Essential Apps for Writers: 2 Game-Changers

A Pug is an essential writing accessory.

A Pug is an essential writing accessory.

Many moons have passed since I first posed the question, “Does the iPad Cut It as a Serious Writer’s Tool?” My conclusion? With a good BlueTooth keyboard and a few apps, it suffices.

With a kitted-up iPad, I can write content, plan & outline, enter competitions, research, organise notes, draft, blog, and more. Not bad, but what I couldn’t do really bothered me.

Not being able to work directly on Word documents was an issue I could work around. Not being able to access Word’s review functions (comments, tracking changes, etc.) was a huge setback.

The CloudOn app was a sorta-kinda solution, but its clunkiness was off-putting, and it didn’t include Review functions. With all the critiquing and beta reading I’m involved in these days, I can’t ignore the problem any more.

I also longed to get my hands on the specialised writing software Scrivener. Its sexy features are perfect for managing writing projects from conception to the first draft. A cluster of apps could do the same things, but it meant reproducing my materials to multiple places. More work, less convenience. Forget it.

Just as I was abandoning hope that the iPad could be my main writing tool, I discovered two essential apps for writers. These, my friends, are game changers.

Two Game-Changing Apps

Long before I became enamoured to my iPad, I was seriously in love with Microsoft Office’s OneNote. Moving to the tablet meant parting with my beloved software.  At first, I pined for it, but eventually Evernote filled the void and I all but forgot about it. When the OneNote app was first launched, I got all excited. But, sadly, it just didn’t do what I wanted and deleted it.

Well, things have changed for the better. The free OneNote app is full of features, but the best thing is it can be synced in the Cloud, so everything on your laptop’s OneNote can be on your iPad and phone. It is perfect for the kind of anywhere project management that writers require.

It’s wonderfully intuitive. It “thinks” the way I do. Notebooks with moveable sections, subsections, colour-coding, a web-clipper, and so much more! Oh, geez, I’m head-over-heels all over again. This is software that makes me feel smart–tech-savvy even! [Read this article to get a technical overview of what OneNote can do on your PC.]

I like it BETTER than the Scrivener software I lusted after for so long. When I finally decided to shell out the money to buy the Scrivener for my laptop, I found it so complicated that I was dislodging great hanks of hair. I had to waste precious writing time watching videos to learn how to do basic things. Errgh. I hate it when technology makes me feel dense. [This article tells you how to use OneNote to write a novel.]

So, OneNote is one of two essential apps for writers; the other is WPS Office. It is completely compatible with Word–INCLUDING the Review functions. This little fact made me giggle with glee. Now, when my beta readers return my MS to me with comments and corrections, I read them on my iPad.

WPS is free, which amazes me. Not only can I create, edit, and send Word documents, I can do the same with PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets. Free!

Conclusion?

Does the iPad cut it as a serious writer’s tool? With WPS Office, OneNote, a good BlueTooth keypad and a couple other apps–Yes.

 Creative Commons Image by zoomar

5 Essential Apps for Writers: Boosting Creativity

Artist Toolbox: Dean Russo / Dumbo Arts Center: Art Under the Br

Ever wished you could pop a pill, wave a wand, or say a powerful prayer to unleash an extra surge of creativity? While pharmaceuticals, magic, and heartfelt pleas to higher powers might have their place, today I look to technology for that special creative spark. Here are my five favourite apps and websites to boost creativity!

The 5 Essential Apps For Writers series has covered

      The basics

      Business tools

      Reference aids

      Blogging apps

      Reading gizmos

Read all the posts here on Spilling Ink. (Click the links at the bottom of the post or in the Categories menu in the side bar.)

Pinterest

I’ve written before about why writers should use Pinterest, so today I’ll just say it’s one of my favourite websites and most-used apps because it’s fun, useful and highly creative! Pinterest is free and the app interface is top-notch–two nice bonuses.

So how does Pinterest fire my imagination?

*  I create vision boards for my WiPs (Works in Progress).

*  I follow bookstores, libraries, writers, publishers and peak industry organisations and collate articles about writing.

