What Works for Me

In the course of writing for a few decades, I’ve accumulated tools and tricks, shortcuts and services.

I have used everything listed on this page, much of it for longer than half the earth’s human population has been alive.

Authors don’t make much of a living, or the average one does not—and much of what is here is either free or inexpensive.

If something doesn’t work well for you, please let me know.  As of this moment, my primary writing desk is an unremarkable device that was once a park bench.

I’ve used a thousand chairs and now sit in a very pretty electric blue chair that has no arm rests and about a foot of cheap plastic lumbar before it gives up and wishes it had never tried to be more than a stool.

As of early 2018, my hardware is 13.3″ and 15″ Apple MacBook Pro computers running Windows 7 Pro or Windows 10 Pro via Bootcamp—Apple is not low-cost, but these machines are rock-stable and with i7 processors, SSD drives, and 16Gb of RAM, they allow the use of 30-55″ 4K resolution monitors, which I personally find critical to my remaining shred of sanity.

I have an iPhone with no Apps.  Good for bleary-eyed mornings or commutes or whatever you need to dictate and self-email some scrap of writing goodness.

Let’s get this party started.

General Inspiration…

Reading other writers.  Primarily fiction, but there is excellent nonfiction, particularly history, to be had for a song.  I love my Kindle, but I love books—”real” books—and always will.

Amazon and places like GoodReads are good for discovery and acquisition.

I “go dark” while writing heavily, which comes to not reading other fiction, and limiting my intake of current events, politics, and anything that is not reference or research, which I do prior to writing, and for inspiration, but always end-up spending half my time doing in the actual process.

Excellent for many things, the usual jabs aside, is Wikipedia (laugh if you want, but go lose yourself fifty-tabs-open-deep for several hours in some esoteric topic(s) you know little to nothing about, and see if you don’t want to write something about that before you’re done.  Oh, and it’s free.

Newsletters and Mailings…

Wikipedia’s “English Wikipedia Article of the Day” can spur productivity.

Atlas Obscura is somewhat random and rarely the final word, but if an idea captures your interest, it could capture a reader’s just as easily.

Similar is the excellent Mental Floss, which is a-word-a-day (AWAD).

Dictionary.com has a WOTD also, as do many others, e.g. Merriam-Webster.

I’m not much for QOTD (quote of the day) but it’s out there.

Depending on your genre and scope and interests, Latest Science News: ScienceDaily could be a quick-scroll way to see if anything’s shaking today in the world of graphene nanostructures or solar wind harvesters or strong artificial intelligence (AI) or whatever else. Also a good bit of health and happiness rolls through there, which can remind you to include various kinds of non-Barbie, non-Ken characters. Disease, age, diet, illness, death—to really “appreciate” the variety of human suffering, medical journals are… great. Pinterest can be very good for certain things, one of which will deserve its own note.

The OED—the Oxford English Dictionary (online).  This is expensive.  Period.  Your local school or library may very well have a subscription, and if they do, and you can limit your awe to their hours of operation and physical premises, lovely.  I can’t.  For $300-400 USD annually, this is one of the highest-return (ROI) products I have ever paid for, and I cannot imagine life without it.  The dictionary is wonderful, and the Historical Thesaurus is divine.

Images for Facebook, Blogging, Promotions, Illustrations, and Content…

Unsplash is fantastic. These are searchable, extremely high-resolution images you can use, with or without credit, with or without changes and modifications and they’re royalty-free and just, wow, really?

If I have to buy images of a general sort, I look at Shutterstock, where you can go broke quickly, but you know you are getting—for example, you can get 25 images for $229 USD today (late 2017).

Affordable, Quality Book “Covers” (Digital) and Custom Cover Work…

Fiverr and oodles of similar systems exist. I am sure they work for some, but I have found a lot to be desired, to include a sense of humanity.

I have never met James from Go On, Write, I do not know what James looks like, but I will say this: I spent thousands of dollars over 10+ years with “traditional artists” commissioning covers and such.  James is everything I had hoped for, and he’s criminally inexpensive.  And funny, and patient, and a great guy.

 

Aside from linking to a bunch of USB thumb drives and other goodies, the one thing I will offer is Pinterest. I have strong, loud opinions on not using what someone else owns and controls as a critical failure point in my work and life.  You won’t see me put anything uniquely important (to me) on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram—you get the idea.

