A Writer’s Best Friend: My Favourite Writing Tools

Today’s been a bit of a write-off (ha) in terms of story progression due to a rare hangover, so if I wasn’t going to be productive, I thought I might perhaps share with you a couple of the tools that I use for my writing instead.

For many years I relied upon good ol’ fashioned Microsoft Word for word processing, which I think is what most children of my generation were taught to use at school for absolutely everything from essays to short stories. Unfortunately, the thing about Microsoft Word is:

  • You cannot buy it individually and have to buy it as part of Microsoft’s Office suite with a load of superlative software like Excel, Outlook/OneNote and Publisher.
  • It’s bloody expensive, currently retailing on the official website at $149.99 for a one-time purchase, or alternatively you can shell out $69.99-$99.99 on an annual subscription for more products you won’t use and a household license.
  • It has far too many functions.
  • It’s far too distracting to write on.

So, here are a couple of alternatives (besides your bog standard pen and paper of course) that I have discovered work wonders for me and my productivity.

Please note that this post is not being sponsored by anyone and all my views are entirely my own. I’m just wishing to share the love!

Scrivener

I think many writers of today will agree that Literature & Latte Ltd’s Scrivener is a writer’s best friend. Whilst initially quite daunting with an absolutely massive tutorial to read through the first time you open it, you get to grips with it pretty quickly and now I cannot live without it. Scrivener doesn’t just let you store your words, it also:

  • Stores absolutely everything you can possibly think of about your novel in one place including your research notes, maps and inspirational images so you can quickly jump from one to the other at a click of a button.
  • Allows you assign labels to your writing e.g. ‘Chapter’, ‘Scene’, ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’, ‘First Draft’ so you can keep track of what you’re doing.
  • Provides a tree-view of your work so you can move bits of your stories around and drill-down into scenes within chapters within parts with ease.
  • Also provides a ‘corkboard’ view that does exactly the same thing if you prefer, with index cards for synopses or images.
  • Provides you with templates for designing characters, places and settings.
  • Lets you store all kinds of media related to your story, including images and music files.
  • Has an excellent distraction-free writing option called Composition Mode which removes all functions from the screen except for a blank page and your text.
  • Will compile your novel for you when you are finished.
  • Syncs with iOS so you can work on your project anywhere (the iOS app is sold separately to the main product; I personally don’t use it)

Scrivener Screenshot

Now for the bad news: Scrivener is not free, retailing at approximately £36-£41 depending on whether you’re a Mac or Windows user. However, I cannot stress enough what excellent value for money this program is and it comes with a generous household license, meaning you can download it on multiple computers that are using the same platform.

Worth noting: even if you do not take part in NaNoWriMo, you should sign up anyway because Scrivener are one of their sponsors and sometimes do extremely generous promotional deals for NaNoWriMo participants (I ended up paying just £29.61 for the Mac version off the back of one such deal).

If I woke up one day and Scrivener had disappeared from my computer, I think I would go into meltdown. Buy it!

http://literatureandlatte.com/

Evernote

Evernote screenshotThis handy iOS app is essentially the equivalent of carrying an extremely swish notebook around on your phone. I actually use Evernote for so many things other than my writing, including to-do lists, wish-lists, recipe storage, gym programs and reminders to myself. Most importantly though, I do use it for writing on the go. Whether it be jotting down an idea that’s come to me on the train, or writing out a scene that I just can’t get out of my head on my lunch break, Evernote is always there for me! It also has a great sharing function that I use with my writing partner, K.F. Goodacre whereby if we quickly need the other’s opinion on something, we just drop it in our ‘Feedback Wanted’ folder, sync up, and pick up. You never have to save anything either as it constantly syncing to the cloud. No more computer-crashing-before-you-could-save-your-file panic! Plus, because it’s cloud-based, you can view the contents of Evernote on all your devices and it’s cross-platform between Mac and PC. Yay!

Evernote is a partly-free subscription service with 3 tiers you can choose from depending on your needs:

  • Tier 1 – Basic (free): 2 devices and 60 MB (if you’re using Evernote for writing only this more than enough, so you could install Evernote on your phone and have it sync to your computer at home).
  • Tier 2 – Plus (£29.99/y): unlimited devices, 1 GB storage, access to customer support (I use this one because like I said, I use Evernote for everything, not just my writing).
  • Tier 3 – Premium (£49.99/y): unlimited devices, 10GB storage, access to customer support, PDF editing and lots more (not worth getting unless you’re running a business!).

https://evernote.com/

And, last but not least…

OmmWriter Dana II

By far my absolute favourite way to write is using the beautiful, completely distraction-free text processor, OmmWriter.

