12.30: Tools for Writers

Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard

We are often asked what software we use to get our work done. In this episode we answer that question in a bit of detail.

Liner Notes: Here’s a linked list of the tools referenced during this episode.

Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered via great mastery by Alex Jackson


Pick one of the tools from this list (one which you’re not using) and try it out.

Nexus, by Ramez Naam

17 thoughts on “12.30: Tools for Writers”

  1. I want to know more about how Dan outlines with Excel. I use Excel for a lot of things and I’m pretty good with it.

    For instance, I’ve set up some list of things (like a list of virtues and vices) then use the random function to select from the list to help break out of the rut of making the same characters all the time.

    It’s like my own little character generator.

    What about websites as tools. I use many. Two I would recommend are seventhsanctum.com for randomly generating stuff. I also use catholicsaints.info. It’s a resource you can search for the patron saints for anything. I use this to generate character names with extra meaning.

  2. My core writing tool is Scrivener. I use it for notes on the book I’m writing, the beat sheet (more of a scene matrix, really), character profiles, and general lore.

    Expand out a step and I use Zim as an offline wiki for series-level notes and planning. I use an openoffice spreadsheet to track characters over the course of a series to make sure I don’t reuse names and to tag which books they’ve shown up in, and I use it for a series timeline noting what happened when.

    In addition to my novels I also produce podcasts, livestream Twitch Creative, vlog, and design games, so I end up using Trello as a production schedule across my endeavors. For productivity and time management I use Pomodairo, a pomodoro time tracker.

    Lately I’ve started bullet journaling as a to-do list. I find the analog work meditative.

    1. Michael, I love Zim. It’s awesome! However, these days I find myself using Microsoft OneNote as a wiki because it’s more robust, is available on everything from my desktop computer to my laptop to my tablet, and it does the automagic linking thing that Zim does. Plus I get to doodle in it with a tablet pen when I don’t feel like writing (I have an iPad Pro).

      Zim is, of course, much lighter, and I still love it to death, but OneNote is great for keeping everything in one place when I just want to sit on the couch and brainstorm. :)

  3. Just a small addition to the Scrivener info: the iOS app is actually universal and works on iPhone as well, not only iPad. I use it every day and can vouch for its solid build and overall reliability.
    It also has a well integrated Dropbox support, which allows you to synchronize your work between multiple devices, mobile and desktop alike, running current versions of the software.
    I keep my main file in a shared Dropbox folder; I write either in Mac version on my laptop, Windows version on my desktop, iOS version on my iPhone, and my editor is working on the same file on her MacBook; everything synchronizes quite neatly, and the software warns you if the file is currently open on another device to avoid sync conflicts (mobile version uses different synchronization algorithm and can even be used simultaneously with the desktop one).

  4. Does anyone know of any cheaper timeline options? Maybe a family tree creator? World-building software in general, I suppose?

    1. Hey, Justin!

      GenoPro might be what you’re looking for.

      You could also use Scapple, which is a program made by the same company that created Scrivener.

  5. I use Wikidpad thanks to Writing Excuses, which helped big time given that I’ve this weird scattered yet structured aspect. I like having each specific topic within its own page, but likewise linked between them for a quick flow.

    It did help me with world building and discovering so much. I reverse engineer the world from the plot and characters, so reverse engineering two different elements told me that there was probably some major conflict in the past and, using the estimated timeline, I identified when. Doing that lead to me figuring out how progress of the series main nation went, what lead to to the villain’s foundation being created, and even how certain character’s beliefs and so on shaped by this event and passed on.

    So yeah, these items are a wonderful help and I’m thankful for learning about them as if became a game changer for me with organization and improving as a world builder.

  6. If you know that a first book in a series (3rd person limited) will only be told through 1 character’s perspective, is it okay for the sequel to have multiple perspectives? Or should I stay consistent for the entire series and only tell it through 1 perspective?

  7. I use Scrivener on my laptop and Draft on my phone, synced with Dropbox.

    Sometimes I write on my phone with a bluetooth keyboard, which is more lightweight and less breakeable than a laptop, or just jot down ideas on my phone on the train, and this way I have the same version of everything everywhere.

    I also set up a Github repo for writing, which is fantastic for version control.
    Github has loads of features, great for collaboration, so I’m barely scratching the surface with my setup, but I still get
    – an independent backup that’s accessible from anywhere
    – a great visual way to track what was added/ edited when
    – no need to hang onto versions and versions of drafts. Easy to access the entire history of each piece.

  8. I actually wound up using the hyperlink feature in Google Docs to make my own “wiki.”

    And I kinda combined Dan’s spreadsheet and Brandon’s story bible into a giant spreadsheet bible.

  9. After you quit chiseling your words into stone, or perhaps working with a quill on vellum, you might want to consider tools to support your process and creativity. But, as we all know, it’s easy to fall in love with your first ride, and never ever want to change! So, the Utah foursome, Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard, open up their toolkits and tell us what they use to make the words flow, and keep those ideas in line. Go, read the transcript, now in the archives and over here


    Just remember, engage brain before touching those keys!

  10. I discovered a handy little tool via google play for my Android tablet. It’s called “Story Planner” and it does exactly what it says. When a new project is created, that project is broken down by Summary, Characters, Locations, Plots, and Scenes as tabbed headings. Clicking on a tab will take you to simple forms which can be filled out to flesh out the idea. The information can then be exported in either plain text or rich text format, which most word processors can read. It is a no-frills way of getting the development of a story done on the go. While I have it on my tablet, it also functions well on an Android phone. I can’t recall if there was a cost associated with it, but if there was it wasn’t much; $5.00 or less, I’d say.

    Another great tool is Celtx. It comes available as a free download for desk tops and is meant to be an alternative to Final Draft. It offers development options which include outlining, and index cards, and takes the headache out of script formatting. The formatting in the program is locked and can’t be played with. It *also* offers other writing formats like comic book layout, stage play, and novel writing, each of which are also locked into a standard format which is very professional. The projects can be placed online via Celtx Studios (in a private personal account) and become accessible anywhere. With a paid account, it is possible to collaborate with others on the same project.

  11. This is the podcast I’ve needed forever without knowing it. Wikidpad and Aeon are making my writing life so much better! THANK YOU.

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