Plot Your Novel: My Favorite Novel Writing Tools

Plot Your Novel: My Favorite Novel Writing Tools

If you’re an indie author, you’re always looking for writing tools which will help you to plan, plot, write, edit, and publish your books fast.

Every novelist is endlessly busy because today, productivity is vital. As the saying goes, you snooze, you lose.

Authors often tell me that their biggest challenge is getting organized. You can’t keep all the details of a novel in your head, and when you sit down to write, you want to get creative, and write.

So, let’s look at my favorite novel writing tools which help me to stay organized. You can use these tools for your other writing as well, of course.

Disclosure: you’ll find no affiliate links in this article, nor do I have any connection with the developers of any of the tools mentioned.

Writing tools for your novel

My favorite, indispensable writing tools include:

  • Scrivener (of course, always)
  • Trello (wonderful for plotting and blogging)
  • Evernote (my traveling filing cabinet)
  • iMindMap (currently my favorite mind mapping tool)

All four tools are available on your desktop machines (Windows and Mac), as well as on your devices.

Scrivener: bright and shiny and new — version 3 available for Mac, coming soon to Windows

Scrivener writing tool

I’ve been using Scrivener since 2005, when I made the switch from Windows to Macs. It’s helped me to become much more productive that I would have been without it.

Does it have a learning curve? Yes, and no. I’ve found that the learning curve arises when:

  • Writers try to get Scrivener to behave like MS Word;
  • Authors imagine that they need to “learn” the app before they can write with it.

Yes, Scrivener is powerful. And yes, you can make it behave like Word (sorta, kinda) but you don’t need to know everything there is to know about it, before you use it to write. Some features you may use occasionally, others you’ll never use.

For example, a few weeks ago, I started using Scrivener’s Scratch Pad — I thought it would help me to do something I wanted to do, and it did. Many Scrivener users never use Collections, but I rely on them totally.

Use Scrivener your way. Play with the app’s Tutorial (accessed via the Help menu) and write.

If you’ve never tried Scrivener to write a novel, and you know you need to get organized, give the app a try.

Hello Trello: lay your cards on the table

Trello writing tool

If you’re a visual person, you’ll love Trello. It’s like having endless boxes of digital index cards — which are much more powerful than paper cards.

I love Trello for plotting novels, and for writing blog posts. When I’m working with students, I create a new board for each course.

Evernote: take everything you need to write your novel with you

Evernote writing tool

I think of Evernote as my traveling office. I stuff anything I think I may need when I’m out and about into Evernote, and I can write — or give presentations — anywhere.

I’ve been using Evernote since 2009; it’s an essential tool to store and organize my research. It works brilliantly with iMindMap. I create lots of mind maps, and at the end of a writing session, I save each map as an image, then I drag the images into one Evernote note.

By flicking through the maps in the note, I can plot and write novels anywhere.

iMindMap: out in a new version, better than ever

mind mapping

While there are dozens of mind mapping programs, iMindmap has become my favorite over the past couple of years; it just keeps getting better.

Mind maps help me to think, plan, and plot. By the time I’ve completed a novel, I have one master mind map for the novel, and anywhere from ten to 20 “child” maps, to handle the various stages of plotting:

  • Set up — first 25%;
  • Preparing for the midpoint;
  • The midpoint;
  • The big twist at 80%;
  • The climax.

By looking at my mind map for any stage of the plotting process, I can see where I am at a glance: which scene, where the scene takes place, the time, the characters involved, and their conflict.

I also create mind maps for the main characters, and another mind map for secondary characters.

Good writing tools are essential: they make you a better writer

Think of writing a novel as if you’re building a house.

Not only do you have to create a blueprint for the structure, you also need to create the bricks, lay on the utilities, and decorate the house.

Whenever authors have problems with their novels, it’s usually because they’re trying to do several things at the same time. That doesn’t work. Use your writing tools. Do one thing at a time. Your creativity will thank you, and you’ll write more and better novels.

Have fun. 🙂

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5 Productivity Tips: Avoid Distractions And Write More

5 Productivity Tips: Avoid Distractions And Write More

In our Team Up writers’ sessions, we’ve been discussing productivity, and our biggest challenges in writing more.

Productivity is a challenge for most authors. We can be busy, without being productive — we write and write, but we can’t seem to meet our deadlines.

Productivity: focus and write more

The biggest challenge? Distractions. No one in the group found concentration and focus easy. However, without focus, there’s little chance that we’ll write as much as we could.

Of course, some things are more distracting that others. It’s hard to turn off your phone; it’s a little easier to avoid Facebook. Various apps help you to avoid distractions, but goals work better, so that’s our first tip.

1. Set overall goals and daily goals for your project (Scrivener, and other writing apps help)

Scrivener makes it easy to set word count goals for a project, as well as for each writing session. Ulysses offers a similar feature; I know that other apps do too. Check the Help files of your favorite writing app.

When you know that you need to write a certain number of words in your session, you avoid Facebook and similar distractions until you’re done.

2. Sit down in a chair, open the document you need, and write 50 words

The hardest part of writing is getting started. So, as the old saying goes — place your butt in your chair.

Then write 50 words. You can write 50 words even on your worst day, when you have a blinding headache.

Keep up this process until it becomes a habit — it’s easier if you schedule your sessions, and sit down in the same place every day.

