What’s Out There For Me? Part One — Writing Applications

There are so many different types of writing software in the market today that it can be a chore finding the one that best suits your needs. So over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at some of the more popular tools available to us as writers. This week it’s the turn of word processing and note-taking applications.

Disclaimer: While I acknowledge that there are many more applications out there (OpenOffice and Storyist to name a couple), I’m only discussing the ones I’ve used personally. I, as an individual, and Sarcastic Muse, as an entity, are in no way affiliated with any of the below companies beyond having purchased their products.

1. Scrivener (Windows and Mac) – $45/£33.90 exc. Tax – Literature and Latte

ScScrivener writing applicationsrivener is so well know amongst writers that its name is almost synonymous with writing software. A behemoth of a program, Scrivener offers an all inclusive plotting, writing, and publishing package and, with so many users out there, it’s now so simple to find a template that suits your writing needs.

Key features:

  • Distraction-free writing,
  • Cork board,
  • Scratch pad,
  • Scriptwriting functionality,
  • Statistics and targets.

Free trial available.

2. Ulysses (Mac and iOS) – From $44.99/£34.99 – The Soulmen GbR

Ulysses-writing application

Ulysses is the distraction-free writer to end all distraction-free writers. The concept of this program is simple — you only need concern yourself with the words. Ulysses developers have removed all the complicated toolbars of the WYSIWYG editors, leaving behind a clean working area for you and your words.

Key features:

  • Built-in file library — all your documents in one place,
  • Seamless iCloud/Dropbox sync — take your writing with you,
  • Goals and statistics,
  • Downloadable themes and styles to quickly edit and publish.

Free trial available.

3. Novlr (web based) – From $10/£7 per month – Novlr LTD

Novlr-logo writing applicationDon’t let the fact that Novlr is a web-based writing program put you off. It’s functionality is easily the rival of some of the big hitters out there and the cross-platform capabilities are astounding. With a beautiful, minimalist writing area, offline writing mode, and room to store an entire library of works in progress, you’ll never have a problem snatching moments to work on your novel.

Key features:

  • Constant access to all your words — all you need’s a web browser,
  • Automatic saving and word count updates,
  • Automatic backups to GoogleDrive and Dropbox,
  • Writing statistics.

Free trial available.

4. MS Word (Windows and Mac) – From $149.99/£119.99 for standalone licence – Microsoft

What can I say about MS Word that hasn’t already been said? This program is one of the most popular, and widespread, word processors on the market. It’s so widely utilised that almost all publishers and agents require electronically-submitted manuscripts in the .doc and .docx formats.

Key features:

  • Used industry wide,
  • Simple(ish) to use,
  • WYSIWYG editor with almost an almost limitless template library.

5. Pages (Mac and iOS) – From $9.99/£14.99 – Apple

Pages is Apple’s answer to the juggernaught that is Microsoft Word and, like its counterpart, I haven’t really got much to say about it. It’s a fully functional word processing software with Apple’s ubiquitous minimal design.

Key features:

  • WYSIWYG editor,
  • Cheaper alternative to MS Word for iOS and Mac,
  • Seamless iCloud syncing,
  • Works on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

6. Evernote (Windows and Mac) – From Free – Evernote Corporation

evernote-logo writing applicationBefore I discovered Novlr and Ulysses, Evernote was my go to application for writing on the move. With its myriad of note-taking features (text, photo, ever audio notes) and cross-platform applications, you’ll never find yourself in a position where you can’t meet your daily word count (except through procrastination but that’s your problem, not mine).

Key features:

  • You can attach pretty much anything to a note,
  • Cross-platform syncing,
  • Web-clipping plugins allow you to keep all your research together.

What are some of your experiences with/thoughts on our featured software? Are there any others you feel need highlighting?


Writing 101 – Outlining


(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

Hello everyone. So…erm…yeah, I’ve done a great job so far keeping up with this resolution malarkey. Michelle has already threatened to fire me if I don’t show my face today and she (sometimes) makes a good point.

Here I am. Grovelling.

