Tools of the Trade – Redux

I first posted this entry back in May, when I was getting ready to participate in my first CampNaNo session of the year.  But now, with the big tamale approaching us almost as quickly as Hurricane Sandy, I think it might be useful to bring to your attention once again.

Here are some of my favorite things to be found on the internet when it comes to planning, organizing, or goofing off on my writing.  Of course, they only work if your power is still on, but let’s hope everyone stays safe and dry and electronically connected.

My Favorite Outlining Tool

SuperNotecard by Mindola Software is a free download for Mac, Windows, and Linux that allows you to create decks of virtual note cards, shockingly enough, to help organize your outlines.

I love it because you can color code everything by character, category, or place, making it simple to keep track of who is where and with whom and when and why.  It also allows several different ways to visualize this information, including a timeline, which is pretty neat.

The interface is intuitive and easy to learn, and you don’t really have to make the $30 upgrade if you’re only planning to do relatively compact projects.  I highly recommend it for anyone whose typical outlining procedure is this:

I think this show could really have gone somewhere. Oh well.

My Favorite Motivational Tool

WriteOrDie.  Hands down.  I know, I know.  Some people hate the pressure of a time limit, and totally blank out.  I can’t do word wars with other human beings, because I get all panicky like I did when we would play Jeopardy! in high school, and totally blank out.  But computers require no social skills, remember?  Computers are easy.  If I’m really stuck, or I’m just being lazy and want to make my word count for the night, I’ll reluctantly type this URL into my address bar.  And it is a sleek little interface, that does exactly what it says with no fluff, no ads, and no nonsense.  For ten bucks, you can get a desktop version, but the web app works just fine for me.

Pick a goal and a time limit, and it gives you a blank page with a text box and a countdown at the bottom.  That’s it.  It’ll turn red and do a flashy thing if you stop typing for too long, or if you’re approaching the time limit.  It won’t actually kill you, at least to the best of my knowledge.

I wish it did give you a little more time to pause and think before going all drill sergeant on your ass, but I guess that’s kind of the opposite of the point.

My Other Favorite Motivational Tool

Okay, so maybe that one doesn’t work as well.  Darn.

My Favorite Naming Stuff Tool

Because naming stuff is always my downfall.  Aside from the fantasy character/place name generator I talked about last time, I discovered this fantasy novel title generator when I was desperately searching for a title for TLDTC.  I had been using a working title that I won’t even bother repeating, and I knew it was just pretty bad.  I’m terrible at naming my work.  If I could get away with calling everything “Untitled”, or “Shrug In Your General Direction and Hope You Read It Anyway”, I probably would.

Most of the things this generator comes up with are silly and unusable, but occasionally something halfway decent will pop up, or something will spark an idea.

“The Autumn Doll” isn’t bad, and “Dancing Prophecy” could be worked with.  I’m not sure I really want to know exactly in which part of the slave that talisman ended up, but you get the idea.  It’s a fun thing to play with, and it can be properly helpful.

My Favorite Toy

I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to use the same words over and over to describe stuff without knowing it.  I can’t even tell you how many times my characters say something sharply, or sigh, or smile, or snap, or even glower – at least in my first drafts, before I realize I’m being repetitive and unoriginal.  That’s what first drafts are for.

Wordle is not entirely for pointing out how horrible of a writer you are, but that’s an added benefit.  What it does is take the word frequency of a sample of text and make a pretty, customizable word cloud, like the kind you see on motivational posters and teenage girls’ Facebook walls.

Just go to “create” and enter your text, anything from a quote you like, to your entire manuscript.  More frequently used words will appear bigger, so you can skew the results for shorter bits by adding multiples of that word if you like (I I I I I want ice cream cream cream cream cream).  Here’s the one I did for TLDTC.

Is it a fantastic breakthrough that will jump-start your writing career?  No, of course not.  But it’s kind of neat, in a procrastination sort of way.  And you can get access to the compiled word frequency list to check it out.  If you’re ever unsure who your main characters are, this is one way to be absolutely clear about it, at least.

I hope these help!  If you haven’t already, please feel free to make me your writing buddy.  The more of us banding together against the forces of procrastination, the better.  Good luck!

One Reply to “Tools of the Trade – Redux”

  1. Excellent advice! I haven’t tried SuperNotecard myself, but for brainstorming and outlining, I use FreeMind. I wrote a blog entry about it here:

    I’ve since given up on Scrivener and just gone to using the CreateSpace template in Word, but I still use FreeMind for preliminary stuff.

    Since all of my books (so far) take place in the same small town, I also use KeepNote portable ( as a database for characters, places, etc.

    And I keep all of this on two USB drives just in case one crashes, with occasional e-mailed backups just in case.

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