The Writer's Technology Companion

Tools, Tips, and Technology for Productive Writers

5 Minutes Bookkeeping a Day Keeps the IRS Away

The Publishing Process Explained

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OK, this one’s a quickie: If you are trying to publish a book, check out O’Reilly Media’s So You Want to Write a Book? O’Reilly publishes all kinds of tech-oriented books, and this is their guide for authors who are submitting manuscripts to them for publication. Although aimed at O’Reilly’s authors, the information here applies pretty well to the process at most publishers (except O’Reilly is a lot more honest than many others, as illustrated by the very fact that they’ve made available this incredibly open guide to their publication process, where other publishers might prefer you underinformed). [Read the rest of this entry…]

Transcription Made Easy (Easier, Anyway)

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One of the biggest hassles of traditional journalistic writing is quoting sources. I don’t even knowhow they did it in “the old days”, when reporters just had notebooks – shorthand, I suppose) but these  days we’re lucky enough to be able to make digital recordings of our sources. Since I do most of my interviews by phone, I use Skype and record all my calls using a free plugin called Callgraph.

So I know I always have a complete record of every source interview, but I still have to dig around in them to find just the right quote, and I still have to transcribe the quote from the recording. For formal interviews, like my Q&A with The Big Burn author Timothy Egan, I need to transcribe the whole interview (even though most of it ends up getting cut to fit the assigned space).

Using a traditional mp3 player or audio software to do this is an exercise in either futility or saintly patience. Since most people talk faster than I can type, I would have to manually drag the slider back and forth, or use fast forward and rewind buttons repeatedly, to get all of a long quote down, let alone an entire interview. [Read the rest of this entry…]

15 Online Sites and Tools for Productive Writers

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This is a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes about online school for OnlineSchool.net. Enjoy!

The most productive writers know how to use the web and other tools to meet deadlines and achieve writing goals. If you are looking for new sites to inspire and new tools to help you write and edit your next piece, this article can guide you to 15 resources guaranteed to make you more productive on a daily basis.

Writing.com — Created for writers of all levels and interests, this online writing community is a wonderful place for writers to hone their skills, learn new techniques, and become a more productive writer. After signing up for a free membership, site users can create a writing portfolio, participate in writing activities, and utilize Writing.com’s many writing tools.

Writers Write — Writers Write is a comprehensive resource for writers who are looking for information on writing and getting published. The site features a blog, articles, book reviews, author interviews, news, writing jobs, and much more.

NaNoWriMo — NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is an inspiring site for writers who want to adopt a seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Every November, community members pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

WritingFix — This site offers free interactive writing prompts for writers who are having a hard time coming up with something to write on. Simply click on the prompt generator until you find a prompt that sparks your interest.

365 Pictures — Launched in April of 2009, 365 Pictures is a collaborative project that provides a new picture and thought-provoking writing prompt each day. Pictures include photos, illustrations, mixed media imagery, and other artwork.

Seventh Sanctum — Perfect for writers who have a difficult time naming their characters, equipment, or organizations, this site offers multiple name generators for nearly every occasion. Seventh Sanctum can also be used to come up with writing ideas and plot lines.

Grammar Girl — Productive writers can study grammar on the go with this amazing podcast from Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty. Each episode is devoted to a particular grammar issue and includes quick and dirty tips for remembering grammar rules.

Style Guide — Given to everyone who writes for Economist.com, this handy guide makes a great reference for writers who need to quickly find answers to style questions. The guide covers everything from capitalization and punctuation to abbreviations and titles.

AutoCrit Editing Wizard — AutoCrit is a paid service, but writers can use it to edit short, 800-word pieces for free. The Wizard searches for overused words, repeat phrases, and sentence length variation.

Booksie — Booksie is a good site for writers who want to electronically publish novels, poems, short stories, and articles and receive critiques from other people. The site allows writers to build a profile, interact with the community, and retain full rights to all of their work.

yWriter — yWriter is free novel writing software that keeps writing organized by separating it into chapters and scenes. The software also backs up work automatically so that you never have to worry about losing a piece in progress.

RoughDraft — RoughDraft is a free, award-winning word processor for older versions of Windows. Features include live spellchecking, instant backup, genre-specific formatting, an HTML converter, a dictionary and thesaurus facility, and much more.

Wridea — Wridea is a free web application for writers who want to organize their ideas and better manage the writing process. The app can also be used to share outlines and brainstorming sessions with friends. 

