As I have said before I am a sucker for any piece of software that threatens to increase my productivity and I have tried out most of them. However there are some that I have used constantly for years now and I really recommend.
I’ve doubtless gone on about Scrivener until you’re sick of hearing it. So I’ll just say this. It is the best tool for writing novels that I know of. It used to be that Scrivener was only available on OSX. This was my main reason for sticking with the Mac. As of a few days ago, it is available for Windows and even Linux. I can move my work from Mac to PC and back as I feel like it and I am very happy about this. Scrivener is available here. David Hewson has an interesting comparison between the OSX and Windows versions here.
Evernote acts like a huge collection of scrapbooks and notebooks you can store in the cloud. You install the client on your computers and it keeps all your notes in sync across the web as long as you have an internet connection. It has several very useful extensions that let you clip interesting web pages directly into your notebook. You can tag and sort the notes you make in all sorts of different ways. If you get really stuck you can access your notes directly from your own personal web page on the Evernote site.
Evernote is not quite the best clipping and/or journaling software I have ever used, it just happens to be the most flexible and useful on multiple platforms. MacJournal is my favourite software for keeping a journal but unfortunately it works only on OSX and I use multiple platforms these days. OneNote, part of Microsoft’s Office 2010 Suite, is the best clipping program I know and is pretty cool for journaling as well but it only works on Windows. Evernote works on all the platforms I use including my phone and my android tablet. (You can use it on Linux via WINE or via a Java based client called NeverNote.) It gives me access to my notes everywhere and I can even make them on my phone and store my photos there too. This is the giant notebook in which I store all my story ideas, random thoughts, ramblings and even my diary. The basic version is free and available here.
Dragon Naturally Speaking
I suffer from an interesting collection of RSI ailments, a legacy of almost 25 years as a professional writer and a youth in which I sometimes pounded out ten thousand words in a day. When the RSI flares up Dragon NaturallySpeaking can be a lifesaver. The accuracy of the latest version is astonishing. The makers, Nuance, claim that the program is up to 3 times faster than typing. It responds with 99% accuracy most of the time, which is considerably better than I can manage on a keyboard. Dragon’s spelling is better than mine as well. If it’s so good why don’t I use it all the time?
Well, using a speech recognition program is a very different way of working from typing for me. Despite the claims of the makers you can’t really write any faster because you still think and construct sentences at the same speed as you always do and you’ve probably already established your writing habits. If you write fast, you probably won’t have any problems but I’ve always been a 40 words a minute typist and that’s the speed I seem to write at. There is some increase in the speed of getting the words down but nothing like triple.
You’ll probably find, particularly in the early stages, that you are slowed down by making corrections, which are an absolutely essential part of training the program, so that Dragon NaturallySpeaking learns from its mistakes. This will speed up eventually because the program DOES learn.
There is also the fact that the program uses a predictive model to understand what you say. This means it looks for recognisable patterns in the words. This means that the closer you come to speaking all in boilerplate and cliché the more accurate it is. This is fine for dictating a business letter but if you use a striking, vivid and non-standard phrase (which is what you want to do when writing fiction) you will probably end up having to make corrections for these.
I also find that work that has been dictated tends to need a lot more editing because my dictation is sloppier than my typing. I talk in a much more discursive manner than I write. With all of that said, it really does work, and getting some work done is better than getting none. I still do most of my work at the keyboard. You can pick it up at Amazon or direct from the makers.
Hated by many people because it’s bloated, buggy and created by Micro$oft, Word also happens to be the industry standard for publishing and if you are a professional writer you will end up encountering its ubiquitous file format at some point. I also have to say that I have never had much of a problem with Word and I have written 15 novels on it. It has crashed once in a blue moon. If I don’t want to use a feature, I don’t. Microsoft has never sent a man round to my house to put a gun to my head and make me use those extra features either. I also have to say that the current version is very fast on all the Windows computers I own and is a superb word-processor in its own right. If I had to, I could still quite easily write a novel on it alone.
I’ve talked about Dropbox before but I just want to mention it again here. This is a very simple piece of software that you can install on almost any machine and OS. It puts a folder on your desktop. Anything you copy or save into that folder is uploaded into the cloud and synced across all your machines. It had always worked really well for me and it has revolutionised the way I work. It means I can just grab any laptop that is charged when I go out and my work is there waiting for me. It means I always have a backup of my work stored in the cloud as well. You can pick it up here.