I typed the first article I ever submitted by renting time on a typewriter at the public library. The typewriter was bolted to the table. By the time I wrote my first book, in 1972, I owned a typewriter, and not just a typewriter, but an IBM Selectric, the king of the hill in those days.
Today, I type everything on my laptop using Microsoft Word. I’ve tried some of the dedicated book writing programs that some other writers love, such as Scrivener, but they just don’t work for me.
That’s part of the challenge of choosing software to use when you’re a writer. On the one hand, what works for you works for you, even if it doesn’t work for anybody else. On the other hand, using software that other people are using gives you a built-in help desk. Current users can also give you an idea of why they use what they use and if there are any special things that you should know.
Here are four software programs that I use every day in my writing work. Maybe you’ll find some of them useful, too.
Evernote Instead of Slips of Paper
There are thousands of websites out there with interesting things that I might want to use some day. The problem for me, and many other writers I know, is that you may not need them right away. Evernote gives you a way to clip and save interesting items that may turn into important items.
With Evernote, you can clip all or part of a page, and annotate what you found. This is great if you curate material for blog posts or newsletters.
Evernote has some special formats that will let you save Amazon pages, or screen shots, or PDFs. You can put the clippings into one or more notebooks and search the notebooks for words and phrases.
Mind Maps and Outlines with Inspiration
I’ve used mind maps for note-taking and as a planning tool for years. I particularly like them in the early stages of working on a book, because I can create links to show the relationship between different bits of information. I do a lot of that by hand and I do some of it using Inspiration software.
Inspiration is designed for use in schools, which means that many features designed for teachers won’t be useful for you. That’s OK. Inspiration lets you include graphics, active links, and clipped quotes in your mind map. One big benefit for me is that it’s easy to click back and forth between the mind map view and the outline view.
I find that the early stages of planning an article or a book are relatively unstructured. My mind makes connections between a bunch of things and everything makes sense until you try to write it up. Then you need to put that bunch of things in order. You need to take things in brain order and put them in book order. Inspiration lets me do both, plus export to MS Word.
Using PowerPoint As a Storyboard
Many times, when I’m planning a piece of writing, I do something like storyboarding. I identify the most important ideas and stories I’ll be using and put them into an effective order using PowerPoint.
You can put a major idea on a slide, rearrange slides using the slide sorter view, and include notes and links as you go. For me, this is a powerful tool when I’m putting together the big ideas for a book or an article. This is easier and more helpful for me than Inspiration. When I’m working on a long-form project or a book I usually go back and forth between Inspiration and PowerPoint as I refine the writing plan.
Find It Fast with Copernic
There are a host of reasons why I need to search for things on my hard drive. Microsoft has a search function built in, but I’m willing to spend a small amount of money on Copernic because it is faster and better. Here’s one way I use it.
This morning I was working on a chapter for a client’s book and I wanted to use a specific quote. My memory warned me that I’d used the quote recently. But where? Copernic to the rescue. In less than thirty seconds I confirmed that I had used the quote, but on another project.
When I’m working on a large project there’s interesting stuff scattered across different chapter versions, transcripts of interviews, notes, and email. Copernic lets me search all of them at the same time.
The current version of Copernic is number 6. I’ve been using it for several versions, and I love it.
I’m sure you can be a writer today and not use any software, but I wouldn’t want to try it. I use Evernote to keep track of notes and to sort and copy them as I need to. Inspiration is my tool for creating mind maps and outlines. I use PowerPoint as a digital storyboard, putting big ideas in order. And, I use Copernic to find things on my hard drive.