Technology for Non Tech Writers

Given how wired I am now, I find it difficult to remember those days when the most technological advancement I made in my writing was switching from a ball point pent to a gel pen (and there was a brief, pretentious time in there when I wrote with fountain pens, because, you know, I was the 1990s version of a hipster, which in those days was simply called “young.”).

When I need to, I can use the old pen and paper. But there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to read what I’ve written. My handwriting is atrocious (something I’m trying to rectify before I start signing books). So what do I use for my writing process to both organize my research and to make sure I can read my words? Oh-so-many things:

Scrivener

I vastly prefer writing on the computer. And not just in any old Word document; I’m one of those who has not only converted to Scrivener but evangelizes for Scrivener. Scrivener has made my writing life so much easier. I bought the program after a Nanowrimo “win,” which came with a 50 percent off coupon. I had my doubts… for about five minutes. But I found the system of organizing chapters and being able to store research right in the document so much easier to manage. I love how easy it is to move chapters around. How I can see my chapters in an outline form or on a bulletin board. How I can write my character sketches right there, have a place to store deleted scenes, and throw in a timeline or two.
Using Scrivener for holding research

Evernote

I resisted Evernote for years. I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. But when I realized I could save entire pages in Evernote (instead of just a bookmark), it became an invaluable tool. Evernote is now my friend. In the middle-olden days (meaning after the pen and paper era but before the Scrivener era), I used to bookmark pages that were helpful. But often I had a long list and no memory of why I bookmarked it. So now I use Evernote to put the page in, tag it with a category, and write a note or two about why I am saving it. In Evernote, I have the full articles on everything from “Are These Filters Words Weakening Your Writing?” (yes!) to “Text of Immigration Act of 1917” to an article called “The Jewish Gangsters Who Went to Yom Kippur Services” (for a current writing project).

Pinterest

I am a Pinterest junkie. Instead of having to find pictures and print them out and put them on a bulletin board, I have made a Pinterest board for MODERN GIRLS, for the next book I’m working on, and writing in general (and boards for food, drinks, and other things that generally catch my eye). A map I need? Pin it. An outfit that my character might wear? Pin it. The hotel a character might stay at it? Pin it. I use this both for reference and when I’m stumped I’ll look over the board to inspire myself. The only odd thing about Pinterest is that I’ve allowed my 10-year-old daughter to have her own board on my account. So I’m occasionally overwhelmed with new hair styles and DIY projects involving rainbows and unicorns, but it’s all in a day’s work.
Pinterest board for MODERN GIRLS

Ancestry

Wait, what? Ancestry? Yes, Ancestry.com. I write historical fiction. I use Ancestry all the time to look up addresses. To pick out year-appropriate names. To search what ships were sailing. To see what kind of jobs people held. So many wonderful historical details to be found.

iPhone

Photos for inspiration? Check. Notes for a quick thought? Check. A place to record my thoughts, mid-run, so I sound like an obscene caller calling myself? Check. (See for yourself: If I called you sounding like this, you’d be calling the police on me:)

Do you really need any of this stuff? Of course not. Brilliance has been produced with a crayon on a cocktail napkin. But if there are tools that will make writing easier, I say why not?

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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