Useful Tools for Writers

When I first started working on my novel, I struggled a little as I was unprepared in terms of knowing what tools I may need to make the creative process run smoother. So to save some of you the hassle of having to run around in the world wide web searching for which sites, software and other writing resources you could use, I’ve made a short list of all the tools that have helped me ease into writing.

  1. Scrivener (~£43): I initially started on Microsoft Word, and although it gets the job done, it doesn’t offer as much as Scrivener does for book writers. It has all the typical functions of other word processors but it also does so much more. You can do away with your five binders filled with notes and keep it all organized within Scrivener. You can import all your research and plans, photos and other bits of whatever inspires your work and store it all in one place, which I find to be way more efficient. Plus, it has cool tools like a name generator and direct Google links for dictionary/thesaurus searches. However, I do have to point out that Scrivener takes some getting used to. Learning your way around all of its features and functions may take time and commitment, but once you get a basic handle on it, it becomes a lifeline for your writing. Well, it is for mine, but whatever works for you!
  2. Scapple (~£17): Scapple is basically a large, digital piece of brainstorming paper. It is a mind mapping tool for anyone that does anything writing related as it allows the user to note down their ideas and form connections. You can see how this could be useful for plotting a story or developing a character.
  3. Google Keep (free): Personally, I use the Keep app on my phone as a handy notepad to quickly jot down an idea or some other kind of inspiration, while I’m out and about. I’ve realized – the hard way – that my memory isn’t that good, and no, I will not remember that super unique name I just heard in the supermarket by the time I get back to my laptop.
  4. Quora (free): If you need a question answered by an expert on the subject, then there’s bound to be one in Quora. You can find so much random and specific information in there, it really is a little research haven.
  5. Behind the Name – Generator (free): A useful tool to generate a name for your character. You can choose to generate a first name, middle name, a surname, with options to choose gender and origin. It can even generate a life story if you’re looking for that extra bit of detail or inspiration.
  6. Ted Talks (free): You can find a lot of information from the huge variety of topics that Ted Talks covers. Plus, they’re really interesting and as a writer, I try to expose myself to a lot of different subjects. You never know when inspiration will strike.
  7. Grammarly (free/premium at monthly subscription): I’ve only recently tested out the free version of Grammarly and I think it can be a very useful tool for writers, whatever their level or platform of writing. It can check and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar (and more) and boost the users writing style by improving their knowledge of the English language.
  8. Books: Yep. Just books. Reading other books is one of the best tools a writer can use. Whether they’re related to your genre of writing or not, or books about writing, you really should read as much as you can. And it doesn’t have to be costly. There are plenty of options in second-hand stores, and public libraries are a great way to keep your shelves clear and your purse (or wallet) shut.

I’m sure there are probably hundreds of other tools out there that other writers have found useful, but the ones listed above are what keep me going in this endeavour. If you have any that you’d like to share with the rest of us, please drop it in the comments!

What I’ve Learned About Writing A Novel In One Year

It has been exactly one year since I started writing my first novel. I am currently 50,000 words into my first draft (which is roughly 49.5k words more than any other story I’d ever started and abandoned) and have another 45 to 50k-ish to go.

In 365 days there’s a lot to learn and discover about yourself, the type of story teller you are and the art of writing in general. I think it’s fair to say that I have changed and developed quite a bit since the start of this WIP.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned about writing and being a writer in the past year:

  • Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, the most important thing is to actually write and stick to it. It’s no use planning, planning and planning, or coming up with a hundred different ideas in the span of a minute if you never start writing.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. You know I mentioned all the stories that I abandoned after a measly 500 words? Well, that was me being a pantser. I thought I could make it up as I go but I’d always give up at the first sign of a dreaded plot hole. And when I finally decided on what to write for my current WIP, I thought I had to plan every little detail in advance to actually be able to write coherently. However, the further into the story I got, the more I veered off the minor details and changed around some major events. Now I know that there’s a middle ground – for me, at least (writers work in different ways). A basic list of plot points, a quick timeline and very simple character profiles would have been sufficient for me to work off of.

  • Do writing exercises as often as you can, even if they’re completely irrelevant to your main project. They can help keep the creativity flowing and develop your writing skills.

When I joined Twitter shortly after starting my WIP, I stumbled upon #vss365. For 365 days of the year, a range of hosts provide a single word prompt that writers have to use to create a tweet-length story/poem/dialogue. This is one of the best ways I’ve kept practicing writing, even during breaks from my novel. I’ve learned a bunch of new words, tried out styles of writing that I hadn’t been too comfortable with before and even broken through periods of “the block”. I was more of a reader than a writer prior to the start of my WIP, but now – even with just doing simple writing exercises – I feel more confident in calling myself a writer.

  • Be open to the idea of finding other writers to talk to. Having a supportive community of writers is a fantastic way to keep inspired, motivated and it really can help boost your confidence.

