Megapost: Free (or cheap) Online Writing Tools

I think a lot of people think that they need to pay money–sometimes a great deal of money–for writing tools. I mean, I’ve definitely tried a lot of them, but with little success. But there’s actually many online free, subscription-based, or cheap tools available to use which… might be of use!

If you know of any that aren’t here, please let me know! I’m always looking for new things to try. Also, I’ll be continually adding to this list as I find and try new tools.

This post is divided into sections: Actually Writing, Book Design, Character Design, and Worldbuilding.


Actually Writing

One Page Per Day

http://www.onepageperday.com/
Free

Simply a blank page upon which to write. No formatting distractions. I use this a lot.

WriteOrDie

http://www.writeordie.com
Free

This online writing aid keeps me focused (especially during NaNo) by screaming at me when I’m not writing enough 🙃

Google Docs

https://docs.google.com/
Free

How could I write a list of writing tools without including this? Not just Docs for writing, but Sheets for collating data is also super useful.

The guide I wrote to Print Formatting in Word also applies to Docs, by the way! And it’s free!


Book Design

Canva

http://www.canva.com
Free, paid extras

User-friendly content creator with many, many formats and templates to choose from. I use this for my book covers (even drafts–I love having a nice cover to look at!) and most of my blogging/Twitter content, too.


Character Design

HeroForge

http://www.heroforge.com
Free, paid extras

This 3D-character modeller is technically for creating print files (for 3D printers) but I find it extremely useful for solidifying characters in my head.

⬅Josie and her cats 😺
Where did you go, Norah?”


Worldbuilding

Inkarnate

http://www.inkarnate.com
Free, paid extras

Map-making software with about a thousand options for farms, towns, villages, cities, deserts, wastelands, mountains, you name it.

March wrap-up and April Goals

Well, as I said in my very first ever post “hello,” I’m going to use this blog in part to track my writing progress & goals.

And boy did I make some progress this month!

PROGRESS in March

DRAFTING/EDITING PROJECTS

  1. Bolfenn: beta reading (beta 1 of 3 completed this month)
  2. Into the Grey: drafting, 10k/100k (drafting, 26k/100k target!)
  3. Bootstrap_: alpha reading; ending needs significant re-write (Finished revision & off this list)
  4. Loyalty: alpha reading
    Entirely re-working Loren’s chapters based on alpha feedback. But, I also got a beta read done, and she loved Anutea–so I’m taking that as a good sign for the non-Loren chapters. He’s such a tricky character. I think I’ll do his character sheet next. Tricky. 🤔
  5. Sacrifice: revising & adding scenes still, currently at 58k/90k target

QUERYING PROJECTS

  1. Bootstrap_: Sent three queries:
    1. One rejection to date. Very kind.
      Thank you for querying me with BOOTSTRAP.  I think you have an interesting project here, but I’m afraid I’m not connecting with it on the whole in a way that makes me think I’d be the best champion for it, so I am going to have to pass.

IN THE SOMEDAY-QUEUE

  1. Lesbian Island actual title The Spicer’s Wife, historical spec-fic: needs a from-the-ground-up rewrite
  2. Sad Valkyrie, historical fantasy: also needs a from-the-ground-up rewrite
  3. That Sequel to Bolfenn, sci-fi/new-adult
    I am tentatively combining this with another prequel story on the history of the Ala’pr and the Niptae. Combined 5500/100k words.
  4. The Dreamers and the Dying, hard sci-fi: 2300 words, on pause
  5. The Vernacular of the Regency Romance, LGBTQ historical romance, not even started but I this idea so much ugh

OTHER

@crownyami was super super kind and did a full revision of Identity, which I then incorporated and re-published. It looks so good now guys seriously! Also I’m never ever touching it again, so.

(Until next month… probably).

