Tools

We have been asked more than a few times what tools and programs we use to write, so here’s the comprehensive list:

Writing

Google Docs: This is currently our workhorse program. It doesn’t do as much as Word, but share documents and the ability to have the same file open and editable by multiple people makes it a great option for typing out your words.

Word: It’s basic and reliable. You know MS Word does, and you probably either love it or hate it.

Scrivener: I love Scrivener. There’s no better writing software for managing large amounts of research and worldbuilding. It’s got built-in version comparison and control, as well as a number of other excellent writing tools. Sadly, I don’t use Scrivener anymore. I need to transfer my files between myself, my coauthor and our amazing assistant, but Scrivener makes big, complicated files. We had too many file conflicts and lost data moving the files around… We had to stop using it. But if you either work solo or don’t often need to email files around (or share them through Dropbox/Google Drive), it’s hard to beat Scrivener.

yWriter: This was my first writing program. It does a lot of the same things as Scrivener, helping you to outline and break a story down into scenes, then keep track of wordcounts and progress. Up until Scrivener released their Windows version, yWriter was my default recommendation for all other writers. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional, stable and does the job.

StoryShop: We haven’t used StoryShop much, since we have our current workflow pretty refined. But it’s a new writing app by the SPP guys designed to manage most aspects of novel writing, from collecting research and outlining to editing the final prose. We’ve only poked around during the trial period, but it seemed awesome. You can sign up for free and try it out, then pay about eight bucks a month to continue if you like it.

Editing

Google Ngram Search: I don’t know how I managed without Google Ngram. It’s not a whole editing tool, but a search engine that lets your cross-reference the uses of words or phrases across time in an easy to read graph. Is “machine gun” one word or two? Or hyphenated? Well, look it up.

Pro Writing Aid: PWA is a whole suite of editing tools, from grammar to word repetition to writing style. It’s a great tool and well worth the $40 it costs per year. Plus, it integrates with Google Docs, which makes it a great option for us.

Grammarly: A solid online grammar checker. Certainly not a replacement for a proof reader or copy editor, but it’ll help you find some basic errors.

EditMinion: Another online checker. I’ve pretty much replaced it with Pro Writing Aid, but EditMinion was one of my most important tools for years. Plus, it’s free.

Marked 2: This one is slightly weird. Marked 2 is a markdown preview tool. If you don’t know what that means, that’s fine – you don’t have to. With one exception: Marked 2 doesn’t let you create or modify files. It just displays text files. So what the heck would I need that for? Because it has the ability to highlight repeated words in a paragraph or document. Thanks to Marked 2, I can find and cut words I use too often.

Hemingway: This one is a style editing app, designed to help you strip your writing down to its essentials. Useful if you’re prone to purple prose.

Formatting

Vellum: I learned of Vellum’s existence from Joanna Penn’s podcast (see below) and nothing in my publishing life has been the same since. Vellum was initially just for creating ebooks, but they’ve recently added the ability to create print interiors. The print stuff is still just a little rough in places, but Vellum ebooks are beautiful. And more importantly, they’re easy to make. The Vellum algorithms are pretty good at picking up chapters and headings, then translating them into its own RTF structure. Once your manuscript is loaded, just select the template for how you want the ebook to look, and export.

Adobe InDesign: Up until Vellum released their 2.0 version to include print, I used InDesign to create the interiors for my paperbacks. It’s an amazing and robust program, but fussy as hell and difficult to learn. If you’re serious about having fine control over your print files, use InDesign.

Podcasts (Education)

Writing Excuses: A craft-centered podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells. Writing Excuses runs only about 15-20 minutes and is packed with great writing advice. If you don’t have much time for podcasts but want to improve your writing, this is the show for you.

The Self-Publishing Podcast (SPP): SPP is maybe 25% craft, 75% publishing, and 100% hijinks. These guys –  Johnny B. Truant, David Wright and Sean Platt – are a lot of fun to listen to. SPP has recently been cut down to 1 hour, but they produce it every week, in addition to a huge and growing collection of other podcasts. SPP and the other Sterling & Stone podcasts are informative and funny, with lots of swearing.

The Creative Penn: Hosted by the eponymous Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn is classy and clean. Or maybe it’s just Joanna’s beautiful English accent… Regardless, this one is mostly a business podcast. Sometimes Joanna even reads my tweets during the show intro. This may be my closest brush with fame!

Ditch Diggers: This podcast is a pure craft- and trash-talk. It’s hosted by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace. It’s crass, it’s mean and it’s a blast. They pull no punches (from Morgan Freeman’s Fight Club basement) when talking about writing. And the traditional publishing industry, I guess. Okay, there is a business element to Ditch Diggers, but it’s directed at those who want agents and publishers. If that’s you, listen to Ditch Diggers!

I Should Be Writing: Mur’s other podcast. ISBW is much gentler and introspective than Ditch Diggers. Mur uses it to talk listeners and herself through the sometimes soul-crushing slog of writing and publishing a book. It really helps on my bad days to know that a “real” writer struggles with all of the same things that I do. Warning, though – within 2 episodes, you’ll really want to give Mur a hug.

Grammar Girl: Not a writing podcast per se, but weekly quick and dirty tips on grammar and word usage. Grammar Girl is short, fun and won’t eat a lot of your day. Like Writing Excuses, if you’re short on time but really want to learn something, add Grammar Girl to your podcast feed or channel.

The Writership Podcast: Writership isn’t quite like anything else on this list. It’s hosted by Leslie Watts and Clark Chamberlain and is an editing podcast! Each week, Leslie and Clark read out five pages of a submitted manuscript and edit it on the air. The website includes copy edits (spelling, grammar, etc.) but the podcasts addresses about broader issues like pacing, characterization and setting. I forget if I heard Leslie talk on The Creative Penn or SPP, but I’ve been listening to Writership ever since and trying to get my nerve up to submit a few pages.

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