I didn’t have any writer friends before I joined Twitter. The #WritingCommunity on there is something special. When I’ve had bouts of self-doubt or anxiety regarding anything to do with writing (whether it be about how long it’s taking me to complete the first draft or my capabilities), I can see that there are many other writers out there in the world who are experiencing the same things as me. It’s comforting to know that I am not alone and it’s normal to have spells of frustration and wanting to give up… but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just ask my writer friends 😉

  • It’s okay to take a break from your WIP. You aren’t letting anyone down – or more importantly, yourself down – by taking some time away to refresh your mind.

I was scared to take a break from writing my novel because I thought if I stop I’ll never get back into it. But I got to a stage where I just couldn’t see a way through the scenes I was writing and both my mind and the story started to get very convoluted. I had to pause for a while, and when I got back to it, I felt ready and clear about where the scenes were headed. I’ve found that having small periods of time away keeps my writing fresh and me less stressed.

  • Write what you want to write. People will tell you what you should or shouldn’t be writing, or how you should or shouldn’t go about it. It’s up to you what you write.

Everyone has their own style and preferences, whether they’re the reader or the writer. Don’t force yourself into changing the stories you want to tell or the way you want to tell them just because it doesn’t appeal to or suit a couple of people that are in your circle. Keep true to you. If that means you want to expand out of your comfort zone and widen your horizons, then by all means, do it. Just don’t think you have to do it to make someone else happy; because someone will always be unsatisfied. Make sure that that someone isn’t you. It’s the best work you’ll do.

  • Setting yourself a daily word target is a useful tool to complete your project, but don’t freak out if you don’t hit it every day.

We all have lives away from writing. Responsibilities that take priority over your WIP, and unexpected events can make it hard to find the time to write every day. I set myself a word target of 1000 per day and there are times I’ve managed to keep to it. When I do, it makes me feel like I’m on track, I’m doing what I should be doing and like I’ve already accomplished something. I can almost see the end of it approaching. But then there are times that I don’t write for days, and it’s not because I don’t want to. I used to feel guilty for not reaching my target on those days, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just the way it is. Life gets in the way sometimes. Don’t give up just because there are days where you didn’t get to write as much as you planned to – or even at all. What’s important is that you keep coming back to your WIP. At the end of the day, I write because I love it. I don’t want to ruin the experience by pressuring myself day and night to get words out, especially if they’re not going to be any good.

  • Read. Expose yourself to different genres and widen your horizons, or keep to your favourite ones and learn from them. Whatever you read, just read.

I’ve loved reading my whole life. It’s what made me want to tell my own stories. But over the past year, I feel like I’ve not read as much as I wanted to or usually do. This disappoints me. When I read, my mind is overflowing with ideas that can be adapted for my current or future WIPs. Whether it’s real life events from the news, scientific or philosophic texts, or totally made up tales, there’s always something to be inspired and educated by. Also, I used to be terrified of not being 110% original but I realized so many successful books have recycled ideas. There are millions of books out in the world. How likely is it that you and someone else didn’t have similar themes and ideas? Once you accept that there may be a story out there that’s not so vastly different to your own, you can then focus on execution. How well will you tell your story?

  • There are no rules to writing.

If you’re serious about writing, you’ll find a way that suits you. Just grow into the writer you want to be.

Anything you want to add about your writing experience? Drop a comment below!

Music & Writing

When I first started writing I did it in perfect silence. Alone with my thoughts with only the sound of the keyboard click clacking, quiet worked for me.

But then I started to experience prolonged periods of being stumped, the words stopped flowing and it became too silent.

I’d read that listening to music can really do wonders when writing because apparently it works both the left and the right side of your brain, it helps you focus, aids creativity and imagination and can bring a variety of emotions to the surface (which is an essential part of telling a story, no?).

So, I decided to give it a try. I prepared a short playlist of some of my favourite pieces of music, put on my headphones and delved back into my first draft.

I soon realized that listening to music or having it play in the background really does make a difference. I was able to concentrate for longer, create more detailed scenes, write dialogue with enhanced emotion, and it generally just made the writing process more enjoyable.

However, it’s important that you choose the right type of music to really benefit from it. In my first playlist I’d included a mixture of songs with lyrics and orchestral pieces, but I found that lyrics were quite distracting as I’d end up singing along instead of doing any writing. Also, a few of the orchestral pieces didn’t fit the tone of my story so it was doing the opposite of inspiring me.

After playing around with the playlist and trying out different genres, artists and even volume, I finally have the perfect set of music for me.

Here are a few tracks from my list that put me in a writing trance:

  • Ludovico Einaudi – Walk
  • Ludovico Einaudi – Earth Prelude
  • Ludovico Einaudi – I Giorni
  • Adam Taylor – River Crossing
  • Adam Taylor – Applause for a Refugee
  • Bonobo – Kong
  • A selection of Hans Zimmer film scores

I have to add that even though music has really helped me during my first draft, there are still times where I prefer quiet; usually when reading over what I’ve already written or during edits. I think it’s really just about what works for you. Like everything else writing.

What do you listen to when writing? Or do you find music distracting? Share in the comments!

Believe in the Write Stuff

I’ve always had trouble believing in myself… Or more specifically; that I can really do this writing thing.

