Tools O’ The Trade


Rather than try to herd the cats that are my thoughts, I figured I’d talk about some of the tools that help me maintain an illusion of control over my ideas. Although there are a lot of great tools out there, I’m concentrating on the two main free tools I rely upon the most.


No one has time to keep track of grammar and spelling while writing. And why should they? As I keep saying, first drafts are supposed to be ungainly documents meant only to jot down the initial idea.

No, the second+ draft is where the polish happens, although sometimes the polish takes more of an industrial-quality sand blasting.

Grammarly is a tool that works both in your browser and in MS Word if you’re on a Windows system. I work on both Windows and Mac (I self-identify as “bi-computational”) and it is a wonderful tool.

Anyway, Grammarly automatically checks your documents for spelling and stylistic errors. As you type, it will highlight problem areas in your prose. When you hover your mouse over the word or sentence, it will give you options on how to correct the error; or you can ignore the advice altogether.

Membership is free, as are the Windows, Mac, and Office addons. For (in my mind) a rather steep fee, you can select the premium version. The premium version not only checks grammar and spelling, it also somehow checks for plagiarism. I can only assume it does this through some form of witchcraft. If you don’t join the service then, at least, try to kill it as per the rule in Exodus 22:18.


Please note: this is no substitution for actual proofreading. Grammarly helps you correct grammar and spelling errors, but as a writer, you need to own your prose. Use this tool as a general proofreader, then do the deep passes yourself. Like any grammar checker, it can miss something or mess up your style if you follow its advice blindly. It’s best to carefully review the changes; particularly in dialogue since natural speech doesn’t always follow the rules of grammar.

In any case, it does a great job whether you’re writing on a Windows or Mac. If you’re writing on a Linux-based computer, congratulations! Now’s your chance to build your own application!


Organization is one of my biggest problems. That, and taking too long in the bath. But I was born a Pisces, so it’s not my fault.

I spend a lot of time getting notes together. Sometimes something will occur to me and I jot it down in the notes app on my phone, or in a notebook, or in a separate document, or using a stick in a patch of mud. I can go all day.

What’s important is that I need to consolidate those notes and refer to them as I write. Evernote is a great web app that gets me there. It is a *FREE* idea manager. You can consolidate notes, photographs, research, weblinks, graphics, whatever you need.

You can keep track of anything, no matter how ill-advised!

For instance, I use photographs to help focus my descritptions. I have photos that closely resemble the characters I’m creating. This way, I can keep the descriptions regular over a large novel. I also have photos of places, trees, mountains, anything I need to refer to for imagery in the story.

My Evernote entries have all of those pictures, along with all of the extended notes I have on those characters.  I have extensive story notes and world-building materials, including quick sketches of technology and buildings.

You can collect all of these into your own “notebooks” with mutliple entries. You can even colaborate with others and make changes in real time.

Since all of this is on the web, it’s accessible wherever I have a connection. It loads very quickly as well.

I’m sure there’s other “businessy” things you can do with it, but who cares?  As a writer, I find the site irreplaceable. Evernote is also available as an Android or iPhone app.

And The Rest…

Those are the two big resources I always use. There are many other writing tools out there. Freemind is a great for storyboarding. Scribus is an open source desktop publisher, where you have greater control over layout.

If you don’t have access to Microsoft Word, there’s always LibreOffice, which includes a full-featured word processor that works just as well as Word.

If you need better time management, there’s GanttProject. GanttProject is an open source time manager that runs on any platform. Thanks, Java!

For personal e-book creation, go with Sigil. It’s another open sourced program that allows you to edit and create your own files. You can view the book in preview, book, and code mode, create a table of contents, and create HTML and EPUB files.

Last of all, for those with a little extra change in your pockets, there’s Scrivener. This is a favorite of many an author. There is now a Windows version, but it was originally a Mac-exclusive program.

Keeping the plates a-spinning!

Scrivener is a one-stop program that contains, at least, some of the abilities of all of the programs and websites listed above. It’s a great program for ALL kinds of writing and has a huge set of options to exactly fit your needs.

Scrivener for Mac is $45, and for Windows is $40. I have no idea why there’s a price difference. Elves, perhaps?

So Get To It!

There are lots of resources for you out there. The important thing is doing whatever you can to make the process easier. I am certain in the bad old days of writing when it was just one person with a pen or typewriter battling out the muse in their heads, one reason that alcoholism was a writing hazard was because there wasn’t an easier way to do it.

So use the tools tech gave you, make a poem or a world, and get your words out there!