OmmWriter

It is essentially a stand-alone, more advanced version of Composition Mode in Scrivener, that fills the whole screen and removes all distractions, including clocks, formatting options and the pesky internet. What you see in the screenshot above is pretty much all there is to it. You get a text box  which you can drag around the page and make as small or as large as you want. You then get the option to change a very limited number of things to tailor your writing experience:

  1. Font style (4 options – I use option 1)
  2. Font size (4 options – I use option 3)
  3. Background colour/image (8 options – I use option 5)
  4. Background music/sound (8 options incl. mute – I use option 2)
  5. Keystroke sounds (8 options incl. mute – I use option 1)
  6. Save/load up a .txt or .omm file

And that’s it! The text box disappears and you just let the beautiful colours, music and sounds wash over and clear your mind completely for a distraction-free writing experience. Ah, bliss!

OmmWriter Example

I have never been more productive than when I started writing with OmmWriter; it just makes it so pleasant to write and easy to become completely and utterly engrossed in your work. Like Scrivener and Evernote, I cannot live without it.

The creators of OmmWriter have a ‘pay what you want’ pricing structure, meaning that you can get OmmWriter for free, but you probably should at least pay the minimum price of $5.11 (like I did) because it’s such a gorgeous piece of software; the developers deserve every penny.

http://www.ommwriter.com/en/

That’s all for now! I hope you will check some of these out if you were not aware of them already and that they help you as much as they have helped me. What do you guys use to write on? Do you disagree with some of my choices or have you some of your own to share?

Happy writing,

S.E. Berrow

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Productivity Update (don’t get excited…) and HAMILTON!

Good afternoon, Dear Followers. I hope you’re all keeping well.

My 2017 has gotten off to a rather rocky start. After a wonderfully productive first week where I wrote something nearly every day, took up my Outlander colouring again and qualified as a First Aider for my workplace, I was then struck down by a viral infection on January 7th and have been off work since the 10th. To say I’ve had a nasty cough doesn’t quite do said cough justice. Cough Version 2.0 perhaps? Coughzilla? Regardless, it’s the kind of cough that racks your whole body, saps all your energy and drives other people as far away from you as possible. I have coughed so much that I have been sick. There were no less than three days last week where I was completely unable to leave my bed, let alone the house. I haven’t been able to read, write, or do anything much that requires movement or long periods of concentration. Throw insomnia, cabin fever, loneliness and intense boredom into the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty miserable human being. I am eternally grateful to my boyfriend Mark and my wonderful mother who have been looking after me the whole time, bringing me food, medicine, changes of scenery and being on the other end of the phone for me to cry and splutter at.

Fortunately, I’ve been slowly on the mend since Monday and am feeling much better.The doctor signed me off for another week to recover, so all I can do is rest and recuperate. I’m still coughing like crazy, but today I left the house for the first time to buy myself food and I actually managed to make it all the way back to my house to cook it! A truly monumental achievement! Also, when I got back, I found that work had sent me some beautiful flowers, a Get Well Soon card, and a teddy bear. I was so moved that I cried. That’s how emotionally pathetic I am right now.

get-well-soon

So, very sadly, there hasn’t been much writing progress since that glorious first week in January, but I hope to begin again in earnest once I am fully recovered from Coughzilla.

Plus… it hasn’t all been bad! On Monday, despite completely forgetting and signing on to the internet a full two hours after they went on sale, I managed to secure the hottest tickets of the decade… Hamilton on the West End!

hamilton

Hamilton, for those of you who do not know, is a relatively new musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda that’s been blowing up Broadway since its release in 2015, and was inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Rob Chernow. Alexander Hamilton was one of America’s Founding Fathers and also one of the most mysterious, largely due to his premature death at the hands of Vice President Aaron Burr in a deadly duel. Despite this he still managed to achieve an awful lot during his lifetime by helping to promote the Constitution, create the US financial system and write his way out of a salacious sex-scandal.

Because I am writing a book set during the 18th century (The Mayor), I am immediately drawn to anything related to the period. American history is of a particular fascination to me because I hear about it all the time through the medium of American television and books, but I have never been taught it formally, being English. Thus, when I learned from my friend Sophie that she had recently become obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack, I asked her to send it to me so that I could listen and become obsessed too… which I did. Immediately.

