writing tips i wish i'd known on day one

We’ve seen them all, haven’t we? I’d need as many hands as a centipede has legs to count how many writing tips I’ve encountered and pondered over. Some were helpful; others weren’t. Most of what I know about writing I learnt from reading obsessively and spending an insane amount of time writing absolute garbage. Practice is vital: nothing makes for a better writer than writing itself—but still, even at the risk of adding to the mighty sea of advice, here are five of my own writing tips that I wish I’d known from day one.

 

Treat it like a real job.

Give your writing the time, effort, and respect as you would any other job. Show up or get fired. Develop a schedule. Stick to a routine. Write on a regular basis. Whether that’s a few hours in the morning before your day has begun or late at night when everyone else has ‘left the building’. Find what works for you. COMMIT. Treating it the way you’d treat a paid 9-5 job will beget dedication. The difference is this is something you’ve chosen because you are presumably passionate about it. Let that motivate you.

 

Use everything as research material.

I mean EVERYTHING. Had your heart broken? Lost a job? Grieving a loss? Been depressed? Harness that raw emotion and make it bow to your will. Draw on those experiences—the good and the bad (especially the bad)—and douse your writing with real and complex situations and reactions. This raw aspect of the human experience will make your story immersive and compelling, resonating with readers.

 

Forget the Muse.

It’s romantic as fuck to imagine ourselves as struggling artists. Like Shakespeare living by his pen, waiting for the beguiling Muse to whisper iambic verse into his ear. But Shakespeare likely knew the score—he was prolific as all hell. And to be a prolific, consistent, full-time writer means giving the Muse the middle finger—she’s tardy and unreliable. YOU’RE the writer. You’re the one that has to put in the hours and get the job done. Don’t wait for inspiration. Go and grab it by the balls.

 

Finish what you start.

We’re writers. We’re idea MACHINES. No sooner have we started one shiny new project do we have another idea beckoning at our writerly door. Ignore it. Tell it you’re not home. Send it to voicemail. Seriously. Ideas are brilliant but they’re a dime a dozen. They’re easy to come by. You know what isn’t easy to come by? A finished novel. So get writing. Create an idea bank and store that shit up. Treat it like a savings account and only dip in when you need to. When you’ve started a shiny new project, commit to it. Hell, marry it! And be faithful. See it through. Otherwise, you’ll end up with fifty-two incomplete files of three-chapter books, all of which have lost their sparkle. Completion is key.

 

Do it your way.

Yes, there are approximately 49 trillion rules out there for writing. By all means, learn some of them. But by no means do you HAVE to adhere to them. Do whatever works for you and for the story you have to tell. Then perfect it. Outside of grammar, punctuation, being well-read, and having a fierce grasp of language, there is no real rule to the art of self-expression.

 

What writing tips have worked for you? Which of them will you never get on board with? Let me know in the comments.

tools for writers

Writing a book is a long, hard process often requiring nothing more than imagination and sheer determination to see your story through to completion. If you have this outlook, great. You’re well on your way. Chances are however, you’ll want to make your story the best it can be, and even then, finishing the book isn’t even the hardest part. (I know, I didn’t believe it at first either!) After writing the damn book, there’s editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. Oh, and more editing. And unfortunately, there are a million ways in which it can go wrong during the process. Happily, we live in the digital age and have access to some amazing resources and tools for writers.

 

From the initial spark of an all-new brilliant idea through to getting your books into the hands of readers, there are millions of websites offering information on how to tackle it all. Sometimes, the range of information is more overwhelming and contradicting than it is helpful. I’ve been there. I’ve spent hours and hours sailing the sea of content. There are a ton of sites and tools for writers out there, claiming to change the way I write or publish or market my work. Here are those I’ve found most helpful. This list is broken into two sections: Tips for Writers and Tools for Writers. It is by no means exhaustive—I’m sure there are many sites I’ve overlooked or am yet to stumble upon—but this is what works for me. I hope some of you will find them useful too.

 

TIPS FOR WRITERS

While I’ve read a lot of available content, nothing has been as helpful as these five listed below. I return to these websites time and time again and find them to be a helping hand on the writer’s rocky path.

 

1. NATHAN BRANSFORD

Nathan Bransford is a writer and former agent. His blog is a one-stop motherlode of writerly advice, from how to outline and plan a novel to the dreaded task of agent-querying and publishing. He tackles both routes: traditional and self-publishing, offering insight into the overwhelming task that is putting your book out into the world. I highly recommend his book How To Write a Novel — read a review here.

