I can't believe it's November already! September felt so slow, but October just sped past me.
Last week, I shared some internet tools that could be of use to just about anyone. This week, I wanted to share some tools that writers can use, tools that I, in fact, do use in my writing career. Almost all of these are free, with the exception of the writing conferences and the programs mentioned in the "Writing" section. Check 'em out!
One thing every author needs is people supporting them. Writing communities can be incredibly helpful throughout the entire process. Here are some good resources for a writer looking for their community.
Yeah, yeah, y'all know I'm a big fan. But the first rule of social media is that you shouldn't do it unless you enjoy it! As such, I recommend you give all the big social media sites a try, but then adjust or end your membership if you don't find yourself having fun. Twitter in particular I'd recommend for finding and talking with other writers, but any of them have a writing/bookish community you can be a part of!
Various Blogs for Writers and Readers
One of the most important things you can do as a writer, besides find a community, is stay on top of what's happening in the publishing world. There's a lot of blogs out there for writers and readers, and they help accomplish both of these tasks! I've never been that interested in other people's opinions of books, so a lot of the blogs I follow are just for the giveaways, but there are exceptions. Book Riot is a standout, a huge blog for all kinds of book people with many different newsletters you can subscribe to, plus a podcast. Definitely check it out. Literary Rambles is a blog for writers that has tons of interviews with authors and literary agents as well as giveaways. Pub(lishing) Crawl is another blog for writers that I would recommend: it's got lots of personality. Meanwhile, YA fantasy author Susan Dennard's newsletters often have helpful thoughts for writers.
This is the only writer's conference I'm able to attend at my current disability level, because it's done entirely online! *jazz hands* And I love it. It does cost a little money, but not a lot, and in return it offers so much. There are blog posts by professionals almost every hour during the conference in February, live pitch events, and a forum all about critiquing and revising your query and first few pages that is probably the best part of the entire thing. WriteOnCon has been an honest-to-God querysaver for me (LOL). The forums have also connected me to a few other writers I get along with well. So sign up this year, and I'll see you there!
Ch1Con and Ch21Con
Are you a young writer? Originally founded by me and my very best writing friends, Ch1Con is the one and only conference for young writers run by young writers. It takes place in Chicago every summer, and although it does cost, I think it's well worth it! The couple of times I was able to attend I had a blast, and the conference has great new speakers each year. Ch1Con is specifically for writers ages eleven to twenty-one. If you're a twenty-something like me, you get to go to the newer sister conference Ch21Con, which brings the same great speakers, but an older set of peers! Both conferences have free events online that can help you connect with writers like you, so definitely check those out
As y'all know, I tend to lean pantser rather than planner, although I do spend a while letting book ideas develop in my head before I start writing. I tend to work best if I have a general idea of the plot, particularly the climax and/or ending I'm working towards. Since it's only a loose plan, I don't use any tools during my planning stage.
However, that doesn't change the need to do research. I do my research in clumps all throughout the rest of the writing process, with help from the wonders of Google (and Wikipedia, although you want to be careful about that). Here are some tools that can be of use, during your planning stage or as you research later on:
As any author will tell you, ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. Each of my novels is a remix of my experiences and my imagination--basically, I put myself inside a blender and see what comes out. (The result always has an unintentional core message relating to whatever challenges and questions I had at the time of writing.) Artists learn to pay attention to what makes them curious, and often, that leads them to new ideas.
Pinterest is a platform that can be very helpful for finding, saving, and refining ideas. In order to put myself in a creative mindset, I often look through the pins on my Art & Words board. In order to put a face to each story, I add to my WIP Inspiration board. I also have a section for writing prompts, a character reference section (mostly names), and a section for other reference sources that could be of use.
I recommended this app in a previous speedlinking post, and I'd like to second that here. Every day, Curiosity shares five science or cultural concepts in a fairly easy-to-read way. You can favorite the pieces that you find interesting and come back to them later. Many authors find ideas through articles like these, and even if it doesn't spark a new idea, the app provides a lot of information that can be useful for writing. I intend to write some sci-fi in the future, and through this app, I've been able to gather a lot of knowledge that I believe will be of use.
I don't use this tool (I create my own "factbooks" in Word), but I know many others find it useful. Basically, on this website, you can organize your worldbuilding, particularly for sci-fi/fantasy, with images and text. The free version lets you make 5 universes, with characters, locations, and items. The paid version offers unlimited universes, and adds a whole bunch of other aspects, including languages and religions and races.
Baby Names and Behind the Name
Look, I'm a name person. For important characters especially, I want to choose a good name with a suitable meaning. Baby Names and Behind the Name help with this, as they each provide a database of names with their origin and meaning. Baby Names gives you first names; Behind the Name give you last names. Sometimes there's crossover, as first names may be derived from last names or vice versa.
