Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tech to Save a Writer's Sanity

Ah, technology. For some writers, it’s a blessing; for others, a bane, and for most of us, it’s both. Nonetheless, almost every writer uses it at some point, whether they’re looking for epic motivational music on YouTube, collecting character inspiration on Pinterest, actually writing on Microsoft Word, or searching the internet for answers to one of those weird questions we all end up asking eventually. As a primarily pencil-and-paper writer, I’m a little less reliant on technology than some of my friends, but I still have a host of programs, sites, and apps that I use pretty regularly for writing-related purposes. And because I figure some of these might be helpful for others, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. Some of these you probably already know about and might even use yourself, but others you might not be familiar with.

Tech to Save a Writer's Sanity

(Or at least make their lives a little easier and more productive)
  1. Evernote
    What I use it for: So. Storming. Much. Where do I even begin? A friend of mine told me about Evernote around the time I got my new phone, and I am so glad he did. I installed it on my laptop and my phone- which means any document I create on one shows up on the other- and I use it for everything, even stuff that isn’t writing related. I keep notes on it about my current WIPs, possible character names, and future story ideas, along with random other information like radio stations, wi-fi passwords, and my ever-growing list of books I want to look up. I’ve written blog posts, story chapters, and even short fiction on it. I’m currently in the process of transferring my entire worldbuilding notebook onto it. And, yes, I could do all that in an email draft, but Evernote allows a lot more organization and way nicer formatting. Also, apparently there are Evernote templates for writer-y things like character creation and worldbuilding, so that’s nice if I ever get around to checking them out. Which I probably won’t, but y’know.
    What I don’t use it for: Long projects. You can’t write a novel in Evernote- well, you probably could, but it’s not exactly ideal. However, you can write just about anything else in it, and you won’t have to email it to yourself (which I did a lot of before I installed the app).
  2. yWriter
    What I use it for: Editing Destinies and Decisions, mostly, and sometime in the future, I’ll probably rewrite my fairy tale retellings on it. However, people who do their first drafts on the computer could write in it as well. It’s basically a free sort-of-Scrivener with fewer features and a less snazzy interface. It’s great if you’re working on a story and you need to move chapters around, rewrite scenes multiple times, and so on. You can easily create a new version and still hold on to the old version, or you can reference an earlier scene without having to scroll back in the document. yWriter is also nice if you want to investigate a Scrivener-type program, but don’t want to do the Scrivener free trial for whatever reason.
    What I don’t use it for:
    Any project that I don’t want tied to my laptop- which is one of yWriter’s chief faults. I have yet to figure out how to easily export the files to a Microsoft Word document that I could work on elsewhere, other than copy-pasting scene by scene. I also don’t use it for editing straightforward projects like Blood in the Snow, only projects in which I know I have to totally move scenes around and add a lot of new material.
  3. Forest
    What I use it for:
    Ok, so this one isn’t a writing app, but I think it’s super helpful for writers because it decreases your potential distractions. Basically, you set the amount of time that you want to focus and the app plants a virtual “tree.” If you navigate away from the app during that time, your “tree” dies (and you feel like a slightly horrible person). You can set up Forest to allow access to certain other apps- music, name generators, Google Translate, so on- but it’ll keep you off stuff like Pinterest, Hangouts, or whatever else your distraction of choice might be. It also functions pretty well as a timer, for those who like to set “Write for X Hours per Week”-type goals. (I also just discovered that there’s a Firefox extension version in addition to the app, which I’m 100% going to get- apparently it keeps you off particular websites as long as it’s running, and yeah, I can definitely use that.) 
    What I don’t use it for:
    For one thing, I obviously don’t use it when I’m writing on my phone. I also try not to use it if I think I might have to use blocked apps for actual writing-related purposes; for example, if I know I’ll be introducing a new character and I want to access my reference pictures on Pinterest, or if I think I’m going to end up Googling a bunch of stuff. Other than that, it’s pretty fabulous.
  4. Name Generators: Behind the Name, Fantasy Name Generators, FaNG (app), Name Generator (app)
    What I use each for:
    Behind the Name is always my first choice for main character names. It’s got a wide range of names (with history and meaning!) from languages and cultures all over the world. If you know what you’re looking for, you can browse name lists, but if you’re not really sure, you can use their random renamer to generate a bunch of options. Usually, I pick a few different language groups I’m thinking about and set it to give me a first name, three middle names, and a last name, generate ten or so of those, and combine as necessary. I also sometimes use the Fantasy Name Generators site, which actually has both real and fantasy names. It doesn’t give you meanings, but it’ll generate ten names at a click. Plus, you can use it for place names, descriptions, riddles, and a ton of other stuff. Finally, on the app side, we have FaNG, which is designed for roleplaying games and provides names for a few major RPG types, plus some real-world names from a couple cultures, and the Name Generator, which focuses entirely on real-world names from a wider set of languages. 
    What I don’t use each for:
    As I already said, Behind the Name and the Fantasy Name Generators site are generally my first two choices for name creation. Usually, I’ll use Behind the Name more for planning major characters and the Fantasy Name Generators for minor characters, non-characters, and on-the fly names. However, both of them require internet to work, so when I’m on the go, I’ll use whichever app has names that fit my setting.
  5. Yearly Word Tracker Spreadsheets
    What I use them for: Er, well, tracking word count? But the tracker is also set up so you can keep track of time spent writing, daily and monthly averages, monthly and yearly totals, and monthly and yearly goals. Plus there’s pretty art, which I find pretty motivational. There’s also a version specifically for NaNoWriMo, but you don’t need it; I’m generally fine with just the normal November page in the year-long tracker. But yeah. I find that keeping a record of how much and how long I write helps me be a bit more regular with my writing, so that’s helpful.
What are some resources- whether software, apps, websites, or another form of tech- that you find particularly helpful for writing? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

P.S. What do you think of my new header? I'd love to hear your input- what you like about it, what you don't like, what you think could be better. Thanks in advance!


  1. My writing tech consists of Microsoft Word (across multiple platforms), Grammarly, and my Kindle.

    1. Sounds like a good setup. I just installed Grammarly (because when I was editing my Snow White novella, MS Word's spellcheck tried to create more errors than it caught), so we'll see how I like it.

      Thanks for commenting!