The musical-style of Hamilton leans heavily — but not exclusively — on rap and hip-hop which, when combined with 18th century themes of clever writing and political spin, works supremely well! Check out this little trailer below that gives you a rough idea of what it’s all about:

Where was I? Oh yes! I managed to get tickets for myself and Mark to see Hamilton on the West End in London on my birthday next year!

OK, so it’s quite some time away — it hasn’t even been my birthday this year yet — but I’m sooooooo excited! Consequently, even if things all go pear-shaped this year, at least I can say I managed to get my paws on a pair of Hamilton tickets ♥

Here’s to a happy, healthy rest-of-2017!

Lots of love,

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Hamilton and 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda, please visit the below:

http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com/ (Broadway)
http://www.hamiltonthemusical.co.uk/ (West End)
http://www.linmanuel.com/

Bonus! Tweet from the Hamilton cast (because Trump-bothering is always fun):

 

Disaster Has Struck!

Terrible news, my dear readers! And no I’m not talking about the fact that 52% of my fellow countrymen decided to commit economic suicide last Friday, nor the fact that the Pied Piper, Boris Johnson, has led all the rats and innocent children out of the EU only to then never be seen again…*

No. I’m afraid it’s far worse than that, at least from an aspiring writer’s perspective. My adorable black and white ball of fluff, Baron Edgar A. Von Purrtrap, has chewed through my MacBook charger(!!!) the day before my writing partner K.F. Goodacre and I head off to Camp NaNoWriMo for 31 days of dedicated creativity. My computer is refusing to charge, and I will now be forced to fork out a maximum of £65 for a replacement.

Bad Edgar. Bad.

Fortunately, I’m a bit of an old-school writer who makes more progress with a pen and paper than on a word processor. That being said, typing up what I’ve written at the end of the day is a big thing for me, plus I am now cut off from my Scrivener project that holds a lot of my research and inspiration. If anything it’ll be interesting to see what sort of things I produce without this particular crutch, and I suppose it’ll be a lot harder to get distracted by the Internet.

There’s a fine line between distraction and concentration, and the chances are that your cat is sitting on it.


Take care,

S.E. Berrow


* In a rare expression of political affiliation on this blog, I wish to state for the record that I was completely and utterly heartbroken by Britain’s EU Referendum result (announced Friday 24 June), that I voted REMAIN, and that I totally and utterly condemn the Leave Campaign’s lies, underhand tactics and racist rhetoric. I actually cried when I heard the result. Like a baby. I still love you, fellow Europeans ♥

NaNoWriMo: The Halfway Point

NaNoWriMo bookcaseWe are now officially over halfway through NaNoWriMo 2015 and I am sorry to report that I have been a very bad NaNoWriMo participant indeed. I have hardly written anything, and I say this without exaggeration or irony because I have only written a rather non-spectacular 4,929 words. Whilst they are very good words (I really am genuinely very very pleased with them) it’s an inescapable fact that I’m running alarmingly behind schedule if I am to have any hope of reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month. To do so, I would need to write at least 3,219 words per day, which realistically is not going to happen.

Thing is though, I always knew I was going to ‘lose’ NaNoWriMo, and I never actually set out to ‘win’ it. I just wanted to use it as an exercise to get back into the habit of writing on a regular basis. Being the despairing owner of a 170,000 word-draft of pure unfinished ramble (my original draft of The Mayor shamefully amounts to only a 1/4 of the whole book), I’m not exactly the firmest believer in ‘quantity over quality’. I’m a very slow writer even at the best and most creative of times.

I have however, at this halfway point, learned a few things:

1) I don’t actually need long, extended periods of uninterrupted writing time sat behind my desk. All the words I’ve written for NaNoWriMo so far have been written on my morning train journey and in the kitchen on my lunch break. Given half an hour or so, I can churn out about 300 words. So if I wrote every day for a week, that’d be approximately 2100 words. If I wrote every day for a month, that’d be approximately 8400 words. If I wrote every day for a year, that’d be approximately 100,800 words i.e. at least one book’s worth. My train journey takes about 30 minutes, each way, so voila. I seem to have found some writing time.

2) The 170,000 words I originally wrote of The Mayor and have been tempted to burn many times aren’t actually that bad, just long-winded. In fact, they’re pretty good, and it’d do me well to perhaps spend some time hammering these into submission and rewriting great chunks of it rather than starting completely afresh as I originally intended. Don’t kill your darlings… recycle them!

