My typical work week is 50-60 hours, so finding time to write can be a challenge. Any advantage I can gain is always welcome. Luckily for scribblers like me there is a myriad of programs and apps to assist. I wanted to share the most essential apps for writing on the go I have discovered so far, and mention a few that may be of use to others.
I only started this blog quite recently but I have been writing blog posts for over 12 months. I also started my first attempt at a novel late last year, so the need for convenient writing apps has been pertinent for a while. I tested some programs that were then discarded, but I found the following to be indispensable to my writing goals. They are not in any order, as they each have their own merits in helping me achieve my outcome. They also have their own foibles, but it’s how they deal with them that sets them apart from the crowd.
If you are in an office based workplace, and need to share large files with others, you have no doubt encountered Dropbox. It is a personal cloud storage service that provides online back-up and file sharing. Dropbox can be used with Windows, Macintosh and Linux with apps version available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry devices.
The free account comes with 2 GB of storage and this can be increased via associated accounts, or simply by paying for more storage. Once you have signed up you can download the program to your computer to start using it. You can also – and this is where Dropbox comes into it’s own – install the program on other devices, which means anything you save in Dropbox on one device, is synced across all. This is all achieved using one single Dropbox account for every device. It makes working on the move much easier, and also means you don’t have to marry up multiple copies of the same file.
I use this to back-up my novel, and blog posts, which makes them available on more than one computer if I need them. It also works well with another program on this list, Scrivener.
You can find out more about Dropbox here.
Scrivener is a word processing and file management program for long texts such as novel, screenplays, blogs and research papers. It allows the user to store all their information in one place, including any research. You can switch between standard view and corkboard (like storyboard) view at the click of a button. Chapters are broken up into individual files that are collated into a complete document when you finish.
Scrivener is a program made by writers for writers. Everything about it makes the process of writing easier, and allows you to set-up your project with the end goal firmly in focus from the outset. I have used the program to write every blog post over the last 12+ months, with filing a breeze – once set-up correctly at the start of the project. I can set individual word targets for each blog post, and it also tracks how many words are written at each sitting. You can use MultiMarkdown and export in a format ready for pasting into WordPress, no further modifying necessary.
Scrivener is head and shoulders above all other word processing programs for writers and I am still learning how to use all its features. Thankfully there are a multitude of tutorials provided by experienced users who want to spread the good word about Scrivener. It is a testament to its creators, and the program itself, that it is held in such high esteem.
You can find out more about Scrivener here. It is available on Windows and Mac, with an iOS version currently in the works.
Scapple is the second program on this list from Literature and Latte, which speaks volumes to the quality of their programs. Scapple allows you to capture thoughts, and ideas, organising them visually to assist in piecing together a complicated process. It is a form of ‘mind mapping’ made easy, allowing you to spend your time on your thought process rather than on a complicated user interface.
It works by jotting down all the thoughts floating in your head on your subject of choice. Once you have inserted all your ideas, you can then start connecting them in any structure you like. This allows the chronological ordering of your ideas to be established in an organic manner. You can change the colours of different ideas to apply a pattern, and drag and drop images into Scapple as well. You can map out large and small thought processes with the outcome changeable at any time. I have even used it to prepare presentations, as well as my novel and blog posts. Scapple can be sourced on a 30-day trial or for US$15.
You can find out more about Scapple here.
Evernote is a note taking device that allows you to sync notes across multiple devices and share with other users. To be honest that is selling it a little short. In essence you create virtual notebooks, which then allow you to have many notes within that notebook. For example I have a notebook dedicated to ‘Orphan’ – my first attempt at writing a novel. I also have separate notebooks for this blog. Within the Orphan notebook I have split the information into several notes. That way I can organise different aspects of my book into categories.
The beauty of Evernote is not only does it update across computers, phones and tablets, but it also invaluable for organising research. Evernote comes with a Web Clipper button you can install that allows you to file information you find online. If you find an article, picture or document that is relevant to one of your notes you can save it directly into that note while you are still in your browser. This saves finicky copying and pasting of links into emails or other programs. Additionally Evernote’s Web Clipper will highlight any of your notes that relate to web searches you make.
You can also share a notebook with another Evernote user which gives them access to it’s contents while they are on the go. The only word of caution I would give is to ensure the program has synced before you exit. It just ensures no conflict issues on other devices when you re-open any notes.
