Whether you’re the next Jack Karouac or the next NaNoWriMo dropout, any novelist who takes the craft seriously is going to need the right tools to write. And let’s face it: Microsoft Office can spit out a decent business letter, but the thought of launching a full-blown office suite to do some creative work is a little… depressing.
Most ordinary word processors are also priced out of reach of the starving artist crowd. If you’re looking to hammer out a lengthy manuscript, and you’re not looking to drop a single dime on software, read on to discover the best free writing software and tools for novelists.
1. Notational Velocity with Simplenote Sync : The best way to churn out raw ideas
The best thing a writer can do is write. From this truism it follows that a writer who can write anywhere inspiration strikes is already at an advantage. Notational Velocity is just the tool for the job. The way the software works is dead simple: just start typing in the search bar to search all the text you’ve ever written in the program. Hit enter to take that search term and make it the title of a new document, then keep typing to create the body. This streamlined design makes churning out plain-text scenes and ideas incredibly smooth and intuitive.
Best of all, Notational Velocity can automatically sync in the cloud with the free Simplenote service. This means your writing is accessible on your smartphone, your iPad, or anywhere you have internet access. Notational Velocity is only available for Mac, but Simplenote is available on pretty much anything.
2. Pomodairo : The best way to manage your time
As with any large project, the hardest thing about writing a novel is getting started. To ward off anxiety about time, and to break an enormous task into smaller, more manageable chunks, many writers and creative types swear by the Pomodoro Technique. While the method is as nuanced and detailed as any productivity system ought to be, the basics are very simple and easy to pick up. Just set a timer for twenty-five minutes and work until the timer goes off. Then, take a five minute break.
This unit of work and a break is called a œPomodoro, and every four Pomodoros calls for a longer break of about twenty-five minutes. That’s it. To make this easier, there’s a free bit of software called Pomodairo that will time your work, time your breaks, and keep track of your tasks and interruptions in a log. Pomodairo is multi-platform, as it runs on Adobe AIR.
3. Skim : The best way to make notes
Skim was originally devised as a way for scientists in academia to read and annotate PDF’s of scientific papers. Over the years this great piece of open source software has grown to include many features like advanced bookmarking, anchored notes, and a distraction-free fullscreen reading environment.
Though it might be an off-label use of the software, Skim is absolutely perfect for reading through a manuscript and making little notes for future changes. Skim lets you underline, cross out, and highlight text to your heart’s content. It’s especially great for budding novelists, because it separates the writing process from the correcting and editing. That way, when you’re on a creative roll, you won’t have to stop to ponder the nuts and bolts of punctuation and usage. Skim is available for Mac.
4. LeechBlock : The best way to remove distractions
Distraction is the bane of any writer’s existence. Award-winning novelist Jonathan Franzen famously said he will not work on any computer with an internet connection. Humorist David Sedaris goes even further, writing all his books with an old-school typewriter. That’s a little overboard for most, so those of us looking for a happy compromise will get a lot of mileage out of LeechBlock, a free extension for Mozilla Firefox.
Once you’ve identified the websites that leech most of your time and attention, tell LeechBlock what time to block them, and you’re set. Popular choices include blocking Facebook between 9am and 5pm, or blocking everything for that hour-and-a-half you set aside for your novel. Unfortunately, like any attempt at self-denial, it only works as well as your ability to stick with it. LeechBlock is available for Firefox versions 3.0 through 4.0.
5. Scrivener Gold : The best way to organize your manuscript
Scrivener is, simply put, the holy grail of word processors for long projects. The lead designer, Keith Blount, actually created Scrivener so that he could write his novel on it. What makes Scrivener so great is its ability to organize text as its created. Every chapter, or every scene, can be given its own individual text file, and then hierarchically organized in the sidebar, just like in popular RSS readers and e-mail clients. From there, reordering entire sections is as easy as dragging and dropping.
Scrivener also has a smart outlining view, plenty of places for notes and tags, the ability to compile a manuscript in a huge array of formats, a distraction-free writing mode– more features than there’s time to enumerate. Scrivener Gold is a freeware release of an older stable version of Scrivener. If you like it, the official release of Scrivener 2.0 has extra features, like Simplenote syncing. Scrivener Gold and Scrivener 2.0 are Mac only, but a Windows release of Scrivener 2.0 is on the way.
What writing tools do you use? Tell us in the comments!
This great post was written by Peter Miller. Contact us if you want to write on this blog :)Google+