AIDE ÉCRIRE: New Technology For Writers

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)

6 Comments

  1. Lia Harness (Learner Support Officer) 2 July 2015 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for this Barbara!

    Write or Die sounds amazing! Akin to the freewriting I suppose, where when stuck I will end up writing the same word over until something else pops into my head.

    Reply
  2. Chris 2 July 2015 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve used Scrivener since it first came out, and it lives up to its epithet of ‘the best writing app ever’. It’s far more than mentioned here, and includes writing modules for poetry and screenplays, and a notes section that’s ideal for planning assignments etc. Ideal for OCA Creative Writing students.

    Reply
  3. Corinne Cole 3 July 2015 at 8:04 am

    I’d like to see a tool that can murder the poison parrot on my shoulder!

    Reply
  4. liz cashdan 3 July 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Some useful sites there but not sure they are all up to scratch. One place where you can get lots of help for free is on the Open University free learning sites.

    Reply
  5. Linda Razzell 4 July 2015 at 3:33 pm

    I use Scrivener and it has worked really well for me. It can handle anything from a short sketch to a full length novel (one day I will ) and I’ve found the templates very useful. It compiled my assignments for Writing Skills in a flash once I had set my own template for OCA. Easy to use and I am by no means a techie! I would recommend it to anyone who wants to concentrate on the content of their work and have the technicalities taken care of.

    Reply
  6. ninahare 5 July 2015 at 3:55 pm

    I found this one of the scariest blogposts ever, from you, Barbara. I don’t use any of this not even google docs. Reading it was like standing on the edge of a dark pool, knowing everyone else has been splashing about merrily for sometime, and are now so far out, I can hardly see them, let alone catch up.

    Reply

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