I find technical documents as dry as pumpernickel bread. So when asked to write a blog on “Technology for Writers”, my initial reaction was “No way, Jose! I will not write like pumpernickel bread.”
I like technology, – been doing it for longer than dirt is old. I love developing, testing, and learning it. However, have this love/hate relationship with it. It can help and it can frustrate.
My wife mostly hates it, except spell checkers. Because it helps me overcome my spelling weakness, I no longer ask her to read my stuff.
If it were not for word processors and spell peckers, I would still be a programmer today. I would never have been able to write those monthly status reports that one needs to do to become a manager of a group of geeks.
Wait!. Did you catch that mistake? I wrote ‘peckers’ instead of ‘checkers’ and my spell checker didn’t flag it. Did I tell you that I’m also a horrible editor? That combined with a spelling handicap can really get one into trouble.
No longer, coming to the rescue is a wave of technology tools that can help most writers.
Before I dive deep into the pool of technology specifically for writers and get in over our heads, let us talk about general technology. This is the technology that is not specifically for writers, but every writer should know about.
(fill in the blank with ‘Microsoft’, ‘Open’, “Google”, “Libre” or your favorite f word processor software).
Many know about free Google Docs, but do you know you can get Microsoft Office for free? Just sign up for an email address at live.com. It runs only in the cloud, which requires internet access. How many people today do not have that?
Well, maybe me. My internet service sucks. It goes down more often than the sun.
Therefore, I use the subscription version called Office 365. I’m a ‘family member’ – one of five allowed, on my friend’s family plan. (I am too cheap to buy it myself.) I can install it on all my devices from my Windows desktop to my iPad and my Android phone.
If I put my files on OneDrive, which comes with it, it will synchronize my writings across all my devices. Google Docs does that too as does the Apple equivalent.
Libre Office and Open Office are more like the traditional Microsoft Office where you buy it once and install in on your desktop.
If my internet is down, I run locally. After it comes back up, my changes synchronize across all my devices. This allows me to take a device to the John to get some uninterrupted writing time.
It is like being on cloud nine, which brings us to cloud storage.
If you have not used cloud storage, you just may be in the same technology camp as my wife. It is as good as sliced bread. Combined with file synchronization, you can have sliced bread and you can eat it too. (My wife tells me that my dyslexia influences my analogies. Why I took up writing is beyond me.)
There are many cloud providers. The big four are Drive (Google), Dropbox (Dropbox), OneDrive (Microsoft) and iCloud. (Apple). These offer a modest amount of storage free and, for a little monthly fee; you can get enough storage to write until the cows come home and never fill up your space.
However, do not just store your writings in the cloud. That is not wise. In fact, do not store your writings on any one storage device. Take backup seriously. Your work is as important as the baby photos of the kids. How would you feel if you lost them? (Not the kids – the writings.) The good news is, unlike your kids, you can back up your writings. If you are backup challenged, read about this.
In the old days – ten years ago, websites or blogs took a technical guru to build. Today, if you can use a word processor, you can build a website. There are places where you can build them free. Market yourself or store your writings, blogs and websites are good.
If you want your own domain name, you can buy it for under $15.00 and ten minutes of your time. And, for less than $10.00 a month, you can host it on a website server. Getting it listed on the first page of Google still takes a guru and more money and time than you care to devote to it.
Choose an easy to use website builder tool and you are up and running. Here are some that are worth looking into:
Weebly – free – $25/mo
Wix – $13 – 39/mo
That’s it for general stuff. Now for the jump into the deep end or, as they say, get ready to drink from the fire hose.
Technology for Writers:
There are tools targeted to help you write, publish, marketing, and organize your work. There are even tools to control your behavior. Let us take them one category at a time.
There are more apps to check your spelling and grammar than there are shoe cobbler kids. (Another dyslexic analogy?)
The Noverly provides online writing courses and a professional writing coach – for a fee.
Hemmingway professes to make your writing clear and bold.
Dragon is a speech recognition tool. You can also find that also in Google Docs and even in the Windows operating system. They work like Alexa or Siri: “Alexa, send a text to my wife that I’m coming home early.” … “You don’t have a life.”
Ulysses can help you stay focused and organize your work.
There are many more apps to help you write better.
Market / Publish:
If you need help marketing or publishing your work, there are a set of tools to do that too.
Unbound is a cloud-funding site that helps you fund and publishes your writing project.
Social media is a good marketing tool from Facebook to Instagram. There are even tools like SkedSocial to help you manage.
Draft2Digital helps you get your document formatted and self-published. (BTW, did you know that the average self-published book income is $2,000? I learned that at the Watershed Writing workshop.)
Writer’s Technology is a whole website that does what I’m trying to do in this blog – tell you about technology for writers. It is somewhat dated, but they even review fountain pens!
Then there is the gorilla in publishing from Amazon – Kindle e-publishing. It is worth considering.
The point is that publishing and marketing your writing is not your grandfather’s Cadillac. These tools have enabled the good, bad and ugly to get their writings to market much easily as the ‘old’ days. This is a double-edged sword. The market is so flooded that you will struggle to differentiate yourself from those who used to find themselves in the publisher’s garbage can.
If you are writing a novel or large piece and are struggling with organizing your material, there are many tools to help you.
I am testing Scrivener. It is better on my wife’s Mac than my Windows PC. I find it slightly easier to learn than to pronounce.
Do you have trouble staying focused? My 101-year-old mother-in-law can only focus for a few microseconds before she is off doing something else. She is a remarkable, independent, strong and healthy woman. However, she takes hours to bake the same butterscotch brownies that my wife can in the time it takes me to drink a shot of scotch.
Many of these tools work in multiple categories. They can help you stay focused, organize your work, and provide a platform to write.
What to do with so many?
Overwhelmed? I am not surprised. To help weed whack your way through this overgrowth of tools, here are some tips:
- First, identify the areas where you need help.
- Try one tool at a time.
- Make time to use the trial period and evaluate it.
- Be aware of the time it takes to learn a tool. The time to learn is the time you are not writing, so be careful. Unlike jelly beans, time is limited.
- Stay with one vendor before mixing them. If you have an iPhone, use Apple’s cloud and writing tools. If you are a Google Android user, use Google Docs and Drive, not Onedrive.
- Finally, be aware that technology does not replace the work of a human. Yet. They are only tools and aids, not answers to your ills.
- Recognize that this area changes faster than a teenager’s mood. What you know today about technology will change tomorrow.
This has been a lot to digest. If you think it is hard to read this, how would you have like to write it? I think the jury is out on if I met my goal of not writing another pumpernickel loaf of dry technical bread.
Comments, especially nice ones, are welcome.
I used Microsoft Word, Grammarly, and ProWriteAid to write this.
I do not recommend nor get any compensation from any of the applications in this blog.
My wife will not read it. She gets bored too easily with tech stuff.
 Read this Gizmodo article and do the math.