 

2. JOANNA PENN FROM THE CREATIVE PENN

The Creative Penn is another treasure trove of resources. If you’re looking to self-publish your books, this is recommended reading, with tips on everything from editing your book to how to market it. Joanna Penn also has several books available (both non-fiction and fiction) and runs a podcast with helpful interviews. I recently read The Successful Author Mindset which is a book on overcoming some of the inevitable obstacles as a writer and found it to be inspiring. She also hosts several live Q and A sessions on Facebook.

 

3. JOEL FRIEDLANDER FROM THE BOOK DESIGNER

This website was my go-to for book formatting tips. Until reading several posts on how to professionally format a book (both paperback and digital), I never knew just how many ways there are to get it wrong. Thankfully, with the plethora of advice from this website and a bit of patience and hard work, you can get your book looking not just ‘nice’ but professionally made.

 

4. DEREK MURPHY AT CREATIVINDIE

Creativindie is a recent find for me and I wish I’d discovered it sooner. Derek Murphy’s advice on book cover design is helpful and insightful, and it drove me to redesign the cover of my first romantic suspense novel. He points out that covers should make an emotional impact, which is not new information, but it IS something I initially overlooked, even as an avid reader. His site is packed with tips and secrets on cover design, publishing, and writing, and a primary feature is the innovative marketing advice. (If you’re an indie author, I would highly recommend reading: Book Cover Design Secrets and Guerrilla Publishing.)

 

5. NICK STEPHENSON AND YOUR FIRST 10K READERS

When Nick Stephenson explained funnel marketing, I felt for the first time that I had hope. Not only that, but implementing this method of marketing frees up time for the other parts of the writer’s job including, of course, writing. His methods will ensure that you aren’t spending wasted hours on social media or signing up for tweet blasts and the like. Not that those methods are inherently wrong or pointless, but put simply, building an email list and gaining a wider readership go hand in hand. Nick explains this in a way that made sense to even a marketing noob like me.

 

TOOLS FOR WRITERS

DISCLAIMER: THE WEBSITES MENTIONED BELOW ARE NOT AFFILIATED, ENDORSED, OR SPONSORED. I SIMPLY LOVE THESE TOOLS, I USE THEM ON A REGULAR BASIS, AND I BELIEVE THEY’LL PROVE USEFUL TO OTHER WRITERS.

When it comes to tools for writers, you may notice that this list is missing the gem of the writer’s arsenal. This is because the tool in question (and one of the best writing tools out there) is downloadable software as opposed to an online site. The brilliant writer’s-dream program I’m talking about is, of course, Scrivener (total god-send). There is a discussion entirely dedicated to this marvellous program here: Is Scrivener Any Good? (Spoiler: Yes.) For a list of other helpful tools for writers, keep reading. 

 

6. 750 WORDS

Need a writing boost? If you’re struggling to meet your daily writing goal or if you want to establish a habit of writing every day, this site is a fun way to do it. Writing might well be a joy for most of us, but it can still be hard to keep the momentum going day after day after day. This site gives you extra incentive. Is it silly? Maybe. Fun? Yes. Helpful? YES. You’ll be surprised just how much weight a stupid badge can carry. You get one badge for a daily streak. You get more if your streak is longer. Add to that, this site offers a distraction-free interface on which to write. No buttons, no links. Just white space for you to fill with unfiltered words. And if you’re a stats nerd, you’re in luck. The site also analyses your daily writing, including how you write, how often you got distracted, words-per-minute, feelings and themes, and a bunch more. I’ve used it for brainstorming and journalling but there are no rules. You can also export everything you write to a text document.