*  I source information and articles on the creative process.

*  I save books with Compelling Covers.

*  On my Face Catalogue board, I pin interesting smiles, gorgeous eyes, quirky expressions, intriguing hair colour, etc., for later use, when I flesh out my characters’ features.

Storyboard That

DBAFDC2C-B699-498D-8BE6-A33C8F46B082.png

Storyboarding is a fundamental tool of screenwriters. Storyboard That (an HTML 5 website that doesn’t need an app) lets novel and picture book writers harness the power of storyboarding. Shifting from words to images can be a handy strategy to break writer’s block and soar in new directions. If you find yourself stuck or just want to play around with your scene sequence, try this intriguing app. It’s heaps of fun–but a little time-consuming.

The free version is pretty limited, giving you a choice of either 3 or 6 frames and no privacy (A good thing to know so you don’t accidentally release your top-secret project a little earlier than you planned). $35 a year gets you better options including the ability to keep your images under wraps. The picture to the right is my first (rather lame!) attempt, showing 6 scenes from my latest novel.

Idea Sketch

C73D93A1-7571-40FA-81D9-510FECA8FAFD.pngThere are a gazillion mind-mapping apps available, but I like this one because the results are clean and neat enough to add to PowerPoint presentations or include in project outlines. You can easily email a map or share a screenshot. You can also flip between a diagram and an outline.

I use Idea Sketch as a starting point when planning blog posts, freelance articles, and curriculum projects. I’ve even used it to map out a projected series of children’s mystery novels. The picture here is an old map I drew when writing a series of articles on Gap Year experiences.

The free version allows a limited number of maps. $5 for the premium app gives users unlimited diagrams.  It’s available for tablets, phones and desktops.

Unstuck

This award-winning app and website are fantastic for those tricky moments when you can’t decide what to do. Unstuck offers a series of questions to help you pare down the problem to its bare bones and clarify your feelings, thoughts and action. It then offers some great suggestions about how to move forward.

My trial run of the app proved really helpful. It honestly did “unstick” me. Not just for writing, Unstuck can help sort out relationship, professional, and personal growth issues too.

Focus@Will

This app combines neuroscience and music with a selection of carefully chosen sound tracks that “amplify attention.” The developers claim it can increase focus by up to 400% by helping users to filter out distractions.  It’s a real boon for writers who have to work in noisy environments. You can try Focus@Will for free on a short-term trial, but if you want to keep using it, the subscription it costs about 13 cents a day.

In my trial, I found the music tracks soothing, but I can’t comment on its powers to direct focus because I really don’t struggle on that front. If anything, I have the opposite problem. I have a bear of a time emerging from “the zone” without being hazy and grumpy. I wish someone would develop an app for that!

Image Credit: “Artist Toolbox” by See-ming Lee, Creative Commons Licence 

Five Essential Apps for Readers: Webtools and Apps to Manage Your Reading

Image by

Image by Raphaël Labbé, CC

I’m changing it up a bit this week. The focus of my series on 5 Essential Apps is shifting from writers’ apps to readers’ apps. Here are five apps and webtools that sweeten my reading life.

goodreadsGoodReads 

This is probably one of the most used apps on my iPad. It serves a multitude of purposes, including:

 

  • Cataloguing my books (I have 61 shelves cataloguing more than 1000 titles!)
  • Finding my next read
  • Storing my swelling To-Read list (which currently sits at an embarrassing 532 titles)
  • Connecting with friends about books
  • Following authors
  • Supporting my writer friends, and more

The app includes a bar code scanner, which makes listing books a breeze. The Recommendation Tab is fun too! GoodReads offers suggestions for books you might like based on your recent uploads.

Of course, every writer know that GoodReads is a fabulous marketing tool and essential for building an author platform.

Digg Readerdigg2-logo-square-webtreatsetc

 

Digg is primarily a social news aggregator site, but it is also a feed reader. That means it will gather articles of interest for you and that you can compile your own “playlist” of favourite blogs. I use it for the second function, having hand-loaded my feed with cool writing sites and writer-friends’ blogs. I set aside time every so often just to peruse my Digg feed with a pot of tea.

