5 Tools for Better Writing
There is a flow to every writing project, whatever it may be. Writers follow the same procedure whether they are writing a blog post or a book. Christian writers understand the value of time (Ephesians 5:16) and so most want to work as efficiently as possible.
Here are some key tools in each stage of the writing process.
Many writers sit down and think they can write an entire book without planning. They think the whole story will unreel in their mind like a movie. This is particularly true with Christian writers who feel they are writing the words God wants them to say.
The reality is that even when you go to the grocery store or some other familiar place, you plot the route in your mind. If you head into new territory, you’ll get lost unless you have a map or GPS system to guide you. You need a map when you write. In the literary world, this map is called an outline.
Key Tool: Trello (Free with paid options)
Trello is an online tool that enables you to create “boards” which represent your book. Then, you set columns for each chapter. Add “blocks to each column that represents the heading or subheadings in the chapter. In fiction, these might be scenes. In nonfiction, these might be steps in a process.
The genius of this is that you can move columns and blocks around in any way you wish to reorganize and clarify your thoughts. You can add labels, checklists and due dates to columns and blocks.
Importantly, you can attach your research, such as text snippets, web links, images and videos to every block.
Trello allows you to create the road map you need for your book or article. You don’t eliminate spontaneity because you can take all the side trips you want. But Trello allows you to create a writing framework so you can return to it if you get lost.
Both fiction and nonfiction requires research. Some people do it as they write. They see they need some quote or fact and they abandon their writing to find what they need.
Serious writers know this is a form of self-sabotage. You want to collect all your resources before you start writing. If you find you need certain information, you don’t stop and look. You keep writing. You don’t let anything interrupt your flow. You put a unique symbol you can search–I use !X4–and you return to it after your writing session is over. You always want to separate research from writing. They are distinct processes and should not be mixed.
Key Tool: iSeek.com (Free) You may see iSeek.ai, but “ai” is their business information. Stick with iSeek.com.
This is a “Cluster” search engine. This means you can input your search terms once and it displays all types of media in education mode.
Say you’re writing a romance novel like Gone with the Wind. The search for “antebellum south” in quotes — and you get sites clustered, or grouped, by the topic itself, by key people in that period, geography, by how society was organized and so forth.
Click on the apple representing education in iSeek, and you can see if videos, PDFs or slide presentations are available for your search term.
So, you can research everything on your topic in one place. Go to iSeek and experiment.
What word processor are you going to use to write your book? Most people use Microsoft Word. Insiders know that Scrivener is a wonderful tool for writers. I have used it for many years.
What are the benefits of Scrivener? It’s inexpensive. It allows you to outline, research and write with one tool. You can customize it to fit your writing style. It has built-in word count tools that help you keep on track. It’s a writer’s dream in many ways.
So, why am I not recommending Scrivener? Because it suffers from the same problem as Microsoft Word. That problem is complexity. The more time you spend fiddling with your writing software, the less time you have to write. That’s why I recommend WriteMonkey. It is a basic, pure writing tool.
Key Tool: WriteMonkey (Free – small payment for optional add-ons)
Version 2.7 is simple. There are a few set-up preferences, but beyond that, you open it and write. It is distraction free. Importantly, it saves your writing in text format. That means you can cut and paste it into Microsoft Word or any other program for editing or formatting.
The newly released Version 3 adds additional levels of complexity, like cork-boards, a Pomodoro-style timer and other bells and whistles. It’s more like an ultra-simple version of Scrivener.
If you want to simplify your writing life, and maintain deep focus, WriteMonkey may be the writing tool you’ve dreamed about.
Always hire a professional copy editor whenever possible. But if you are going to do your own copy editing, then you need a software tool to help you find the most egregious flaws in spelling and grammar.
Many people rely on the Microsoft Word Speller/Grammar checker. It’s not great, but better than nothing to find errors.
Online software like Grammarly is no better, in my opinion. It highlights many errors, but you need to know enough about spelling, grammar and punctuation to know how to fix them.
Key Tool: Hemingway Editor $19.95.
This is an inexpensive investment to get a clear idea of the faults in your manuscript. You paste in your text and it displays issues in an easy to understand color-coded format. It doesn’t check all issues, but it highlights over-use of adverbs, passive voice, run-on sentences and more. The Hemingway Editor can help you tighten your prose.
Would I use Hemingway Editor on an entire book? Probably not. But it’s great for cleaning up the embarrassing issues for blog posts and other short writing.
None of these programs help you fix structural or style problems. That’s why writers need a human professional editor in almost all cases. Good copy editors have the knowledge and experience to help you change your book from mediocre to outstanding.
Successful writer keep their focus. They are not easily distracted as they write. Your writing times should never be defined by time (“I’ll write for an hour”). It should always be defined by word count (“I’ll write 1,000 words before I stop no matter how long it takes”).
Time-based goals require no focus at all. You might write 5 or 500 words in an hour. That’s because it is so easy to lose focus. Word count goals enhance focus.
The internet is probably the greatest distraction for writers. You sit down at the computer and intend to be productive. But you end up checking your email, grazing on Facebook, entertaining yourself on Reddit, or reading and lamenting over what you see on a news site.
Writers need to stop distractions like that. There are several tools that can help.
Key Tool: StayFocusd (note spelling) a free Chrome browser extension.
This tool blocks the sites you select for the amount of time you set. There are ways to subvert it, but it’s kind of like your mom slapping your hand when you reached for a cookie just before dinner. StayFocusd is a deterrent and a good one.
If you don’t use the Chrome browser, look for similar extensions on the browser you use. There are many such extensions like this.
Unless you write as a casual hobby, you want to write as efficiently as possible. These writing tools will help you reach your writing goals.