 

7. ONE LOOK REVERSE DICTIONARY

Ever stuck for the perfect word? Of course you are, you’re a writer. But what about those moments where the word is on the tip of your tongue but for the life of you, you can’t think of it. You know EXACTLY what the word means and what you’re trying to sum up, but the word itself is failing you. One option is to stick in an X or an asterisk or question mark and return to it later. OR you could turn to your trusty thesaurus. But this nifty little search tool might be able to take it a step further. You type in a word or a phrase and voila! Words-R-Us. It can be a bit hit and miss, but hey, desperate times…

 

8. GRAMMARLY

Despite becoming infuriated with their incessant advertising on pretty much every YouTube video ever (and then some), I can’t deny how useful this program actually is. More than a basic spell checker, it does live up to the hype. Whilst no replacement for a human proofreader, it does detect most grammar, punctuation, and (of course) spelling issues, whilst doing double-duty as a thesaurus as well. Perfect for cleaning up those drafts at the end of a couple of rounds of edits (if only to avoid having to read your manuscript yet again). There’s also an extension available for Chrome which is great when posting updates or blog posts online or sending emails. You can also add the extension to Microsoft Word.

 

9. PACEMAKER

If you’ve ever participated in Nanowrimo, I don’t need to tell you just how much of an incentive a word count tracker can be. This free online tool allows you to chart your daily progress not just in November, but every month of the year. It has a clever function that allows you to change your pacing—Bite the Bullet mode for those writers who like to get their words down in big chunks before the momentum wears off, or Oscillating mode for alternating heavy and light workloads. Word count goals can be set to automatically alter depending on your progress, keeping you on target and making sure you account for the days when your imaginary friends aren’t talking to you.

 

10. CANVA

Ever wanted to produce perfect images with your own branding and unique flair? Without having to wrangle the beautiful monster that is Photoshop and without producing something that looks like your cat went nuts inside the Paint program? If yes, go sign up with Canva for free. There are templates available for everything from blog post banners to social media images (all in the correct size for each platform) and even basic book covers. Canva’s drag-and-drop user-friendly site will have you churning out graphic after graphic, without giving you a headache.

 

11. Evernote

Remember the days when scattered thoughts on Post-It notes gusted around you like a personal mini cyclone? No? Me neither. It’s been that long. These days, every wish and whim and million-dollar idea can be typed into remarkable programs like Evernote, a program designed for use on the web, or on your computer or mobile devices. It stores every note as a drag-and-drop document which you can store in separate notebooks or even notebook stacks but it does this on a single screen. The organisation level of this app is brilliant—it updates your notes on the fly. I don’t even have to hit save (does loving this make me ridiculous? I mean, it’s one tap!) Seriously though, Evernote’s synchronisation—not just when it comes to saving your work, but syncing between multiple devices—is fast and reliable. There are several apps out there offering similar functions, right down to the standard notes app on your smartphone, but for me, Evernote takes the cake.

 

12. TODOIST

My personal favourite (read: could-never-function-without-it). For me, this tool is my go-to for ideas, reminders, appointments, and (obviously) tasks to do, so for me, Todoist does double duty as a calendar. It’s the first thing I open in the morning (other than my eyes, that is) and yes, even before Facebook! *gasps all round* The app is available online but you can also use it on any device—the synchronisation between devices is seamless. It allows you to create projects, even a hierarchy of projects if your little heart desires, and each task can also contain sub-tasks if needed. I use mine for everything from blog scheduling, marketing, and writing tasks to the more mundane like domestic errands (yawn). My favourite function within the app is the ability to add recurring tasks by simply typing a short command. For example, I can type: schedule book review ev second tue. This simple addition on the end will set my task as recurring for every second Tuesday of every month. If I needed a specific date for every month until the end of time, it’d be as simple as: payment due ev 30. Handy, right? I used to think that keeping a to-do list was redundant—that in the time it takes to list something, I could have finished it. It simply isn’t true. Keeping a task list helps you put everything you need to do out of your head, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time.

 

I hope some of these tools for writers will prove as useful for you as they are for me. Let me know if I’ve missed any important ones and tell me what tools you can’t live without.

 

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is Scrivener any good

Have you heard of Scrivener yet? Or have you heard of it and are wondering, Is Scrivener any good? 

Well, in short: it’s one of the best (read: unrivalled) writing tools there is. And if you haven’t heard about it on the writerly grapevine yet, first: where the hell have you been? And second: calm down—I’m not judging; I only began using it myself about two years ago. 🙂

Now, the sceptics among you are probably thinking:

A writing tool? A new-age techie piece of software that’s supposed to help you WRITE? Pfft. I spit on it. Charles Dickens didn’t use Scrivener and he did alright for himself.

