We at Caffeinated Press wish you and your families a merry Christmas or happy Hanukkah, and a safe and happy new year. Because it’s the season for giving, we encourage you to give yourself, or a special writer in your life, the gift of the tools authors need to maximize their success. And rejoice, for most of the best tools are free or inexpensive!
Pro tip: Microsoft Word (and, in fairness, LibreOffice Writer) works great for the preparation of documents intended for direct printing from within the application. You type a memo, you push “print” or “export to PDF,” and voila. But these word processors were never intended for the creation of content that will be rendered in a professional layout program. Word and Writer create binary documents: They contain proprietary internal formatting and standards that don’t play well with most other tools. So it’s a well-known source of angst among book and magazine editors everywhere to have to spend hours “fixing” a poorly structured Word document just to get it into InDesign or Quark.
Many authors rely on Word or Writer and they do just fine. But those programs weren’t designed for long-form creative writing in mind. Word and Writer are ubiquitous; people tend to have these programs and they already know how to use them, so they use them. And no one begrudges them that. But wouldn’t it be great to use the right tool for the job? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make use of programs designed for long-form writing and optimized for use with publishing software, or to add plugins to Word to make it more useful for long-form writing?
Consider these options:
AP Styleguard — a plug-in into Microsoft Word or Microsoft Outlook — scans content to identify deviations from Associated Press style. It suggests corrections to style errors and supports the addition of additional style rules. This tool can replace the printed or online version of the AP Stylebook for many users, especially writers who venture into journalism or non-fiction writing. $50+.
Draft offers a Web-only interface for text editing and document storage. It’s optimized for writing in Markdown. Draft includes a “Hemingway Mode” to make it more difficult for you to get stuck in the malaise of self-editing. $0.
Grammarly scans your content and identifies more than 250 different syntax errors, offering suggestions as well as guidance about the rule in question. The tool works as a plug-in module for different Web browsers and Microsoft Word. Although no software should ever take the place of a professional editor or competent beta reader, tools like Grammarly can, at least, help you catch the obvious mistakes, freeing your reviewers to focus on more subtle improvements. $0, with a premium upgrade.
OneNote is now widely available for free from Microsoft. This tool is the most powerful note-taking app on the market, with deep integration into OneDrive and various Microsoft Office apps. Use it to keep you manuscript notes handy, clip Web page or sketch your characters. Notes sync across devices and you can even email yourself stuff to be added into OneNote. $0.
Pandoc removes the hassle from document conversion. This program, with both a downloadable app and an online converter, helps you translate between file formats so you can clean up your text or port it into formats publishers might wish to see. For example, Pandoc includes a Markdown-to-ICML converter to move a marked-up plain text file into the proprietary Adobe InCopy format. $0.
Q10 offers distraction-free text editing with a small but useful admixture of bells and whistles. A tiny app, it can be run off a flash drive, and it can store documents anywhere — including your cloud-storage provider. It offers word-count targets, text statistics and even (if you want) typewriter sounds. $0.
Scrivener serves as the de facto gold standard for novels and short stories. It contains a powerful outliner, a name generator and options to assign statuses and flags to scenes and chapters within a larger long-form project. This program is the development environment for serious authors. Its learning curve is a bit higher than Word’s, but the improvements you’ll see in structuring novel-length projects is well worth the cost. $40.
Trelby isn’t the most powerful scriptwriting app on the market — Final Draft and Celtx take the cake there — but it’s free and simple for people just getting started with scriptwriting, with additional enhancements like reporting and auto-complete. $0.
Word-to-Markdown scrubs your Word document and presents it as Markdown. Useful! And it’s a Web-based tool, so no installers are necessary. $0.
Writage works with Microsoft Word, versions 2007 through 2016. It exports a formatted Word document into the standard Markdown format. $0.
XMind helps you organize complex thoughts through mind maps. Think of a mind map as a visual, interconnected display of ideas around one or more central concepts. XMind offers free and paid services. $0, with upgraded features for a fee.
Zotero remains one of the leading reference managers. Download a copy to work on your own PC, or subscribe to share/sync notes and citations online. Never again lose track of a formal footnote reference, and let Zotero cite it for you in the format of your choice. $0, with upgraded services for a fee.
May your new year be filled with many profitable writing contracts!