Web-Chops — Web-Chops is an excellent tool for writers who conduct their research online. The tool makes it easy to quickly collect information from around the web and place it on one web page.

Joe’s Goals — Establishing goals is a good way for writers to get on track and stay productive. Joe’s Goals is a simple way to establish and monitor all of your writing goals.

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15 Online Sites and Tools for Productive Writers

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This is a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes about online school for OnlineSchool.net. Enjoy!

The most productive writers know how to use the web and other tools to meet deadlines and achieve writing goals. If you are looking for new sites to inspire and new tools to help you write and edit your next piece, this article can guide you to 15 resources guaranteed to make you more productive on a daily basis.

Writing.com — Created for writers of all levels and interests, this online writing community is a wonderful place for writers to hone their skills, learn new techniques, and become a more productive writer. After signing up for a free membership, site users can create a writing portfolio, participate in writing activities, and utilize Writing.com’s many writing tools.

Writers Write — Writers Write is a comprehensive resource for writers who are looking for information on writing and getting published. The site features a blog, articles, book reviews, author interviews, news, writing jobs, and much more.

[Read the rest of this entry…]

Happy 2010!

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Hope the new year is treating everyone well!

As you may have noticed, I’ve been posting very sporadically over the last year. It’s entirely possible, though I haven’t counted, that I had more guest posts in 2009 than posts by me!

The good news is, nothing bad happened to me. 2009 was perhaps the busiest year I have ever experienced, and I put in motion several major projects that are just starting to take off now. Among other things, I accepted a position as a regular contributor at Outright Entrepreneur, writing about issues related to freelancing. Outright Entrepreneur is a project of Outright.com, the online bookkeeping system I’ve written about on this blog (Take Charge of Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments with Outright). The marketing director there saw my post here (and another at FreelanceSwitch) and after a short correspondence asked me to write for them. There’s a lesson there for anyone who’s wondering why freelancers should blog…

In addition to starting my new gig with Outright Entrepreneur, I also pitched, built, and launched an ebook publishing platform at Stepcase Lifehack. I wrote the first ebook, Back to Basics Productivity, based on a popular series of posts I’d written the year before on personal productivity. I also edited the second ebook (forthcoming this month), and solicited contributions for the third. I’m wearing just about all the hats – managing editor, marketing director, acquisitions editor, copy editor, layout and production – so you know it’s keeping me busy.

And so on – life happens.

[Read the rest of this entry…]

Moving to Linux: Working with the Netbook, Part 2

Firstly, to the many pairs of people who have been following this series, my sincerest apologies for the delay. Life has once again, rather successfully, gotten in the way of doing what I enjoy. But now that things have settled down again, I want to resume this series.

One year with the Netbook (Almost)

As I’m coming up on the one-year mark with the MSI Wind, it’s a good chance to reflect on whether it’s been a good investment. In a general sense, I would answer emphatically yes! It’s such a convenient machine, I end up carrying it most everywhere I go. The portability of it alone has made it worth the investment.

But in terms of writing specifically, I’ve found the ability to use the couple spare minutes I might have between errands or sitting down for a caffeinated beverage the greatest benefit. While I certainly used to go to cafes and the like with my past notebooks, it was always a chore to do so; I had to ensure that the (low-capacity) battery was charged, worry about getting a seat next to an outlet, and carry the machine in a bag I didn’t necessarily want. However, the netbook fits in whatever bag I’m using that day, has great battery life even on standby, and goes from standby to writing in under 30 seconds.

So, in summary, the Wind has been a huge boon not only to my writing (not that you could tell from the frequency of my posts since then), but to my productivity in general.

Software KVM Switch

In the previous post, I describe one of my favorite tools, x2x, used for sharing the keyboard and mouse across two network-connected machines (i.e. a “software KVM”). This solution worked well for me while I was using Linux on the desktop machine.

However, since then, I’ve switched Windows XP on a desktop for some Very Important Reasons (*cough* Warcraft). As x2x isn’t an option on Windows without some measure of elbow grease, I looked again to Synergy.

I had tried Synergy once before, quite unsuccessfully. Although I had tried all manner of ways to install and configure it between the two Linux boxes, I could never get the two to find each other. I put this down (incorrectly, as it turns out) to the application, and washed my hands of it. In the end, it was a typo on the firewall rule that would have allowed Synergy traffic into the machines that was the problem.

