Tech that keeps me writing

Sometimes it’s hard to be a writer. Like most writers, I feel the imperative to write prolifically and write material people actually want to read.

This year I’ve surprised myself about how I’ve changed the way I write. I’ve adopted technology that, to be honest, I’d never have considered previously.

Today I thought I’d take stock and share some of technology that keeps me writing. I should add that this is the tech I use regularly. It’s not tech I’ve bought or downloaded and rarely (or never) used again.

Hopefully you’ll feel inspired to recommend some of your favourite writing tech too!

I’ve divided up my tech tools into two categories: writing helpmates and research tools. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the research tools I use. So today it’s …

Writing helpmates

Two bits of technology that I use surprisingly often are both run-of-the-mill iPhone apps. The Notes app is great for jotting down ideas when I’m away from my desk. Admittedly, typing is slower on the touchscreen keypad. But I don’t always carry a pen and paper and always have the iPhone with me. I can email each note to myself so they’ll pop up on my desktop for later use.

The other iPhone app I use a lot is Voice Memos. I use it in a similar way to the Notes app. However Voice Memos is perfect for recording middle-of-the-night ideas. Speaking seems to require less thought than writing, and I only have to press a couple of buttons and voila! I’ve recorded my scintillating thought and can access it later when I’m more coherent.

Yes, I write sentence fragments occasionally. So sue me, Microsoft.

Unfortunately I’m one of those people who, unless the written note is in front of me, I tend to forget about it. Stickies is an Apple desktop app that allows me to post my ideas up on my desktop like virtual post-it notes. I use it for my novel to-do lists and delete notes as I complete each task. Stickies works for me because I’m fairly visual. I can change the colour of each note, alter the font size and add in little headings.

Another Mac application I’ve been using a fair bit for writing is GarageBand. I use it as an editing tool. I read aloud my stories and record them. This alerts me to text fragments that don’t read well, as well as redundant bits and pieces. I have to say, I don’t find this method good for creating. It may be that my inner critic is stronger when I’ve reading aloud.

Of course the juggernaut of writing helpmates is MS Word. I’ve been using it for years and this year went and bought the latest version for Mac (2011). (I can only feel sympathy for those writers grappling with Word 2007 – possibly the worst incarnation ever.)

The features I use a lot include styles, readability (I’m writing for kids at the moment) and word count. I’ve switched off the grammar checker. Yes, I write sentence fragments occasionally. So sue me, Microsoft.

Voila! I’ve recorded my scintillating thought and can access it later when I’m more coherent.

I also wanted to mention my most-used items of tech. They address an issue that hopefully you’ll never have to deal with: excessive noise.

Living in property-obsessed Melbourne, there are building construction sites on either side of my house. There’s continuous noise from 7am to 4pm every weekday and most weekends. Apart from fleeing to a friend’s place for a few hours, I’ve adopted two items of tech to keep me writing:

  • A set of quality headphones. These block out a little external noise as well as provide good sound reproduction of whatever music or audio I’m using to block out the rest of the noise (demolition dozers, dirt movers, assorted trucks, concrete mixers, etc). I tried noise-cancelling headphones but really hated them.
  • The best white noise app I’ve found is Relax Melodies. There’s a free version on the iTunes App Store, but the paid version (about $5 last check) was worth it for the extra sounds and music, as well as eliminating the constantly-streaming ads. I use this app every day. Best five dollars I’ve ever spent.

I guess this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the computer I use. This year I moved from a desktop machine to a laptop. While the smaller screen was a downside, being able to take the computer out of the house to write has been invaluable.

While I don’t like using the laptop in cafes, I’ve used it in parks, libraries, friends’ houses as well as holiday houses.

So that’s it for the tech I find useful for writing. If there are writers reading this who use Windows or Android who’d care to share their suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

9 thoughts on “Tech that keeps me writing

  1. Thanks for the rundown, Cathryn. I wasn’t aware of many of those programs.

    For those who have a Mac, Scrivener is brilliant for keeping your novel organised into separate chapters that you can easily rearrange. There are sections for research, character summaries, plot summaries etc. I discovered the program this year and now can’t live without it. It will be available in Windows in the near future.

    Marianne Musgrove

  2. i love word (and mentioned some of the more obvious keystrokes that i use i just learned about control y the redo key)
    I also think, for my taste, that writing place at the same time, is a necessity
    I keep save as versions of my files every month and also save them on google docs for protection
    I bookmark each chapter so i can jump to the (theres a short cut top left)
    also like left click for spelling fixes
    ok enough babbling
    good luck

    • Thanks for all the tips! I also ‘save as’ my files and back them up by emailing them to myself. That way if my computer crashes, I know I have a copy on the internet.

      (I heard a story where someone’s house burnt down – and along with the computer all the backup files were destroyed. This is one reason I like email backups.)

      I like your idea for bookmarking where you left off writing. With longer works, it can be frustrating finding the exact spot you were working on the day before.

      Cheers, Cath

  3. Hi Trish,

    I’ve heard a few writers say they read their work aloud as a way of editing. I’ve also noticed, while tutoring kids, that when they read aloud they’re so focussed on the act of reading/speaking they don’t necessary take in what they’re reading.

    Recording allows me to separate the listening/editing from the reading/speaking. So there is a rationale behind it!

    Best, Cath

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