Please take me back, dear readers. I have…what do I have?…I have tips. I have tips on that most dreaded of topics – outlining a novel.

As I discussed previously, we writers tend to fall into one of two categories – Outliners or Pantsers. Which technique is right for you is all down to preference, but something I hear a lot from pantsers and those just starting out is what is outlining and how do I do it?

I don’t profess to be an expert (far from it). These techniques are based on what I’ve picked up through trial and error or through research and are in no way comprehensive.

What is outlining?

Outlining is a process for plotting out the key points and major events of your book, usually from start to finish. Although typically used for non-fiction writing, it does have its uses in fiction especially where there’s a need to juggle plot twists or multiple story lines. Outlines can be detailed, multi-page documents, or simple guidelines that serve as a road map through your novel’s plot, drafted onto index cards or sticky notes.

How to Outline

All these techniques assume you already have an idea for your book. If not, you may benefit from a brain storming session.

Using Index Cards/Sticky Notes

Until recently, this was my main method for outlining (more on this later). I’ll mostly be discussing index cards but this applies to sticky notes too. You need a few items before you can begin:

  • Index cards of a size to suit your needs (I use 3 by 5 inch cards (76.2 by 127.0 mm))
  • Coloured pens or stickers
  • Corkboard, index card box, or large floor
  1. On one side of a index card, write a single sentence summarising each of your story’s main plot points or scenes, ignore any subplots for now. Use a new card for each point and leave the other side blank.
  2. Number each card in sequence. This doesn’t mean you’re tied to the sequence but it’ll help if you drop or mix up the cards (trust me on this).
  3. When you’ve finished your main plot, do the same with your subplots. I tend to use a different colour pen (or sticker) here to help distinguish plot threads.
  4. Once you have worked through all your plot lines, arrange the cards out on the corkboard/floor.
  5. You can now move the cards around at your leisure and experiment with the sequencing/pacing of your story. Cards can also be grouped into rough chapter outlines.
  6. Use the rear of each card to further expand on the scenes, adding detail and snippets of text as it comes to you.
  7. Write your story

Text Document

This method is based on Microsoft Word package for Windows and Mac, although most wordprocessor programs have templates for outlines available for use. It’s less flexible than other methods as plot points can only really be moved through cutting and pasting text (although Office 2013, now allows you to drag and drop headings and associated text around).

I haven’t outlined using this method and so, rather than making a fool of myself, I thought I’d let Saikat Basu of www.makeuseof.com show you how it’s done.

Remember: each header should be a one-sentence summary of the key plot points of your story.


Writing 101 - Outlining

Scrivener’s Corkboard Feature

Scrivener is a recent discovery for me but is fast becoming my go-to program when it comes to outlining and plotting. Just like a real corkboard and index cards, the built-in corkboard feature allows for the creation of virtual cards which can be colour-coded in much the same way as the ones I described above.


Scrivener also has a separate outlining feature that gives a more traditional look to the outline (similar to the one created by MS Word). I intend to do a full review of Scrivener in the coming weeks but I just want to highlight that the software is available for both Windows and Mac operating systems and comes with a free trial download.


An index card is added to the corkboard automatically, whenever a new document is created and can be used as per the method above. I use the main face of the card to summarise a description of the scene, expanding on it in the document notes section (bottom right of the image).

So that’s about it from me, but before I go I want to mention a few things that you should considered when using outlines:

  1. The layout and format of an outline is a matter of personal preference – use one that suits you
  2. Outlines should never get in the way of the story – if the plot or pacing benefits from a change of direction then alter the outline, not the story
  3. Outlines should be organic, evolving as the story does – use it as a guide only.

Well, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below. I’d also like to hear any tips you might have when it comes to outlining.


Nuts & Bolts of Publishing

TSM Recommends: Podcasts for Writers

The Sarcastic Muse supports all paths to publishing, from traditional to self to indie press. For those considering the authorpreneur route of publishing, the crew at Sterling and Stone has put together a series full of useful information.