3) Writing should be fun. I do find writing fun, most of the time. But NaNoWriMo’s word counts make it feel like a chore. It doesn’t work for everyone, and I think after several attempts now both at regular NaNoWriMo and also Camp NaNoWriMo, it’s time for me to accept that this sort of thing just isn’t for me and to not to feel guilty about it. Crippling levels of guilt and feelings of failure just stop me from writing anything at all.

So, with two weeks still to go on NaNoWriMo, here’s to hoping I can churn out at least another 4,929 words. After all, 9,858 words written over 30 days may not be as many as 50,000, but it’s better than no words at all! And better than just vomiting out words, if I’m honest…

How is NaNoWriMo going for you? Are you doing any better or trailing behind like I am?

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


 

Think you’ve got what it takes to pen 50,000 words in 30 days? Check out NaNoWriMo’s official websites below. Good luck!

www.nanowrimo.org
www.campnanowrimo.org

Berrow and Goodacre’s Annual Writing Retreat Part II: The Hermits Emerge

Click here to read Part I.

Thus the Writing Retreat has come to an end, and K.F. Goodacre and I must return to our day jobs. I must confess, my level of productivity paled in comparison to that of K.F. Goodacre, who’s been slashing words from her book baby as though editing were some form of infanticide. Me? Well I spent most of my time sorting out my extremely out of date Scrivener file and organising the research photos from my visit to New Orleans last year for one of my current projects, Salt. I also did a little bit of editing myself and a smidgeon of plotting, essentially attempting to hammer my existing work into some form of springboard that I can push up from.

Truth be told, I haven’t actually picked any writing up since April last year. Two things happened around that time that caused the longest and most numbing spate of writer’s block I’ve ever experienced:

1) My beloved cat Jaffa died slap-bang in the middle of a really productive Camp Nanowrimo and I was too upset to continue.

2) I bought a house. Not just any house, but a new build that didn’t actually complete until late December/early January.

Have you ever bought a house before? If so, you will know how stressful purchasing a house is; obtaining a mortgage, scrabbling around for money you didn’t even realise you needed, having to deal with rude and incompetent solicitors… At the same time I was stuck in a job I absolutely loathed, but I couldn’t move on because it would violate the conditions of my mortgage. Then, after I moved in, I had to find a new job and at the same time deal with all the stresses of living expenses, furnishing and decorating. New job aside, I’m still dealing with these stresses, but at least now it’s gradually receding into the background radiation of my everyday existence.

Regardless, I know that life simply won’t stop just so I can write a book, and now things are considerably less hectic than they were before, I really need to get back into the ‘swing’ of writing again. The more I write, the more I want to write, so this weekend’s Writing Retreat – whilst not as productive as it could have been – did succeed in reminding me how much I love my story, and how much I want to continue writing it. I sometimes get the notion that I am ‘not worthy’ of writing Salt; that I lack the ability to weave the story that I want to tell properly. Yesterday whilst out for a Sunday roast dinner in a group, my friend Maria asked me if I had written anymore, because I sent the opening chapter to her last year and she thought it was ‘amazing’. It was really lovely to hear her praise, despite the crushing guilt I felt at not having written anything more to show her. There’s only one way to change that of course… I need to write more!

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


Official website for K.F. Goodacre:
http://kfgoodacre.com/

For more information on Camp Nanowrimo, visit:
http://campnanowrimo.org/

Writing Retreats and Adventures in Late-Night Baking

Today marked the first day of Berrow and Goodacre’s second annual Writing Retreat. The idea is that each year, my writing partner and I hole ourselves away in a room, knuckle down to business and bash out a few thousand words without the distractions of work, family, friends and boyfriends luring us away from our desks.

So, how is it going so far?

Kim gets down to businessWell, for K.F. Goodacre, things are going spectacularly well. She has been continuing to edit her recently completed novel, The Elder Throne, getting it ready for querying agents and generally being a Good Little Writer.

Me? Well, I spent most of the day sleeping off the tail-end of my hideous cold, coughing my guts up, making sinister avocado-peeling videos to creep out my friends on our WhatsApp group and attempting to bake a cake with rotten eggs at 11pm.

Adventures in late-night bakingNot very writerly of me.

Still, tomorrow is a new day. And, following an emergency trip to Asda to acquire fresh eggs, we now have some Dorset Apple Cake to see us through!

No doubt I shall keep you updated with our progress.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


For more information on K.F. Goodacre and The Elder Throne, visit:
http://kfgoodacre.com/

Dorset Apple Traybake recipe from BBC Good Food:
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2044/dorset-apple-traybake