Today’s post continues the run-down of free resources I started in Part One. There’s a lot of great free resources out there for writers!
We all love collaboration, but the only way to produce quality work is to buckle down and do it. For most of us, this means shutting out the world to focus on our writing – meaning, bye-bye Internet, at least for awhile. Here’s a few awesome free programs to help you turn off the Internet, buckle down, and get it done.
Write or Die – Just like the name says, a web-based text window that puts your creative hamster in the wheel of productivity. Not only does the window flash at you when you stop typing, for serious motivation you can set a “Kamikaze” mode which literally eats your words if you stop. There’s nothing like a flashing red light to make you keep going. Warning, though: no auto-save, so use this on a reliable system in short bursts. I have lost work this way, but I’ve also gotten a lot accomplished in a short amount of time.
Internet blockers, like Freedom (Windows & Mac) and its sister program Anti-Social, which is only for Mac. When you just have to get it done and you don’t trust yourself, this is a great resource that will literally prevent you from goofing off in the Interwebs. Heads up, after the free trial it costs $10-15 to keep using (one time fee as near as I can tell) and unplugging your Internet cord is free. And yes, wireless has an “off” button too. Think of this one (whether through software or unplug) as the blinders on the horse that keeps it from freaking out when it sees small animals. Or… the Interwebs. Happy times.
A kitchen timer is often my best productivity tool. Find one that ticks audibly – the sound of it will remind you you’re on a deadline – and set it for at least twenty minutes and no more than an hour. Be consistent; at the end of the time make a note of how many words you’ve written in that time period and compare against your results from yesterday. Can you beat your personal best? Competition – even with yourself – is a great motivator. Then repeat until you hit your daily goal.
Brainstorming, Outlining & Notes
A writer’s brain rarely thinks in straight lines. Having a system that can work with you in the way you’re thinking can make all the difference.
Notes & Stickies
In the low-tech world, I’d highly recommend index cards and/or sticky notes – I’ve even seen combination sticky note index cards! A word of warning though: always, always, always number them when you’ve settled on a final order. Even the Super Stickies will eventually fall off the wall and the index card stack can be dropped far too easily. These kinds of organizers are great for discrete units like scenes within a novel – something you can look at more than once and move around until you’re satisfied with the order. Whatever you do, if you have a paper system, organize meticulously with folders and numbering. Make copies! You don’t want to lose your work.
Our wonderful world being what it is, of course there are index cards and stickie notes in electronic form. There are a ton of these guys, compatible with just about every platform (just search “online stickie note” in your favorite browser). One that my online writer’s groups seem to like is Lino. You might try StickySorter (Windows) or Postica as well and see which version you like best.
For more features, you might try Evernote, which gives you the ability to search through your notes and a whole lot more options for how to store them. A lot more complicated than a wall full of stickies, you may find you like all that power at your fingertips much better. You can’t beat their online model for finding your stuff anywhere you are. Plus they have a lot of cool plugins like the Web Clipper function built in, and let you use a free iPhone app to interface with your data on the go.
I personally like the Awesome Note app on the iPhone (free version plus paid) the best for to-do lists and quick jots, including things like grocery lists. EverNote or a sticky application is probably the better bet for manipulating scene and/or general writing ideas. This, as with everything else, is a lot of trial and error to figure out what works for you!
“Mind-Mapping” Software Lets You Brainstorm
While you can’t beat a pencil and paper – or a whiteboard – for quick brainstorming, sometimes you want something a little more formal. An online “mind mapping” tool lets you post something and share it with a collaborator. Develop the same idea in stages over time. Or erase, substitute and annotate, three things very difficult to do effectively in hard copy or whiteboard.
There are a ton of competitors out there in this space, so keep looking until you find the one you love. Some I’ve had recommended to me specifically include Mindmeister (has iPhone app, although it’s paid), FreeMind, and Mindomo.
Powerpoint & Slideshow Sharing
Sometimes you just need to share a Powerpoint, and for that you need SlideShare, the YouTube of presentations. If your project or topic can be covered better in a series of slides than in an article, consider posting the presentation here and linking back to it from social media, your blog, or a link in your email to a client. It’s niche, but when you need it, there’s nothing better.
What are your favorite notes and brainstorming resources? How do you brainstorm and/or outline?
As always, I remind you lovely folks to Be Good Citizens. If you use the freeware a lot and it makes your life easier, make the developers’ lives easier too by donating to them or signing up for the paid version of their apps. Wouldn’t you want someone to do it for you?