The Writer's Technology Companion

Tools, Tips, and Technology for Productive Writers

5 Minutes Bookkeeping a Day Keeps the IRS Away

6 Great Apps for Your iPhone

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Today I bring you a guest post from Gavin Nachbar. Gavin is a freelance writer who cannot be found anywhere in the world without his iPhone. As a writer, he has written for a couple of magazines including Hyphen Magazine and The Escapist Magazine.

Gavin doesn’t have a site of his own right now, but says you can feel free to email him with any questions about the iPhone!

Back in 2007, Apple.’s iPhone was released to a crowd of cheering fans who couldn’t wait to have their phone and iPod together in one. They were excited to be able to get their email and go online in places where WiFi had previously said “no”. In two short years, though, the iPhone has turned into so much more.

The iPhone has not gone without criticism, though, and many people will swear by their Blackberries. Throughout the election, we heard about Barack Obama’s obsession with his Blackberry, and many of us couldn’t help but think “Maybe I should get one of those?” Both iPhones and Blackberries are great in their own right, and either would be a great choice for a writer.

Then what sets these two phones apart? The iPhone has over 25,000 third party applications ready for download, and that number is only growing. Different applications serve different purposes, and they do all kinds of things. Some of them can identify a song on the radio while others can give you directions back to where you parked your car. Of all of these applications, here are 6 of the best for writers to use. [Read the rest of this entry…]

Build a Better Blog Project

Darren Rowse
Image by BenSpark via Flickr

For writers looking to improve their blogs quickly, Darren Rowse’s “31 Days to Build a Better Blog” program might be just the thing. Rowse runs Problogger, one of the top blogs on the Internet and the place to go for information about making a living as a blogger. For the next month, starting April 6, he’ll send out an email every day to everyone in the “31 Days” program with a quick, 10 – 15 minute task they can do to make their blog a little bit better.

I know little beyond that — like you, I’ll have to wait until the 6th to see what kind of tips Darren is sending out. But, Darren is a) super-smart about blogging, b) very good at explaining things, and c) about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, and therefore one ofthe givingest, so I’m sure the tips will be effective, well-written, and generous.

The program is free — you just need to give your name and email address to receive the daily emails. IF you need to get your blog in order — or maybe even get your blog started — this looks like a good, quick way to pick up a little steam.

Character Keeper: Free Note-taking Software for Writers

Character Keeper Screenshot

The writers at the group blog Magical Words have developed an interesting little piece of software called Character Keeper, an AIR-based program intended to keep track of character profiles and other snippets of information related to your book. Becuase it’s AIR, Adobe’s stand-alone Flash platform, it will run on any computer that can run current versions of Flash (though you’ll need to install the AIR runtime if it’s not alreadyon your system).

The program is quite simple — each note has a descriptive headline, a category (intended to keep separate your notes for different projects), and a large text space for free-form text writing. On the right-hand side, notes (they call them “clips”) are organized by category, allowing you to skim through all the notes related to a particular project. The program features one-click copying of theentire note so you can easily copy-and-paste your notes into whatever document you’re working on.

Character Keeper is a simple little application that doesn’t do much, but it may well fit into your writing workflow. It’s free at the moment; the site seems to implythat they’ll be charging for it in thefuture, but unless they add significant new features Ican’t imagine it being worth paying for. As a free app, though, it’s certainly worth a try.

Character Keeper (free)

Convert PDF Documents to Word or Rich Text Format

Latest PDF File Icon
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Saving documents as PDFs has become trivially easy. A huge number of PDF creator apps have emerged, most of them free, and almost all of them quite simple to use. Programs like Word 2007 and have “save as PDF” built in (you need an add-on from Microsoft to do this in Word 2007, but it’s part of the normal interface once you install the add-on). Adobe’s lets you save to PDF from their word processor, Buzzword, and includes a PDF converter that will transform any document you upload to PDF.

What if you want to go the other way, though? That is, what if you want to get the text back out of a PDF so you can edit it in your normal word processor? This is quite a bit harder than creating a PDF — strange things happen to the original text when you create a PDF that make it quite difficult to pull the text and, especially, the formatting out.

Enter PDFtoWord, a free web-based service that has just begun offering its services publicly. PDFtoWord is simple — you select a PDF file on your harddrive, select whether you want the output to be a Word (.doc) file or a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file, enter your email address, and click “convert”. Within an hour or so (like I said, this kind of conversion is difficult!), PDFtoWord emails you the output of the process — a very nicely formatted and ready-to-edit word processor file. [Read the rest of this entry…]

Getting Started as a Writer Part 2: Breaking In

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For most people, “becoming a writer” means first and foremost getting published. And really, getting published for pay. That first sale is a watershed moment for the fledgling writer, a moment of validation that you have something to say that other people want to hear.

These days, getting published is less and less of a challenge – but getting that first paycheck can be harder than ever. The Internet has opened up a huge range of opportunities for people to publish their work free or for insultingly low rates – blogging, article sites, search engine optimization, and so on. While these can be great ways to start building a reputation for yourself and even earn a couple of dollars here and there, they simply are not the basis of a strong writing career, and the low barrier to entry makes it hard to feel like you’ve made much of an accomplishment. [Read the rest of this entry…]

Posts in “Getting Started as a Writer” series

  1. Getting Started as a Writer, Part 1: Laying the Groundwork
  2. Getting Started as a Writer Part 2: Breaking In

Getting Started as a Writer, Part 1: Laying the Groundwork

Pink Note The Novelette (1884)

Image via Wikipedia

So, you want to be a writer.