3. Handwrite or dictate your first draft (or choose a writing method that’s fun for you)

Few things are scarier than a blank computer screen.

Get some words onto the screen, any way you can. I either handwrite or dictate my first drafts.

On days when I’m feeling resistant to writing, I handwrite several pages. It helps that I have a fountain pen addiction, and enjoy writing with pens. Think about what you enjoy when it comes to getting those initial words.

I know one writer who writes her first drafts on her phone. She’s very productive, writing several books a year. I couldn’t write on my phone, but it works for her.

4. Know what you intend writing each day before you sit down

Not an idea in your head? Yep, this happens to me too.

However, over the years, I’ve learned to avoid this disaster by outlining several scenes ahead. For me, and for other writers too, this scenario, in which you’re trapped like a deer in the headlights, leads to procrastination… and your productivity dies.

By nature I’m a pantser. I’m happy to start writing when I know the basic story question of a novel, and my main characters. Then I create a mind map or two, and a rough outline of the next four or five scenes.

Unfortunately on some days I realize that — oh no… I’ve nothing outlined. My mind maps suddenly seem dreary and uninspiring.

On those days, I drop back two or three chapters. I reread those chapters, and then I’m good to go — I’ve got inspiration for the next several scenes.

If I’m in a panic because I know that I need a major plot twist (if the midpoint’s coming up, for example, and I realize that I haven’t laid the foundation for it); I might go back to the beginning of the novel, and reread until I’m inspired again.

5. Back yourself to success: no one else will, until YOU do

Without a doubt, the biggest productivity killer for authors is a lack of confidence. Sadly, self-confidence ebbs and flows. No matter how many books you’ve written, every book is a new experience.

One way to gain self-confidence (maybe the only way) is to back yourself. After all, no one else will, if you don’t.

Backing yourself is a decision. I’ve no idea how an author gets to the point where he makes the decision: I will succeed.

Whenever I’ve asked an author when he decided that he’d back himself to succeed, he said something like:

  • “I don’t know…” (sounding surprised);
  • “I decided that I would succeed, no matter what…”
  • “I got sick of my doubts — so I decided to ignore them…”

Decide to back yourself. You don’t need anyone’s validation. It’s your decision, and you need to make it for real productivity.

Onward. Happy writing. 🙂

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Resources to build your writing career

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Newbie Novelist: 3 Tips To Ignite Your Imagination

Newbie Novelist: 3 Tips To Ignite Your Imagination

You’re a newbie novelist. Although you have lots of ideas, you’re uncertain about shaping those ideas into a book. When you try to write down what’s in your head, your words seem flat.

Alternatively, you’ve written many novel beginnings, then run out of steam. You don’t know why you lose inspiration — you fear that you’re not meant to be a novelist.

Newbie novelist: forget the words — imagine

When you’re new to writing fiction, you focus on the words. That’s understandable: you’re “writing”. You’re self-conscious and tense. It can take years to get over that feeling, and improve your fiction, if you’re not aware of what’s happening.

Here’s the best advice anyone can give you — and I wish that someone had shared it with me. It would have eliminated years of self-doubt and misery… Forget the words, focus ONLY on your imagination. Get what’s in your imagination, and what you’re feeling, onto the page/ computer screen.

Any words will do. You can tinker with the words later, if your grammar’s shaky — but don’t try to pretty up the words and “write.” You’re a storyteller, so tell stories.

Three tips to ignite your imagination

Waiting for your imagination to ignite, and nothing happens? 🙂

Over the years, many adults lose the imagination they had as children. Everyday life takes over. Give yourself permission to play with characters and stories.

These tips may help.

1. Your imagination doesn’t take orders, relax and day dream

Imagining your stories is similar to dreaming. As with your night dreams, you can’t order your subconscious to deliver the day dreams you want on cue.

Stress kills your imagination. Some authors rely on alcohol or mind altering substances so that they can relax. Avoid these dangerous crutches. Instead, try playing music, or take long baths in a candle-lit bathroom.

Over time, you’ll be able to switch on your imagination as if you’re switching on a light, but this ability takes time to develop.

2. Where’s the feeling? Go with the emotion

Stories which excite readers need to excite you first. Although your imagination won’t take orders from you, it will take them from your emotions.

Try thinking something like… “Now, Bethany tip-toes into the room, she’s uncertain about what she’ll find there. She’s angry with Thomas. We want something surprising, and a little creepy…”

Feel those emotions — the character’s anger. Then feel surprised — and so on. Your imagination will deliver.

Yes, I know, this seems weird. However, your creative self is your illogical self; it’s separate from your rational, everyday consciousness. Try this exercise.

3. Surprise yourself: boredom is deadly

When you’re writing, you’re focused on getting the writing session done. You have a deadline (even if it’s one you set), so you want to write that day’s words, and get on with the next project on your agenda.

This morning I wrote a scene in my current historical mystery, and realized that I was bored. Oops

Watch your own emotions. Treat boredom as a big RED flashing warning sign, and STOP. Initially, this is hard to do because you make excuses for your boredom, like: “I’m not in the mood to write today,” or “of course I’m stressed, because…” Yada, yada… You’re bored because you’ve switched off your imagination.

I went back to my process and rewrote the scene.

Keep writing, and imagining

Onward. Keep writing. Before you know it, your imagination will become your partner. Writing novels will be fun for you.

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Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.