Tools of the Trade: Software for Geeky Writers


A lot goes into writing: the time, effort, sleepless nights, editing, copyediting, proofreading, artwork. Some tasks I hire others for: copyedits, proofreading, cover art, and some marketing. All told, it’s an expensive endeavor. All this and we haven’t discussed the tools that are part of the process.

So what ARE the tools of the trade? For me, this list could be MUCH longer than it already is, so I’ll stick to software. What software gets the job done? I can’t speak for other writers, but here’s my list:

Scrivener. Use: I live in Scrivener while writing. It holds all my research, separates scenes and chapters for MUCH faster writing and reviewing. I use it to outline, to create character profiles, places  and settings profiles, blurbs, ideas, notes. One scrivener file holds everything I need during a project. I don’t have to keep multiple apps open. I also use it to export my manuscripts. In the novel template I’ve created, I can export my manuscript to various formats with a few clicks: a double-spaced manuscript for my agent and editor with contact information, a simple double-spaced version for crit partners and beta readers, a single-spaced pre-formated Word file for used with my paperback template, epub files for Apple, Amazon, Kobo, Draft2Digital, and B&N’s Nook. I don’t know what I’d do without Scrivener.

A 2008 version of MS Office. Use: exchange manuscripts (Word) with my critique partners, agent, editor, copyeditor, proofreader. Since I’m a former tech nerd, I format all my indie books. I use Word in conjunction with other apps to create the paperback version of my books. I never use Powerpoint since learning Keynote, and rarely use Excel.

A 2009 version of Pages. Use: to speed up the creation of the paperback versions of my book. To upload the PDF version for the print version. To create flyers and other document/art centric marketing items. I also have the new version since it’s free from Apple. But there are enough features missing that I find I don’t use the new version much.

Numbers. I use the new version of numbers because it does what little I need it to do: keep simple spreadsheets for books sales and expenses.

Keynote. Although rarely used, either the new or old version of Keynote does a great job of adding text over photos for marketing purposes.

TextExpander. Like Scrivener, this is another must-have for me. A lot of this job is repetitive typing. TextExpander is a tool that expands text into words, phrases, and longer passages of text and graphics. From a super powerful on the fly spellchecker to expanding entire book descriptions, tweets, links, contact information, letters, and more —TextExpander saves the day. Example: typing HSsyn expands out to The Haunting Season’s  entire book description. Typing !hs expands out to the book’s title in italics (I have another for uppercase). Typing HSlinks expands out into all the vendor links. I use TE in conjunction with Scrivener to update the Also By page, the About the Author page, and so forth. There’s a lot more, but that would be a post all on its own.

WordPress. You’re here and reading this. Enough said.

Rafflecopter. It’s a great tool for contests.

1Password. With all the websites I visit and have accounts for (plus other information), 1Password keeps a different and secure login for all my stuff. I don’t have to look anything up and no two passwords are ever the same. With the exception of the password to 1Password and one other, I don’t have a clue what my passwords are. With two keystrokes, it’s all taken care of for me.

Omnifocus. It’s a task management system. While any number of much simpler and easier to use systems are out there, I chose Omnifocus Pro version to manage everything in my life. From home to work, to relationships to repeating tasks, it handles more complicated projects and keeps them out of my way until I need to see them. I send emails to it, clip web pages for later review, remind myself of what blog posts I want/need to write, and what tasks are left in any production schedule. There’s a corresponding iPad and iPhone app and everything just syncs like magic between them. No matter where I am, I can complete tasks or create new ones. It even has location reminders (although I haven’t used this feature yet). Like Scrivener, this app comes with a bit of a learning curve. If you think you’re in the market for an app like OF, take a look at their videos first. There’s also a lot of good ones on YouTube, and although I’ve yet to grab my own copy, my favorite Mac Geek, David Sparks, always does an incredible job with his field guide books. I highly recommend David’s field guides and he just happens to have one on Omnifocus. OF is probably his favorite app, so I’m confident his field guide is one of the best and fastest ways to learn and be up and running, ninja style, in no time. Also check out these sites: Simplicity Bliss and Asian Efficiency.

BusyCal. The best Mac calendar system, IMO. More features and flexibility than the baked-in calendar.

Fantastical. I know. TWO calendar apps? Well, no. Not really. Fantastical for the Mac works in conjunction with BusyCal. It exists in my menulet bar and easily allows me to enter calendar dates like: Booksigning Tues 7PM. The app instantly knows that I mean this Tuesday. The real power comes when I’m away from home. I simply tell the app to schedule a book signing Tues 7PM and it does the rest. Yes, I know. Siri can do it, too. But I’ve had Fantasical long before Siri got it right. I like the interface Fantastical brings to my iPhone far better than the basic calendar app, too. I can see forecasts and more.

