The Writer’s Digital Toolbox: Part 2

If you gather a group of 10 writers, you will find that each of them has a different “toolbox” full of digital and not-so-digital writing tools that they can’t live without. Some like to do all their writing on their computer. Some use voice dictation, while others are still buying yellow legal pads and pens in bulk.

Beyond the physical tools of the trade, there are just as many online tools available to writers. But which are helpful and which just add to the noise and clutter of our digitally-dependent lives?

In our last post, we shared some of Jane Friedman’s favorite productivity tools, and we’ve gathered a few more here today that we hope will help, not hinder your writing process.

Freedom

When it comes to writing, what is your number one distraction? If you’re like most writers, you probably said the internet. How often have you seen an hour of your time get sucked into the black hole of Facebook? Or perhaps you’ve tried to write while your phone buzzes, beeps and chirps at you every 30 seconds. Even if you don’t stop to check it, your mind will struggle to stay in the zone of writing. That’s where Freedom comes in.  Freedom allows you to block certain notifications from certain apps at certain times. Don’t want to know about every Facebook comment or Twitter follow? Freedom can help. It can even be programmed to shut off notifications or the internet completely during certain times. Do you always write during your lunch break at work? Tell Freedom and it will automatically hang a digital “do not disturb” sign on your phone during that time every day, keeping you on track and efficient. Here’s a quick explanation of the app’s features:

 

There is a small monthly fee, but if you find writing distraction-free is really improving your efficiency, it might be worth the cost.

Grammarly

We can’t say enough about this amazing (and free!) browser extension. Grammarly integrates with most platforms to automatically check your grammar as you write. From WordPress to Google Documents, from Facebook to Gmail, Grammarly is the proverbial English teacher, hovering over your shoulder correcting your work as you go. Most of the features are free, but a premium membership is available, which offers a few extra tools, such as a plagarism checker.

 

Ulysses

Like Freedom, Ulysses helps to avoid distractions, but this app takes things a step further by consolidating all of your writing tasks into one place. Need to write distraction-free? Check. Need to keep all of your work and inspiration in one place, cataloged by project? Check. Need to easily export your work using various file types? No problem. So what’s the catch? Ulysses is only available for Apple devices and it costs $45.

In her recent article The Best Writing Apps of 2017, Jill Duffy of PC Mag wrote:

Writers who find themselves in the less-is-more camp will want a writing app that strips away anything that could possibly be the least little bit distracting. Distraction-free writing apps are a dime a dozen. The trick is to find one that also offers the tools you need when you need them. In other words, the best distraction-free writing app will hide the tools you need until the appropriate time, rather than omitting them altogether.

With that criterion in mind, Ulysses is my favorite distraction-free writing app, and a PCMag Editors’ Choice.

At Certa Publishing, we believe in equipping our authors with the practical tools you need to write your best. Through posts like this, as well as others about long-form writing, cultivating good writing habits, and writing the rough draft, we hope to provide you with everything you need to pour your heart and life onto the page.

The Writer’s Digital Toolbox

Jane Friedman is a publishing expert and digital media strategist. She recently dished on essential author tools in her post, My Must-Have (Digital) Productivity Tools, which we have excerpted here:

This post is one that I regularly update with my absolute must-have digital tools that enhance my productivity, creativity, and digital-life sanity.

1. Zoom

Zoom is my go-to online meeting service. I use it for client meetings, personal chats, online courses, and even to pipe in guest speakers for in-person events. I’ve found it nearly foolproof since participants can join on any device—including a phone—using video + audio, or audio only. Find out more about Zoom. You’ll find both free and paid plans.

2. Evernote

I resisted using Evernotefor years, but over the last two years, it’s become integral to my workflow. I use it for what I call my “primary to-do list,” which is broken down by day of the week, as well as for first drafts of blog posts, research notes, interviews, and conference talk outlines. I also use for “composting” ideas. If you’re the kind of person who has a million stickies on your desktop, or multiple documents where you’re dumping notes, then take a serious look at Evernote.

3. CrashPlan

This is my continuous back-up system for my computers. It runs faithfully in the background, 24/7, and I don’t have to think about backing up, ever. The annual fee is worth it—check it out.

4. Scrivener

I finally took the leap and started using Scrivener when I began assembling my book, Publishing 101. I will never write a book in Word again. Of course, the big drawback is that Scrivener is not at all intuitive, so you’ll have to carefully go through their free tutorial; you can also find online courses available to turn you into an expert user. I recommend you download and use the free trial version for 30 days as you decide if you’re OK with the learning curve.

5. Canva

Even though I’m an expert user of InDesign and intermediate user of Photoshop, I love Canva to brainstorm ideas and put together quick visuals for social media. (See image at the top of this post!) This free service smartly recognizes that more and more of us need easy tools to design things that look halfway decent, and don’t have the time or resource to hire a professional. While Canva has serious limitations, for lightweight work, it’s perfect.