 

What Should I Read Next?download

Ever had a friend or loved one who was stumped for what to read next? Rack your brain no more!  This webtool will help you source just the right book. Type in the title of something you read and liked and this the website will spit out a list of possible titles to peruse. It’s fun to try even if you’re not stuck for reading matter. (And really, what book lover is? Refer above to my GR To-Read list of 532 much anticipated titles…)

 

Booko Buddy App

Booko Buddy App

Booko Buddy

*Author’s Note: If you can’t be trusted with a credit card in a book store, your partner will thank you for trying this app out.

This iPhone app lets you track down the cheapest offering of a title. Plug in the book you’re looking for, and it will generate a list of prices, cheapest to most expensive, for your shopping ease. It even factors in international postage.

It’s a handy tool for hard to find titles and books you’re giving away as prizes on your blog (when economy is the primary factor)—but do make sure you continue to support my heroes and yours, your local book store owners!

And finally….One for Children’s Authors to Keep an Eye On…Introducing…

 

Biblionasium

download (2)Biblionasium is a kid-friendly GoodReads with the fun-factor ratcheted up to max. It’s all about fostering a love of books and reading. Young readers are invited to review books, play games to “flex their reading muscles” and enter competitions. The user interface is as colourful and inviting as a theme park! It’s strictly monitored and complies with COPPA (Child Online Privacy Protection Act) so parents and teachers can feel confident allowing children to use it.

 

There you go! Five Essential Apps for Readers (and writers, ’cause we’re all readers, right?)

Over to You!

Are there fascinating apps or wicked webtools for readers (and writers) you think I should know about? Please leave a comment!

 

5 Essential Apps for Writers: Blogging Tools

 

Blogging is the quintessence of digital writing, and as such, it should marry perfectly with the iPad. The trouble is most blogging platforms were designed to be accessed by standard computer operating systems—with a mouse and a keypad or code, not a touch screen.

Thank goodness for blogging apps. They make blogging on an iPad a dreamy process. Here are my 5 favourite iPad apps.

Posts

Posts has this cool way of cataloguing recent posts, allowing the blogger to scroll through a gallery of thumbnails. It’s a strangely satisfying process.  The app offers some attractive formatting options and an easy way to add media to blog posts.  It also allows for the management of comments, a handy feature some other blogging apps don’t include or do well.

The user-interface isn’t quite as intuitive as Blogsy (below). For example, the Done button opens a list of confusing options, and I have yet to figure out what the Submissions button does. I’m sure it will all become second-nature with some more use.

Blogsy

O Blogsy! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1) Intuitive layout.

2) So easy to upload images.

3) Versatile formatting options.

4) Fantastic support. (When I have questions or issues, Lance the creator usually replies to my email on the same day, and he’s so patient with my bumbling explanations.)

5) The cutest icon EVER!

Blogsy recently dropped to second place due to recurring issues with modifying posts (The old “I do my best writing/proofreading after I hit send” problem). I’m confident that once I have time to follow Lance’s instructions on troubleshooting and fixing the issue, Blogsy will probably move back to first place.

WordPress

I am a WordPress-junkie, but I’m not so keen on the WP app. I use the Reader function for the WP blogs I follow, and I manage notifications and check my stats, but that’s where it ends. 

I do not enjoy creating content on the WP app because formatting is limited and irksome. Even moderating and replying to comments is a clunky process. For example, when I  mark a comment as spam, the spam icon doesn’t change to let me know that it worked. I always have to go to the dashboard to double-check.  I’ll keep using it for the good stuff, but not for creating content.

Phraseology

This app got a mention earlier in the series, but I’m adding it here because it has a couple functions that are convenient for bloggers. First, Phraseology really helps writers pay attention to the nuts and bolts of language. You can paste in a post and analyse the use of language. Phraseology generates stats, such as word count, number of sentences, and average words per sentence. It rates readability using a few popular scales like the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease and the Gunning Fog Index. Writers can use both to target their writing to a particular audience.