Well… I hear you. In fact, I WAS you. Two years ago I came across an article about it and promptly ignored it. The second time it happened I checked it out… you know, for curiosity’s sake. Nothing else, of course. As far as I was concerned, the only thing I needed to write was my over-active imagination and a pen… I’d have written my entire novel on my arm if I’d had to. Of course, in this day and age when I say pen, I actually mean an over-priced laptop and two ridiculously over-priced Apple devices.

But yes, know that I ‘get you’. I, too, didn’t need fancy software. Microsoft Word was good enough for the last ten years so y’know, if ain’t broke… Then someone shared a price deal: half-priced Scrivener!

I still don’t NEED this, I mumbled to myself as I clicked it. I’m a real writer.

Ha Ha - Nelson, The Simpsons
Source: Simpsons Wiki

What the hell did I know?

Scrivener has changed the way I write. The learning curve is a little steep and it isn’t a magical fix for writer’s block nor is it a fairy who will finish your novel overnight (wouldn’t that be great?), but Scrivener DOES have some brilliant features to make the writer’s job a little easier.

Here are eleven of many:

1. Organisation with the binder

Scrivener’s ability to organise your work will revolutionise the way you write. Gone are the days of highlighting chunks of words and cutting and pasting a scene into what you hope is the right place within your manuscript. Fifth time’s the charm, right? In fact, I remember actual cutting and taping during a hard-copy edit. *shudder* Scrivener allows you to simply craft each scene as a new text document and drag-and-drop at will. Whilst you can recreate a similar setup with separate documents in Word, the difference with Scrivener is that having each scene or chapter as a separate document doesn’t mean having to click away and open each file in a new window. Everything you need is within a single screen; you need only select your scene from the Binder to view it. Another advantage of this is being able to tackle your story in bite-sized chunks instead of being faced with a 50K-word-strong document every time you sit down to write. Every little helps.

is Scrivener any good

 

2. Research Folder

This feature is an absolute gem. All that planning, and brainstorming, and collecting of pictures and random notes—there’s a dedicated place for it within Scrivener. Once again taking organisation to new heights, the Research section means you have all of your random brain sneezes in one handy spot whilst still using a hierarchy of files/folders which are accessible on one main screen. I use mine for character profiles and images, world building and maps, plotting, outlining, actual research notes, website clips and screenshots and videos—there’s no limit to what you can keep in this section and no limit on the type of media either.

is Scrivener any good

 

3. Labels, Status, and Custom Metadata

Here’s where Scrivener shows off, and rightly so. For every scene or chapter you write, you can label it and give it a status. I use my labels for POVs (point of view) and my status refers to the stage in the writing process—to do; in progress; first draft; first revision, etc. If the idea of this bores you to tears, rest assured, it’s entirely optional. If you’re anything like me, rest assured, there’s more… Alongside labels and status, you can also customise metadata. Meta whatnow? Basically, you can create a custom label for anything you wish to track. For instance, within my current manuscript, I track characters and location. This might seem excessive but if I enter this information as I’m writing or editing, I can come back to it later and with only a simple glance in Outliner mode (see below), I know exactly where each scene is taking place and which characters are involved—without having to wrack my brain or read the entire piece. You could also set up something similar for time of day/week to easily track your timeline. The possibilities are endless.

is Scrivener any good

 

is Scrivener any good

 

4. Versatile Modes

Scrivener has a number of tools you’d have to otherwise recreate outside of your manuscript’s file. For instance, I’ve seen other writers create storyboards using post-it notes, corkboards, flashcards—you name it. This is great if the manual act benefits your creative process. On the other hand, if you do it because you believe there’s no other option, I have good news: Scrivener will do it for you. And you need only enter your information once to view it in a number of ways—or even side by side.

 

a) The Corkboard

This is brilliant when you’re beginning a new project. Simply create a new index card on your corkboard for each new event and plot point in your book. As you progress, you can add more, outlining entire scenes and dragging-and-dropping to your heart’s content.

is Scrivener any good

 

b) The Outliner

Everything you’ve written on your index card is viewable as a synopsis of your scene. You can select which additional fields are displayed by selecting from the drop-down arrow for everything from Title and Synopsis to Word Count and Status. This is where all that custom metadata comes in really handy, creating an excellent overview of your entire project.

is Scrivener any good

 

c) Scrivenings

If you really prefer to view your project in one long scary flow of words, there’s an option to do that. You still get the benefits of the Binder but with the familiarity of a Microsoft Word-esque interface.

