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Archive for the tag “writing: tools of the trade”

Tools of the Trade: Random Tools

In the past I told you about 4theWords and Habitica–role playing “games” that keep me motivated; ScrivenerLiquid Story Binder and Aeon Timeline that I use to keep projects organized; and sites for white noise to help with distractions.

Today, I’m going to highlight ten other programs and sites I like to use to keep myself organized.

  1. wordcounter.net
    counter1WordCounter is my go-to site for counting words in my writing. Everyone knows the counter in Word is highly inaccurate and every program has its own algorithm. Some count words separated by em dashes as one word and another didn’t count words if they were followed by a curly end-quote (WTF is that about?).

    counter2I tested out a bunch of online counters and found wordcounter to be the most accurate. What’s even better is that it offers a whole slew of features to help you evaluate your writing.

    As you can see from the screencap, you can keep track of not only the number of words but the number of sentences, paragraphs, and pages. There are other stats it tracks like reading level, average lengths of sentences, shortest and longest sentences and words, unique words, and syllables (I’m guessing for poetry).

    The keyword density feature is great to check how many times you say “and” in a story (way too many times in my case).

  2. wordkeeperalpha.com
    wka1WordKeeperAlpha is the site I use to make those colorful monthly charts on my round-up posts.wka2

    It’s a simple site that lets you keep track of your daily word count with the ability to break things down by project. wka3

    There is also a graph representing the entire year and a pie chart that breaks your cumulative words down by project. It’s not a super important site if you use other spreadsheets to track words, but those graphs sure are pretty.

  3. LibreOffice
    LibreOffice is a freeware alternative to Microsoft Word. It takes a little getting used to, and I find some of the functions clunky, but it does everything Word does–sometimes better.
    Besides using it as a word processor, I take full advantage of the spreadsheet file type. I use it to keep track of every story I write. The example above is from my “storylist” file. It lists title (or working title), fandom, main characters, ships, summary, start/finish dates, word count, rating, warnings, prompts, LJ community (if written for a prompt/challenge), dedication, beta, series, and which sites the story is posted to. That’s a lot of info. And as you can see, it goes back to when I first started writing fanfic in 2005.
  4. thesaurus.com
    Thesaurus.com and dictionary.com are an easy given. They are my favorite places to look when I’m in need of that perfect word. There are other dictionary and thesaurus sites out there, but why would you go anywhere else?
  5. songfacts.com
    songfactsThis might seem like a completely random site, but I use Songfacts to find song titles to use as titles for my fanfic. You can search by theme or word. There are also random categories to look through, and they all link to the lyrics of the song. It’s a great place to get inspiration as well (song titles and lyrics always breed plot bunnies for me).
  6. Scapple
    scapple2Scapple is a “mind mapping” tool from the makers of Scrivener, and it’s one of my favorite programs to play around with.

    scapple1Mind mapping is when you place the topic of your project in the center then connect it to sub-topics (arcs, characters, and plot points in the case of stories) around it. You then connect details to each of those points. So on and so forth. It was probably my favorite writing exercise as a kid. You can get really fancy on paper with drawings, colors, and notes. Digital mind, though, mapping often lacks that flexibility.

    scapple3Scapple is fairly basic. Topics/ideas are placed anywhere and connected by arrows or lines. Different box styles and colors help organize. They can also be used to set apart notes that aren’t connected to the diagram. There are limitless ways to use the program. I’ve used it to track plots, relationships between characters, family trees, and even used it to break down supplies needed to finish quests at 4theWords.

