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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Top Five Tools For Writers (in today's writing environment)

Every writer has tools. Back in the old days they had a dictionary and/or a thesaurus—typewriters too, of course. When computers came around, it changed things, making it easier for folks to type up manuscripts and print them. Now that we're easily over two decades past the invention of the personal computer (and I'm guessing because I'm writing this from England and currently have no access to the Internet, which was something I took note in this post) it's interesting to think about all the various tools that have become staples in a writer's life—or at least in mine (since not all writers use all these tools and some even stick to older writer's tools).
So, I started to think about what might be considered the top five tools for writers in today's world, based exclusively on my personal opinion and on what I know are used by a majority of writers out there. I've intentionally left out things that I think are obvious: computers, laptops, word processors (of any description), and other things that have been around in some significant capacity.
Here goes (in order):
  1. Web or Software-based Dictionaries/Thesauri
    Possibly the best tool for any writer who makes use of the computer primarily for writing, these handy tools (such as WordWeb or put at your disposal an arsenal of definitions. I particularly like WordWeb, which makes getting definitions or spelling corrections as simple as a click on an icon in your taskbar, but pretty much any tool that makes it easier to find words while writing, without dragging out the process like the old dead-tree forms did, deserves to be on this list.
  2. Duotrope, Ralan, and Other Online Market Databases
    It used to be that not too long ago you had to either already know about the places you were going to submit to or you had to buy one of those Writer's Digest Market Guides in order to figure out where to send your work. Now we have all sorts of market databases, some of them specific to certain genres (Ralan) and some pretty much wide open (Duotrope). These have made it not only easier for writers, but also easier for small publishers (particularly magazines) to make themselves known to all sorts of writers out there. 
  3. Critique Services, Forums, and Social Networking
    I don't know how writers managed to get along without places like Critique Circle or the various forums dedicated to improving one's writing (such as Young Writers Online—shameless plug). Such places have truly revolutionized how we do writing groups and critiques. Add into that the incredible tool that is Social Networking, in all its various forms (Facebook, Myspace, or even writing specific sites), and you have a collection of endlessly useful things for any writer in today's highly tech-based world.
  4. Database and Note-Taking Software
    Evernote, StickIt, Freemind, and even Microsoft's various versions of those programs have all contributed, in my opinion, to making the writing world what it is today. Such programs offer a wide range of ways of keeping track of your writing, and even ways of organizing information about one's SF/F worlds. Wasn't too long ago that a writer had to waste reams of paper and countless hours in order to develop and organize all the necessary world building bits. Now all you have to do is have the right program and typing skills (handy knowledge of quick keys doesn't hurt either).
  5. The Internet
    This is number one only because I am intentionally ignoring the drawbacks. As a tool, the Internet puts at any writer's disposal everything from marketing to research. There are encyclopedias, forums, blogs, music sites, databases, etc. (the list is literally endless). No matter what kind of writer you are (whether you write genre fiction or literary fiction), the Internet offers just about everything you could possibly need as far as improving your writing is concerned (or improving the realism of your prose). Now, if only you could cut out all the drawbacks (the Internet is a time sink, after all), then it'd be the perfect tool.
What tools do you use for writing? Leave a comment and let me know. I might discover something new and interesting!

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  1. Wow; I use Word documents for almost everything. And I rarely use online dictionaries, except every once in a while. I'll have to check out your tools.

    I do use TiddlyWiki for my gazetteers. I have a gazetteer for each of my novels; In it goes every worldbuilding fact, as I come up with them. It's a lot of fun to play with, too!

  2. TiddlyWiki? I'll have to check that out. I'm curious as of late about your writing...I want to read some of it at some point in the future when my reading pile isn't 2,000 books high :P.

  3. An alternative to Evernote is UberNote-it doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but is much easier to use.

    Jarte is an excellent free word processing program based on Wordpad.
    yWriter5 is also very good, but geared toward fiction writers.

    And then there's all the Google apps. I'll send you the sites thru StumbleUpon.

  4. Thanks for the suggestions, seekerpat! Great ones for sure and helpful for anyone else who sees this post.