is Scrivener any good

 

d) Split View

For the writer who wants to have his cake and eat it, there’s split view. Here’s an example of it—with a vertical split screen between Corkboard mode and the Editor.

is Scrivener any good

 

5. Distraction-free Mode

Speaking of work modes, there’s a handy little tool for full-screen mode. You can even modify your background with a picture of your own to keep you inspired. You can access a number of features in this mode, including the Binder for navigating between scenes, but ultimately, this is where you can knuckle down and bang out those words.

is Scrivener any good

 

6. Progress bar

Whilst you’re banging out words, Scrivener has a neat tool to track all that hard work—and provide a little extra motivation. The Project Targets function has two separate trackers. The first is for your overall project target and the second is your session target. For every session, the bar fills as you type, changing from red to green. Same goes for your overall project goal. This is a small feature which might not appeal to everyone but for those of us who love trackers, having one that’s already built into our writing program is cause for celebration. For me, word count trackers are like personal cheerleaders. Writing a book is a long, sometimes gruelling process; during the times it feels like I’m getting nowhere, trackers help to make my progress measurable. (I just recently passed my target for my current WIP: Immisceo, book one in a new fantasy series.)

is Scrivener any good

 

7. Notes and Scratch Pad

Alongside comments and annotations (both of which work in similar ways to MS Word’s comment system), Scrivener also has a Notes feature at the bottom of the Inspector. For any given text document (scene/chapter), you are able to jot notes without affecting the text. You can also toggle between document notes (a single scene) and project notes (viewable from within any scene). Scratch Pad is brilliant in that all notes created here (in a separate smaller window) are stored independently, which means you can access them from within two or more separate projects. Handy for reference notes that pertain to multiple projects.

is Scrivener any good

 

8. Snapshots

This is another feature within the Inspector. If you hit the + button on the Snapshots tab, it’ll save the current version of your scene (like a snapshot) before you whip out your ‘knife’ to begin carving. Does this seem redundant? Perhaps. But it also means that even after you’ve edited and/or deleted several paragraphs, even after you’ve saved and overwritten and backed up your project, you could still come back weeks later, having changed your mind, and be able to view or roll back to the initial version of that scene. Cool, huh?

is Scrivener any good

 

9. Icons

This one might not be groundbreaking but I love it. Scrivener allows you to edit the icons of every document. There are already a lot to choose from (not all shown below) but you can also add your own custom icons. Within my research folder, I tend to choose icons based on the type of document—character, place, world, magic (custom-added). Within my manuscript, I find it handy to use icons alongside the status metadata. I do this with colour-coded flag icons or custom-added status icons.

is Scrivener any good

 

10. Export Capabilities

Scrivener will export your work into multiple formats including MS Word docs, Mobi for Kindle, and ePub files. You can export your entire project, or you can select only certain documents for compilation. You can even compile a (detailed) synopsis based on your outline. When compiling your manuscript for ebook, you will need to tweak the formatting; and for print books, you will (like I did) probably need to do extensive formatting within Word (or InDesign). However, I’ve used Scrivener for KDP Mobi file output and it is absolutely error-free. So far. (Free tip: You might want to ignore that Times 12pt.)

is Scrivener any good

 

11. iOS App syncing

Finally, as a bonus point: mobile functionality. The Scrivener app for iOS is relatively new and it has been a long time (apparently) in the making. It was well worth the wait. The app (I’m using it right now to write this post) is powerful and bug-free (so far). It syncs seamlessly with Dropbox so all your projects can stay up to date across all devices. While there are several features which, understandably, did not make the move to mobile, Scrivener iOS has all the main functionality of the desktop version and happily, it has put my novel at my fingertips whilst on the go (or—let’s be real—in bed). No more excuses!

is Scrivener any good

 

is Scrivener any good

 

So, is Scrivener any good?

Yes. It is a powerhouse of a writing tool. It can be daunting when you first venture in, and unlike most basic word processing programs, the learning curve is quite high. I’ve been using it for two years and there are still things I’m just learning to do or quite possibly, am yet to discover.

If you have it and you’re put off by the sheer number of functions, I’d say: muddle through anyway. The hassle is well worth it. Once you get to grips with it, you’ll wonder how you ever wrote without it.

You can get Scrivener at Literature and Latte.

For tips on using Scrivener, here are some helpful resources:

Learn Scrivener Fast 
Gwen Hernandez 

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