of your pieces organised into segments along the side makes it so simple to chop and change. Shifting one scene before or after another to see how it works is no longer a chore. You don’t have to save two separate files and copy and compare. You simply drag and drop, compile the file into a PDF to see how the changes look, and then you can switch it all back if it’s wrong.

For the most part, Scrivener is easy to use, although it does take a small period of adjustment. If you’ve been using Word your whole life, Scrivener will seem like a foreign language at first. Your initial reaction may even be to ditch it and go back to Word. But once you get past the first hurdle, you’ll realise it’s actually a complex system that’s been written for simpletons. Even a brain-dead mouse could understand the functions if he spent five minutes trying.

In essence, Scrivener takes the often time-consuming side of background research, idea compilation, and rewrites, etc., out of your current creation, and helps you to concentrate on your most important task: writing a bestselling novel that will make you a millionaire.

And that’s just the tip of the nib.

If you want to see more, check out the videos on their website.

If you’re serious about writing, this is a purchase you’ll never regret.

3.) Word

Even though I just spent the last five hundred words or so bashing this and praising its predecessor, Word is still necessary for every writer to own, and deserves some recognition. Although Scrivener is more intuitive, Word continues to serve its purpose. 

For a start, most agents, magazines and publishers require work (when sent electronically) to be in Word format. Almost everyone has Word installed on their computer: when you send your stories to friends, families, and editors, they’ll want to read it in Word. If you don’t send them your work in that format, you may find some problems.

Not only that, but Word has track changes which works great for editing. You can highlight lines, add in side notes and comments (it points out all the changes with marks and colours), and it’s easy to function. Editing your own work on Scrivener is simple — editing other people’s work, however, is better suited to Word. Track changes allows your clients/friends to see what you’ve tinkered with and quickly decide whether or not to integrate your suggestions.

So for these two reasons — editing and convenience — keep Word installed. In short: Scrivener makes your work easier to write, Word makes it easier to disseminate.

4.) StayFocusd (Internet Blocking App) 

If you’re anything like most writers, both the professional and the moonlighters, the internet will be a major source of procrastination. It’s only a click away, and when you’re feeling the crush of a deadline, or the pain of a scene that just won’t come out the way it sounds in your head, it can be an easy distraction. You tell yourself you’ll just check your notifications on Facebook, or your emails, or read a couple tweets — within minutes you’re sucked in and then it’s three hours later and you haven’t done any work. Somehow you’re on a webpage about the mating rituals of baboons and hamsters. You’ve wasted half of your writing day already.

StayFocusd is in place to stop that from happening. Or at least try to.

The way it works is by blocking websites of your choosing between certain hours. For instance, if you plan to work between 9 and 5 every day, you can set it up to automatically block Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and any other websites that hog your life when you should be working. Once you’ve inputted a time for it to click in, you can’t undo or change the time until it’s up for that day — that way you can’t cheat the system every five minutes when you feel like searching the web. You are able to pre-schedule breaks, though — say between 1 and 2 for your lunch hour. And you’re able to change your daily and weekly times (and websites) every evening.

Also, you have the choice of a nuclear option which blocks all websites, or you can pick certain websites (ones you may use for research purposes) to remain available to you. When you try to access the wrong sites, the screen flashes up with the message SHOULDN’T YOU BE WORKING? and a link to donate $10 to their PayPal account to unlock the page. This isn’t the only way to view what you want, though. If you’re really desperate to check a webpage that’s been blocked, you can view it by using Incognito Mode on Google Chrome. The app doesn’t block it through that. But that doesn’t make it any less useful: when you go through Incognito, you’ll have to type in your email address and password. That might not sound like a lot, but psychologically it makes a difference. It’s no longer just clicking on your Facebook account. You’re now actively cutting corners to find a loophole into your social networks. For most people, the shame alone will send them back to their work. For others, the extra hassle isn’t worth it. That urge to check their notifications soon fades.

The only drawback is that StayFocusd is a Google Chrome add-on. I’m sure there are plenty of similar apps or sites you can use for Safari and Internet Explorer, but I don’t know about them. If you don’t use Chrome, now might be the time to switch over.

