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:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the latest ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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!

Leave a Reply