As with any profession, there are tools of the writing trade that will carry an author from their first book to their last. There are a bunch of other tools that are fun to use, and sometimes even useful, but don’t get hauled out of the toolbox very often. As with any tradesman, we carry lots of tools, but we’re most comfortable with a small handful. We like they way they feel to our hands and our imagination. There are also tools we may never touch, but we have them, just in case… you know… because you never know what the new book might need to give it a certain edge, texture, or polish.
I have a large arsenal of tools. I have my phone with a Bluetooth headset and a small hand-held tape recorder (from my days as a newspaper reporter) for dictation. Because even if it is the most amazing idea ever… I learned early that it’s not really a smart plan to write what Drake quacks at me while driving a 5-speed manual transmission, on the freeway at 70mph, with a ball point pen and notebook on the seat of your car. That ticket took me a little while to pay off. Moreover, I’m lucky we both lived through it.
I have multiple screens for my computer because I like to have one open for research, one for writing, and a third for email and social media (or during NaNoWriMo, the Discord server). I use a bunch of websites, some of which are listed in another article, HERE. Someday I’ll update the list. Plus, a bunch of “extracurricular” software tools that I use to do specific things while I’m planning my projects. I use them for things like developing deep-dive character maps, to design marketing materials, and book covers. I have one that makes e-book layout in multiple formats so easy I actually enjoy doing it, and I have a day planner software to keep my calendar so I can stay focused and not completely lose my mind from overwhelm. I also have the obligatory portable back up hard drives because sometimes clouds explode into monsoons, and all is lost. I’ll save the details about my “sometimes” tools for a future article.
To be safe, and because sometimes it can be invigorating to “get back to basics”, I have analog tools, too. I use writing craft reference books and writer’s magazines. My shelves, and my tablet, are full of them. I have a collection of “feel good in my hand” pens that I use for Galley edits (and actual writing, when I’m out in the world, away from electricity… which, oddly enough, happens fairly often). Finally, I have a stack of empty notebooks and reams of paper, along with a home binding machine to help keep my hardcopy archives together… because you never know when we’ll be hit with an EMP and be forced to go back to crafting on paper.
But out of all of these, I would say my favorite and most effective tool is a keyboard. When I was much younger, I was forced to write most everything by hand – which I hated. I’ve never enjoyed looking at my own penmanship… it’s just not that attractive to me. After a long writing session, my fingers tend to seize and writing can become painful (more so now that I’m getting older). A pen in my hand can never keep up with the ideas flowing from Drake’s imagination to me for translation and development. However, long-hand writing is beneficial when I write in my daily journal. It forces me to slow down and really think about what I’m writing… but that’s a study in meditation more than it is my passion for creative writing.
Even though I railed against my mother forcing typing class on me in High School, I am grateful for the torture. If not for typing, my stories would never have graduated from poofs of quacked concepts to physical books. I wrote my poetry collection, Ideate Avail (my first book), in my very early 20s, on an old Underwood manual typewriter that my Grandfather gave me. This is when I learned that writing is an endurance sport. I can’t tell you how many times I retyped entire pages until they were perfect. In those days, I thought White Out was cheating. I was tremendously grateful when electric typewriters and then computers came along. I probably never would have written a second book if not for the advancement of technology. Insert, copy, delete, and undo are four of my favorite words in the writing craft. I still keep that typewriter close to my desk. Not only is it a beautiful reminder of my Grandfather, it also reminds me that there is nothing magical about the writing process. It takes focus, work, and tenacity. Writing isn’t “play”, although most of the time it is fun. Writing is serious business, not for the faint of heart.
This brings me to my favorite tool, Writing Software, the focus of today’s article. I’ve used a few different software packages over the years. Simple text programs just weren’t enough for me. As my writing evolved, and I became more aware the importance Passionate Plotting was to Drake and me, I frequently went on pilgrimages to discover a software tool that would do everything I wanted it to… and I found several. Some didn't work for me, some I loved but are no longer available, and others worked for a short time, but left me wanting more.
About one, or maybe two years ago… I can’t recall the exact year now… many things about the COVID era are blurry for me… I discovered my current software love, Plottr. This is an amazingly well-developed tool! It started out as an elegantly simple writing tool that included a timeline and writing dashboard for plot points, plus space to develop characters. I found the fluidity of moving through plot points and writing directly inside the program a delight.
Since I made my discovery, the software has evolved into an incredible tool that keeps answering every “I wish” request Drake makes. It not only has a timeline with an integrated outline, but detailed plot point writing space, character development and place development spaces, a fantastic collection of “get started” templates, character templates, story bibles to keep all your stuff organized, color coding for almost everything, tagging features, the power of drop and drag rearranging of your outline without losing continuity, and so many other incredible features… PLUS, it exports to MS Word. This is important for that final edit and layout process.
Not to mention… but I will mention it (haven’t you always found that an odd phrase?) They are constantly adding more features, every month, or so it seems.
Aside from all these wonderful things that make writing with Plottr a joy, the price is astounding! At the time of this writing, to have this program installed on one device is just $25 per year! For three devices, it’s just $45! Nope, that’s not a typo. It’s really THAT inexpensive. Go visit their website and look it up for yourself!
I’ve got it installed on my laptop and my tablet. I save my documents to my cloud storage… but now, they’ve just come out with a new version, called PRO (available shortly), which will sync across devices, seamlessly! That, and this new version does a bunch of other nifty stuff, too. I can’t say enough about the wonderful customer and technical support, and the great tutorials and video walk-throughs. These fine people make it very easy to fall in love with their program. I hope this company never goes out of business. I can’t imagine finding another writing software package that meets all of my needs and is as intuitive to use.
Okay, look, I’m not a paid spokesperson, or even an affiliate. They’ve given me a way to be rewarded for my referrals, but for the price they’re NOT charging me to use this fantastic software, I’d rather they keep the money to work on the next development version. I’m telling you about this software because I use it… every day. I have seen how it has improved my writing process, and I want to help you find a tool that perhaps helps you, too.
Not all writers are Passionate Plotters. I have lots of friends who are dye-in-the-wool Pantsers. I have friends who still love to write long-hand and produce 400-page novels doing it that way… J.A. Bullen, I’m looking at you! I’m not quite sure how you do it, but the fact that you do it in a way that works for you is Sacred to me… not to mention, but I will, Fascinating.
As I’ve said in blog articles and on social media posts before, one of the things I love best about our writing community is that there is no “one” way to do it “right”. Artists find different tools and methods that work best for them through their creation process. It makes the work more interesting to watch at a creation level, as well as more lovely to enjoy at an audience level. I LOVE that about us!
Not all writers will use this software to its fullest extent, either. You don’t have to. But if you’re a writer who enjoys having a bit of a plan, and someplace to keep that plan organized, I can’t think of a better tool to help you do that than Plottr.
1/1/2022 08:25:55 pm
A very interesting bit of insight to the organizational outlook of a fiction writer. I never really thought about the nuts a bolts of character development being such a science; but I can see how keeping proper records of your cast would increase efficiency, close loose ends and complete loops in the story line. // I personally write by memory alone but understand the need for bookkeeping of characters when you have a large interacting group of them. Us non-fiction writers catch a break, as telling the truth is always easy to remember. When making up a story you can get tripped up and keeping records of the characters in their entirety I think makes them believable. Nothing snaps you out of the trance of being in the story faster than an obvious mistake in the character. When reading good fiction I like to forget it's fiction all together. Hat's Off to you Diane for keeping fiction real.
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