  7. random.org
    Random.org is the site I use to randomize my prompt lists. The site offers other randomizers, like numbers and dice, that can be useful.
  8. shutterstock.com and other stock photo sites
    No, you don’t need to buy a subscription or pay for rights to use these sites. Because you are only looking for inspiration. It’s helpful to be able to picture your characters, so I use the sites to find photos of people that look like the characters I have in mind. And sometimes photos I find inspire the look of new characters (or even entire plots).
  9. houseplans.com and other sites like it
    In the same vein as the stock photo sites, sites that offer house plans help visualize the living spaces of your characters so you don’t accidentally move the bathroom to the opposite side of the house five chapters down the line. That is if you don’t get sucked into finding your dream home.
  10. Pinterest
    Pinterest isn’t just for over-achieving super moms and bored housewives to find elaborate and pointless DIY projects to attempt. It’s also great for keeping track of those stock photos and house plans you find using different boards for each project. BEWARE: this site is a total timesuck. Enter at your own risk.

There are a multitude of other sites and tools out there–word processing software, inspiration and prompt sites, and motivational tools to name a few. These ten are the ones I use most often.

Tools of the Trade: Aeon Timeline


One of my all time favorite tools for writing is Aeon Timeline. I first heard about through NaNoWriMo. As soon as I tried it out, I knew I had to have the software. It was exactly what I was looking for to organize events in stories. It would have come in handy in 2008 when I was writing a complicated story told from several points of view in three different locations at the same time. Some of the features of Aeon were things I did on my own to organize scenes in the story. I was hooked as soon as I saw this.

I’m still getting used to the new version, but I’ll muddle through my favorite parts.

aeon1First off there’s the main timeline. The newest version of Aeon allows for nested events and connecting different event that happen consecutively. It’s a nice feature that I’m still getting used to using. With this version you can see the title given to the event, the date/time, and the little bar showing the duration. This gives a nice quick overview of your events. Things can be customized by color so different arcs, acts, or characters can easily be identified in an instant.


The parent/nesting feature is a nice improvement over the previous version. It allows you to break a sequence down into tiny increments that would get cumbersome on a full timeline. Here, each small even can have it’s own entry but when it’s not important to know the details, the main event can be collapsed, showing the time frame of the entirety of events under it. This has been helpful as I’ve been using the timeline to plot out every episode (so I can make my stories fit within the framework).

Besides the main view of the timeline, each event can be expanded to look at the details.


Mine shows the details I’ve entered for event #45 in the timeline. There’s the basic info of title, time, and duration that you see on the timeline, but then other info is added. In this case, it’s the characters involved in the scene (and their ages because I like that feature), the location, arc, a photo, and a summary of events. This can be really helpful when you have a lot going on and need to quickly check something out.

aeon7All of this info is entered through the “inspector.” You can control the title, color, characters involved, and a whole slew of other info, much of it customizable by you.

One of my favorite features from the older version is how you were able to see which characters were involved in each event. It was similar to how I plotted that complicated story with each chapter going across a paper and a line extending from each one down through a list of characters. I would put a dot next to each character in the scene and a circle around the dot of the POV character. That’s nearly identical to what Aeon did. I loved it. And then they changed it.

I’m still not sure what I think of the new version, but you still get all of the information.

aeon2In this case things work horizontally instead of vertically. As you can see, each event is listed on the left with a string of characters going off the screen on the right. I like to put my characters in alphabetical order then color code them through the whole spectrum. No real reason other than it looks pretty. It makes it difficult to add new characters into the list. I really love that you are able to see how old the characters are at any given event. That can be really helpful when you’re doing coming of age stories.

aeon6The information on the top of the page isn’t just about characters. In my case, I also have locations marked (also in a rainbow), story arc, and season. That way I can easily keep things sorted.

When I make my TV show timelines, I like to plot out each episode to get a global canon timeline. Then I plot my stories around that. Groups of events can be separated by “arcs” so I can have the canon arc, story #1 arc, story #2 arc, etc. Arcs I don’t need to see can be hidden. I like having the timeline for every story in one place.

There’s a lot more I didn’t even touch on, like the fact that it syncs with Scrivener. I’ve never used the function, but it’s a highlight for many people. And I’m still trying to figure the ins and outs of the new design.

