As we get started in the new year and many of us begin working toward particular writing goals, it seemed a fitting time to share several of the writing tools that I’ve found most useful in my own process, in case they turn out to work well for you also. I’ve sorted them in terms of when I use them in my own writing process, going from outlining and prewriting all the way through editing and formatting. I hope you find the list helpful!
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Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
The first resource I want to mention is K.M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel*. This has been the most helpful outlining resource I’ve found; the structure laid out and the way Weiland expands on each point has been the best fit for me, personally, of any outlining resource I’ve worked with thus far.
I highly recommend checking out Structuring Your Novel if you want to find an outlining system that isn’t inherently too rigid, but can also be made more detailed if that’s more your style.
Side note: Since getting outlining to work better for me in general, I’d also like to return to The Writer’s Journey* by Christopher Vogler, which was my first introduction to story structure roughly a decade ago. It’s not an official part of this list since I haven’t read it since then, but I remember it being a strong resource if you like structuring your stories in a very classic, mythical manner.
For more on outlining, check out this guest post by Rose Atkinson-Carter.
World Anvil* is a tool I’ve talked about at length, but for those of you who are new here, World Anvil is one of my top worldbuilding tools. I love the organization, the ability to link articles together super easily, the visual aesthetic options for sharing a world, the map features, etc., etc. Plus, the developers really prioritize taking suggestions from their community of users and making the tool better for worldbuilders, which I greatly appreciate in any sort of tool like this.
Check out my post reviewing my favorite World Anvil features, try it out for yourself (you can do a fair amount with the free tier), and see if it works for you!
Pinterest is great for inspiration. Whether you need setting inspiration, character inspiration, a writing prompt, or whether you want to build a visual representation of some aspect of your story (the setting, for example), Pinterest is a great tool. I use this to keep track of aesthetics, to determine what some of my characters look like, I’ve used it to pick out character quirks, I have boards where I keep links to writing advice posts, I flesh out worlds through visuals on Pinterest… If you need any visual inspiration or development related to your project, Pinterest is the tool to use.
(To be honest, I don’t like Pinterest’s algorithms nearly as well now as when I started using it. Now I mostly use it if I know specifically what I’m looking for or looking to flesh out; I don’t browse for inspiration the same way I used to. But that can be influenced to some degree by who you follow, as well as whether you use Pinterest as a new user vs. someone used to the older functionality.)
I write to music, and while the music I listen to while writing has changed (I used to write exclusively to songs without lyrics; now it’s almost the opposite, lol), Spotify has always been my go-to tool for this. Just about any song, album, or artist you can think of can be found on Spotify, and it allows you to adjust the order of your playlists if you want (on desktop, anyway).
Though I will say I’ve had complaints with the advertising and with the company’s response (or lack thereof) to complaints from users regarding the marking of explicit content, so I’m grateful that my family is on Premium for the time being. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any other music-streaming app that has the same breadth of functionality as Spotify, or else that alternative would probably be on the list instead. :P
This is actually a tool I tend to forget about, but it’s always exciting to be reminded of it again because it’s such a cool tool!
Do you like the accountability, competition, and challenge of writing sprints but have trouble finding people to sprint with–or a time that everyone can coordinate for? If so, you should check out Fighter’s Block! Fighter’s Block is a sprinting tool that is set up to look like an RPG–you’re a hero fighting a monster, but your weapon is words! You set a word count goal, and every word you write weakens the monster. The monster’s weapon is time; if you let up on writing, he’ll slowly do more damage to your character until you start writing again and heal.
You can set your difficulty level to line up with your general writing speed (so the monster isn’t beating you up if you’re a slow writer, or giving you way too much time if you’re a faster writer), choose from a few different font and background options to set the tone, and unlock different hero characters the more you write with the tool.
It’s really cool; I definitely recommend checking it out if sprints and the like are something that motivate you.
Side note: If you’re interested in sprints with other writers, consider joining my Discord server! We do at least two sprinting sessions per week, and we’re currently working on developing a schedule that’s more frequent, accommodates more of the authors, but also doesn’t burn anyone out, lol.
When it comes to drafting (as well as outlining and editing, to some degree), Scrivener* is my go-to writing tool. I can keep my notes, my first draft, and consequent drafts all in one program and easily put different documents side-by-side for reference or editing. If I need to reference a character’s eye color, for example, I can just pop open my character sheet right beside my draft and keep on going. Or I can rewrite a scene in a new document while the old version is open for reference beside it.
Once I’m ready to move on to Word, I can easily export the files that are part of my draft into a single Word document and be ready for the next step. Plus, you can label scenes and/or chapters with custom labels (I’ve been using this for Lightning to easily spot whose POV a chapter is told from) and sort them by those labels–or see scenes/chapters with different labels lined up side-by-side by color (great if you want to look at POV distribution and consistency, for example).
Scrivener has a ton of features, half of which I probably don’t even use to their full potential yet, and you can use as many or as few of those features as you need. The vast capabilities don’t mean you can’t just use the simpler features as you need them; the interface isn’t automatically overwhelming (at least I didn’t personally think so), and it is, at its core, a word processor like Word or Google Docs.
Scrivener has a 30-day free trial (for 30 days of use rather than 30 consecutive days, if I recall correctly, which is a model I really appreciate), so you can poke around a bit and make sure it’s going to work for you before you invest in the full cost of the software.
Lastly for this list, I just use plain ol’ Microsoft Word. Primarily, I use Word once I’m into the final edits (last line edits and copy-edits, usually) and formatting. Word is the most reliable tool I’ve used thus far to format books and export them to PDF, so I try to keep my final edits in the same software. But I also use Word sometimes for the “braindump” part of my worldbuilding process, and there are certain books that I outline and write in Word because they feel nostalgic; since I didn’t start using Scrivener until later in my writing career, sometimes Word just feels more appropriate. Silly, I know, but it’s true.
I also think this is the best beginning writer’s tool. If you have a computer with Word installed, you are good to go. You don’t need all of the fancy tools in order to write, or write well. Do I think they’re useful? Absolutely. But try things out as you’re able, invest in what you’ll make good use of, and don’t feel pressured to use the “right” tools. The right tool is whatever is the best tool for you and your writing process, whether it’s fancy or simple.
With that, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite writing tools in the comments!
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