The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

The 8 Best Tools for Writers Named Sam

In my last post, I wrote about picking writing tools and how to avoid cluttering your toolbox with unnecessary crap. After applying those rules to my own collection of work-avoiding toys, I’ve whittled my toolbox down to just a handful of things I couldn’t live without.In no particular order, here are the writing tools I wouldn’t want to be without:

  • My Smartphone. I have a DINC, but at some point may switch to an iPhone (for reasons that will become apparent a little later on). The phone lets me record voice notes to myself, snap pictures for later reference, and even do a little writing. The smartphone has revolutionized my writing life.
  • My iPad. Light, easy to carry, perfect for writing and reading, and always connected to the Internet, my iPad has given me the freedom to write anywhere, at any time. It’s the handiest tool in my toolbox, and it contains most of the other tools on this list.
  • Springpad. This super-handy app handles all of the organization of the junk I collect on my phone. It’s a digital scrapbook and filing cabinet that’s always at my fingertips via my Droid Incredible, my iPad, or any computer with a web browser and internet connection. See also Evernote, which some folks prefer. I give Springpad the edge, however, because of its ability to scan barcodes which is handier than you’d think.
  • Elements app for the iPad. This is where I compose all my drafts now. It’s a simple text editor linked to my Dropbox account.
  • Index Card app for the iPad. I outline everything before I sit down to crank out a first draft, and I do all of my outlining in this app. It’s dead simple to use and connects to Dropbox, offers a couple of different outline views, and is everything I need in an outlining app.
  • Scrivener for the Mac. The iPad is my primary writing tool, but when it comes time to polish and prepare for publication, Scrivener is where the magic happens. With the latest release, Scrivener plays very nicely with Dropbox, allowing me to pull in all the work from Elements and Index Card with a simple sync operation. Once everything is cleaned up and organized, I can publish it to a wide variety of formats (including Kindle and ePub) with the click of a button.
  • Todo app for iPad. This task management software is flexible and robust, perfect for scatterbrained writers such as myself. Everything I need to accomplish goes into Todo, which keeps me focused and on track.
  • The Internet. For blogging, working social media, research, and wasting time. Can’t live without it.

And that’s it – everything I do as a writer is covered by one or more of the above tools. At this point, I only buy a new tool if it can either substitute for two or more of the above apps (if Scrivener ever makes it to the iPad, then Index Card and Elements are toast), or if it does something so radically different and new that I just can’t live without it.

As a technophile, this list is important, because it keeps me focused on what I do, rather than on the tools I use. When I did a lot of freelancing for the Roleplaying Game hobby industry, I ran into a nasty patch where I as obsessed with tools that could help me work faster. I spent a lot of time learning new tools, none of which were able to demonstrably boost my productivity but did eat up a lot of hours that I should have poured into just writing more.

Tools give writers, especially those of us who like to procrastinate, a lot of reasons to postpone the actual writing part of our jobs. Setting fonts and margins and tabs and paragraph spacing are good delaying tactics when faced with the fear of a blank page. Just remember: a tool that doesn’t encourage you to WRITE isn’t a tool, it’s a problem.

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.