Before we begin, I just want to advise that there are no affiliate links in this blog. I am not getting paid for linking to any of the resources I have listed here, they are merely ones that make my life a lot easier on a day-to-day basis and thus you might find them useful too. They are purely my own recommendations based on my experiences. So let's jump right in...
1. Scrivener (Downloadable Software)
I’ll admit I’m a newbie to Scrivener, having only downloaded and started using it within the last two to three months. But already I’m hooked. It came highly recommended – via Joanna Penn at www.thecreativepenn.com – and I couldn’t agree with her more that in terms of novel writing, it’s a game changer.
Like most writers, when I get going on a story, everything turns to chaos. It all starts calmly enough, but then thoughts and ideas start popping up everywhere: e.g. a future conversation between two characters materialises or new plot lines spring into life. Before I know it I’ve plastered myself in notes and no matter how many lists I type up there’s still no way of turning it all into any sort of coherent sense.
Well, now we don’t need to try. Because this is what Scrivener does. It’s like a huge corkboard (literally a virtual corkboard) where you can gather all your character descriptions and images, scene descriptions, settings, and plot points all in one gorgeous organised space. For flitters (like me), it also makes it okay for you to write out of order. So, if in chapter 3 you have an epiphany about the ending, Scrivener says: no problem, just add a new text file entitled ‘last chapter epiphany’ and get that idea down before you forget it; you can always rearrange into order later.
Feel free to organise the files however you like - e.g. into chapters or individual scenes. It even lets you colour code/flag your files to indicate what stage each one is at, which is useful for keeping track at a glance. If you’re happy with Chapter 2, you can green flag it as complete, but if Chapter 17 is a first draft and needs an edit, you can orange flag it to be worked on.
There's simply not enough space in this blog to go into everything Scrivener does, and as a newbie I’m still learning the ropes myself, but already I’m loving the flexibility and ease Scrivener brings to novel writing. My advice is check out the free trial, read through the instructions provided, and get playing.
Download Scrivener for Windows free trial for 30 actual (non-consecutive) days. The cost thereafter is minimal (less than £34) for what this wonderful software does.
2. Pixabay (online and app)
By now every writer should be aware that images flying around the internet are not necessarily available for everyone to use however they see fit. Easily downloadable they may be, but you risk all sorts of legal shenanigans if you try to use an image for your own gain without permission. But fear not, there are sites where permission is granted, meaning you can download and use the images from their library for personal or business use without fear of lawful recriminations.
My absolute all-time favourite is Pixabay. It's free to browse and download images, though please do throw a few bob the contributors’ way every now and then, especially if you download many images from the same person. After all, they’re being kind enough to let us use their work, so shouting them a coffee is the least we can do.
I can usually find the sort of image I’m after, even if sometimes I have to root about a bit. Once you’ve found the right image for you, click download and the size of image you want, and Bob’s your uncle. If - for website, social media and branding purposes - you then want to personalise the images, e.g. add quotes or add your web address, then you’ll want to go for the double-punch: Pixabay and my next favourite resource, Canva.
Pixabay is available online and as an app for mobile (Google Play Store and Apple).
3. Canva (online)
The good news is you don’t need to be a graphic designer to come up with some pretty nifty images to showcase your author brand and talents. Canva is an absolute dream. And it’s free to use.
It’s basically a smorgasbord of design elements and templates to help you create anything from blog graphics to social media posts to gift certificates and just about anything else you could possibly think of. They have plenty of templates for you to choose from – pictures, text style, shapes, layouts, backgrounds – which you can mix and match, as well as the option to upload your own artwork or images.
There are paid-for designs, but a large majority are free and I’ll admit that I’ve been using Canva for probably well over a year now and have managed perfectly well to create countless (no, literally countless) designs without spending a penny. My advice again here would be to play around with it – that’s the quickest way to learn just what it has got and what it can do.
Once you’re happy with your design, simply download it to keep and use as you wish. Aside from my own personal photographs, all of the images I post on my website or on social media have come from Pixabay and have usually passed through Canva before finally making it to your screens (see title image at top of blog post). Both of these resources are little gems for those who are less graphic-design oriented.
Canva is available online but, as far as I can see, not yet available as an app.
4. Atmosphere (app)
Okay, so number 4 and 5 on my list are new tools in the box added only yesterday, but I can already see they’re going to make a huge difference to my productivity.
Under the influence of Joanna Penn again who says she listens to rainfall sounds on her headphones while writing, I downloaded the Atmosphere app via the Google Play Store on my Android phone and got a lot more than I bargained for. It’s brilliant! More than rainfall. Much, much more than rainfall.
There are 10 different categories of sounds to while away the writing hours. Choose from: Beach sounds, Forest, Urban, Underwater, Home, Park, Countryside, Oriental, Binaural & Isochronic, or Custom (imported sounds of your own choosing). So no matter what your mood or scene of your current novel, there is a sound to match it, which will either get you in the writing zone or put you right there in the scene.
Picture this: you’re a crime writer whose hero has just walked into the middle of a downtown street shootout. Pop on Urban, Traffic, Police, People, and you could be right there! The great thing about this app is you can mix and match, which means you can listen to all the above mentioned sounds at once – not relaxing but definitely motivational.
If you’re still asking yourself what on earth is Binaural & Isochronic, I’ll leave that to you to find out. Though I will say I found it strangely relaxing, and now know what to do next time I have a headache...
I downloaded the Atmosphere app from Google Play Store.
5. AppBlock (app)
So you'd heard of it but you really hoped it wasn't true. Well unfortunately it is. Here’s an app to block your apps. A really good one too.
Yes, I’ll admit to my eye drifting towards my social media accounts sporadically throughout the working day, and my declarations that 'it’s just work' are not going to cut it any more. So I’ve gone and done it. With this handy app blocker, I have scheduled my phone to ban me from accessing Instagram, Twitter and even emails between certain hours of the day Monday to Friday. This is to make me do some real work instead. Which it does, because it doesn’t just ban me, it downright complains at me every time I try to take a sneak peek. It also tells me how many times my resilience has failed (with a real sense of disgust, I feel (you know us writers, we pick up on this stuff)), thus leaving me with a sense of complete inadequacy and shame (you know us writers, prone to inadequacy/shame).
Of course I could just unlock the thing, but it gives a secondary slap on the wrists by not allowing you to unlock the settings unless your phone is plugged into the charger. Easy enough, except I’m upstairs, charger downstairs, which is enough of a deterrent for me not to bother (you know us writers... etc, etc).
All in all, a useful app and I’m pleased I am forcing myself to stop dithering and get to work for goodness’ sake, novel ain’t gonna write itself... well, it practically does with Scrivener... which brings us nicely back full circle.
I downloaded the AppBlock app from Google Play Store.