Phraseology also breaks the piece down by paragraph or sentence, and it allows you to swap and change the order for better flow. That’s especially handy when you’ve created a bullet list that seems a little out of order. You can check for over-used words, too many adverbs, or spelling mistakes. It’s a good final check to do before posting. 

Grammarly

Okay, it’s not an app but it is a super-useful web tool. It’s also not cheap at $140 per year, but it’s worth it for peace of mind and professionalism. Every time I skip using Grammarly, I regret it–all the sneaky little typos in my posts point their fingers at me accusatorily. 

The main reason I skip it is that its performance on the iPad has been (in my experience) a bit patchy. When that happens, I have to email the piece to my laptop, run it through a check, email it back to my iPad… So, sometimes I just skip it–and know that I’ll regret it when I finally spot the typo. My other proofreading option is to use Phraseology + my thinking cap!

Over to You

Got a favourite blogging app? Share it in the comments! 

5 Essential Apps for Writers: Research & Reference

The 5 Essential Apps for Writers series aims to help you customise your iPad into a writer’s super-tool. Earlier posts covered 5 Basic Apps for Writers and 5 Apps for the Business Side of Writing. Today we’re going to look at my favourite research and reference apps.

Research is all about discovery, and the hunt for more knowledge, particularly when it relates to the topic I’m writing about, is exhilarating. Little details, cleverly placed, make prose twinkle with life and richness.

Research & Reference Apps for Writers

The All-Important Dictionary

Every writer needs a lexicon. I like the combo of Dictionary.com and Thesaurus Rex. The free version has ads, but for a couple bucks you can spare yourself the blinking banners featuring games and horoscopes. If spelling is your bane, bear in mind these apps feature American spellings and aren’t great for those of us who love and live by “the Queen’s English.” (Long live the “u” in colour, honour, and neighbour!)

If you know of a better app for writers of British English, please leave a comment!

Wrestling with Wikipedia

We’ve all heard the cautions about relying on Wikipedia as a solitary source of info. That doesn’t mean writers can’t use it at all. For me, Wikipedia is a primer on a topic, but I’d never dream of relying on it solely. Wikipedia’s most useful offerings can be the references cited in the footnotes. Click those babies and your really researching. Wikipanion lets you create a catalogue of pages you’re using for various projects. Very handy to come back to.

Write & Research in the Same Screen

PaperHelper turns the iPad screen into a super-useful workspace by dividing the screen in half (in landscape orientation). One side is for writing and the other is a browser. You can do your research right there, without having to flick back and forth between the browser and your writing app. Brilliant–especially if you’re using a Bluetooth keypad so you don’t lose the bottom portion of the screen to the native keypad. And it helps you save your references–awesome for academics, essayists and students.

Here’s a screenshot of the PaperHelper app in action:

The left half is your notepad, and the right half is your browser.

Save it for Later with Pocket

Find a great link on Twitter but haven’t got time to digest the whole article? Pocket is a handy app that lets you stow away for later the interesting bits and pieces you stumble upon on the Net. You don’t even need an internet connection to read it. It syncs between devices, and get this–you can save that neato article on writing craft to a writer-buddy’s Pocket. How cool is that?

There you go! With these research and reference apps, your iPad will cover most of your needs as a writer. Start digging!

5 Essential Apps for Writers: The Business Side of Writing

StoryTracker makes submissions a breeze.

 

The great thing about the iPad is it can be the writer’s omni-device, serving as everything from the writer’s notebook, file cabinet, Personal Assistant, and e-reader to her camera, wallet, and so much more.

We writers should be guarding our writing time, especially making sure we don’t fritter it away on tedious stuff, like filing and form-filling. Today, I’m showing you some apps that help writers manage the business of writing.

Take Care of Business with 5 Essential Apps

Here, in part 2 of the Essential iPad Apps for Writers series, are 5 apps I rely on to keep me organised behind the scenes so I can focus on creativity and pound out prose.