It took many, many years for me to really have a go at it. The novel I started working on last September is the one that has finally stuck and I’ve finally hit the 50k mark on my first draft. That’s about 49k more than I’ve ever written for a book idea. It’s taken me roughly 8 months to get here and I really hope it doesn’t take me another 8 months for the next half. BUT even if it takes me another 2 years to turn the last page and to be able to say, “I’m done. This is it. My first book is complete,” what’s important is that I started and I finished. It would mean that I managed to believe in myself enough for all that time to actually achieve my goal.

If you’re a writer too then you’ll know the tremondous effort and commitment it takes to create your characters and plot, and to literally just pick an idea and try to build it into something that makes sense, is enjoyable and memorable. Especially if you have other responsibilities, like a day job or kids – because now you have time limitations too (not to mention a lack of energy). But you keep going. That’s why we call ourselves ‘writers’. We write. Whether we’re good at it or need some more time and practice is another matter.

So tell me, what happens after you spend countless hours pouring your head, heart and soul into your work, you beat yourself up then overcome the doubt (often on a daily basis), you tell yourself you got this and you dream about the success that might be waiting for you at the end of your finished manuscript… Then someone (whether it’s family or a friend) comes up to you and says something along these lines:

“You’re a shit writer. You will never succeed. The world doesn’t need anymore novelists. Why is it taking you so long? Get a real job.”

What do you do? What do you think? What do you even say?

Does it give you more drive to keep going and be better than before? Or does it put you in a slump and you end up thinking they might be right, I’m never going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King anyway?

I say fuck it. Whoever thinks that they can try to put you down like that and try to kill your self belief – the one you’ve spent years struggling with – can truly just fuck off.

Writing is a hard, time consuming, stressful, and often ego-killing job. But it’s also become my favourite thing to do. It can be freeing, fun and an escape for the writer – and one day, the reader.

Don’t stop doing what you love just because of the thoughtless, hurtful and spiteful words of someone who lacks empathy and understanding.

Be you. Believe in your talent. Believe in your dreams. Believe in what you write. Please, don’t give up.

Overcoming ‘The Block’

“Nothing will work unless you do.” 

Maya Angelou

To be clear, I don’t exactly believe in such a thing as ‘writer’s block’. There’s no invisible wall that surrounds our minds and creativity, or invisible handcuffs that prevent us from getting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)…

But even I am guilty of using ‘the block’ when I want to excuse my shameless procrastination.

I do think that there are periods where every writer struggles to come up with ideas, inspiration, the will to carry on. This is normal. Fear, stress, boredom and panic can deter a writer for a number of days (or even weeks, months or years)… If we let it.

The fear of being judged, the stress that comes with the amount of writing still left to do, getting bored of your own work, and panicking that you’ll never make it, are all factors in this ‘block’. Especially that of being overwhelmed by thoughts from day-to-day life.

The key is to get the ball rolling, then keep it rolling – however fast or slow.

here’s a quick list of tricks & strategies that might help you get back into the beautiful flow of writing:

  • Get primitive. As unsettling as it may be, disconnect yourself from the temptations of the world wide web. I am 100% guilty of jumping on Twitter (or the sort) every time the words take a pause. Then I realize I haven’t written anything for ten – fifteen (even twenty) minutes, and this makes it harder to get back into the flow. It becomes a vicious cycle. So, put your phone on airplane mode (unless you have kids in school… wouldn’t want to miss an emergency call), log out of all social media accounts, or just disable your Wi-Fi (if you don’t need to do any research or look anything up while writing).
  • Step away from the desk. Sometimes you just need to get up and move your workstation elsewhere; the park, the coffee shop – anywhere that’s not your usual spot. Fresh scenery and a change of atmosphere might trigger your creative juices.
  • Play music. Find a song without words or just some good old ambient noise that matches the current mood/scene of your WIP and keep it on in the background. There are so many times this has helped me get back into the flow. It’s honestly a great way to unlock the creativity within you. Personally, I love listening to pieces by Ludovico Einaudi.
  • Make notes. The moment inspiration strikes and you get that golden nugget of an idea drop into your hands, make note of it. Even if you can’t add into your WIP straight away, it will be there when you’re sitting at your laptop with twitching eyes and fingers, thinking of what to write.
  • Read. It can be a book of a similar genre to the one you’re writing to help you reclaim some of that excitement for your own work. Or, it can be the total opposite to clear your mind of spaceships, dragons, murderers, ghosts or sex… Basically a break from whatever you’re fed up of thinking and writing about.
  • Routine. Develop a routine for when it’s time to write. For example, once I take my kid to school, I put the little one to sleep with a bottle of milk, make a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate (whatever I’m feeling that day), grab a blanket and my laptop stand, and get comfy in my spot. I do this at noon, Monday through Friday (unless I have an appointment), and take the weekends off. Now my brain has been trained to realize when it’s time to get to workin’. Of course there are those days where I struggle and end up writing 1/4 of what I might write on a ‘good’ day. But routine has definitely helped me keep writing.
  • Just write. Seriously, write anything. It could even be totally unrelated to your WIP. The point is to keep the creativity going. The words are already in you. You just have to let them out.

So, what do you think… Is writer’s block a real thing that you just have to wait out and hope you break free? Or is it something under your control that you can power through?