If you aren’t familiar with the Self Publishing Podcast or Garrett Robinson, this series is a collaboration. The video series includes the things not often talked about on blogs such as how to compile a manuscript, how to upload it, and  practical things that anyone interested in self-publishing has to know. I had to work most of it out on my own, but there’s no reason you have to. It’s a good series and not  yet complete. It’s also a mini-course on Scrivener (in terms of using it to help publish), which is good, useful information.

Here are the videos completed so far:

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #1: Introduction

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #2: Learn How to Self-Publish

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #3: How Much Does it Cost to Publish a Book?

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #4: How to Use Scrivener (the Basics)

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #5: How to Format Front Matter in Scrivener

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #6: How to Format Back Matter in Scrivener

Authorpreneur Nuts & Bolts #7: How to Use Scrivener Collections

The series won’t be complete for a while, but wanted to let you know about it now so you can catch the videos.

What is your favorite go-to source for publishing information?


Changing Ways

Deep down in my heart, I used to be a purist writer.  The truest form of writing is taking pen to paper.  In my younger years, it was the only way that my stories took shape.  Over the past two decades, lost worlds of handwritten notebooks collected underneath my bed.  Most will never see the light; a select few have been begrudgingly typed up and stored on various flash drives that litter my desk drawers.

In my mind, if the literary greats like Austen, Poe, and Shakespeare hand wrote everything – why couldn’t I?   Well, the crushing reality is that publications will not take handwritten manuscripts.  It was not until my late teens that I fully converted over to using a writing software (ahem, Word), leaving the world of notebooks behind.

However, the purist in me would not allow myself to be 100% digital.  Outlines, research notes, character descriptions, and such were all hand written, and efficiently organized into binders for ease of reference.  A balance was formed between the actual output being digital and the “R&D” lived on as handwritten.

I thought that this was a good and healthy process, until I outgrew space with binders and my organizational skills slacked when I gained a career.

About a month ago, I was introduced to Scrivener.  Immediately, I balked at the idea of using it.  My purist mind reeled – Austen and the like all handwrote.  To which, the person who introduced me to the new tool replied, “Do you not think that if Austen had this technology, she would use it?”

I was speechless.  That never once crossed my mind.  If Austen or Shakespeare had access to typewriters, they would have surely used it.  If Austen or Shakespeare had access to a computer, they would have used it.  If Austen or Shakespeare had access to Scrivener, they sure as hell would have used it.

So why was I denying myself the pleasure of experiencing the use of an organized writing tool?  I no longer had a valid answer.

On March 23rd, 2014, I signed up for the Scrivener free trial – and instantly fell in love with the tool.  I converted my WiP novel over into Scrivener, and then typed up all of my character bios and research notes into the tool.  It brilliantly and efficiently organized all of my items in a clean UI design, and I was left dumbstruck by the fluidity of the tool.

All these years of my snobbery over being a purist writer lead me to not experience the wonders of all of the writing software programs.  It was pure stupidity on my part (with a splash of ego).

Scrivener has changed my writing life.  No longer do I have to go in search of binders or that random piece of paper that has notes haphazardly scribbled.  I can directly go to my research folder in Scrivener and pull up that piece of information.  My novel is laid out where each chapter is its own little folder and I don’t have to scroll through a 200-page word document to find one single chapter.

I can reorganize or restructure with a click of a button, and have all files everything securely backed up.  My productivity is completely maximized.

The best bonus is the ‘distraction free’ mode, which completely stops me from accessing Skype, Facebook, Twitter, or any of those other Internet attention monsters.

Scrivener was built and designed with the writer in mind.  The entire tool is structured around supporting a writers needs, whether it be writing novels, screenplays, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc.

I am still a beginner with Scrivener and am pretty sure that I have barely scratched the surface of what the tool actually has to offer.

Since the moment I touched Scrivener, I lost my snobby, purist writer title and gained the name: Techy, geek writer


Try Scrivener free for 30 days (and that is 30 use days, not calendar days!!)

Mac OS: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Microsoft Windows: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php?platform=win