While some might argue that the only tools an author really needs are a typewriter and a strong cup of coffee, in today’s increasingly digital society, the number of apps and technological aids available to writers is mind-blowing. Whether you want to brainstorm plot outlines, keep your research notes organised or scare yourself into reaching your daily word count, you can bet there’s an app designed specifically for that purpose. Here is our list of 22 apps and tools that every writer should know about. Do you use any of these?
Being a writer requires a massive supply of plot ideas, themes and twists. When the creative well starts to run dry, the beautifully designed Brainstormer app randomly combines a basic plot outline, subject, setting and style to kick start your creativity again. It can inspire a quick flash fiction workout, ignite short stories, or even kick off entire screenplays or novels. You can also use the World Builder to create rich and unexpected settings and the Character Builder wheel to create fascinating three dimensional characters.
A much simpler version of Brainstormer is the Flash Fiction Prompter. For each prompt, you will be given a character, a setting and a plot outline. These are often quite basic ideas, but can be useful for a quick flash fiction writing session to get you limbered up.
As well as providing a location and a specific detail to incorporate into your story, the Story Plot Generator also stipulates a very clear complication and objective, which, as any writer knows, are both key components in fiction. This particular application generates over 800,000 possible combinations in lots of different genres so the possibilities are vast.
Dice created to help you keep your story moving by posing conjunctions such as ‘and’ or ‘but’. Simple, but effective and available on your desktop, iphone, android and even as physical dice.
We quizzed you on your favourite writing tools and apps recently and Pinterest – the visual discovery tool – was something you mentioned time and time again. Most of you use the website for collecting inspirational pictures of potential characters and settings by creating designated pinboards. The opportunities for pinning hot men … err … we mean creative visuals, are endless.
Evernote is something of a digital filing cabinet – albeit the most organised filing cabinet you’ve ever had. The app is available on just about every platform and acts as a note-taking tool and personal research librarian. If you’re riding the bus and think up an absolutely genius plot twist, you can make some notes in Evernote and they will automatically file on your phone, desktop and any other device you have synced. Likewise, reading news articles on your Kindle in bed and find a fascinating piece of research you might be able to use in your next novel? Clip it and store it with your Evernote app. See an old photo at an antiques market that inspires a possible character? Snap a picture and, you guessed it, let Evernote take care of the rest.
If you’re a writer who benefits from really visualising your story, MindNode might be the app for you. It helps you plot even the most intricate storylines by creating a visual representation of your ideas, starting with a central thought and growing from there. It has mind maps, lists and bullets to help you keep your thoughts focused and organised while you turn them into a readable story.
For all of you to-do list junkies, Any.do is a beautiful, playful and easy-to-use app that encourages you to take a brief moment to plan your day when you wake up in the morning. Offload any nagging tasks and set goals for the day – an hour-long writing session, for example. When you complete a task, you’re rewarded. It’s simple and strangely habit-forming.
When you find something on the web that you want to view later, put it in Pocket. It automatically syncs to your phone, tablet, or computer so you can view it any time, even without an internet connection. Great for keeping your research organised wherever you are.
Lifetick gets pretty deep and starts by identifying your core values – areas that define who you are – to help you define why a goal is important to you. That’s followed by goals associated with each core value, tasks for completing each goal, complete with deadlines, progress bars and a calendar. It provides multi-user functionality too, so you can invite others (perhaps your writing critique partner) into your goals to keep you accountable or merely offer encouragement.
FOR THE WRITING PROCESS
A great research tool to use while you’re writing, the Wikipanion app connects directly to Wikipedia servers for fast, predictive browsing. Visiting Wikipedia via the app means you’re less likely to find yourself browsing other websites on a research tangent (which we all know leads to costumed cat videos on YouTube). Just grab the basic information you need and keep writing. You can even save pages for future reading.
An ingenious invention, which splits your screen and displays your manuscript on one half and your research on the other. No pausing to click through windows.
Offering a clean interface, as soon as you start typing in iA Writer, the title bar disappears and all you see is the clean typing sheet, distraction-free, ready for your ideas to take shape. No pesky ‘interactions’ notifications from social networks or tickers displaying new email. That can all wait until later.
Novelicious team members Cressida and Kerry are both huge fans of Scrivener. A powerful writing tool, Scrivener encourages users to work on small chunks of their novel at any one time, making the whole process seem much more manageable. Collect research, order fragmented ideas, shuffle index cards, Scrivener won't tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application. Before you click buy, be sure to check back later as we'll be giving away two copies of the programme.
Ah, the trusty old thesaurus. You don’t need any particular device for this one, the online version works just as well.
Dragon Dictation is an easy-to-use voice recognition application, which allows you to speak and instantly see your text appear. This is great for multitasking writing sessions when a keyboard isn’t readily available – when you’re driving to collect the kids from school or while you’re making dinner, for instance.
Index cards have long been a tool of the writing trade. This corkboard writing app for iPad or iPhone utilises the pretty basic index card method and makes it easy to capture, organize, and compile your ideas digitally.
FOR MOTIVATION AND PRODUCTIVITY
Freedom was another one of your suggested favourites when we asked what apps you couldn't live without. Quite simply, Freedom locks you out of the internet. Turn the app on, tell it how long you’d like to write for and it’ll block the internet for you. No checking your email, reading your entire Twitter stream or googling cats in hats, this is dedicated, uninterrupted writing at its best.
In denial about exactly how much time you spend checking your email, reading your entire Twitter stream and googling cats in hats? RescueTime shows you with the hope that once you understand your daily habits – and procrastination triggers – you’ll be able to stop them.
Have you ever wondered why you seem to get so much more done when you’re working from a coffee shop than you would working in your own office? Research has shown that it’s pretty hard to be creative in quiet spaces. That said, a loud workplace can be annoying and distracting. The gentle commotion and calm vibe coffee house though? Perfect. Coffitivity delivers exactly that to your desktop – without the pricey caffeine habit.
Lift is like having a writing coach living in your phone. Free guidance and motivation based on positive psychology, it’s a gentle yet uplifting way to reach your goals.
Novelist Helen Oyeyemi once said in an interview that she forced herself to write with word-gobbling app, Write or Die. It sounds pretty drastic, but this simple yet brilliantly effective app is definitely worth a try if you err on the side of procrastination during your writing hours. It aims to eliminate writer's block by providing consequences for procrastination and rewards for accomplishment. There are various levels – reward mode, consequence mode and kamikaze mode to name just a few. At its worst, the app will scare you into writing with terrifying alarms, pictures of spiders and other creepy critters and will even start to delete your work if you leave it unattended for too long. Download if you dare.
So, that's our list. How about you? Have you tried any of these? Or is there a tool we've missed off the list that is critical to your writing life? Please let us know in the comments!