Tools of the Trade

I know the old saying – a bad workman blames his tools. But the other side of coin is that you have to use the right tool for the job. (I have scars on my hands to reinforce this lesson!) In thinking about how my writing has changed over the years, I’ve realised that advances in technology have changed the way that I write. Ready access to word-processors means that you can edit over and over again and move huge chunks of text around. At the other end of the scale, you can make minor changes to sentences ad infinitum.  The problem is that it’s not easy to know when to stop. I’m almost tempted to get one of my typewriters working again and use it to write a short story or even something longer.

Anyway, more than anything, two programs have completely transformed my writing process – Dropbox and Scrivener. Firstly, Scrivener is a program written by writers for writers. It is designed to help you write novels, screenplays, non-fiction – in fact pretty much anything. Whereas on Word working with many files can be tricky, Scrivener encourages you to break your work down into manageable chunks. I use it to write scene by scene. You can see all your scenes on a virtual cork board and drag them around. (You can then move them around and get into all the problems I outlined above!) It has many other lovely features, like a thesaurus and character name generator. It can take in any kind of document file and output to pretty much anything as well. It can also store files like pictures, sound and URLs as research. I know as a writer I’ve found that it has improved my writing. The ability to see the whole novel as an outline means that I can see the strengths and weakness, and manage the structure, rhythm and pace much better than before.

Secondly, Dropbox is integrated cloud storage. To put that into plain English, they keep your files in a secure location on a remote computer. All the time you are connected to the Internet, you can access that secure location to get access to your files. But, the beauty of it is that if you’re not on the Internet, all your files are still there. It looks like a normal directory when you’re working, but with the security of someone else backing it up. The other advantage for me is that I can seamlessly share my files between my two computers – an Ubuntu laptop and a Windows desktop. If everything went wrong and I lost both my computers, I could go to an Internet cafe or a library, log on and retrieve all my files. In fact, it’s already proved invaluable when I went on a writing retreat without my laptop power cable. I managed to borrow another computer, went to Dropbox, downloaded my files, and carried on working.

So, what do you think? Do tools change the process, or is writing still writing regardless of what you use?


  1. Scrivener has transformed my writing too. I love the fact that everything is there in one file. I do the same with regards to splitting the work down to scenes. That you can then compile all the scenes from one character’s POV in one stream is brilliant.

    Goodbye Word as main programme. 🙂

  2. The only bug-bear I have with Scrivener is that spell check doesn’t work under Linux. But half an hour with Abiword going through the rtfs is a good work-around for now. Apart from that I love it – so much easier to work, especially as I tend to work in short bursts and stitch it all together later. I’ve recently started up a separate Scrivener to act as a concordance for my whole series too. And now I only use Word to format if someone requires the format.

Comments are closed.