Helpful Writing Tools (for me at least)
Writing is always a journey for me. I start off with a concept in mind but as I write that concept is always in a state of flux. That isn’t to say that my ideas are scattered and my writing is all over the place but rather I am always evaluating my work as I go. I can have a very firm idea for what I want to have happen but as I start putting that into writing the idea may feel cliche or boring so I change elements of that passage. Of course, as I change elements of that passage then there are possible ramifications to what comes next or maybe to what came earlier that needs to be addressed.
This constant state of fluidity requires that I try to pay extra close attention to a wide variety of details put into my work. Character names, physical traits, background details, family histories, town names, geographical locations, and a smorgasbord of other details.
Then, let’s not forget all the wonderful punctuation and grammar rules in the English language. When do I use s’, vs. ‘s, vs s’s? I can’t always remember which I need. I do good to keep up with the “I before e except after c” and even that is not always the truth. Spelling and punctuation are incredibly easy to get wrong and when you’re dealing with a large manuscript consisting of tens of thousands of words the odds of errors being sprinkled throughout your work are exceedingly high.
But if there is one thing that I have found in this journey of trying to become an author is that no two authors do things the same. Some use post-it notes. Some use notepads/notebooks. Some use index cards. Some use digital tools. Some use a combination of approaches. Some use pen and paper. Some use word processors. The options are near endless.
Honestly, it seems to be a “to each, his own” situation because different people organize things differently. What works for me may not work for you but I want to share what works for me in case someone is struggling in their process and looking to see how others do it.
For organization, notes, and rough writing I use Microsoft’s OneNote product. You can register for a free OneDrive account that gives you the ability to use OneNote and have whatever you type get saved to their cloud system. To me, the big advantage to that is that I can access OneNote from any device, my phone, my laptop, my tablet, even someone else’s device, and always see what I entered before from any other devices. The fact that I can work in my office on my laptop to start something and then continue working on that entry from my phone while sitting in the car waiting for my kid to come out of school is amazing.
Some of the more physical options like post-it notes and notebooks require additional components to be where you to work whereas I always have my phone with me so I can work on my manuscripts at any time from any location.
Likewise with my notes, I also use OneNote to write my rough drafts. Each book chapter is entered into OneNote as its own “Page”. This allows me to write a massive amount of data but not have to worry about maintaining a large file or inadvertently introducing errors into previous entries. Each “Page” in OneNote is saved separately so if I’m working on Chapter 2 then there is no way for me to accidentally hit a button to jump my cursor into the middle of Chapter 1 causing the entire work to get jumbled. Any keystroke errors are largely going to be limited to Chapter 2 because that is the only content in that “Page”.
And let’s not forget that since OneNote is saved to Microsoft’s cloud that most, if not all, of my work is recoverable if something crashes on my devices. If I’m working on my laptop and my hard drive dies, only any part of my most recent work that had not uploaded to the cloud would be lost. On the flip side, if I’m working and the Internet goes down, I can keep working with the data being saved locally and then, when the Internet comes back, my changes will be synchronized to the cloud and accessible again to other devices. It’s great!
The one downside for OneNote, I will add, is that there is little in the way of proofing. OneNote does have a spellchecker capability and custom entries can be added to the OneNote dictionary but OneNote does absolutely no punctuation checks, verb tense validations, or anything of that sort. Any line editing or copy editing that you want to do in OneNote is largely a manual effort with no built-in functionality to provide suggestions or highlight known errors.
The fact that OneNote lacks some basic editing functions is not a big deal to me though. This is because while I can use OneNote to organize and manage my chapters, notes, and more, I ultimately have to move my work into a word processor. Most submissions are required to be in a standard .doc/.docx format or a .pdf. Since OneNote can’t easily produce documents of those formats I have to copy my work from OneNote and paste it into a word processor like Microsoft Word.
Word has a built-in editor that checks for errors, highlights errors, and offers suggestions to fix those errors. But even on top of that, Grammarly is a nice application that can integrate into Word to perform additional editing checks and suggestions. Grammarly offers both a free version and a paid version. Now, I’m not here to tell you which version is best for you but like with most things, the paid version offers more services, suggestions, and things that some authors may find helpful in maximizing the quality of their work.
In addition to the editing options available in my word processor, word processors offer a number of formatting options that are not in OneNote. Things like line spacing, first line indenting, and footers are not in OneNote but are critical to creating reader-friendly formatted texts that you want when submitting works to publishers. In fact, most publishers will document very specific formatting requirements that they each may have that authors are expected to meet in order to have their works considered. The variety of publisher requirements are easier to define and apply when dealing with a single document and not individual Pages in OneNote.
I know to some that may sound like a good case for skipping OneNote and doing all of my writing in a word processor but I like the separation of chapters into different Pages. It is what works for me.
But what happens after I’ve done all of the writing and have let my word processor and Grammarly checks identify my many mistakes?
In the beginning, that was it for me. It was a lot of repetitive editing, reading, revising, and looking for mistakes that were missed in the last round. With my first book, The Ascension Legacy - Book 1: The Shamed Ranger, I went round and round a few times editing in Word before agreeing to work with my publisher, Newman Springs Publishing, to have my ideas turned into a for real book.
During the editing process, the editors provided not only corrections for my work but also explanations on why some of those changes were suggested by them. Things like not using quotes around thoughts of characters. Quotes are reserved for spoken dialogue, not internal thoughts. Those types of silent dialogue are indicated by being italics.
I took those lessons and edited the next book in the series, The Ascension Legacy - Book 2: A Legend Confirmed, applying the concepts the editors had applied to my first book. But, while applying those changes was a big help when going through the publishing processes to get book 2 into final print, the process itself actually did little to improve the quality of my writing.
When dealing with literature, quality is not just based on the lack of errors in the content, the print quality on the pages, and cover art that is attention getting. Quality books also need quality writing. Things like having a proper flow, a solid story structure, the right mix of narration to dialogue, and even the appropriate use of adverbs in adjectives while not having an over dependence on a few select words.
These types of issues can be hard to find for a lot of authors. I mean, I read each manuscript for my books dozens of times and failed to find a lot of them. Copy editors and creative writing editors can sometimes provide feedback to help identify, and maybe even offer suggestions on how to fix these problems but those types of services come with a cost, a cost not everyone is always prepared to pay.
Luckily, I found help in that area too with another tool. I found a website called Authors.ai that allows you to upload your manuscript to have it analyzed in minutes by their AI algorithm. Their AI tool scans your uploaded manuscript and within minutes emails you a rather comprehensive breakdown for your work.
And just like with Grammarly, there is a free version and a paid version where the paid version provides additional details and checks for more things. It works similarly to autocrit.com if anyone reading this is familiar with that tool but Authors.ai seems to provide more feedback in their free version by comparison and I like having the reports automatically emailed me to unlike the default web interface of autocrit.com
I will say that after using the free version with a few of my manuscripts awaiting publication and seeing the results there, I have switched to a paid account and have used it with great satisfaction. The next book in The Ascension Legacy series is almost ready to go out to my publisher to start the journey to becoming a real book but only after I have made some tweaks to my work based on the reports from Authors.ai to try and ensure the highest quality work possible for my target audience.
Again, these are just things that work for me but may not work for you. Each writer, like their stories, are unique and will do things differently but that does not mean that they are wrong. OneNote, Microsoft Word, Grammarly, and Authors.ai are tools that I have found to work great for me. I encourage others who want to write to at least check them out as they may find them useful too.
Happy writing and best of luck.
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