Apps for Writing a Novel

I typically write my novels in Scrivener (on a MacBook Pro), but often, when I'm "on the go," I want to have my novels at my fingertips to edit. I've found a few apps which help in that task, and I thought I'd share. I'm not a techie or even presume to be one. I also hate to spend money on an app that I haven't experienced before, so most of these are free apps that I have found useful in daily editing and writing.

1.) Evernote

Although this is not an app that syncs with Scrivener (maybe one day), it is awesome for impulsive note-taking and jotting down ideas. The app syncs over multiple devices, iPad, iPhone, iTouch, even Mac and PC. You can sync voice memo notes, or save an entire webpage (on your computer), separate your notes into notebooks. These notebooks, you can make into "shared notebooks" or "offline notebooks." (Note: offline notebooks are a "premium" feature, which costs $4.99 a month or $44.99 a year to utilize.) 

You can also tag your notes, and later search by tag if you've forgotten what you've called the note or even if you made a note about it--as long as you tagged it. Also, you can "favorite" a note, which I like to use for those notes that continually come back to, or something that needs attention.

As a non-paying Evernote user, I get 50 MB of syncing/storage per month. For my uses, this is plenty. The only times I've even come close to using this is when I upload a lot of pictures or Internet pages.

In the two years I've used this app, I have yet to pay for this service, and have found it invaluable in making notes for later novels, works-in-progress or keeping track of research.

2.) Dropbox

This is not actually a word-processing app, but a storage app that you can also download to your computer. Then you save your document into the Dropbox folder and can pull up the document on your iPad, iPhone or iTouch later. There's some overlap in iCloud's abilities for a Mac user, but overall, I've found Dropbox to be simpler and, at times, more dependable. If I save a document into Dropbox, the document shows up in the app and I can download it, then "open in..." Pages or Index Card (more on that later).

Now I do physically have to put my files there and keep them updated--Dropbox doesn't do that automatically. At least, I haven't found it to do so, unless you're keeping the original file there, which I don't. I prefer to keep backups or copies on Dropbox and work from them when I'm on the go. I'm still a laptop writer at heart, and that's my preference, as I can type a heckuva lot faster on my MacBook Pro than on my iPad (even though I love it).

3.) Simplenote

This is one of those I-love-but-hate apps. I've found a ton of difficulty in dependability in syncing Scrivener to Simplenote (although it's simple to do.) 

To sync Scrivener and Simplenote, go to "File," then "Sync" and select "Simplenote." From there, you'll need a Simplenote account and password, which you set up online. Then enter your information and give the project a "keyword." This can be anything, but it acts like a folder and tag, so you can compile the entire document in Simplenote on the web or on your iPad. Click on "Continue" and it will talk with the Simplenote server to download your notes on there already, and then it will give you an option to select which files to sync. 

This is the point where I constantly get "Download Failed: There was a problem downloading the notes from the server." Sometimes, if I try again, I can get it to communicate, other times, it's not worth the effort.

If you get past that point, you can select which notes to sync with Simplenote, from all of them, to one, and you have the option to permanently delete files on the server which you choose not to sync at that time. Of course, make sure that you don't need those files, because once deleted, they're gone forever.

Even though I have problems syncing, I can access Simplenote on my computer, my iPad, my iPhone, my iTouch. I always have a backup at my fingertips, and should something happen to my computer, there's a backup in Simplenote. Call me paranoid, but I like having as many backups as I can--especially when they're free.

4.) Index Card

This is one of the few apps I've paid for that I enjoy (current price $4.99). Scrivener allows you to sync with Index Card via Dropbox, and allows you to utilize the summary you write on the card portion of Scrivener, unlike Simplenote. It also allows you to rearrange your scenes or chapters with a quick drag of the finger. Of course, you have to go back into Scriverner and "file," "sync with Index Card for iOS," to make sure you're writing on the same document, but it's nifty once you get the hang of it.

One downside to this is that syncing is not quite as simple as with Simplenote. Instead of syncing and being allowed to choose the documents you want to sync at that time, you have to create a "Binder" section in Scrivener with all the scenes or folders you want included in your sync prior to selecting "sync..." under "file." If you don't, you'll be syncing nothing or omitting some scenes that you might have wanted to work on. 

Case in point: if you create a new scene in Scrivener and don't immediately add it to your Index Card binder by right clicking on the title and selecting "add to collection" and then choosing the correct collection to sync, you're out of luck  when you sync later--the new scene has not been added, and you won't be reminded to do so, either. That's a huge downside for me--I often forget to add a new scene to my Index Card binder in Scrivener, and when I go to sync, I'm not given a list to compare old saves/syncs versus my new save/sync to, and I often forget about a scene. 

As a result, I've learned that you can keep several binders in Scrivener for Index Card purposes (or other purposes, but I don't have a need to at this point). I often create a new one when I'm trying to update my files for syncing because I don't want to scroll through and figure out which files are there and which aren't. 

