Friday, August 15, 2014

Tools of the Trade

By Susan

People fear change because it hurts like hell.

Even when we know that what is on the other side of the door is better for us-- like losing weight, shedding a vice, or changing a habit-- we still resist. I suppose we can give ourselves a million reasons for not changing a bad situation. And usually, that situation has to hit rock bottom before we make a decision. That's what happened to me this summer, when my mentor at Sewanee asked to see my working outline.

It was in complete shambles. I'd changed character names and plot points without noting them. I'd moved chapters around. I'd attempted to track my own word count manually and had failed in the most pitiful of ways. It took me two days of "cleaning" it to even feel as though it were halfway presentable, and by then, on the final day of the conference, it didn't do either of us any good for her to have it.

I drove home with a furrowed brow, my thoughts knitted together and forming a tangle bigger than the one I had on the page. My old ways weren't working for me anymore. I realized that because my outline was a mess, in many ways my thought process about the novel was also a cluttered debris field.

Now that I'm in my third rewrite (side note: I've stopped using the word draft, because the changes have been too significant at each go-round to constitute mere line edits) I'm realizing something new about my manuscript. It is still unwieldy. My characters still dance off the page when I'm attempting to make then stand still. I have a hard time keeping my own story straight in my mind. And I need a new method of tracking all my changes and research that has gone into this novel.

I conducted an informal poll of writing friends and kept returning to the same word of advice: Scrivener. Because I'm in grad school, I saved a few bucks by going with the education license (it is only $45 to begin with, and is $38.25 with the student discount) and then I was on my way to teaching my old-dog self a new trick.

I'm still in the throes of learning my new product, but so far, I can see nothing but benefits. It got me thinking: what other tools and technology are out there to help me organize my pages, outlines, and research in a better fashion than what I've been doing before? I found a few, and thought I'd share them with you today.

Cliche Finder-- a cool and free tool that will highlight overused words and phrases. The only problem is that it doesn't work on all text samples and frequently gives an error message. But it's free, and it's worth a shot. Find it at

Zen Writer-- It's $9.95, but for the easily distracted, it's a great way to block out other internet draws. Basically it erases your desktop and turns off social media notifications so you focus only on your document. Be aware that Scrivener has this same option as a part of it's software, too. But if you only need a blank working background, you can find it at

Byword-- the app is $4.99, but it allows you to write, edit, and sync documents between multiple devices, meaning your can play with your manuscript from your phone, tablet, or laptop with iCloud and Dropbox. Excellent for those on the go. Find it at

Grammarly-- an advanced grammar check site and app. This is tempting, because after I uploaded a twenty page section of my novel it gave me the notifications for more mistakes than I'd like to admit. The only downside? It's $29.95 a month or $139.95 for the year. But if you are a full-time student making too many mistakes to get an A, or if you are a writer at the end of a manuscript who wants a complete scrub of your draft, this may be the perfect tool for you. It's at

And my new toy, Scrivener--It was made originally for Mac, but is now available for both Mac and PC. It connects your outline to your scenes and chapters, has space for notes, research files, synopses, and more options and settings than any writer would ever be able to use, at least all at one time. It tracks word count and allows your to set and meet writing goals. The price is worth it, and it comes with an initial 30-day trial. You can find it at

Good luck!

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