Four Writing Tools I Can’t Live Without

1: Freemind

This free program has revolutionized the way I organize my notes. I used to create Word documents for each new thread, outline, or sketch, but now, I keep them all in one program, and they’re always accessible.

I can start a new branch for a timeline, for a list of characters, open questions–anything. It’s brilliant.
My current file for books 3 and 4, even when displayed in a font too small to read, would be several feet long if printed.

2 & 3: Alex and iSpeak It

Our ears do not forgive as much as our eyes, so there’s nothing like having your words read back to you, especially if they contain typos.

Yes, you have to listen to the computer voice, but that’s actually a benefit, as it may help to keep your emotions distanced while you do the intellectual work of editing.

I do this in two different ways:

1. On the fly

I’ve set up my Mac so that I simply select a bit of text and press Shift+* to have it read back to me. This kind of quick review catches any spelling errors or awkward phrasing right away.

2. Instant audiobook

I’ll port a finished work into iSpeak It, adjust the pronunciation of proper names, and then in 5 minutes it adds a nice little audiobook to my iTunes library. From there I can edit on the train, or listen to chapters as I walk to work. It’s surprisingly easy on the ears after you get used to it:

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This is where hearing your work really comes in handy. I was editing my first book, and at one point I had to stop the recording and say “ok, ok, I get it, enough description!” I had known that section had a problem, but I wasn’t sure what to cut until I found my own eyes glazing over because it was killing the flow.

4: Tommy’s Duplicate Word Finder

This program keeps me from looking stupid. It’s like an MRI, scanning the manuscript for a specific type of error–sentences with repeated words. There usually aren’t many, but they are unacceptable and embarrassing.

These errors can occur when someone is editing carelessly, perhaps late at night after a long day (like right now), or if they make the mistake of fixing the end of a sentence without paying attention to the whole.

Take this sentence, for example:

“During their journey, they passed innumerable sandy trails and foot-worn passages as they journeyed farther from the city and climbed steep sections of rock and sand.”

and then again with the markings, set to 4 characters:

“During their journey, they passed innumerable sandy trails and foot-worn passages as they journeyed farther from the city and climbed steep sections of rock and sand.”

That’s the kind of thing that kills me to read, but it happens. It’s nice to have a program to help catch it–and in this particular case, a talented friend to write that program for me…

About J. E. Hunt

J. E. Hunt is a writer based in Washington DC, and the author of The Whispering Walls, its pending sequel, and several short stories. Please take a minute to check out his work.

One Response to “Four Writing Tools I Can’t Live Without”

  1. Danielle says:

    This is excellent! One of the greatest obstacles I feel I face when I comes to tackling the idea of a novel is that I usually just end up foreseeing a huge organizational nightmare rather than an expansive opportunity. Thank you for the pointers!

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