This is the year! You are SO IN! You’re going to knock out 50,000 words in November, then spend the next few months revising and adding until you have that glorious thing: a completed novel, polished and shiny, ready to be sent out to an eager world.
You got this. But as every writer knows, before you begin, you need to lay out your tools: cup of coffee, notebook and pen for helpful scribbles, laptop or tablet . . . and the right apps.
PLANNING IN OCTOBER
Planning is the fun part! But that’s the danger: you can get lost in planning and diagrams and research and oops! It’s almost Thanksgiving. Don’t succumb: come November 1, be churning out your one or two thousand words a day.
In October, though, plan away. Scapple ($14.99 for Mac and Windows; free to try for 30 days), from the people who brought you Scrivener, the writer’s best friend (see below), is a simple mind-mapping app that allows you to plop down characters, events, or ideas and connect them with lines, shift them around, or arrange them however you like. Like scribbling on a whiteboard, but faster.
The Cult of Mac also points us to Lists for Writers, $2.99 for iPhone/iPad or Android. When you’re writing fast—and you’ll be writing fast—this is a great go-to for prompts and ideas. What kind of hair does the bridegroom have? What does my earth-bound angel actually do for a living? What attitude does my super-spy’s husband have toward her work? Flick through a list, grab a likely answer, and go. This app will stay useful well into November.
WRITING IN NOVEMBER
Scrivener ($45 for Mac and Windows; $19.99 for iOS (universal); free to try for 30 days) is often accused of having a cult, and if that’s the case, I’m a happy member. I’ve been using it for nine or ten years, first on large business documents at my then-day job, and then as a novelist. I genuinely do not understand how people write big projects without it. Some of my favorites of its many features:
- Allows you to break your work into chunks – chapters and scenes—that you can color code and swap around easily in the “binder” that organizes them on the left of your screen.
- Gives you a place to keep all your research right within the project. Photos, sound clips, videos, PDFs, entire web pages—they’re right there at hand in your research section.
- Split screen feature allows you to have two windows open at the same time. Describing a magic raven? Pull up your raven photo and set it right next to the scene you’re typing in.
- The project word counter tracks your progress every writing session and alerts you when you’ve hit your goal—useful for NaNoWriMo.
- And of course, Scrivener easily exports your document into Microsoft Word format so that you can send it out into the world.
Some people find Scrivener a bit intimidating initially. With so many ways to help you write, research, and organize, using it for the first time can be like sitting down to the controls of a jet plane. Here are three key things to know if you’re new to Scrivener:
- If you’re planning to use it for NaNoWriMo, get it ahead of time and play around a bit to see if it’s for you.
- The Scrivener tutorials are famously excellent, so give one a spin.
- Forget about all the stuff it can do. Just begin by using its most basic features—the binder that organizes your documents, and the Research folder—and don’t worry about the rest. Those two features alone can be writer’s-life-changing.
For years Scrivener cultists, I mean fans, have been begging the creators for an iOS version, and it’s finally here. Now you can sync a project to Dropbox and work on it anywhere, from the coffee shop to the line at the post office. The transition to iOS was worth the wait: Macworld gave the iOS version a four-and-a-half mouse rating and said “Scrivener for iOS does just about everything you could ever need in order to research, plot, and write a short story, doctoral thesis, novel, or a review like the one you’re reading right now. . . a robust, flexible writing tool that will serve you well.” (Note that because of screen size limitations, a few features are not available on the iPhone version.)
Tried Scrivener, and it’s not for you? Ulysses (Mac ($44.99) and iOS ($24.99, universal) (sorry, Windows and Android users) gets raves from the Scrivener-decliners. One iTunes reviewer said, “Ulysses hits perfectly between the hack of using a standard word processor and folders to create long-form writing, such as a novel, and the too-much-to-be-worth-the-effort kitchen sink approach of Scrivener. I have become many times more productive since I started using it and it quickly, quickly, QUICKLY justified itself in terms of cost.”
The Mac desktop app has been around for a decade or so, and a 2010 Macworld review sings the praises of its clean interface and “superb design.”
The Ulysses iOS version is new this spring, and the five-mouse Macworld review is a rave beyond raves.
Finally, if NaNoWriMo (or any writing, really) demands anything from you, it’s time management skills. That’s where the Pomodoro Timer (iOS and Android, $1.99) comes in. This little app keeps you writing for 25 minutes, then gives you five minutes to stretch, walk around, or play on Facebook. But it dings you back to work when that five minutes is up. Let this bossy, cheerful tomato keep you churning out words.
Good luck! And remember the Rule of First Drafts, coined I am not sure by whom, which should become your mantra for November: The only thing a first draft needs to be is done.