Each month, the Nonfiction Authors Association asks a burning publishing question of our members. Here’s what they have to say in November!
NFAA: What favorite software tools for writers can you not live without?
Microsoft Word with its Comment feature (to write yourself notes and park text for placement somewhere else) makes writing your book efficient and painless (as opposed to Google Docs). Otherwise, no writing software, no grammar program, no spelling checker, no software with bells, whistles, prompts, or cork boards can help you write a book except you (or edit you as well as a real human editor with a brain, access to the Chicago Manual of Style online, Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary online, and Word’s highly efficient Track Changes feature).
Sandra Wendel is a nonfiction editor who specializes in working with first-time authors and has written a book just for them (Cover to Cover: What First-Time Authors Need to Know about Editing (Insider Secrets Nobody Ever Tells You), out in early 2021). Contact her at www.SandraWendel.com.
While I’m not sure it qualifies as a writing tool, one of my favorite industry tools is Publishers Marketplace. It’s especially useful for authors who are seeking representation by a literary agent and those who want to understand what’s flying off shelves and what’s not. If you’re writing a book proposal, I recommend using PM’s “track books” feature and add-on subscription to NPD Bookscan. The total cost is $50/month, but, like a paid membership to the NFAA, it’s worth every penny.
Another tool I recommend may come as a surprise. TSheets is a great time-tracking tool that allows users to add notes when they clock in and out. Users can also run reports. Writers who are trying to improve their efficiency can use TSheets to track how long certain tasks take and use that knowledge to adjust their process as needed. The free version does everything I need it to do.
Cristen Iris is a developmental editor and ghostwriter whose clients include Etaf Rum, author of A Woman Is No Man, a New York Times bestseller and Today Show Read with Jenna Book of the Month pick; GRAMMY Award® winner Billy Kilson; Dr. Linda K. Olson, triple amputee and author of Gone! A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back My Life. Cristen is a results-oriented editor, writer, and book proposal consultant. For more, visit cristeniris.com.
I could live without any of them. There is always pen and pencil. Writing tools make the work easier, however. My favorite tools today are Microsoft Word and Dragon Naturally Speaking. I used this software to write my latest book, Mud, Manholes, and Machetes, which I published in October 2019.
In 1966, my favorite tool was a tape recorder. I dictated my master’s thesis into the recorder, and my wife typed it on a portable typewriter. I also used that method to publish my first magazine article in 1961.
Ritchey Marbury is the author of 13 children animal books, and of Mud, Manholes, and Machetes, True Stories from the Life of a Surveyor Engineer; Dear Missionaries; and Dear Missionaries, Volume II. He writes for fun and works full-time as a professional engineer and professional land surveyor. All books are published on Amazon, as well as with various other publishers.
In my back pocket is my best software—a soft notebook. I’ve tried cellphone voice apps, but the best “recorder” for ideas and observations is still pen and paper. Old-school, yes, but I spend a lot of time in jazz clubs, walking around Tokyo, and on Tokyo trains. A notebook works even in a crowd. I also cannot live without a Japanese dictionary app. This app allows me to search for words, phrases, names and places by inputting roman letters, Japanese “kana” or a Chinese character with my finger on the screen’s pad. I guess every writer has some old favorites and specialty tools like these.
For the writing itself, Scrivener is indispensable. Scrivener works like my mind should work but doesn’t. Its layout shows me four crucial aspects of the work in progress: 1) a full outline of the entire work in the left column; 2) notes, links, photos, articles, cuts, and reminders in the lower right; 3) a keyword outline of each section in the upper right; and lastly, the current text in the middle. With this 3-D model (really 4-D since it saves past versions), I can see the layers of details and the panorama at a glance. I can blank out my desktop and have text only. I can shift back and forth like an artist moving closer to a canvas for a brushstroke and then stand back to look and think. It allows fluid movement among the various roles of a writer—thinker, researcher, secretary, drafter, polisher, critic, editor—and brings all those into productive synergy. It eases the writing day.
Michael Pronko is a Tokyo-based author who writes in three genres—murder, memoir, and music. He has written about Japanese culture, art, jazz, society, architecture, and politics for Newsweek Japan, The Japan Times, Artscape Japan, as well as other publications. He also runs Jazz in Japan, a site about Japanese jazz.
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