6. Dropbox

I couldn’t function on a daily basis without Dropbox, which is cloud-based storage of my work files, especially since I change machines so often. It syncs across my desktop, laptop, mobile devices, and I can also access it through any computer if I have login credentials with me.

7. Google Drive

I use Google Drive in addition to Dropbox as a cloud storage system, but specifically for those documents that I collaborate on (where multiple people might need access)—or when I want to share public links.

8. Paprika

Paprika is an app where I store all my recipes. It helps me meal plan during the week, generate shopping lists that get sent to email, and categorize recipes according to my own criteria.

9. LastPass

LastPass is a password manager that helps ensure you never forget a password again—or use bad password hygiene (making you vulnerable to attack). It generates strong passwords and stores your login credentials, securely and locally; whenever you go to a site that requires those credentials, it autofills them for you on a browser. You can get started for free.

10. Acuity Scheduling

This is a full-featured appointment/scheduling software that allows clients to book free or paid appointments with you. No more back-and-forth emailing to set up appointment times—it syncs with your Google calendar (among others). Acuity can be embedded into your site or shared as a link. Free to start, $10/month for most features you want.

11. Zippy Courses

Zippy is my preferred tool for creating and selling online courses. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, you can buy the Zippy Courses plugin. Or, if that’s too technically complicated, they offer a fully hosted solution for an annual subscription fee. I see at as the most sensible and easy solution for anyone accustomed to WordPress sites.

12. Wave

Wave is a free and robust online accounting service for tracking income and expenses related to your business. It also generates invoices that clients can pay online by credit card.

13. MailChimp

MailChimp is the email newsletter service I use, which is free until you reach 2,000 names. If you’re serious about online marketing, but are still at the beginning stages of building your business, you’re better off using this and not TinyLetter.

14. VisualHunt

VisualHunt is my favorite tool for finding Creative Commons and public domain images to use in my online courses, blog, newsletter, and elsewhere.

At Certa Publishing, we use many of these tools on a daily basis. In fact, we can thank Canva for helping us create the blog post above. What tools make your life more productive? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

When Your Work is Criticized: 3 ways to handle it like a pro

The harsh Amazon review. The stinging comments from a writing peer. The editor’s terse remarks. Finding out that a close friend never finished your book, or even took the time to read it. Criticism comes in many forms. And it comes. There is no holding it back. Even years after you’ve published your book, a freshly written critique can jettison you back to questioning your very worth as a writer.

It would be naive for us to recommend that you simply ignore reviews and move on. But taking one of these 3 approaches will turn criticism from a tool of discouragement to a constructive element in your writing journey:

Be grateful

Someone has left you a nasty Amazon review. Ouch. The last thing you want to do is say thank you! But that is just what the Bible instructs us to do.

… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

So what does that look like practically? It means saying, “Thank you Lord that I have this opportunity to forgive, to reaffirm my worth in you and to even pray for this person that spoke so harshly.”

You can even just be grateful that they took the time to read your work and offer their thoughts, no matter how difficult they are to read.

In her article, How to Handle Criticism of Your Writing, Daphne Gray-Grant writes,

I know this may be hard, particularly if the criticisms are harsh but editing is challenging and your critics are doing you a favour – particularly if they don’t cover their comments with roses. Effective criticism, even if it’s hard to take, will make you a better writer.

Beth Moore recently tweeted this gem about choosing to have a right spirit when critical words are spoken:

Be separate from your writing

You are not your writing. You are a person, made in the image of God. Loved, accepted and redeemed. Your writing is by you and from you, but it is not you. When you take this approach, accepting criticism is much easier. Your critics and editors are not commenting on your personal worth or value as a human being.

Speaking specifically about the editing process, a post on The Surly Muse offered this advice:

Unless you have very poor taste in friends, chances are your critic isn’t out to destroy you psychologically. They’re not pointing out flaws in your work because they hate your guts and wish you would fall under a dump truck. They’re trying to make your work better. You don’t have to agree with them, but it pays to respect their time and their intent.

Be confident

Is your work God-breathed? Have you been journaling, meditating on and developing its ideas for years and years? Then be confident in your work. Is it perfect? No. Is it the greatest book written this century? Probably not. But it is yours, poured forth from the well that God has put within you and only you.

… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

One last note. All books, even the greats, receive negative reviews. Check out these examples curated by Beth Bacon in her post 5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews:

“It was one of the most boring and shallow books that I have ever read.” —review of the American classic The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Not nearly enough consistency and far to [sic] little plot.”—review of Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

“If I were you, I’d peruse it briefly at your neighborhood library before putting hard-earned money out.” —review of children’s classic A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“I find myself saying to myself as I read it ‘bla bla bla’ as that is what the author seems to be saying.” —review of National Book Award Winner Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

At Certa Publishing, we walk with our authors through the entire writing, editing and publishing process. When the journey becomes difficult, we are here to offer encouragement and perspective. Contact us today to see how we can partner with you!