I don’t often buy products I try online. I usually look for freeware that offers similar functions, but with Aeon, it’s well worth the price. And they usually have discounts during November and for NaNo winners.

Tools of the Trade: Liquid Story Binder


Earlier I talked about Scrivener–probably the most popular software for writers. At least all of the ones I know. It’s a great program that I really like, but it always seemed to be missing something for me. I was constantly scrolling up and down the sidebar to switch between files. My laptop screen is small, so splitting the editor to show two different files doesn’t help. I liked the idea of the cork board, though.

I’m always on the lookout for other programs that might be helpful. Years ago, I tried out something called Liquid Story Binder but never could fully grasp all of the options or how they were supposed to be used.

Earlier this year, I decided to try it again. There was a little trial and error, but the whole thing finally clicked. It’s now my go-to program for planning, organizing, and first drafts.

LSB (not to be confused with LSD) is a pretty simple program. There are no fancy bells and whistles. There are a lot of individual windows, though, and they can all store information in different ways.



This is my basic set up. I not only use LSB to write and organize stories and novels, I use it to organize all of my writing. This particular “library” is called, “My Writing.” It links to everything I’ve written. You start out with “planners” that can be used in all sorts of ways. The basic way is to organize chapters in a book. Each line would represent a chapter and double clicking it would open the chapter file. I use it more as a database. I have one that lists each of the fandoms I’m in (in the above photo with the rainbow sections). Each one of those links to another planner that lists all of the stories I have started for that fandom. To the right is a snapshot of The 100 stories I have. I get a glimpse of my file name or title of the story, which draft it’s in, and the prompt I used. There’s an area to the side for notes where I list draft word counts and edits I’ve made. Later I put in the summary I use on A03.


There are other file types that can be associated with each item in a planner. I like to use the journals to keep track of notes I make in my online writing journal. It’s easier to find stuff than in one long note file (which is also an option). And I like to use the “builder” to keep track of what I write each day since I count all of my daily words. The builder is usually used to write separate scenes for a chapter that can then be compiled into a chapter file.

My daily way corresponds to my writing journal on 4thewords.com.

The journal is my other favorite file type. It’s simple but works for me.


After I do my daily journal on 4TW, I copy/past it into the LSB journal. Some days, I make a note in the title area to remind me of any important brainstorming I might have done. I’ve taken to having journals for individual projects as well to keep track of brainstorming/notes I’ve entered into the main journal. It works great for larger projects.

lsb4That’s the thing I like best about the program–every file can have numerous other types of files associated with it. And it all works together like a database to keep track of everything. And you can pretty much find any kind of file type you might need. Some work better than others, though. The mind map file type doesn’t work well in this setting (there are better ones online). But there is storyboarding, sequencing, compare/contrast, dossiers, photo galleries, and outlining. I have another library that is about 4thewords. I use it to keep track of the different zones and monsters. Above is a list of monsters and the things they drop using the sequence file type.

There are a lot of things I really like about this software, but there are caveats that some people might not be able to get past. For one, the software is no longer supported or updated. What you see is what you get with no help if something goes wrong. Two, it cost money. Supposedly. There is a free 30 (non-consecutive) day trial. After you’re supposed to pay. Except my free trial has yet to end even after three months. Not sure if the author just stopped caring or what, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The third problem is despite all of the options and flexibility, it really is a simple program. There are no fancy fonts, changing font color doesn’t always work, it doesn’t want to import italics/bold/underline most of the time, and moving things between file types can be a pain.

The biggest problem, though, is that scroll doesn’t work. Except in the editor pane in the chapters, builder, journal, and notes. I almost stopped using the program because I couldn’t scroll through my long list of stories, but I persisted. It’s annoying, but I’m willing to overlook it for all of the positive things it does for me–namely organizing all of my writing into one program instead of spread between multiple file folders using LibreOffice Writer, LibreOffice Calc (4 different database files), and Scrivener. I don’t have to scroll up and down to look between the chapter I’m working on and notes I made in another file like in Scrivener. The separate windows in LSB can be staggered so you can just click between them–which is a favorite feature for me.