That said…

Pinterest is amazingly good for a variety of creative reasons. In keeping with my “never park your favorite pickup in another person’s pasture” mindset, I have not done this with truly critical research, yet, and I am old and set in my ways, and have numerous alternatives because I have the funding to be picky, but here is where Pinterest can really shine: characters, clothing, locales, atmosphere, the list is endless. With private boards, you can have reference images from search or from your own uploads.

Tools for Word Processing, Drafting, Text Formatting, ePub and MOBI and Amazon Kindle-ready…

NotePad++ is a Windows-only product as of the present (2017) time, it costs nothing, and it is perhaps the best simple text editor of all time—also HTML and CSS and more, if you are into web design or maintain your own site—oh, and it is “free” in that it costs nothing and does not flood you with ads.  Barebones, it is excellent.  Add custom language packs (if necessary) and dictionaries and more, and it is truly a powerhouse of a program with extreme capabilities, even on non-extreme Windows computers and tablets.  Where MS Word will crash for “understandable” reasons, NotePad++ rarely will follow suit, and remains stable when I am dealing with fifty open chapters or a million words of open documents.  Even when I do something weird like search in all open documents or perform a global find-and-replace—that has been my experience for a decade and counting, and I hope this lovely tool never fades away.

Sigil—as I personally spent thirty years on computers, from command-line prompts to the first Word Processors such as WordStar, and given a heavy technical background and web-focused jobs and interests throughout that entire time, programs such as NotePad++ (above) are much more familiar to me, and “better” in my estimation, than dedication book-making and formatting tools such as Sigil.  That said, there is little to complain about in Sigil, and even if you wrote a novel or whatever else in Microsoft Word (MS Word) or something else that uses “smart” quotes and automatic curling ‘single’ apostrophes and ellipses (…) and so forth, Sigil allows for basic, functional find-and-replace, it has real-time formatting previews, a table of contents (helps to know a teeny bit of HTML style markup there), and it’s been around a while and… it’s no-cost, as in, “free” without adverting or other distractions.  Hard to complain about that!  Sigil will pop-out an ePub format novel (or whatever) in seconds if you are not too worried about code bloat or hidden junk Microsoft or other source programs may have introduced, and in an easy afternoon even if you are an optimization freak like… some people I know.  Cough.  I will say that Sigil does “crash” from time to time, and I would not rely upon this program as a primary source, script, document, or other repository for work in progress as far as the creative process goes.  Personal opinion there!

Calibre—Okay, so the short version of how I personally do things is, while I should know better at my age, I tend to use MS Word to handle manuscript creation and the fifty-three billionteen ancillary and referential documents, links, images, and so forth, all of which got thrown into date-iterative folders on redundant backup drives.  So once I finish a manuscript in MS Word, to the point of publication, having used its grammar and dictionary and custom dictionary features liberally, real-time word-count and all that sort of joy, such that on a very large-dimensioned 4K or 5K monitor, I can read 10+ pages of the book without scrolling around, I then use NotePad++ to handle any global find-and-replaces for special characters, possible typos or fumble-fingered or even mid-book name changes where Lilly becomes Lily.  And then Sigil to make an ePub and then Calibre to handle cover-art assignation and final prep, to include the creation of a MOBI file/folder, which then gets me into the rollicking world of Amazon and the Kindle Store (or similar destinations online).  Calibre is visually imperfect and what snooty designers such as myself used to call “developer-grade UI” and since I was a snooty developer, too, I feel fine with that mild criticism.  However, as mentioned before, the user interface is “simple” to change, and in the end, as long as your eBook or pamphlet or dissertation or novel or whatever else looks good at final destination, e.g. on a Kindle-type device, do you care too much about the tool that got you there?  The well-documented, user-friendly, entirely no-cost, no-ads tool?  Didn’t think so.

There are many other tools I use, and I am ashamed to admit I have thousands of dollars in “oh, I will need that to be a writer” junk, to include a very nice mechanical pencil and leadholder and ink pen collection, and… guess what? They don’t write any better ideas down than any other instrument with a similar functionality. If you don’t have everyday access or all-day access to a computer, I use SMS messages (with dictation) or Gmail (with dictation) and clearly articulated if softly-spoken “Note to Self” (NTS) to handle my middle of the night and “honey, I don’t care if it’s a Retina model, this is a wedding” and other such emergencies. If you have no super-mobile-phone, buy or borrow or steal (most people will hand you one if they find one in their purse or pack; true story) any kind of #2 pencil, or a cheapie 0.5mm or 0.7mm or 0.9mm mech-pencil, and steal some printer-copier paper, no Moleskine needed, and if you have something you need to say, you will write.

Cheers!

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