5 Writing Tools I Started Using in 2016

I started my first novel in 2009, but I didn’t get serious about it until 2014. I am now on my third draft of the novel. It still feels like a huge pile of poo. Plus, I’ve repeatedly been bolstered by the assurance that most new writers do not publish their first novel. And so, armed with the Underdog Badge of Writerdom, I continue to push the envelope, defy boundaries, and pursue the honing of a craft that may kick my little white tooshie in another two years. It’s exciting, isn’t it?

If you’re a glutton for punishment like me, you too are looking for ways to improve your writing. Tally ho, wot? So, for your convenience, here is what I’ve recently added to my writer life that I have found helpful.

photo courtesy of Cathryn Lavery via Stocksnap.io

photo courtesy of Cathryn Lavery via Stocksnap.io

1. Story Grid Podcast: Available on iTunes, the Story Grid Podcast is a conversation between newbie novel writer, Tim Grahl (an accomplished blogger and non-fiction writer) and veteran editor, Shawn Coyne (developed a user-friendly system for writers to analyze their novels and see how and when the story doesn’t work).

I won’t lie: it’s rambly. I mean they’re just spit-ballin. But it is still incredibly useful to hear Tim work out his plot problems with a logically-minded editor on hand to shoot down his ideas. This method of learning the “tricks” of the storytelling trade vastly outranks my usual two hours of poring over Writers Digest articles. In the case of the latter, the advice comes from already established writers. It’s like, thanks, pal; you are out of the woods and I’m knee deep in the creek. Tim Grahl, on the other hand, experiences all the frustration and conundrums I usually feel. So I can laugh at his failures while learning from the best. #Doublewhammyinagoodway

2.  Goodreads: The most popular resource for book reviews, resources, and book lists, goodreads is the social media platform for writers and readers. All members can write a review, share what they’re reading, and what they’d like to read. It’s a great way to research authors as well. 

Before this year, I used LibraryThing because I saw that a literary agent used it. I found it to be pretty useless. It tries to accomplish the same thing as goodreads, except in a way that confounds. Where is my profile? How do I look up new books? Why are all these icons so small? Why is the graphic design so unappealing? So I finally made the switch. Only problem is, my library from the past two years is on LibraryThing. I wonder whom would accept bushels of garden herbs to transfer my books over to goodreads …

Oh! And another perk: goodreads sends a newsletter with the new releases in my favorite genres. This is huge, because it was stressful trolling through blogs, looking for the latest literary trends. No time! I’m late for everything as it is.

2. Scrivener: If you are an experienced writer, I bet you feel superior right now. Well, good for you, I hope you get a bellyache. For the rest of us, Scrivener is a new concept. It is an inexpensive software designed for writers, providing a way to put all research, character notes, plot points, outlines, and front matter (that is a term I recently learned – it means title page and stuff) in one place. Now, it is no Apple interface. It requires much squinting over and sloshing through tutorials to get oriented. But I do think it’s an improvement. As of today, there are 35 documents on my desktop within the folder titled “Tess and the Trinket.” Scrivener helps eliminate that problem. 

4. Creative Writing Class: In February, I enrolled in a course called “Creative Writing” at a local college. I learned nothing new about writing (thanks, Stephen King ;)) but a lot about being a writer. I had to READ MY WORDS OUT LOUD. When we decide to write, we think, “I hope millions read my marvelous tale and tuck their tots in at night to the sound of my lyrical sentences.” But we don’t think, “I hope I get to read something I wrote two days ago to a room full of people trying to do the same thing I am.” 

This was a critical lesson for me, to hear the flaws in my own writing and appreciate the talent of other new writers. It’s not to say that I am not unique, or that I do not have something to share. But the sooner I stop thinking of myself as the exception to the rule, the sooner I’ll be a grounded writer with the stamina to hone my craft. 

5. Writing Retreat: I spent a week in north Georgia at my grandmother’s farm. I wish, I wish, I WISH I could write like that all the time. I packed a lunch, drove an hour against traffic, sat down to write, ate lunch, went for a walk, and wrote. I rewrote the entire first act (four chapters) of Tess and the Trinket in five days. The usual anxieties -- dirty house, answering emails, “putting on real clothes”-- gone. There was no internet. There were no cars driving by, no dog barking (doggie daycare, you complete me), no grimy dishes, no Twitter no nothing. Just daffodils, old oaks, and a creaky porch. 

I couldn’t find a good list of available writing retreats coming up, but DIY that puppy and just take a weekend somewhere beautiful and quiet. Don’t even bring a book to read. Just a laptop and a notebook for scratch work. Real clothes optional.

In case you missed it, I wrote a helpful list of writer resources with a whole lotta more blogs and websites to usher you along your writerly way. If you ever need to feel better about your journey in storytelling, I’m here with a more pitiful tale of woe to brighten your spirits. You can count on me.