writing

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.
 

NaNoWriMo Ends Tomorrow. What's the Next Step?

Maybe you’re one of the tens of thousands who achieved the dream. Did your toil, anxiety, and frustration pay off with a 50,000-word manuscript that makes you beam with pride and accomplishment? If so, we offer you a heartfelt congratulations and rejoice with you. If you think you have the first draft of your novel, check out our posts about how to proceed with the editing process and get your book published.

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If you fell short, that’s okay. You’re in good company—hundreds of thousands of participants are in the same boat. Life may have gotten in the way and spoiled your plans (life’s favorite pastime), or you may have just lost steam. But what did you accomplish? Did you write more than you had in months? Did you finally figure out how to fill in that plot hole that had been perplexing you? Did you develop any positive writing habits that you can build on to eventually accomplish your goal?

Most importantly, there’s something you, a writer, must remember. NaNoWriMo is never really over. This may be the last thing you want to hear right now, but on December 1st, NaNoWriMo Part II: The Revenge of WriMo begins. On New Year’s Day, we start NaNoWriMo Part III: Return to WriMo. Okay, so maybe these aren’t formally organized events you participate in with three- or four-hundred-thousand of your fellow writers, but every month—every day—is still about working toward that shiny word count and finishing your manuscript.

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Try these tips to prepare to jump back on the horse after NaNoWriMo is over.

For the love of all that is good and holy, get some sleep

If you met your word-count goal, or even came close, you likely were not focused on self-care and healthy habits this November. Make sure you’re doing what you can to practice good sleep hygiene. And yes, the article in that link includes the dreaded advice to stay away from electronic screens before bedtime. If the likelihood of staying off your laptop (i.e., not writing) during one of the few precious free hours of your day seems as laughable to you as it does to us, at least try an app like f.lux that changes the color of your screen based on the time of day. Better sleep makes for a better brain, which makes for better writing.

Take this time to set new goals

One of the appealing elements of NaNoWriMo is the pre-set goal. You try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which breaks down to about 1,667 words a day. The black-and-white, set-in-stone rules of the event make it easy to stay focused on what you’re supposed to accomplish. But once December comes, you may find yourself feeling a bit lost. The idea of trying to bust out 50,000 words a month (particularly during the holiday season) may feel unrealistic. But that doesn’t mean you should cruise along aimlessly.

Decide now what manageable daily, weekly, or monthly goals look like for your schedule. Write them down. If you need to adjust them each month, each semester, or to your time constraints or life circumstances, do it. Flexibility and adaptability is key to staying the course in the long term. But write your goals down every time you change them, and never abandon them altogether. Even a hundred words a week during a busy or rough time in your life can help you keep up the momentum.

Find accountability partners

Another element of NaNoWriMo that helps participants push toward the end goal is the accountability factor. There were literally hundreds of thousands of people all over the world battling through the writer’s block, plot speedbumps, and late nights alongside you. You were able to connect with your fellow warriors online to encourage and commiserate with one another. But once November’s over, everyone leaves their comrades and goes back to a solitary writer’s existence.

Now is the time to build yourself a new group of motivated writers to engage with. Workshopping is an invaluable tool if you can find a group of people who understand your genre and challenge you to improve. Not interested in workshopping? Grimace at the thought of having to endure scrutiny if you don’t have new pages at each group meeting? There are plenty of groups out there that just offer support, encouragement, and accountability.

NaNoWriMo may be over for this year, but you are a writer for life. Take a moment to rest, plan, and build a support network, and every month can be NaNoWriMo (but with more sleep).

Making Healthy Habits: How Writing Helps Your Body

If you’re a writer, it may come as no surprise to you that writing is like gifting your brain with a neural massage. Besides enhancing your memory and problem-solving skills, picking up the mighty pen can actually help fight off symptoms of depression and encourage feelings of well-being. But what about the physical benefits? Can pumping lead and ink actually lead to a healthier body?

The answer is yes! In fact, numerous studies have shown that writing—particularly expressive writing, though copywriting has some health benefits as well—can actually improve immune function, organ function, and more!

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In 2016, PsychCentral.com published an article titled “The Health Benefits of Journaling.” While the article mostly focuses on the mental benefits of writing (it “[clarifies] your thoughts and feelings,” helps you to “know yourself better,” “[reduces] stress,” helps you “solve problems more effectively,” and “resolve disagreements with others”), the study it pulls from points to some real benefits for the body!

Researcher and psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas believes that writing can enhance immune function. Working with HIV/AIDS patients, Pennebaker found that “patients who wrote about life experiences measured higher on CD4 lymphocyte counts—a gauge of immune functioning—than did controls.” What this tells us is that writing about stress helps us let go of it, which in turn, helps us fight off disease and other illnesses.

One study conducted by Dr. Joshua Smyth of Syracuse University, published in Journal of the American Medical Association, found similar results. As APA.org reports, in the study, Smyth had seventy-one asthma and arthritis patients write for twenty minutes a day, three consecutive days a week, about “the most stressful event of their lives.” Another thirty-seven patients wrote about regular daily activities. After four months, test results showed that the seventy-one patients who had written about their stress had “improved more and deteriorated less” than the control group (the group of thirty-seven).

Now, according to the British journal Advances in Pediatric Treatment, expressive writing (writing about a traumatic or emotional experience) can have some incredible long-term effects, including “reduced blood pressure, improved lung function, improved liver function,” and “improved mood.” This resulted in fewer hospitalizations due to stress, as well as better attendance at work and even improved grades and athletic performance.

If that sounds like a wide circle of healing, that’s because it is! A variety of studies have gone on to show physical improvements in a large number of patients suffering from all sorts of debilitating problems—from chronic pain to cystic fibrosis to poor sleep—and their progress is linked to expressive writing.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, Bill Nye, but my writing is about dragons and knights—not my own experiences.” That’s fine! The magic of all this (or rather the scientific awesomeness) is that the very act of writing can have a physical impact upon the body, as well as the mind. Remember how I said even copywriting can help? Why not take a look at this article by NeuroRelay.com? According to them, copywriting can be just as beneficial to the mind as meditation: “Your breathing slows down and you get into a ‘zone’ where words flow freely from your head. This can make stream of consciousness writing a very effective method for de-stressing.”

So whether you’re copywriting for BodyBuilding.com or building up your body with a daily journal exercise, the good news is, you’re doing a body good. In fact, if you’re looking for the cure to the common cold, why not start with the diary you keep under the mattress?

 

A few tips for expressive writing:

  1. Conduct your expressive writing in a private, comfortable space without distractions.

  2. Try to write for three to four consecutive days each week.

  3. Set aside time in your schedule to make this a priority, and remember it takes 21 days to form a habit. After that, the urge to sit down to write should come more naturally.

  4. Write for 20 minutes each day, followed by 10 minutes of meditation.

  5. Do not feel limited by structure—write in whatever format makes the most sense to you.

  6. Write about your emotions and thoughts. Feel free to explore your relationships (romantic or otherwise) in reference to those emotions and thoughts. Let your writing explore your past, present, and future—who you are and who you would like to be. Don’t worry if your writing stays on one topic for some time. Move on to other topics at your own pace.


 

Sources:

Bridget Murray, “Writing to Heal,” American Psychological Association 33, no. 6 (June 2002).

“How Does Writing Affect Your Brain?” NeuroRelay, August 7, 2013.

Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, “Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing,” Advances in Pediatric Treatment 11 (April 2005).

Maud Purcell, “The Health Benefits of Journaling,” Psych Central, July 17, 2016.