All-in-all, I’ve found it to work really well for keeping track of everything for me and getting first drafts down. For shorter stories, I also edit in it, but when it comes to novels, I’ll transfer to Scrivener and/or Word for final edits and formatting (since that is limited in LSB). As the trial is free, it’s worth a try. But don’t give up when you get overwhelmed by the sheer number of file types there are. It took me a while to figure out how best to use each one, which isn’t always the way they were probably intended.

Stay tuned for another Tools of the Trade about some other less used, but no less important tools I use.

Tools of the Trade: Scrivener

scriv8If you’re around the NaNoWriMo community enough, you’ll know about Scrivener. It’s a writing program that many WriMos swear by. Plus the creators at Literature and Latte give a discount to anyone that participates in NaNo or Camp NaNo. And if you win, you get 50% off the software.

scriv7What makes Scrivener so special? Well for me, it’s the way you can organize your novel. Right off the bat, the software gives you pre-formatted options for all sorts of projects including novels (with or without parts), screenplays, and nonfiction. You can also just start with a blank project.

If you do start with a template, you get everything you need to write your novel and polish it up to send to editors.

scriv3The way that Scrivener handles organization is what usually draws people in. You can divide your novel/story/screenplay however you like. By default, the novel template breaks things down by chapters and scenes. But you can change it to what works best for you. As you can see in my example, each scene is titled and in a folder for a chapter. The symbols next to them can be customized from a list of premade icons, or you can upload your own (I haven’t tried that yet).

scriv1There are other ways to organize your files. My favorite is the cork board because it’s a cork board! Each scene marked on the side is a card that can be moved around like stickies on a wall. The cards can be adjusted to different sizes so you can fit all the info you need.

Another way to look at things is the outliner. scriv4

It gives you an overview of each scene. You can include different columns of information. My example has the synopsis, draft status, and word count. You can move things around just like with the cork board to organize your novel.

scriv2A really helpful tool is the Inspector. It gives you an overview of each scene. The synopsis and scene title go on top (although you can change that to be a photo). You can also add labels to your scenes. These are set up to be “scene,” “chapter,” and other basic labels. Those can be changed. I like to divide mine by POV or plot points. The status can be changed. By default, you have “to do,” “first draft,” “second draft,” etc.  There’s space to leave notes which comes in handy when it’s time to do revisions. There’s also an option to create tags for easy searching.scriv5

Also helpful are the statistics the software gathers. They give you an overview of your entire project and the approximate page count if you were to publish based on typical word counts per page.



For NaNo, one of the most helpful tools is “project targets.” It lets you set the number of words you want for the entire project and for each session. It’ll let you know if you hit your goal for the day, and it’s fun to watch the little bar turn green the closer you get to your goal.

Scrivener is great because it covers all of the basics you need to organize your works. It’s available for both Windows and Mac, although the Mac version offers more features (I have the Windows version). It’s definitely to go-to writing software for most of my writing friends and what I use most often for organizing and writing novels.

There’s a free thirty day trial which is worth checking out, although if you wait until NaNo, they usually give you a little extra time to explore it, and you also get those awesome discounts.

Tools of the Trade: Habitica

In the past, I’ve often made promises to myself to do certain activities consistently. Like write every day. Go for walks. Make my bed. I usually follow through for a couple of weeks then give up for lack of motivation. It wasn’t like anyone was checking to make sure I did these things.

If you have a problem like this and need a good kick in the but to do chores, homework, or anything else, then habitica.com might be the place to look for motivation. I had never heard of this site until last month when I noticed it being recommended over and over on the 4thewords forums. People swore by it. So, I looked it up.

habitica6This site is exactly what I needed to organize everything I need to do and to get me to do them. Habitica is set up like a role-playing game, but it’s more involved than 4thewords. You start by picking an avatar. That’s me over there.