Index Card on iPad is great though, and I've found it to be relatively bug-free with few crashes (i.e., loss of work). You can color-code your cards, edit the main text or the card summary or title. You can also jump through your text by "word," either forward or backwards, which is awesome to have when writing a novel or short story on the iPad, instead of having to use your finger to painstakingly put the cursor in just the right spot to add that "s" to "sync." It also gives you the quick buttons: undo, -, ', ", ., ◀ & ▶ (allowing you to cursor forward or backwards one character), a "+" button which adds a new scene in your file, and a forward delete button. All of these are great for writing a novel on your iPad, buttons that you'll soon wish you had in Pages or your Messages.

Index Card is a convenient app to have for writing on the go, and I enjoy it for what it is. Just remember to sync back to Scrivener when you've made changes on your iPad, otherwise you'll be working with an old document. 

When you return to Scrivener, you cannot have forgotten to export your Index Card edits to Dropbox, or else all your work will only be accessible via your iPad. You can do that with the nifty little arrow button on the top right of the screen--but it does kind of suck that you have to do this and it doesn't save there automatically. 

And when you go to update your files in Scrivener, you must select "update collection from Index Card file," and all your files are replaced in Scrivener with the newer documents from your iPad.

Although Index Card and Scrivener are tedious to use together, the backup is nice, especially considering how complete a backup it is from Scrivener.

In conclusion:

I don't like to use too many apps. I prefer to keep life simple with ones that work and work well. I familiarize myself with a few and stick to them until I find something better.

These four apps are the free or inexpensive apps which I've found myself returning to time and again for writing on the go. 

There are a ton of other writing apps out there, and I've certainly not tried them all. I've focused on ones that I can use in conjunction with Scrivener, since that's where I do the majority of my writing.

If there are more that I should be using, please feel free to let me know! I'm always up for trying a new app, as long as it's affordable. I'm a starving writer, after all. 


Playing the Writing Game Well

The Associated Press

The 2012 Olympic-Winning U.S. Women's Soccer team just won their fourteenth game in a row on Wednesday. 

Whether you like soccer or not, you must admit, that's a pretty impressive record. 

This was also their head coach's last game, and I'm sure, they wanted to send her off with yet another win. 

But, though they went into their fourteenth game looking pretty good for the win, they didn't lead start to finish.

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." --Ernest Hemingway

Even though you may go into writing thinking you could win, you may not always lead--or end up the victor. Sometimes when you go in thinking you have the advantage, you find yourself humbled. 

No writer knows it all; every writer has more to learn.

Remember that writing is a changing art. There are a lot of changes going on in the writing industry now, just like there were a lot of changes going on ten or twenty years ago. Every decade, every year, offers something new. We, as authors, as writers, always have something to learn about the writing craft and industry.

"I am sufficiently proud of my knowing something to be modest about my not knowing all." --Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

If you go into writing thinking you have a chance of losing, you might just find yourself more prepared to win than you thought. A writer's humility can be one of their greatest assets. 

Through humility, we are willing to learn. 

If I go into a forum or ask a fellow writer for a writing critique, while thinking I have nothing left to learn, you can rest assured that I won't learn a thing--even if I get some awesome feedback.

On Dreams

Writing is one of those fanciful careers, the stuff dreams are made of. It's so easy to get discouraged. In this game, the U.S. came back from a one-point deficit, to score four more times.

They ended up beating Australia by four points. They not only started strong, they finished strong. 

While ending the first half tied, the U.S. women came out after halftime refocused. The game ended with a score of 6-2.

Start strong, end strong. 

You will have peaks and valleys in the writing game. 

You will make goals, but you will get scored on. 

Just make sure that you don't let the times you get scored on prevent you from finishing strong. Refocus your writing life, and start scoring goals.


F2K Writing Course

Twice a year Writers' Village University offers a free (that's right, free) creative writing course. It's called F2K (Fiction 2000), and it's awesome. It's beyond awesome, it's mind-blowing.

F2K is a community of writers--both beginners and experienced writers--and lasts for six weeks. It's an online forum, complete with social network similar to Facebook, where you can share status updates with just your fellow writers. (What writer doesn't like that idea?)

It starts at the beginning, forging relationships between writers. For everyone in the forum is a writer. As we put ourselves out there, we find support and encouragement from other writers (who are also readers).

Although we write for readers, a fellow writer's point of view is essential to catch the nitty gritty things that readers may not recognize as interfering with their enjoyment of the book, but ultimately do. 

This course consists of six lessons, each of which serves to encourage and stir up the creative mental juices. It starts with basics, and builds on that. Not that one can be taught the writing skill completely in six weeks, but this course will take you from not knowing what point of view is, to writing in different points of views correctly. From not knowing how to use conflict in a scene, to using it well. 

Other members of your class edit your work and allow you a chance to look at it more objectively. Thus you can see your piece as another would see it, and make changes accordingly. 

Oh, and did I mention there's a weekly, class-wide competition? As well as an end-of-session competition, where we all get to vote on the best short story? That's a great incentive to work hard for the competitive writer... which, I'm sure, none of us are...

Registration ends tomorrow, so be sure and sign up now!