10 Essential digital tools for budding authors

Ironically, I experienced a great deal of writer’s block when writing this article. In fact, right now, all I can think of is Fatboy Slim’s “right about now, the funk soul brother” which is of no help to any of us. But a deadline is a writer’s best friend, so I opened up Notepad, and went in search of a little inspiration. Where does a writer go to find apps that help you jolly well get on and write?

The basics:
Assuming you can write, the biggest problem you’re going to face is focusing on – ooh, did you see the new Hobbit trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSoD4BBCJc) yet? I keep watching that. Which reminds me that I want to write an article on the art of trailer soundtracks.

1. Notepad
Perhaps the most basic of writing softwares, I always have Notepad open, to jot down quick notes during the day. Like now, I’ve made a note about the trailer article. Before I turn my computer off I try and find “homes” for those notes – maybe they pertain to work in progress, maybe they are the seed of something new. The simple clean format makes it quick to write in, and simple to cut and paste in and out of to various other programs. Notepad is standard with Windows, but Mac users can have the same experience with TextEdit (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2523)

2. Writeordie
This “writer’s block killer” is the best place to go when the curse of the blank page strikes. Write online, or invest in the desktop or ipad apps — you’ll want to. Set your target word count, your time period, and then choose your “consequences” and your “grace period”. It’s all fun and games until you stop writing. Then — particularly if you are on Evil Electric Shock Mode — your words will start to die before your eyes. Write, darnit, write!

For a more peaceful focussed writing experience, Ommwriter is a lovely choice. The combination of a clean writing interface and peaceful music make exactly what they are aiming for: an increased place of concentration for writers. The basic version is free, and an updated version is available to purchase if Ommwriter does help you find your Zen.

4. FocusWriter
If you like the idea of a focussed environment, but prefer to create your own soundtrack (I write best to very loud hip hop and rap) then FocusWriter might be your answer. The software is free, available for PC, Mac and Linux, and supports several languages. All that’s still needed are the words.

Taking shape:

Once you’ve got the beginnings of some writing you want to share, it’s time to get into the format and medium you want. Realistically, I do a lot of my writing in Microsoft Word, but that’s more due to force of habit and its omnipresence — I miss Corel WordPerfect, but that’s sadly sidelined these days because so few people can read the file formats. Here are some other useful ways of creating and sharing documents.

5. Googledocs
Once you’ve got the content creation happening, Googledoc’s free web interface is an ideal way to back up your documents, having them available wherever you are, and share them with others. It’s also a way of creating Microsoft Word compatible documents even if you can’t afford the Office software.

6. Open Office
Another option if you can’t afford — or don’t want to invest in — Microsoft Office is Open Office. The free software has some pretty darn impressive features, but above all, when people are expecting you to submit content in .doc or .docx formats, you can now do so very simply.

7. Dropbox
Obviously Dropbox has multiple functionalities, but I keep a Dropbox folder particularly for pieces of writing that I might want to share with people. Being able to share this folder means that people might only be interested in one aspect of my work, but might end up reading several examples once they have access to the folder. And it’s yet another safety mechanism if technological mayhem ensues — I know that this writing is safe.


Sometimes, you need to take your writing in a particular direction.

8. Celtx
If you fancy yourself a scriptwriter, then Celtx is your new best friend. Its intuitive formatting and interactive functionality are a dream. The desktop version is free, but the apps and online studios are very affordable — especially compared to the other scriptwriting softwares — and worth it for the ease of writing anywhere, and having central access to all those scripts. And being able to print to pdf means you can produce impressive, professionally formatted scripts at “emerging writer” prices. While a lot of the industry use FinalDraft, Celtx is a marvellous piece of software, for a fraction of the price.

9. Ulysses — as one who doesn’t own an iPad, I can only tell of the mythical wonderment of Ulysses, the writing app that seems to do everything except actually type for you. It works with semantic editing, and promises to help you create content, organise that content, and then publish it. All together now: “ooooooooo”. Bonus: it comes with a free trial.

The essential: So now you should be all sorted! I wish you well on your merry writing way, and remember: you should reference style guides (http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide), make use of Google, and libraries, but there’s absolutely no excuse for not having this app.

10. Dictionary and Thesaurus
You know there’s a word for it. Or possibly, you’ve used one word for it several times, and you need to find another word for it. Clearly, you need a dictionary and thesaurus, and while the benefits of actual real life ones are several, the ease and efficiency of this little app – and the fact that it’s free – make it the final “must have” of your writing arsenal.



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