The tools of our trade

I’ll be wearing my writer’s hat today, while disclosing which apps are completely indispensable to me. They’re not all free, but more than worth their money.

1. Scrivener

My absolute number one piece of software. Without wanting to sound too dramatic (but I know I will), Scrivener changed my life. Word or Write or any other word processing programme, is not built for writing—Scrivener is. Long gone are those horrendous days of endlessly scrolling through a fifty-page Word document looking for that scene I wanted to paste right after a new one I just added.

Scrivener is perfect for complex documents, which most multiple draft novels are. Every scene gets its own document that you can drag and drop where you like. It may sound like a small feat, but let me tell you, the effect is enormous. Even the most messy, erratic writers (ahum) can find their way through their manuscript with Scrivener, because it’s so straightforward and easy to use.

No doubt, Scrivener has plenty of other features, but the orderliness it creates in your writing is the most important to me. Simply put, it just makes it the easiest it can be and eliminates the grievance of dealing with long blocks of text.

What’s more is, that with a few clicks, you can produce impeccable e-books in both mobi and epub-format, thus catering to most devices.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Scrivener and I even believe that, as a serious self-publisher, you can’t really afford to ignore it (unless you like messy drafts and find romance in waiting for Word to boot up.)

Scrivener is available from Literature and Latte for $45. You can try it for free for 30 days and they have both a Mac and Windows version.

2. Dropbox (or any other online back-up system)

True story. I had just finished the first draft of a manuscript when I spilled juice on my Mac, crashing its hard drive. There’s no need to tell you this was the worst day of my writing career. I had slaved and sweated over that manuscript (and I also loved my Mac dearly) and now it was gone. Well, of course it wasn’t really gone, because that’s the moral of this story. I had it back-upped all over the ‘cloud’. What makes Dropbox so ideal though is its seamless integration with Scrivener.

When you create a backup in Scrivener you can choose ‘backup to’ and I have this set to my Dropbox folder, so every time I backup (which I do religiously and way too often, only there is no such thing as too often when it comes to backups) my Scrivener document, it automatically uploads to my Dropbox account online. An account I can access from anywhere/any device I want.

In the end, a technician managed to save my hard drive and I didn’t lose any data, but if I hadn’t had my backups readily available via Dropbox I would have lost a lot of time getting my manuscript ready for its deadline with my editor.

I don’t just rely on one backup service though. I think as a writer my documents are too important not to be paranoid. My main ‘backup of a backup’ is CX which automatically backs up any chosen folder to the ‘cloud’, i.e. you don’t have to do anything, not even click a button.

At the risk of sounding incredibly pedantic: be smart and back up!

Dropbox (2G) and CX (10G) both have free versions.

3. Evernote

I’m not on of those writers who constantly carries around notebooks (even though I have masses of them because people sure do like to give me notebooks). For starters, I can barely read my own handwriting, and, secondly, this is the year 2012. We have smart phones now and tablets and 3G and wifi… and, honestly, when it comes to quickly jotting down ideas, notebooks are being outsmarted by apps.

My favourite app for taking notes is Evernote. When I’m watching American Idol and Jennifer Lopez says something inspiring (it has happened, I swear, or maybe it was just a particularly inspiring dress she was wearing), I type it into the Evernote app on my iPad. It will sync automatically so next time when I’m sitting in front of my computer and check the last synced notes I will be reminded of the comment about J.Lo’s dress and ‘try to do something with it.’

Admittedly, this was a poor example, but imagine this. You’re out walking and an irrestible idea pops into your head. You may have a pen but no paper or vice versa, but what you do have is a smart phone. You open the Evernote app, write it down, and your precious idea is saved for eternity (or until you decide it’s crap and delete it). Now you can go about your business without fretting over possibly forgetting this stroke of genius—and have that extra drink or two.

I have notes for promotional ideas, resource links, to-do lists, checklists, possible titles, everything really… I can search through the notes, I can tag and sort them… and I can no longer live without them.

Evernote is free software.

4. Anti-Social
For most writers, time is the biggest issue. There always seem more important things to do than finishing a manuscript, e.g. raising children or going to work. Then, when you do finally get some time in front of your computer, there’s that damned internet distracting you. Especially Facebook, which needs to be checked right now, and Twitter, because, who knows, maybe your favourite celebrity just tweeted a picture of their cat.

I’m perfectly willing to admit that, when it comes to creativity, the internet is my biggest enemy. Yes, it’s a source of inspiration and without the internet, frankly, I’d be nowhere and Ladylit wouldn’t exist, but oh my, have I wasted hours and hours of time on it. That’s why, before every writing session, I allow myself time to check all the necessary procrastination outlets (KDP sales dashboard, anyone?) and then I start up Anti-Social.

Anti-Social shuts you off from social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, and you can add as many other websites you’re not allowed to waste time on during writing either. The only way around it, is rebooting your computer and really, that’s just silly. You do still have access to other, more helpful sites like Wikipedia or a thesaurus, so it’s very much about killing temptation.

Anti-Social costs $15, which is cheap if you consider the extra words per day you can churn out when you use it. It’s currently only available for Mac, but I’m sure there are Windows equivalents out there.

This is my top 4 of indispensable writing/productivity apps. Please feel free to share yours in the comments.