It can be daunting to know how to get started as a writer. A lot of us feel we can write, know we can write – or better yet, know we can’t not write. We love the unfolding of stories beneath our pens, the spray of words across a computer screen, the sound of imagery narrated in our heads. We are story-tellers, truth-seekers, teachers, and sharers of life’s joys and sorrows, beauties and uglinesses.

But there’s a huge gap between scribbling our thoughts in a journal or writing a couple of essays in a college class and actually being a writer. I know I’ll be contradicted by… well, by everyone on the Internet trying to make a buck selling you their Super-Amazing Get-Rich-Quick-Writing-from-Home System for only $97 or $297 or $497, but while writing may come easily to you (and it doesn’t especially matter if it doesn’t), actually being a writer is hard, hard work. Not the hardest ever, but hard enough.

I don’t say this to discourage you, or to test your mettle, or anything like that. I want you to be a writer. Or I want you to at least have given it a shot, to have at least tried it on – better that you try and fail than to not become a writer out of fear, laziness, or simple lack of knowledge. But if you’re going to become a writer, I’d like you to be prepared for the long haul, and all those scammy “anyone can write” programs and products do a piss-poor job of preparing would-be writers for the job of actually writing. [Read the rest of this entry…]

Posts in “Getting Started as a Writer” series

  1. Getting Started as a Writer, Part 1: Laying the Groundwork
  2. Getting Started as a Writer Part 2: Breaking In

Tools of Inspiration

hedwig loves you
Image by misfitgirl via Flickr

We writers have many tools.

We have our words, the nouns and verbs and adjectives and even the woefully despised adverbs, poor dears. We have our talent, our rare gift for putting the right words in the right order to make our readers weep, laugh, thrill, buy — or just turn the page. We have our minds, straining through the days and nights to create and hold onto the ideas that fill our words with meaning.

And we have our word processors. The tools we use to actually capture those ideas and put them down in words, the software and laptops and notebooks and ballpoints. These tools aren’t quite so glamorous. They seem so everyday, so mundane, so… boring.

And yet, there are few writers that aren’t infinitely fussy when it comes to their physical tools, who don’t demand just the right pencil on just the right paper, or who don’t secretly thrill at the prospect of a new notebook computer to carry down to that oh-so-perfect café. (We’re a little fussy about places, too.)

And why not? The tools we use to get our thoughts out of our head and onto paper (or increasingly, the screen) are the medium of our calling. You wouldn’t look askance at a painter who demanded the right brand of oil paint and a canvas prepared just so, right? A word processor or legal pad is a writer’s canvas; a keyboard or fountain pen her brush. [Read the rest of this entry…]

How to Write Fast

Writing Tools
Image by this is your brain on lithium via Flickr


I’m going to write this post in 20 minutes.

Being able to write fast is a crucial skill for writers of every stripe, especially freelancers who work to order, often under tight deadlines, as well as journalists trying to get a scoop. Bloggers, too, can benefit from writing fast, so they can move on to the writing that pays the bills, advances their careers, or satisfies their muse.

The key to writing fast is turning off your internal editor, that little voice in your head that tells you when a sentence or choice of words sucks. You have to fight that painful urge to go back and correct what you’ve just written, to fix the typos, or to pick just the right word, every single time. 

This boils down to a matter of trust — trust in yourself. You have to know that when you’re done madly drafting your piece, you’ll go back and fix things up. The important part is getting something to work with on the screen or on paper. Your writerly instinct is as much an editorial instinct as anything else — by separating the act of getting thoughts out of your head and shaping them into a finished, publishable piece, you can save a lot of time as your brain stays “locked in” on one task or the other, instead of split between both.

Here are my tips for writing quickly: [Read the rest of this entry…]

Tag Your Writing Tweets with #Writing and #Editing

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Taken as a whole, Twitter can seem like one gigantic mass of everyday tedium (“Eating cheese again, yum!”), TMI (“I’m having sex. Right. Now!), and occasionally useful snippets of information (“THere was just a giant earthquake in China!”). But just as bloggers have taken to tagging their posts to make work on a particular topic easily found (look at the bottom of each post on this site, for example — you have to be on the post page to see them, not on the front page of thesite), Twitterers have developed a system of tagging for tweets to help make it easier to find tweets on a specific subject. [Read the rest of this entry…]

Innovative Collaboration/Comparison with TextFlow

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Whenever you work with other people on a document, whether they’re co-writers contributing changes and comments, editors recommending revisions, or even yourself adding and cutting a work for reprint or re-pitching, you run into the problem of how to compare the documents in a useful, productive way. Word’s “Track Changes” is good if you’re the kind of person who wears a hair shirt and sleep on a bed of downy barbed wire — for everyone else, it’s ugly, cluttered, and difficult to work with,  Side-by-side comparison tools exist — Word 2007 has this built in — but they rely on the writer’s ability to recognize subtle differences that are often too subtle for work-weary eyes.

TextFlow, a product now in public testing, offers a remedy to those issues. THeir product offers changes in a gorgeously colored and incrediblywell-designed format that makes it a breeze to identify, review, and accept or reject changes — even between several documents at once. [Read the rest of this entry…]