StoryTracker

Once you get to the stage where you’re regularly submitting work, this app is dead-set essential. With its help, you can avoid the embarrassment of sending duplicates, accidentally haranguing an editor, or forgetting about a submission. It will help you keep a record of the dates that you send out your submissions, how many times you submit, and how much money you make! (Oh YEAH!)

Create lists of your works–freelance articles, stories, poems, manuscripts–and the markets you submit to–magazines, blogs, publishers, and agents. Each time you send off a piece, you enter the recipient and the date into StoryTracker.

It’s a great tool for cataloguing industry contacts and for tracking your success. When you make a sale, you can enter a very satisfying SOLD and the amount of payment–right before belting out an ecstatic chorus of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Be sure to back up periodically. The information in there is gold!

GoodReader [A Spilling Ink Must-Have]

GoodReader lets you annotate PDFs

GoodReader is a PDF reader extraordinaire. It’s great for editing–just save the piece of writing as a PDF, load it, and go at it with a digital red pen! You can mark all over the work and send it off by email.

Remember the days (maybe not) when we used to use a typewriter to fill in forms? They looked great–slick, neat, and professional.

A really cool writerly use for GoodReader is filling in course applications and contest entry forms. When entering writing competitions, fill in the accompanying PDF form on GoodReader. Your entry will look extra schmicko and super-professional. You can even sign it in blue “ink”! All you need is a stylus.

Stash your digital magazines in GoodReader, too. I store my copies of Writers’ Digest in my GoodReader app. It allows me to annotate all those important points. Goodreader lets me circle, highlight, cross out, or comment.

 

1Password Password Manager & Secure Wallet [A Spilling Ink Must-Have]

So many passwords! Errgh!

Ramp up your cyber-security by using a password manager. 1Password requires that you create and remember only code to open the app; the rest you store inside. You can even log on to websites in the app’s built-in browser.

This is one of my most used apps because I am pretty conscious of online security. I am one of those people who have unique, hard-to-guess passwords for all of my online activities, and since I’m a pretty heavy user of technology, it means I have nearly 120 passwords! There’s no way I could ever remember even a handful of them! (I have trouble with my own mobile number!)

1Password provides room to safely store other sensitive information, such as banking details and important personal information.

Is it safe? 1Password comes with AES 256-bit encryption–so it’s way safer than that notebook in your desk drawer or that random file “buried” in your laptop. It comes with a random password generator to save you the hard work of generating tricky passwords. Make sure you do regular backups. That way if calamity strikes and you lose your device, you can restore the data. What a relief!

I change my passwords a few times a year. 1Password helps me know when I made the last update (I make a note in each log-on.)

I LOVE this app and use it every day.

Tax Receipt Log

Be your tax agent’s fave!

 

What a great app. This one is on my smart phone, and it allows me to snap a photo of receipts. (I’ve even done it right at the point of sale, to avoid losing the critical slip of paper!)

I categorise the expense (travel, stationery, professional membership, etc.) and it saves the documents all together. My tax agent was very happy not to have to deal with a shoebox for once.

It even emails you a periodic reminder to back it up.

Trello – Facilitating Collaboration!

This is a new horse in my app stable, but I’m excited by its ability to manage collaborative projects. Sometimes in small work groups, I’ve found it hard to know how the others are progressing. Email can be next to useless when group has more than two people!

Enter Trello, a free productivity app, that, according to the website, allows you to “Never again ask, ‘Who’s doing what?'”

Trello features neato, movable cards. For example, start a list of To Dos. As you begin them, drag the card to the “Doing” list. When it’s finished, just pull the card to the “Done” list. Nice–especially for a group project, so you can keep track of what’s happening with the other team members. Bands, classes, sporting teams–CRITIQUE GROUPS–could make some serious use of Trello.

Like Evernote, if you pay for a subscription (or invite new members), you can access Gold Membership, which gives you access to stickers, backgrounds, emoji and more. Trello offers a Business Class version for organisations.

Stay tuned for the next in this series–iPad Apps to Enhance Creativity.

