Many writers are natural Luddites. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing the YouTube sketch known as the Medieval Help Desk, then take two minutes to check it out and squirm in your seat as you recognise yourself, all too clearly.
And yet we are in an age when if we could embrace the technology, there are all sorts of apps and software to help us do our job. I thought I might run through some in this post, with thanks to the OCA students who contributed by answering my recent forum thread.
Almost all of us have grasped the notion of Google docs, or other word processing and storage technologies. Imagine how Hemingway, who is said to have rewritten the ending to A Farewell to Arms some 39 times,¹ would have loved something like this. It’s fitting, then, that there is an app called Hemingway which will alert you to writing sins such as complex sentences, adverbs or a passive voice. It will even suggest shorter alternatives to long words. I’d recommend it to any inveterate over-writers out there.
Maybe your issue is that you haven’t even started writing, because you like to plan and outline before committing pen to paper (or digit to keyboard). In that case, you will love Scrivener, which acts as an organiser and virtual pinboard, letting you outline chapters, timelines and any other information you may need to hand – and easily switch chunks of writing around. If you’re not a planner, it will feel like an extra layer of work, but it you are, then you will wonder how you ever wrote anything of length without it. Related to this is Aeon Timeline, for those who like to know their characters’ birthdays, inside leg measurements and everything else about them. A must for anyone writing a series, I’d suggest.
Perhaps, though, your problem is even more fundamental than that: you’re lacking in inspiration and ideas. Then there is StoryWeaver and its sister software IdeaSpinner, which will guide you step by step through a novel or screenplay, using online prompt cards and a series of probing questions.
So you have your ideas, you have your outline and you have Mr Hemingway himself as your editor. What’s stopping you from writing now? Why, procrastination, of course. Guess what: there’s an app for that too. Anti-Social will bar you from the likes of Facebook and twitter, Coffitivity will create the ambient sounds of a café to help you channel J.K. Rowling, or else Songza will provide the background music to match your mood.
Still can’t do it? There’s only one solution: Write or Die. Install this and type continuously or else… well, it depends on your chosen setting. ‘Gentle’ will offer you a pop-up reminder to keep going. ‘Normal’ will make a nasty noise that only stops when you write. The ‘Kamikaze’ setting means that if you stop, your writing will all un-write itself. If that doesn’t make you finish that novel, then nothing will.
What technology do you use when writing? Have I missed out any must-haves?
¹ Hemingway, Ernest (1956) The Paris Review (interview)