Failing that, just do a little research on internet-blocking productivity sites.

You’re bound to find something that will suit your writing needs.

5.) The Tomato Timer 

If you’re a Mac owner, you can find this on the app store. It works on the infamous pomodoro technique. If you’ve never heard of it before, it basically runs on the principles of work and reward. You’re given a set amount of time to do some work (on the app you can adjust this time to whatever you like: ten minutes, thirty minutes, etc.) and once your time is up, you’re given a set break (again, this can be manually adjusted). During the break you can do whatever you want, but the moment it’s up, you need to get straight back to work.

The clock substitutes as a boss in a sense. But it also allows you to feel like your writing time is more structured and less hectic. You see half an hour on the clock, you know that’s all you need to do before you can take a break, which means the writing doesn’t seem so daunting. Anyone can hack half an hour (or twenty minutes, or whatever you’ve picked). Then you have your short break, relax, and go straight back to the assignment.

This is a great tool for those who talk themselves out of writing because they DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME or because they’re worried they’ll spend hours at the keyboard.

Set your time, do the work, then get back on with your life.

Simple as that. Simple as a ticking tomato.

6.) Focus Music

Focus Music is a website that offers up a selection of music that has been “proven” to enhance productivity and levels of focus. You can choose between multiple options — from cinematic to operatic to classical — and within each genre, there are a variety of different pieces of music. All are specially picked to be non-intrusive. That way, while you’re at the computer typing away, the music gently soothes and coaxes you in the background without you being aware of it. It’s both relaxing and invigorating.

There’s a paid version in which you can choose a playlist of songs and repeat or change their order and record how long each music session lasts. But if you don’t have money for that, the free version has more than enough options to satisfy the casual user. Some songs may not be to your liking, or may feel obtrusive, but you’ll find a decent balance after a while of testing. I tend to switch between cinematic (for my action-based scenes) and classical (for my emotional scenes). You’ll soon find out what works for you.

For the skeptical among you, numerous studies have shown there’s a direct correlation between music and work when attempting to form a long-lasting habit. If every time you sit at your laptop and begin typing, you’re playing Mozart, your brain will associate that music with writing. It will merge as part of a work pattern. Then, next time you play similar music, you will be psychologically primed to engage in that work.

If you find it hard to connect with any of the music on this site, you can always make your own playlist on iTunes. Just make sure you keep the music low and don’t let it distract you. The more you play it while working, the more you’ll solidify the habit-forming neural pathways you’ve created — thus turning writing into a habit not a chore.

Try it out and see what works for you.

7.) Wunderlist 

Finally, Wunderlist is another Mac/iPhone app, but again, if you don’t own any Apple products, I assume there are equivalent apps that you can find for your operating system. In any case, Wunderlist (which my computer just tried to change to Wanderlust) is a simple way to keep on top of your hectic schedule. For all the writers who can’t find enough time in their day to write, read, edit, clean the dog, or wash the dishes, this simplistic productivity app can help you to organise your time better by listing your activities for the day and shifting them around on the basis of their importance.

Structure is a key component of many professional writers’ success. They’re disciplined and they know when to work, when to take a break, and when to take a shower (in rivers of whiskey and vodka, usually), and this app helps to regulate that schedule for the lazy.

Which is most of us. We’re lazy, sluggish procrastinators.

And if you don’t like Wunderlist, try writing out a list every morning in a notepad and grouping them in three different columns: MOST IMPORTANT, KIND OF IMPORTANT, LEAST IMPORTANT, and work your way through it, scratching out something every time you’ve completed it.

You’ll be surprised how much a list can make a difference to your discipline.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Anyway, that’s it for now, but if you know of any other useful writing tools, please leave a link to them below. I’m always searching for new techniques and tricks to enhance my productivity. These are just some of the things that work for me. Your list might be very different, and that’s cool. We all have our own way of suppressing the angry, procrastinating monkey on our backs.

So let me know some of yours. I’d love to hear about them.


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