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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Widdowson

The Indie-Author's Arsenal: Writing Tools

Updated: Jun 2

pink and white peonies on keyboard with blank notebook and pink envelope

You’ve decided to go for it! You’re going to write a book and publish it yourself. Good for you! Now you’re scouring the web, trying to find tools and techniques to help you actually accomplish your goal. You type in your search, hit enter, and…are swamped! There is a lot of writing and self-publishing advice out there. How are you going to know where to start?


This is the first in a planned series of blogs where I share some of the resources I've found helpful in my journey to self-publishing my books. This first blog, "The Indie-Author's Arsenal: Writing Tools", summarizes the resources I researched, used, or rejected for one reason or another to help me organize my research materials, notes, outlines, synopses, etcetera, and do the actual writing. Hopefully, by putting this info together in these blogs, it will save some of you first-time publishers the grief of sorting through the plethora of information available. I’m going to start at the beginning and work my way to the very end of the process, and there’s no way I can cover everything in a single blog.


A little disclaimer before I get started. Every writer is different. What I found helpful, you may not. I published first on Amazon, and eventually on IngramSpark. You may plan to go down a completely different path, and perhaps some of my advice won’t work for you. But I hope you find at least a few valuable tips.


Let’s get started writing. Or not. Wait. Before you write your first word, you need to answer this question: What tool are you going to use to write your book? If you’re writing on a typewriter or in a blank journal with a fountain pen, you can skip ahead. But if you’re writing on a computer, you need to decide what application to use.


First time writers often use Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Pages. There are many advantages to these applications. There are many computers that come pre-loaded with them, and most people are already familiar with how to use at least one of them. They come with built-in spelling and grammar checkers and can easily export a document to PDF format, which is the standard format for paperback uploads to self-publishing companies.


But there are disadvantages to using these basic writing apps for penning a book. They’re great for writing technical documents, letters, or short stories. If you’re writing strictly linearly, or your book has only a few characters and is not very complex, you could probably make any of these tools work for you. But what if your story is more complex, you have a complicated timeline, lots of characters? Or maybe you jump around in your writing or change your timeline or cast of characters at any point. Then the limitations of these types of applications can become obvious quickly.


I don’t write linearly. I write whatever chapters or scenes I feel ready to crank out. That could be the first chapter, the last chapter, or somewhere in the middle. And often, I move things around in the process of writing. Maybe I realized the book would flow better if a scene happened before or after another one. Or perhaps I got rid of a character, or added a new one? Maybe I thought my timeline would be more interesting if I jumped ahead a few months. If I hadn’t planned for any of those changes when I started writing, it would be difficult to make them if I was using an application that wasn’t robust enough to handle them.


It’s your book. You can do whatever you want. But I think it’s worth starting with a tool that was specifically designed for writing a novel. These applications not only help you keep things organized as you write, but they also help you export your final version into the formats required for both paperback and ebook. And they will save you a lot of time and effort fighting against an app that was never designed to handle the complexities that often exist with writing a novel.


When I was working on my master’s in digital cinema, working as a TV producer, and writing and directing short indie films, I wrote a lot of screenplays. Because of that, I used Final Draft, an application specifically designed for writing screenplays. But when I started writing my first book, The RH Factor, I soon discovered that Final Draft didn’t work as well for novel writing. I tried writing with MS Word, but often lost track of where I was in the timeline. It was also difficult to move chapters or scenes around and still have a good view of how the overall story flowed. I can’t imagine how someone writing a fantasy with a completely fictional calendar system could write their book without using an app designed specifically for novel writing.


Some of the more popular applications are Scrivener, The Novel Factory, Atticus, Write It Now, Vellum, and Ulysses. There are others, of course, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. I admit that I am not intimately familiar with all of them, because when I did my initial research looking for a professional writing application, most of these were not available. Ultimately, I chose Scrivener, and I love it! It has a ton of features. Because of that, however, it can be a little overwhelming for new users. 


Why do I love Scrivener so much? Because it allows me to put all the information about my novel in one place—pictures, research documents, website articles and links, templates for character profiles, story outlines, and it even has story templates, like Save the Cat and The Hero’s Journey, that you can preload to help you organize your book. It has a full screen writing mode and a corkboard with index cards of your scenes that allow you to move chapters and scenes around easily. It is very robust. I could go on and on about it, but check out this YouTube video on Victoria Griffin's channel to get a taste. Oh, and it’s inexpensive. As of the writing of this blog, it’s only around $60. And you don’t have to buy a cloud version with a never-ending subscription fee. But everyone is different. I strongly recommend you do your own research to see which of these writing apps best fits your needs. Many of these companies offer trial versions for free.


Now that you’ve chosen a writing application, you’re ready to get started. Are you sure? Is your thought simply to sit down and write, or do you have a plan? I suggest that before you write the first word of the actual book, you put an outline together. But wait! You say you’re a pantser? You never write an outline? I’m not one of those people, and I’m envious of those who are. I am definitely a planner, and I think everyone can benefit from at least writing a synopsis of their story before starting on the first chapter. But this is just me talking. As I said before, it’s your book.


If you’re interested in learning about the options available to help you organize your ideas so you can write the best book you can, check back next week for the second part of this Author Arsenal blog where I’ll be sharing what's out there, which ones I've tried, and the ones that worked for me.


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