After that you set up tasks and habits you want to accomplish during a day or week.


In my case, I set up “dailies” for all of my writing goals (on the right). These are things that have to be done every day or you health will be negatively affected. I set up my habits to give me “bonus points” for things like going over my word count goal for the day. Or getting by ass out of the chair to fill my own cup instead of having the kids do it. These are called “habits” on the site. There are also “tasks” that you can set up–sort of long term goals or other things that need to be done eventually. These can be broken down into smaller, more manageable goals. I use tasks to manage chores I need to do, breaking each one down to tiny components.

Habits, dailies and tasks earn you “experience” or affect your “health” (and later your “mana”).


Gaining experience (the yellow line) allows your character to advance through the game. You also earn silver and gold–digital currency to buy things like armor and weapons which affect how much experience and gold you might earn or how much a missed daily will damage you. You will also randomly receive pets and food as rewards for completing any kind of task.


There are a lot of different pets you can get. This is just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t actually do anything to your stats, but they’re cute and can be added to your avatar picture. If you feed the pets with the food you get, they grow into “mounts” that you can ride in the picture. It’s all just for fun.

habitica4Besides these things that you can do individually, you can also join guilds and parties. Guilds are just groups for people with similar interests. They offer a way to chat, get support, and participate in challenges to keep you accountable. Parties are more personalized, started by players who invite friends. They also have chats and challenges, but they can also go on quests. Quests can be about defeating a monster where completing tasks does damage. If you don’t complete your dailies, everyone in the party loses health. Talk about motivation. No one wants their friends mad at them for killing their digital character. My party consists of me and my eleven-year-old daughter. We’re currently on the hunt for eggs.

Put together, habitica offers a lot of ways to get you focused and on task. My productivity has really increased since I started using it. In fact, I’m writing this post because it’s one of the things on my task list which has turned red–meaning it’s old and needs to be done.

I highly recommend this site if you need a little extra motivation to write every day or get chores done.

Tools of the Trade: White Noise

If you’re like me, you probably get distracted easily. So anything that helps me concentrate on my writing is a treasure. Last time I talked about 4thewords.com–a writing game that allows you to fight monsters with your words. My productivity has probably quadrupled since I started using the site. I’m on a 104 day streak!

Today, I’m going to offer up another tool that helps me. And that’s white noise. My hearing is… let’s just say it doesn’t like me much. When I need to hear–as in talking to someone or watching TV–I have a lot of trouble. Voices and sounds jumble together, making it frustrating to carry on a conversation. I’ve had to put the closed captioning on the TV or I miss a lot of the dialogue. But when I need the quiet, my ears seem to pick up every noise. And that’s a distraction. I run a fan 24/7 to help drown out the noise of five kids in the house, but that isn’t always enough.

Last week, I discovered white noise websites. Specifically, ones that make rain sounds. I had no idea what I was missing in my life. Rain is a white noise just like the fan. The only difference is the pitch changes some, and it sounds more natural. Add some thunder in, and I’m back in the Midwest in the midst of a storm.

I miss thunderstorms.

I highly suggest checking out one of the many sites out there.

The one I’m using right this second is noisli.com. It has several different sound options besides rain, such as streams, waves, and even a coffee house. You can mix and match the different sounds and adjust their volumes. So if you want to be in the middle of a thunderstorm, you can. If you want to be in the forest, listening to a babbling brook, you can. You can listen to a gentle rain at the coffee shop. Or sit around a campfire. Just find the right combination that works for you.

There are others.

mynoise.net has a slider system, like an equalizer on a stereo, that allows you to adjust each frequency of the rain and thunder. It also has presets for different settings like rain on a tent or distant thunder.

rain.today is another site I use. It lets you choose a few different rain/thunder options to adjust the sound. There are also white noise options like a television or other static.

rainymood.com has a simple on/off setting, but there are apps for Android and Apple.

ambient-mixer.com has nature sounds in a lot of settings. Like a tropical rain forest or a forest at night. That’s just in the nature section. There are other collections that can put you in the mood to write any setting. Their fantasy settings are especially popular.