Cool Last Names
Cool Last Names, on the other hand, is a random last name generator useful for more minor characters. In the past, I looked through acknowledgements pages and my Twitter feed for those, but I don't have to do that anymore!
Writing With Color and Disability in Kidlit
When you're writing a book with characters that have marginalized identities you do not share, research is so, so important. Part of this comes with having sensitivity readers of those identities (sometimes hired by publishers, although you can hire your own as well) who can read your book and advise you on mistakes you've made. Part of it is being aware and involved in social justice so that you have a general knowledge about issues like microaggressions and dog whistling. But with something as complex and as important as this, you need more research than that.
These websites are two of my favorite resources in this area. Writing with Color mostly discusses racial and ethnic identities, and Disability in Kidlit discusses mental and physical conditions. I'd recommend following the blogs in general, but also using these sites for reference in writing and editing characters. They both have menus/search functions that will allow you to look at posts about the specific identities you're working with. Again, you'll want more sources than just these sites, but they can definitely be an important part of your research.
I mentioned this also in that speedlinking post from before, but here it is again: Atlas Obscura, a useful tool for researching modern-day, real-world settings. It has listings for points of interest in pretty much every place on Earth, which can help give you a better idea not only of what your character might be doing day-to-day there, but also of the general tone of the place. It also has sections with events, trip, food, and gift guides, and there's a blog with lots of interesting news stories.
When it comes to the actual writing part of the process, though I spend more time with it than on planning, I really only have one tool to offer. I know there are writers out there who have different preferred programs--Scrivener's one you'll hear about a lot--but I've never really liked those special programs. I'm what I suppose would now be seen as old-school: I just use Word. And I'm happy with that!
So here's your one tool:
Does it work for everyone? No. Does it work for me? Yes! National Novel Writing Month is a challenge where you try to write 50,000 words in the month of November (though there are additional challenges in other months). For most of the books I've written, I began them as a part of this challenge, and my pattern before I got super sick was to write a new novel each year via NaNo. It works well with my writing process, it has a large, tied-in community that's active during the month, and I find that it's really motivating! So give it a try sometime, if you haven't already. Here are 25 reasons you should!
Editing is the stage of writing that I spent the most time on by far, and I think that's probably true of most writers. Writing is editing! (Also, I do a lot of the stuff that planners do during the planning stages here, including most of the research.) So I do have a few tools for this section. The general rule for editing is that you start big and work your way down to the micro level, or line edits, and while things don't always go exactly that way, I've organized my editing tools as such. When it comes down to it, most editing you'll have to do through your own skill and judgment, with help from betas/CPs and other professionals, but these resources can help you.
The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test
I've found that you get better at this as you get more experience, but a common problem in sci-fi/fantasy especially is the "Mary Sue"--a main character who is unrealistically gifted, quite tropey, and often, wish-fulfillment on the author's part. In order to make sure my characters aren't Mary Sues, I take this test for each book. If I get a less than appropriate result, I go to work amending my character development until they're really speaking to me the way they should. This test has sections for original RPG/fanfic characters as well as characters in your own fiction, and while getting a good result doesn't remove the potential for your character to need more development, it'll help you on your way.
I've talked about it before, but I like to make word clouds with my books. This is partly just because it's fun, but it also gives me a better idea of my language usage in each book. It's through word clouds that I first realized how unfortunately often I use the word "looked." Now, I use Tagul throughout the editing process to check what my word balance is and if there's anything that I'm using too often. "Eyes," unsurprisingly, has been another common issue that appears here.
When you're looking for an overall analysis that goes a little more in-depth, I recommend this tool! It looks a lot of important issues, including two that I have a particular issue with: passive voice and excessively long sentences. It'll probably catch a lot of issues you didn't notice before. It even has recommended percentages to help you see how you're doing! Plus, it gives you a readability statistic, which is something I always pay attention to as a children's/YA writer. Give it a go! Donate to the person who made it! It's a great tool, and I don't want it to ever go away!
These Lists of Words to Be Careful About
The Story Analyzer catches some of these, but I think it's always a good idea to go through your book using the Find tool and look for all the instances of these words to make sure that they're necessary. You should also pay attention to these when you're going deep in the trenches and reading through for line edits. Now, there's some crossover on these lists, but here's one by Liza Weimer, here's one by Tracey Gold, and here's one by me!
An editing thought I'd like to add is that, per another great piece of advice from my CP, you can eliminate the "said" tag and just include a character action during dialogue. For example, in the past I've often done this:
"I don't know," she said, pushing her hair away from her face. "That doesn't seem like a good idea to me."
When what I should have been doing is this:
"I don't know." She pushed her hair away from her face. "That doesn't seem like a good idea to me."
Simple but effective! When I'm in the line-editing part of my process in the future, I plan to pay attention to that.
The Hemingway App
When you're at the most detailed level of editing--reading through for line edits--you can put your writing into this program a chapter at a time, or even a paragraph at a time, and see exactly where it is that you're making some of the mistakes Story Analyzer points out. The Hemingway App looks at sentence length, word complexity, adverbs, and passive voice.