Synergy is an excellent tool. While it performs basically the same function as x2x, there are a couple of key advantages it has:

  • Most importantly, it’s cross-platform. So you can have a Linux machine, running alongside a Mac, alongside a Windows box, all sharing a single keyboard and mouse.
  • In addition, there is a great GUI tool called QuickSynergy that makes short work of configuration.
  • Lastly, it has some nice features such as the ability to be lanuched as a server automatically at start-up (on Windows) and a good tolerance for automatic connection/disconnection (I often leave the Synergy client on the Wind running, and when I get back to the desk and plug into the LAN, the Synergy server on the desktop will grab the cursor automatically).

I’ll continue next time with some of the “must-have” apps and tricks for netbooks, in the vein of Dustin’s post here. Only focused on Linux, natch!



20 Hi-Tech Tools and Resources for Writers

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This is a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes for OnlineCollege.org.

Technology has made it much easier for writers to research, create, and publish poems, plays, novels, essays, and short stories. The web is full of free writing software, brainstorming tools, outlining applications, grammar guides, and other hi-tech tools designed to make writing sessions less complicated and more productive. Here is a list of 20 hi-tech tools and resources that almost any writer can use.

  1. yWriter- Designed specifically for novel writers, this writing software splits your manuscript into scenes and chapters. yWriter has an easy-to-use interface and is free to download.
  2. RoughDraft- RoughDraft is a free word processor for writers. Features include a built-in grammar checker and spellchecker, instant back-up, a simple print system, importing capabilities, shortcut keys, a comprehensive help system, and special modes for plays, screenplays, novels, articles, and short stories.
  3. OpenOffice- OpenOffice is an excellent open source suite of office tools for writers. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet maker, database creator, and more.
  4. Writeboard- Writeboard is a web-based whiteboard that’s perfect for collaborative writers. It can be used to collaborate on copy and compare different versions of a document.
  5. KTouch- KTouch is a free touch-type program that can help writers get more done. The program teaches users how to type faster and more accurately.
  6. Evernote- This free note taking system is great for writers who want to outline their writing, write character notes, or quickly jot down ideas for later use. Evernote can also be used to clip and share notes on the web.
  7. Remember The Milk- Although this app wasn’t created specifically for writers, it does work well for creating an online writing schedule or to-do list. Remember The Milk will even send you reminders via email, SMS, or IM.
  8. Mindmeister- Mindmeister is a free mind mapping tool that can be used to brainstorm and create visual outlines.
  9. LooseStitch- LooseStitch is a good place for writers to brainstorm, create outlines, fine tune ideas, and get feedback from editors or friends.
  10. My Writers Circle- My Writers Circleis an online forum for writers. The forum offers a place to chat, ask questions, find jobs, get critiques, and much more.
  11. The Imagination Prompt Generator- This free generator for writers prompts the imagination with a starting sentence, phrase, or idea.
  12. The Story Starter- With more than 300 million “first sentences,” The Story Starter is one of the best places online for writers to get new ideas and writing prompts.
  13. Glypho- Glypho is a great practice site for writers. Users can jot down a story concept, get plot and character ideas from people around the world, and work with other people to create a collaborative novel.
  14. VisuWords- VisuWords is a graphical dictionary/thesaurus for people who love words. It defines words and displays associated words and concepts.
  15. Merriam-Webster — America’s foremost publisher of language-related reference materials provides one of the best dictionaries and thesauruses available for free on the web. The site also has other resources writers will enjoy, such as a vocabulary-building word of the day and free word games.
  16. Urban Dictionary- Unlike most dictionaries, the Urban Dictionary focuses on defining slang words and terms.
  17. Grammar Girl- The Grammar Girl podcast is perfect for writers who want to improve their grammar and sentence structure. Each podcast episode features a simple trick for remembering the most pesky grammar rules.
  18. Writer’s FM- Created specifically for writers, this online radio station broadcasts music, author interviews, and tips to get published.
  19. Book Marketing Network- The Book Marketing Network is an online social network for authors and publishers.
  20. Booksie — Writers can use Booksie to create and publish novels, stories, poems, and other written works. Booksie allows users to track readers, receive and respond to comments, build an online profile, and communicate with a fan base.