There are a lot of other white noise and rain maker sites out there. rain.today lists several at the bottom of the page to look into.

I highly recommend one of these, or if you’re the kind of person that only seems to focus in a busy coffee shop, there are tons of those kind of sites out there as well. I’m sure you can find just the right combination of white noise to blot out the real world and let you concentrate on what is important: torturing your characters writing.

Tools of the Trade: 4thewords.com

As an author, I’m always looking for things–programs, websites, apps–that make writing easier or more enjoyable.

4twlogo-xsI discovered 4thewords.com in October 2015. It was listed as a sponsor for NaNoWriMo. I checked it out and was intrigued, although, I promptly forgot about it. It wasn’t until March 2016 that I truly saw the genius of the site. I wrote 125,000 words that month.

There are a lot of sites out there that offer a place to write and store your words. They might even give you incentives like monthly challenges or have pretty graphs (750words.com is one of them). So what makes 4thewords special?

4tw_playIt’s all in the packaging. And this site is wrapped up in a role-playing game complete with avatars, monsters to fight, and quests to finish. If you like RPGs, I probably have your attention now. For those that don’t get the appeal, you should still check out the site because the graphics are adorable and the quests are amazing motivation.

See, your writing isn’t just words on the screen. It is a weapon to be wielded against a menagerie of monsters. You start in Luciola Forest and have to complete quests to get out. Quests are completed by fighting certain monsters that drop items.


Wignow of Mama Tree

The monsters are beaten by writing a certain number of words within a time limit. Like a Wignow needs 250 words in 30 minutes to beat him. A Rudakai needs 1,700 words, but you have 340 minutes (around 5.5 hours). The harder the monster, the better the drops.


Rudakai of Luciola Forest





Eventually you fight your way out of Luciola Forest to move on to Mama Tree. And there actually is a storyline to follow. Something about dust infecting the forest, and I honestly wasn’t paying attention because I wanted to get to the next quest. But there is a story.

Along the way, you collect armor and weapons that affect your three stats. The higher your Attack stat, the fewer words you actually need to type to win. The higher your Defense stat, the more time you get to finish the battle. And the higher your Luck stat, the more items the monster drops.

There’s a lot more going on with stores, banks, crafting, and locksmiths. There’s also leaderboards and a great forum with a lot of fun, supportive player-writers (and I’m not saying that because I’m a moderator).


Untu pirate

Right now we have a Camp NaNoWriMo event going on–an Untu hunt. There’s a special zone with monsters that only come out during NaNo. They have their own quests that earn you special prizes.

All of this may sound ridiculous to some of you, but I am here to tell you that it works. The graphics are adorable and suck you right in. The word count goals for each monster make it feel as if you accomplished something concrete when you defeat a monster. The quests keep you wanting to fight more. And more battles means more words.

For me, the leaderboards have been a huge source of motivation. Staying on the “battle” board for most wins, keeps me fighting one more monster. And keeping my streak going, has me coming back every day. Just this year, I’ve written 125k words and haven’t missed a single day.


Core Crystal

The only caveat is that the site cost money. You get a 30 day free trial, and then you have to pay $4/month. Honestly, the site is well worth the money. And if you won NaNoWriMo in November, there’s a code in your winner’s goodies to get a 60% discount.

If you do decide to sign up, use this referral code: WVBIY23608. When you eventually buy your first month subscription (because you will want to), you’ll get an extra 20 Core Crystals which are used to pay for subscriptions and a few in-game items. A month’s subscription is 44 Core Crystals which cost $4 (US). Oh, and I’ll get some Core Crystals as well (which I appreciate).

At the least, it’s worth checking out with your free trial. Battle a few monsters, finish a few quests, and visit the forums where I’ll be hanging out. I’m justanotherjen there.


I hope to see you soon. And happy hunting.

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