Contacts. While I don’t like this app and would LOVE to have BusyContacts instead. The $49.95 price tag just not in my budget for now. Hey – I’m a starving artist, remember? BusyContacts is on my wish list. Anyway, Contacts is Apple’s baked-in app and it does a fair job.

Dropbox. I use Dropbox to share files with bloggers, street team members, and for my manuscripts while writing and traveling away from home. There are some caveats to using Dropbox with Scrivener – just make sure that you’ve closed down the app and project on your primary machine before moving it to Dropbox and vice versa. Only open your manuscript on ONE computer at a time and you’ll be perfectly fine. Need Dropbox? Do us both a solid and use my link. We both get 500 MB free disk storage.

Alfred. It’s like Apple’s Spotlight on steroids. I use it to find contacts in my address book, tell me the weather, find and open files without searching, do some iTunes things without actually having to stop what I’m doing and go into the app, open applications, convert type case, open browsers and sites in multiple tabs, do calculations, and more.

Evernote. It’s a cool way to jot down ideas when away from the house or anywhere where I have my iPhone or iPad, but not near a computer and I’m also without pad and pen.

NoteBook. I used to use this one a lot more than I do now, but it’s a great journaling application. Need to keep down notes on what you did, who you talked to, and other stuff? You might want to check this app out. It has an iPad version available as well, but I’ve never liked it much, which is why I use the much easier and intuitive Evernote. An alternative is Day One, although Notebook has a lot more uses and bells and whistles. The company who makes Notebook (Circus Ponies), has a great forum and a guy who creates a fantastic Day Planner for each new year for free.

Time Machine. While not perfect, it’s my first line of backups. Yes, I said first line. I never run with just one, and I also have a disaster recover plan, too.

Time Machine Editor. Because the sound of my backup drive going off every hour gets under my skin. With Time Machine Editor, I can change the frequency of my Time Machine backups.

Carbon Copy Cloner. My most trusted backup system. I also use it to make a clone of my machine and to make backups for off-site storage in case of theft or natural disasters like fire, tornadoes, etc.

Kindle App. I use it on my Mac and iPad to read and to verify my books look okay before release day.

Total Finder. It’s a better version of Apple’s own Finder. Easier to manipulate.

Apple Mail. Yep. I use the basic app that comes with my Mac. It just works. I also can’t live without the third-party apps available for it.

GMail. I use it because I always have and it’s free. I’d love to switch to FastMail one day, but for now, GMail gets the job done and is sort of playing nicely with my mail client of choice – Apple Mail.

SpamSieve. Because there’s always spam. Lots of it. Even with GMail’s filters. This one lets me add an email or entire domain to a spam list. It also learns which emails are spam and which are not over time. I think I’ve seen only 3-4 spam messages in my inbox over the last few weeks. My Junk Mail folder on my Mac and in Gmail always have a few hundred. So yeah, I get a LOT of spam. This is one of the third-party Apple Mail apps I can’t live without.

MailTags & Mail ActOn. I can instantly tag and file emails, send them to Omnifocus, flag messages, and set tickler dates to emails for later followup. I love these third-party Apple Mail apps.

Twitter. It’s the quick kiss of social media.

Facebook. I don’t care for FB (for many geeky and business reasons) but it’s useful for staying connected to those who love it.
G+. I like it better than FB, but it’s still a virtual ghost town. The groups inside it are much better laid out than FB though. I use it to find new reads and connect with writer communities.

Hootesuite. Sometimes, it’s just easier to see all your Twitter lists across a screen and engage that way. Hootesuite works for me.

Pomodoro – Mac version. While I could easily just set an egg timer on my desk or tell Siri to set a timer, the perameters I like to work in are configurable in this app. How long do I want to set for writing/task sprints and how long or short of a break do I want in between? This app allows me to do that.

Safari, Chrome, Firefox. Because each browser has it’s quirks, weaknesses and strengths. Plus, I use Chrome for financials only, and Firefox and Safari for the daily stuff.

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One thought on “Tools of the Trade: Software for Geeky Writers

  1. Great, as always. Poor starving writer. I’m crying a river .I was tired just reading the list. Now I can better understand when you say that you are overwhelmed. But as I am selfish, please keep writing.

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