How to Find Anything in Parentheses Using Word’s Search

Roman and italic ampersands. Based on plain an...
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I recently ran into a strange problem. I was asked to present an academic paper at a conference, and while writing fell automatically into the habit of referencing all my quotes and other citations with traditional parenthetical citations. When I went to produce the shorter copy that I would read from at the conference, I wanted to remove all those parenthetical citations — they were just clutter and I Knew I’d stumble over them while I read.

Here’s the thing: normally, I could just use the “wildcard” to search for anything inside of parentheses, like this: (*). The problem is, when you enable wildcards in Word’s search, you also enable a bunch of operators, and parentheses are among them — Word uses parentheses to group together different parts fo the search query, the same way you use them in math, e.g. 12*4+3 vs. 12*(4+3). So a search for (*) simply returned everything.

Here’s how I solved the problem:

  1. With wildcards disabled, I did a “find and replace”, replacing all left-parentheses “(“ with an ampersand “&”.
  2. Then I replaced all the right-parentheses  ”)” with a dollar sign “$”.
  3. With the parentheses all turned into something unique (if I’d used dollar signs or ampersands in the paper, I’d have replaced the parentheses with carets or percent signs or any other punctuation or symbol I hadn’t used) I could enable “Use Wildcards” and search for the phrase “&*$” (without quotes).
  4. Because there might well be other statements in parentheses, I used “Find next” and “Replace” rather than “Replace all” to go through the paper and delete only the citations.
  5. Finally, I restored the parentheses by running the above find-and-replace operations backwards, turning dollar signs and ampersands back into their respective parentheses.

And that’s it. It wasn’t particularly intuitive, unless you’re deeply familiar with how wildcards work in Word, but once I grasped that the parentheses were the problem, it was a simple matter to replace them and blast them out of my paper.

And the presentation went well, though of course I found plenty of other things to stumble over, like words and my tongue…

Take Charge of Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments with Outright

020/365 Grim Reaper

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One of the things I’ve had the hardest time figuring out since my freelance writing began producing a significant income was how to manage my estimated quarterly tax payments. For the time being, I’ve been over-paying my taxes at my day job and hoping that it was enough to cover the taxes I wasn’t paying on my freelance income. Last year my overpaid taxes just barely covered my freelance taxes – assuming my income keeps climbing at the rate it is (and especially once I start scaling back my day job) this jury-rigged system isn’t going to work for much longer.

Enter Outright, a free online service to help freelancers manage their taxes. Using Outright is fairly simple – you just enter in your income as it comes in, and your expenses as they go out. Around the end of each quarter, Outright sends you a reminder saying your upcoming taxes are about due, and figures them out for you (including Social Security – both employee’s and employer’s contributions) and Medicare). Where several methods exist to figure out your taxes, Outright uses the one that requires the highest payment, on the principle that  its better to overpay a little now and get it back at the end of the text year than to underpay and get hit with fees.

[NOTE: Outright is designed for the US tax system and, as of right now, does not support non-US taxpayers.]

What makes Outright really shine, though, is its integration with other services. On the “income” side, Outright integrates with online bookkeeping system FreshBooks, importing paid invoices every night and updating your tax estimate. On the “expenses” side, you can track receipts using Shoeboxed, an online system that allows you to scan receipts into the system so you can dispose of hard copy (paid versions even allow you to mail your receipts in and have them scanned for you).

Altogether, Outright, FreshBooks, and Shoeboxed create a full accounting system freelancers – particularly at low– and mid-range incomes. Outright scales pretty well, though – as your tax needs get more complex and demand the attention of a bookkeeper or accountant, you can easily give them access – a couple clicks and the system sends an email with a link to set up third-party access to your books.

With a system like this, there’s no longer any excuse to avoid paying your quarterly estimated tax payments. Entry-level versions of FreshBooks and Shoeboxed are free, as is Outright – why not set them all up and give it a try?

All Aboard… The WriteChain!

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Jamie Grove of the excellent writing blog How Not to Write has created something special for iPhone or iPod Touch owners who write: WriteChain. More than just a word-count tracker, WriteChain is built around the principle of the chain, encouraging you to write every day to avoid “breaking the chain”.

WriteChain is a simple app. On the home page, you enter how many words you write each day. If you want, you can add notes by editing the day’s session under the “Sessions” tab. WriteChain will keep track of each day’s session, and let you review the sessions and notes whenever you want. [Read the rest of this entry…]