Once you've actually gotten a literary agent/publisher, most of the process is, once again, editing with a side of research. See the above sections! But before that, during the query process, there are more tools on the Internet that you can make good use of. Don't forget to check agent websites to confirm all their requirements, and check them out on social media too if they're there!
This website has a database of a whole bunch of agents (and editors) that you can search either by a single children's category or by adult genre. With your account, you can also keep track of all the queries you've sent for your book. With the paid version, you can perform more complex searches and also see statistics about how quickly agents reply and in what way. Before I found this lovely gem, I located agents to send to via Writer's Market books (also a good tool) and kept track of my queries via spreadsheet. QueryTracker makes the process easier.
Manuscript Wish List was originally a Twitter hashtag that became a website where agents list what specific trends and tropes they're looking for. When you're got a book ready to query, I recommended looking at this site (and maybe the hashtag too) to see if there's anyone you like who is looking for a book just like yours! That way, you can make them a priority. This tool is also a further avenue for researching agents in general, though you should never limit yourself only to agents whose MSWL fits your book. Many agents don't know what exactly they're looking for until they see it, so the only limits you should place on yourself are the genre limits they specify on their websites.
As noted in the community section of this post, it's important to stay up to date on what's going on in the publishing world. One of the most important things to know about is book deals! Publisher's Weekly has newsletters for adult and children's book deals each week. Not only will this make you aware of new writers and give you a bigger reading list for the next few years, but it'll also help you know the names of agents and editors currently making deals and what kind of deals they're looking at. I find it especially useful for seeing what the trends are, though of course, you should never write for trends. Still, trends can make a difference when you're querying, especially if you have multiple manuscripts ready, so I like to stay on top of them. Publisher's Weekly also has newsletters for lots of other professional news, so check the rest of them out too!
Writer Beware and the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler
In the past, in order to avoid scams or disreputable agencies, I used Preditors and Editors. But P&E is currently down for redesign (which is badly necessary), and there's no definite date for when it will be back up. In the meantime, I'm using Writer Beware and the Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check section of the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler. When it comes to avoiding scams, be smart, be wary, and above all, remember that your relationship with your agent should be a partnership, with two equals working together. That's a concept it took me a sadly long time to understand (partly because I started querying so young).
Some of this brings you back to the writing community in that first section of this post, particularly the social media part. But the only thing you really do need as a published author is a website. You don't even need to have a blog, although it's good to have an events page that you keep updated. Blogs follow the same rules as social media--only do it if you like it! The following tools are useful for website and blog building.
Wordpress and Weebly
These are the two website platforms I've worked with, and I enjoy them both. I find Weebly easier to use, with more freedom to play with the HTML, while Wordpress is more social and has more useful widgets. Either way, though, you've got a good website editor to work with. Once you're a published author, you might want to get the paid version of whichever platform your choose, especially so you can have a clean link to your site, and you might consider looking into website designers as well.
Both Wordpress and Weebly have analytics included, but I find Google Analytics to be a more complex and accurate version (although you will get scams messing around in your data--luckily you can block certain terms from your results). It's got lots of lovely grappppphs and keyworrrrrrrds and other things that make me go a little nerdy. It takes some practice to get used to using, but once you get the hang of it, it'll give you a lot of great insight into your users. (Some of that insight could lead to blog post ideas!)
If you want to create a newsletter separate from the automated blog one on your website platform, MailChimp is a stellar email subscription tool. I prefer to have a good deal of control over my newsletters, and MailChimp offers plenty of free design options that allow that!
Every so often, you might want to run a giveaway. Rafflecopter is, in my experience, the most used program for that, and it does a good job! No complaints here.
Top Ten Tuesday and 1 Million Prompts for Students
Really the biggest issue I run into as a blogger is coming up with new ideas. Especially at this point, I'm running low. I've tried lots of different tools for coming up with new ideas, and besides just trolling Google for every blog post about blog posts, these are the two that help me most. Top Ten Tuesday is a continuing book blog tag that I used to participate in, but now use just for ideas here and there. As a writer, book-related blog posts are a good area to work in! 1 Million Story Ideas is actually for college journalists, but it presents a lot of interesting ideas for young bloggers, too, and it's updated regularly.
Answer the Public
This is another fun tool for finding blog post ideas that I've found limited use for but that may become even more helpful once I'm published. Answer the Public visualizes the most common online searches people do involving a specific keyword, and it goes in depth. Of course, your results are only as good as your keyword!
So there you have them, all my writing tools. :) Hope this is useful for you! Please share your own tools in the comments, and I will see you next week for a list of some fun Internet stuff I recommend.
Images via roarmedia.com, blog.digimind.com, wikipedia.com, tvtropes.org, QueryTracker on Twitter, and wikipedia.com.
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