Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Discovering new writing tools

If you are a plotter-type writer like me, then you must be using some tools to organise and structure your writing. If, like me, you also don't have space to accommodate a whiteboard in your living room or pin things onto your walls, you must be doing most of your organising digitally. Here are the most useful softwares/devices I've discovered in the past year. I have used these with varying degree of success.
Scrivener (Literature and Latte) - helps you structure your manuscript into sections. It is like Word's Outline on steroids. I have academic and writerly-type friends alike who are singing evangelical odes to Scrivener, swearing it changed their lives.

Also, Interwebs are infested with confessionals, like this one, or this one, or this one - which are all testament to Scrivener being actually used by real people who write. 

Pros: free 30-days trial; cheap license; can extract to Word in fancy format; easy to use

Cons: limited editing options (unless I just haven't figured out how to use it properly): no tracked changes, in-text comments; license isn't free. 

Popplet is a mind-mapping software that allows Storyboard creation and editing. I discovered Popplet through my current work - it is used to outline an academic course's structure, to think through logistics and timelines of it. Popplet is also great for brainstorming - it is basically your whiteboard but on a computer screen! There isn't as much stuff on Popplet's uses for us creative types in blogosphere, but here is something, and something here.

Pros: it's free for up to five projects; you can extract it into PDF and other formats; it allows for complex mind-maps. In the case of my Work-In-Progress (illustrated here: my novel's first two chapters) I'm using Popplet to map out my plot chapter by chapter and for each character (what I refer to as Storyboard) - I use different colors for different characters (e.g., my main protag is in pink, etc). Below the Storyboard is timeline of events. It is an amazing tool! As this novel is already written I'm using Popplet post-factum to track my structure, ensure there are no plot holes, that all character arcs are accounted for...

Cons: I'm new to it so it feels a bit clunky to me; editing of the existent Popplet is not the most straight-forward process; if you go over the 5 Popplets limit, you'll have to purchase a license.

MOOCs - massive online open courses - are great for research and development of writing craft. I knew little about MOOCs (and what I knew of them just made me skeptical) before I started in my current job. But now that I'm aware of various MOOC options out there, I always keep an eye open for courses relevant to my writing. 

There are two types of MOOCs that are useful for writers. One is research-focused - when you need to learn about a topic you know nothing or little about and you need to learn fast. En example: I'm about to start on a MOOC on maritime archaeology. Why? My next project will be deep-sea set and I need to learn about locations of submerged cities and lost treasures. I'm also going to do a MOOC on evaluational biology for the same future project. You get my drift. 

Another type of MOOC that writers can benefit from is the writing-focused MOOC. This week I've started a MOOC called Write101x provided by the University of Queensland via EDx. The course is about grammar - it's fun and set up around blogging, so now only I learn new things I also write about them. 

Some of the main MOOC providers are Coursera, EDx, Udacity, and FutureLearn - just search for the key words associated with topics you'd like to learn about and voila - you get a list of courses that are starting soon.

Pros: FREE!; virtually any topic is covered; reputable academics and universities are behind most MOOCs; easy sign-up; option to get a verified certificate (for a fee) in the end (if you're into that sort of thing); networking possibilities

Cons: not all MOOCs are structured in easy-to-follow ways - some are worse than others; if you sign up for a lot of MOOCs and really try to do them all you won't have time for anything else in your life; MOOCs might be free but you still need to engage with the material to learn anything/something.

In addition to these interwebs-based tools, I also found Plot Clock device very useful. I came across this concept on the Literary Rambles blog and here is the post with illustrations that made me think deeply about the flow and narrative thrust of my current Work-In-Progress.

What other writing tools, digital and not, do you use?

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