NaNoWriMo is over! Congratulations to all those who took part – no matter how many words you wrote, you achieved something great, and you should be proud. Because my dedicated writing time this month was limited, I found myself trying all sorts of new things in order to write everywhere – on trains, in my lunch hour, in bed when I should have been sleeping (oops).
I wanted to share some of the tools I used to help me get through November, and some of the tools that I’m hoping to use when it comes to editing later (*ahem* in March for NaNoEdMo). Namely, since I was writing on the go on a variety of devices, I’m talking about apps, and because basically everything I own is Apple-based, this is iOS-focused, though many of these are also available on Android. For research and planning, for writing and editing, below are my top ten favourite apps to use.
An obvious one really – a dictionary can help you work out word origins if you’re looking to use them for names or researching making your own language. The full thesaurus is locked into the premium version, but there’s still plenty to work with here. This is the dictionary app I’ve stuck with for years, and it does everything I need, including (and especially!) offline searches – though these are also only in the premium version. But if you’re writing, you’ll need a dictionary, so this is a good investment. Bonus: it can also be used to check obscure word meanings so you can win arguments with your brother! *ahem*
This is mostly a mathematical know-it all app and site. Great for calculating random figures with other random figures, it’s probably the most advanced computing power which is available for everyone. I don’t use this very often, but if you’re looking for travel distances, academic trivia, or measurements for making your world, whether fantasy, historical or contemporary, that much more realistic, then I’d recommend giving this a try. Again, the app does cost, but the price has come WAY down since it was first released. It’s also free to use as a search engine in your browser, so if you’re unsure whether you’ll find it helpful, you can check it out there first.
Is this research or procrastination? But seriously, Pinterest can be a great place to gather inspiration photos for your Nanowrimo novel. If you’re a visual person, like me, it can be really handy to have a folder full of images to prompt you about characters, setting, culture and world-building – especially on those days when you just don’t feel like writing. It really helps me to just glance through the pictures for my novel and get back into the right mood and atmosphere before I start the day’s words. And then, if the words aren’t coming later, it won’t hurt to take five minutes out to find some more pictures…
I love this app, but it’s possible I don’t use it as it was originally intended! It works as a blank canvas, ready for your mind maps and flow charts. You can use it for genealogies, character traits, or settings notes. I use it mostly for trying to work out difficult plot points – it’s a great free-form space to jot down thoughts on the train, and keep track of all the different ideas. I’ve put it at the beginning of the planning section because for me it’s the first port of call, to work out the foundations of what I’m writing before I start plotting in a more concrete and constrained way. But I also use it later on, when I get stuck with the plot or with rules of the magic system, to just stream-of-consciousness type it all out, and eventually come up with a solution.
This is the app I use after iThoughts. It allows you to plot out your novel scene by scene, and gives you options to add in characters, settings, timeline, narrative POV and any notes you want to make. You don’t have to fill everything out, but it’s really cool to see your timeline added up at the end. It’ll also tell you your most-appearing characters and settings, as well as most frequently used POV, which is great to see, and really gives you some overarching context and a sense of what your novel might turn out to be in the end, so in that sense it’s a great motivating tool.
This is one of the most comprehensive writing programs, whatever you write. It allows you to store research, to plot, to cross-reference and interlink different sections. I find it really great for writing scenes when I’m not really sure where to put them, so I can shuffle and experiment later. This was originally a downloadable computer program, which is where I use it, and though it does now have an app version, I’d lean more towards using Evernote, which is more easily accessible from multiple devices across networks. Evernote also has the advantage of being free.
Star App: iA Writer
In November, I wrote 50,000 words in this app. Only once did it fail me, when I lost the day’s writing because I synced my devices in the wrong order, but I was careful after it happened and it wasn’t an issue again. This syncs automatically with a connection, so it was super easy to write on my phone during my commute, and my tablet when I was at home. And because you write in plain text, you can export into HTML, plain text, Word, PDF, and other formats, which means that it’s also super easy to email it to your laptop or desktop, write a bunch, then save in plain text and email it straight back into the app. I researched quite carefully before NaNoWriMo, and I think this is the best option for on-the-go writing. I wouldn’t have finished the 50K without this app.
For when you need a fresh way to approach writing, or if you feel that speaking your writing out makes it flow better, Dragon Dictation is one of the best dictation apps out there. It’s not without errors, but I enjoy having another option for when I just can’t look at a computer screen any more.
Spice: A Phrase Thesaurus & History of the English Language
The drawback of this app is that you need a paid subscription to access it – but if it’s in your budget, I’d recommend it. You can search for phrases, cliches and metaphors and discover origins and mentions in literature – it’s a great place to find alternatives to cliches or awkward phrases that can pop up in your writing, and be a little more aware of your writing style and methods. Just generally a very nerdy wordy kind of an app, but interesting if you find yourself using the same phrases over and over again and want to do something different – or find out if there are any historical mentions of that phrase!
This is kind of a cheat because it’s a web app, but it’s such good fun to use when editing. It’ll highlight overly-long sentences, adverbs, passive voice, and more things that you might want to avoid in your writing. Don’t take it too seriously – there are no absolute writing rules, after all – but I like using it to kick off my edits in a way that motivates me to finish them!
So, those are my top ten apps for writing a novel! Do you use these ones, or do you prefer others? Let me know in comments or on Twitter!