Friday, March 18, 2011

The ever-expanding writer's toolkit

It just came to me what an absurd amount of tools are required for me to be a writer. Sure, it seems like I only need a pen and a pad, and maybe a laptop. But the amount of computer programs and utilities I use to keep track of my writing "career" (can I call it that yet?) has gotten absurd. (Aside: the French word for computer program, "logiciel," is a lot better than the English.)

Word processors, text editors, manuscript preparation, oh my!

Flying free, somewhat ineffectively.
The good ones? Cost money. OpenOffice is free, but can't properly convert to RTF format, and, compared to Microsoft Office, is ridden with a clunky interface. Q10 and other text editors are great tools, also, but eventually everything ends up in a proper processor; and the sheer superfluity of means I seem to require just to produce a manuscript - and the fact that, due to my material paucity, I can only afford the free ones - is just ridiculous. How many quick buttons do I need on my taskpane just to write a story?

Dropbox... and hard-boxes.

Don't drop the box.
Dropbox is a fabulous program, because it lets you access your files anywhere. When I went down to New Jersey to visit my girlfriend's family for Christmas, I forgot my USB flashdrive, and when I returned to Ottawa I was mired without my writing. Dropbox is a great solution to my particular brand of forgetfulness. But e-folders are slower than hard folders, and since deleting something in Dropbox's interface - wherever you access it - will synchronically delete it everywhere else, Dropbox is just as much a liability as an asset. Therefore, I just end up backing the thing up onto USB flash drives and hard disks. Yikes.

Duotrope's Submission Tracker, to the power of whatever.

I don't even check if I'm
allowed to use all these images.
Duotrope's Digest, a web program for market listings, is probably the single best tool for writers; other than the actual word production software, it is the last thing I would give up. But, now, it takes four instances of Duotrope in my web browser to effectively generate a submission plan: "Your Pieces," two instances of "Submission Tracker" (historic of piece-in-question and up-to-date listing of current submissions), and "Search." Who thought submitting would be so complex?

Social media, e-mail, and professional logistics.

Adroit subtlety.
Twitter, blogging, e-mail: commitments. I can't stand to go too long without tweeting or blogging, because possessing these assets sort of demands that they appear at least moderately current. Then, I require a "professional" e-mail besides my "personal" one, and have to forward messages from one to the other so I don't have to be entering passwords wily-nily all day. And yet, I still do, because I have to reply from the address to which the e-mail was sent. There are so many ways to communicate, so many ways to market, that a writer could go insane if they really tried to tackle them all.

The future?

Facebook. E-books. Podcasts? Interviews? Who knows? There are so many other items I could add to the repertoire, and I already I sometimes feel overloaded - as though I don't have enough time just to write. Nonetheless, I feel it is all quite possible. Adding just one element at a time to the Ben-Engine - the Bengine if you will - keeps things (relatively) under control. There is much more to learn and many more stories to sell before I master it all.



  1. It's pretty insane, isn't it?

    Yet, I have a number of tools I use, too.

    Scrivener -- For all my basic writing; I love both the full-screen feature as well as the ability to pop open a notebook right there and jot down whatever note I want to make.

    MS Word -- b/c it's the standard.

    PowerPoint and Keynote -- for all my ebook covers.

    MacJournal -- to help me organize my short stories into projects.

    Ecto -- for desktop blogging.

    And ...

    Well, you get the picture.

    I'm constantly refining things trying to make it more simple. Luckily, I've been able to reduce the paper out of my life, so it's just me and my MacBook. It take it, I take my entire freaking office, baby!

  2. At the moment, I've got it down to a simple system for my jungle lifestyle: Write in FocusWriter, Copypaste each break into the requisite Pbworks wiki document, Copypaste into Word when finished to fancy it up. All saved in a folder on my hard drive, flash drive, and a weekly upload to Pbworks wiki files. Submissions & ePubs tracked in two Google Docs spreadsheets.

  3. Duotrope's! Holy cow, I don't even know what I would do without it.

  4. I love duotrope too.

    I don't know whether gmail does this (I just forward all my sciencefictionmommy stuff to my personal email) but yahoo allows you to maintain two email addresses from one inbox--and when you send an email, there's a dropdown menu at the top to select which email address it's coming from (you just have to remember to pay attention to that box before hitting "send.") That's how I balance my "professional" email with my personal one without having to open email browsers left and right.

  5. Open Office - For composing. Less distracting.
    Word - For editing, proofing, and final MS draft.
    Duotropes - For market searching.
    Dropbox - For backups and availablility. You know it has a restore feature, right?

    Those are my writing tools.

    Ancillary things are Facebook and my Blog.

    There's no need for anything else. It creates too many distractions, otherwise.