Over to You!

Have any favourite apps to help you manage the business side of writing? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it!

As always, if you’ve found this useful, please share it around on social media!

 

Essential Apps for Writers: The 5 Basics

In this new series of posts, I’m going to share the apps that can transform the iPad into a writer’s super-tool. I’ll cover:

  • The basic, must-have apps for writers
  • Apps for the business side of writing
  • Apps for a writer’s research and reference
  • Great blogging apps
  • Apps to foster creativity

Watch for these posts in coming weeks!

The Basic Digital Toolbox for Writers

Evernote

Evernote

I remember the bad old days of not having a clue how to bookmark all the great stuff I found on the internet. All those nuggets of writerly wisdom, the fabulous shoes, brilliant book reviews, perfect recipes–all lost because I didn’t have a reliable system for curating the information.

Enter Evernote. This app, probably the one that gets daily use on my iPad, has revolutionised my life and my writing. At its most basic, Evernote is a note-taking app, but that doesn’t begin to cover what it can do. It allows you to have a collection of notebooks, so you can organise yourself. If you add the Evernote webclipper to your browser, when you find something brilliant, you can clip it straight into the notebook of your choice for later reference. Here are 5 of my 30 notebooks:

  • Writing Tips
  • Writing Opportunities (When I set reminders for upcoming contests, I get an email to prompt me!)
  • Recipes (Tag them for easy retrieval–mains, sides, desserts, etc.)
  • Story Ideas
  • A notebook for each of my blogs (When I find a great source or quote for an upcoming blog post on the internet, I send webclips to the appropriate blog notebook for future reference. Sweet Jesus, this is a time and sanity saver!)

Evernote’s premium version has some worthwhile options. I particularly like possibility of shared projects. Evernote’s web version (for use on your laptop) is also nice to use. And–get this–there are even Evernote Smart Moleskine (paper) notebooks that allow you to upload your handwritten notes and drawings into your Evernote e-notebooks! SO cool. (There WILL be a future post on this topic!)

DropBox

DropBox

DropBox is a cloud storage provider and a file sharing service. What does that mean? In simple terms, you don’t have to carry a USB around. If you can access the internet, you can access your folders and files in the Cloud. With DropBox, you don’t have to email a document to someone, you just send a link to the file. They can open the file by clicking on the link.

Shared folders are particularly useful for critique groups. A group of registered users can access the folder to share work.

DropBox is a convenient way of backing things up too. Some of your apps will offer the option of backing up and syncing to DropBox.

PlainText

PlainText

PlainText is a no-frills app that is just for banging out prose. I like to do my blog drafts in PlainText, which automatically links to my DropBox account. This means I don’t lose my work and I can easily open it on my laptop and finish it off.

It has some simple organisation–files and folders.

Phraseology

Okay–maybe this one doesn’t count as a “basic” app, but I really like it for a first step of editing. Like PlainText, it provides a simple writing space with minimal distractions. A cool feature is its arrangement capacity–I can reorder single sentences or whole paragraphs.

Phraseology

Phraseology comes into its own in its editing capabilities. This app analyses my writing and spits out a little report. It can identify, for example, too many adverbs. Or it can assess the readability of my writing, giving it a score that relates to reading levels (Flesch Kincaid Grade Level) and more! This is a great feature for writers of children’s books.

The app developer, Agile Tortoise, has a suite of products that look like they’d work together nicely for journalists and hard-core freelancers.

ThinkBook

ThinkBook

ThinkBook is new to my writer’s toolbox, but I have a feeling it will be as well-used as my Evernote app. This one takes a little practice to get used to but it’s worth the effort. I like it because I can organise it by project. As one who always has multiple projects on the go, being able to see them all at once and separately makes me feel like I’m mastering my workload (rather than slaving under it!)

Within each project, I can add notes, pages, to-dos, questions, and more. It’s great for outlining and planning. Read this for more reasons why it is a favourite.

What’s in YOUR toolbox?

Can you recommend any must-have basic apps for writers? Leave a comment. I’d love to know your thoughts!