Brainstorming

3 Tech Tools to Make Writing Your Book a Little Easier

Writing a book might seem like a monumental task, and, well, it is. But there are tools out there that can make every stage of the process a little simpler and better organized, so you can focus on your ideas and the writing. Check out these handy apps, websites, and software tools that will make that mountain you’re climbing a little easier to summit.

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Brainstorming: MindNode

When you’re in brainstorming mode for your next book or writing project, mind mapping can be a great way to generate and record ideas. You can mind map on paper, of course, but MindNode helps you to organize and share your mind maps. It even takes care of the visual layout for you. Just type your ideas, and the app does the rest.

Also, unlike paper, you can easily reconfigure parts of your mind maps as they evolve. This is especially helpful when you’re first figuring out the basic outline of your story or a character’s arc. If you need to see your mind map in a more linear way, you can switch to outline mode and expand and collapse parts of your document as needed.

MindNode is free, and available for Mac and iOS only.

 

Writing: Scrivener

Writing a book, or any large document, can be a daunting task. Scrivener offers several features to make it go a little easier. If you’re like me, you don’t strictly write your story from beginning to end. This software allows you to break up your project by scene, chapter, or paragraph to make it more manageable, then edit as if it were one document.

At this point, you may be already done with the prep work. But even if you’re halfway through writing your book, it’s still easy to move your project to Scrivener to simplify the rest of the process. Import research or drafts from other word-processing software, as well as images, PDFs, sound files, and movies.

Some of the best assets of this software are its organization tools. Keep your ideas in one place—and move them around at will—with the corkboard. Virtual index cards allow you to organize and arrange characters, scenes, and plot points. The Outliner tool gives you an overview of your manuscript, or even just a section or chapter. You can drag and drop to reorganize anything.

With Scrivener, you can create templates, like character or location sheets, that you can use over and over. And you can use the app’s ready-to-go MLA and APA templates and footnote support for academic papers and non-fiction.

Different viewing modes can make your task easier, whether you need more information or as little as possible. There’s no need to switch back and forth between tabs. You can view up to four different documents in the same project window at the same time. Check a previous chapter for consistency, translate or transcribe a passage, or describe an image. You can also use full-screen mode to block out distractions and see only your text.

Scrivener even helps with motivation and productivity by allowing you to set word-count goals for your whole manuscript. Set goals for this week or just today’s writing session, and easily see how much you’ve written each day.

When your manuscript or paper is done, export your finished document to any file format and font you need, and even create an e-reader version for self-publishing or proofreading.

Scrivener is available for Windows and Mac. It costs $45 for a standard license ($38.25 for students and academics), and mobile versions can be purchased separately.

 

Proofreading: Natural Reader

Have you ever typed “had” but you meant “head”? Natural Reader will read your text aloud to you, so you’ll be able to hear those mistakes that spell-check isn’t smart enough to catch.

Your brain is the original version of autocorrect, causing you to miss mistakes in your writing as you read. Hearing your words read aloud is a useful weapon in the battle for typo-free text.

You can choose from dozens of voices with different accents, languages, ages, and genders for  a custom listening experience. Is the speaker in your story a young British boy? No problem. Hear your text as though the character were reading it to you.

If you hate robotic voices, you may want to sample Natural Reader anyway—it doesn’t get all the intonations and inflections of your text correct, but it’s certainly better than some auto-readers I’ve tried. It also offers a pronunciation editor if the voice just can’t seem to say your characters’ names correctly.

You can use Natural Reader on their website (with free, premium, and premium plus plans), or download it as software.
 

How to Brainstorm for Your Next Novel

If you’ve never written a book, you might think the first step in writing a novel is putting chapter one down on paper. You may be right (writing is, after all, subjective), but for most authors, writing a book is a lot like sex: You’ve got to start with the foreplay. Er … brainstorming.

There are likely some writers out there who don’t need any sort of warm-up. They’re in, they’re out, and voila! They’ve finished … an 80,000-word book. But they’re the exception, not the rule. Face it: Most of us need a little assistance—in the form of lists, timelines, webs, character maps, and notes. These methods of preparation keep us on track, guide us through our writer’s block, and remind us of the happy ending we’re shooting for. Sure, you’re not likely to have all the little details sorted out prior to page one, but thinking ahead to at least chapter ten will help you keep your characters straight.

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If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, you’re in good company—so are we! But if you haven’t sat down yet to think about what kind of book you want to write, you’d better get going! It’s not too late to set down a few key notes prior to writing your first 1,667 words. Remember, a good book is built on a solid foundation. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your NaNoWriMo novel. Having some idea of its beginning and end will help ensure the 50,000 words in between are all moving in the right direction.

Here are our favorite brainstorming tips to help you make the most of your month of novel writing, and remember—if you get stuck, we’re here to help!

Storyboarding

If you’re a visual person, storyboarding may be just the brainstorming strategy for you. Imagine, for instance, you’re writing a 1920s mystery novel. Your job is to cover a wall in pictures that will bring your story to life. Group them however makes sense. Photos or drawings of people who look like your main characters over here; sketches of clues and red herrings over there. If you have some visuals of the main plot points, use thumb tacks and a piece of yarn to string the whole thing together like in The Flash and Riverdale—you know, like real detectives do. The objective here is to get more than just a mental picture of your book.

Interested in putting together a storyboard? Check out some more tips and tricks in this article for Writer’s Digest.

Story Web

This is another more visual form of brainstorming, though I would argue it’s more writing than drawing! It’s possible you learned this tool in elementary school, in preparation for those fussy DWA essays. The best part about webs is they can have as many threads as you want. Your only limitation is the size of your paper. For me, I like to put my first circle in the middle, filled in with the unofficial title of my book or chapter. Then, I work my way out. Maybe I draw three circles around the first and label them beginning, middle, and end. Then around each of these, I draw several smaller bubbles, each noting a key plot point for that section. From there, I can draw connections between bubbles in various places on the page to show how a plot point in the beginning might come back in the end, or how one character might be linked with another.

For more tips on story webs, check out this post from The Pen & The Pad.

Timeline

For very linear thinkers, timelines make the most sense. Essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The simplest method is to turn your paper hot-dog style and draw a horizontal line across the page. This is your timeline. From there, jot down a few notes about the major plot points you’ve thought about for your book, placing them along the timeline in the order that they’ll occur. If it’s helpful, make a note between the points regarding how long each gap should take. Some books, like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or The Sun is Also a Star take place in the span of just twenty-four hours. If Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Nicola Yoon were the types to outline by timeline, the time between plot points would only be minutes or hours. Given how much story is packed into each of these amazing reads, such an outline likely would have been helpful, reminding the author what’s already happened, what’s still to come, and what the rest of the world is likely doing simultaneous to the characters’ actions, given the time of day. In books spanning months or years, this kind of outline is particularly essential.

Of course, timelines don’t have to look like the back page of your high school history report. As published author Mindy Klasky writes in her blog, some authors go so far as to create detailed spreadsheets.

 

Whatever your organizational style, the main takeaway here is to give brainstorming a try! Chances are, you’ll find that the more notes you take, the more story you’ll uncover. If your idea is truly a good one, that story web will almost write itself.

Already done with your brainstorming sesh? Tell us your tips and tricks below!