You can find out more about Evernote here.
The Hemingway App, or Hemingway Editor, is an online app that you can paste your prose into, and it assesses it against certain criteria. It will show you sentences that are hard, or very hard to read; simpler alternatives to words, adverbs or your use of passive voice. The text is then highlighted in different colours to show you what needs editing. It is a useful tool to train your mind to lose any bad habits that you may be guilty of. It also serves as an editing tool for minor changes.
I should say that I also did some testing of the app with established writers (including Hemingway) and well-known books. They did not all pass the Hemingway App test! This highlights that it’s a good tool to use in your writing, but in no way is a definitive answer on how you should write. Think of it as a helping hand and use your own judgement on what works and what doesn’t. Some of the issues are obvious once highlighted, but some are a matter of taste and style. Well worth spending some time with to see if it works for you.
Try the Hemingway App here.
If you spend any time driving with your day job this may be the app for you. It is one of many on the market but I have found it to be the better of the free voice recording apps. Voice Memos is for when you can not write, but the ideas are still swimming around in your head. Excellent for long car journeys when you are the only passenger and you need to ‘talk’ through ideas.
It feels silly at first to be talking to yourself, but it is invaluable for working through story structure or the make-up of a character. I found some worthwhile plot developments fall out of just talking about what I wanted from a character or scene. Again, I am a mere babe in the art of writing, but I am sure everyone has their own process. Writer’s appear to be a secretive lot on this subject, so I am using what works for me – and talking is something I am good at! The app allows you to name each individual file when saving so it is easy to label each recording based on content. Playback is via the same way you play back music.
Voice Memos can be found in the iTunes store.
As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” If you want to write in any form you need to be exposing yourself to how great writers do it. For me carrying books around isn’t always possible, so to maximise my time I use iBooks on my phone. This doesn’t mean that physical books don’t have their place – they always will – it just means I can carry more than one book at a time. I can then read them using spare time that could might have gone to waste.
I also like to read one non-fiction and one fiction book at a time so I am learning all aspects of the craft. At present I am reading a Stephen King double bill of ‘On Writing’ and ‘11.22.63’. Learning from him while seeing his advice in action – and have an entertaining read at the same time. If you can carry books with you this becomes easier, but my job doesn’t allow me that luxury so this provides a compromise. One piece of writing advice that I have heard consistently, is to ‘Just write!’. I would perhaps amend that to ‘Just read and write!’.
I am not sponsored, or affiliated, with any of the programs so this post is based solely on my experience with them. The links provided are for convenience only, and provide me with no gains – financial or otherwise.
Below are some other programs I have also tried.
As the name implies this is a note taking app that allows syncing between devices. It is a more stripped back version of Evernote, with some compatibility with Scrivener – which is what first drew me to it. I have replaced it with Evernote but found it to be a great little program when I was using it. It is available across iOS, Android, Mac and Windows and it’s free.
Simplenote can be found here.
Day One is a journaling app that is only available on iPhone, iPad and Mac. It has a beautiful, clean interface that tags the time, date, location and weather as you make an entry. It allows you to add photos to entries, to further enhance that day’s memory or entry. It also allows you to email pdf versions of your entries, or post them to a website, so you can share with others.
The lack of a Windows app meant I was soon getting frustrated with using it for any longform writing. Because of this issue my use of it declined rapidly. The publisher has released the next iteration ‘Day One 2’ and is charging full price to all users, rather than a free upgrade for any existing users. A misstep in my view.
Day One can be found in the iTunes store or here.
iA Writer is a minimalist writing program designed to provide a clean writing interface. With iA Writer you won’t have one big long page of writing as the display only shows a few lines of text at a time. This dispenses with any other distractions, so the user can focus on the writing experience itself. This program was impressive and a pleasure to use. Again, the issue I had with the program was I could only use it with an iOS device as I don’t own a Mac. If you have a Mac and/or an iOS device it is well worth investigating.
Find it in the iTunes store or here.
Another Mac and iOS only app, but one that focuses on the full novel or scriptwriting experience, not just the writing. It allows you to storyboard your script or novel, organise your research and create scene and character cards. It is a powerful program with an intuitive interface, similar in some ways to Scrivener. Made with true writers in mind, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Storyist can be found in the iTunes store or here.
What programs do you use to write on the go?