GOALS for April

Writing

  1. Get all the Loren-POV chapters in Loyalty in their own doc, read this story, and revise so it is a satisfying narrative
  2. Commission character artwork of Casey+Norah in the Ll’Amh bay and begin offering this as a freebie for physical sales
  3. Add at least another 20k words to Into The Grey
  4. Sell five copies (or complete KENP reads) of Identity
    This was last month’s goal too and I did it! 💪 Actually I managed eleven
  5. Add at least 5k words to Sacrifice

Blogging

  1. People liked the post on Print Formatting! So I’ll publish Part Two this month
  2. Collate links and publish the initial Megapost of Online Writing Tools
    I think people will find this one useful too

Social Media

  1. I’d like to increase from 1400ish followers on Twitter to about 2400
  2. Get another review!
    I’d like to complete the year with 10 reviews

Print Formatting the Easy Way: Part One

Author’s Note: This guide ended up MUCH longer than I’d anticipated. Part One comprises the template file download and a quick overview of each of the pages included. The next part will include a deep-dive on the various formatting tricks I use and how to keep things as easy as possible. Enjoy!

I am a truly lazy person.

Now, you might not think it to see me. I mean, look! Writing a blog post! Making this guide! Writing novels! Working!

(hitting the snooze button again)

But my friends, I’ll let you in on a secret. Computer programmers are the laziest people of all–because our entire job, our life’s purpose if you will, is getting someone else (ideally, a computer) to do the work for us.

I don’t want to manually do all this math? Write a program!

I don’t want to manually find all these typos? Write a program!

I don’t want to manually find keywords for all these webpages? Write a program!

(All of the above are real examples from my life. That last one got me a job offer, actually.)

I approach writing in exactly the same way. I don’t want to manually format a bunch of repetitive stuff. I don’t want to fuss with layout. I don’t want to deal with pagination. This is why we invented computers, so I wouldn’t have to think about this!

This is why I present to you now… my guide to Print Formatting: The Easy Way!

Now, this is for MS Word formatting. If you use another program (like Scrivener et al) I can’t help you: I like Word. The guidelines are essentially the same for LibreOffice, Google Docs, etc–any word processing program.

To be honest I feel like the reason a lot of people don’t like Word is that they’re not using it The Lazy Way™. They manually format things and then get frustrated when words move around, don’t look quite right, they can’t find what they need, etc. But this bar:

Holds a lot of features hidden inside to make formatting easy. Let’s use it~

Okay, ready? First off download this handy Word formatting template (right click>save to download it). It’ll open up a file with the Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page, blank page, and First Chapter pages all set up for you!

About the template

There are several predefined styles which I use frequently. If you want to modify any of them, change the font/size/spacing/etc by right-clicking the style, clicking “Modify,” then making the edits in the pop-ups that appear.

Also, this is a layout for a 5×8 sized paperback novel. You’ll need to adjust the page size & margins if you’re printing something differently.

Pages

TITLE PAGE

The Title Page does not have a page number. It is vertically- and horizontally-aligned.

The Section Break is super important when dealing with different layouts (vertical alignments, sections without page numbers, etc). Each time I use a different alignment, I add a section break. I also add a section break at the end of each chapter (more on this later)

COPYRIGHT PAGE

“I don’t need to include this” I can hear someone in the back muttering. Well, you do you, but I include it. Why not?

You can find standard boilerplate online; you’ll need to populate the ISBN once you have it, and add any other details/printing stuff you need.

The copyright page is bottom aligned.

DEDICATION PAGE

It’s for my husband 🙂

The Dedication Page is horizontally-centered, but I just add a few paragraphs at the beginning rather than perfectly vertically centering it. Looks better.

BLANK PAGE

There’s a blank page immediately after the Dedication so that the first chapter starts on the right-hand side.

FIRST CHAPTER PAGE

Here’s where things start to get fun! Part Two of this guide will have an explanation of all the styles, how to modify them, and how it all goes together, but basically–all chapter headers start off halfway down the page (managed via the Heading1 style). The first three words in each chapter are in small-caps (1st3 style). This is the first page with visible page numbering (managed via section breaks).

Please download the template, muck around with it, and see if it can save you any time or grief! (Actually, especially grief).

If anything is unclear or you’d like more examples, just reach out! I love print formatting and I’m only just lying a little bit 😉

Loyalty progress

March is the month of endless revisions, apparently: Identity (which I actually had the gall to think I was done with) and now I have beta feedback on Loyalty.

Actually it’s not bad. I’d planned to dedicate the entire month of April to fixing whatever structural problems came up, and… drum roll please… there don’t appear to be any!

At least, not in the opinion of one person.

My alpha reader still thinks it doesn’t pack the same punch Identity did, and obviously I don’t want it to be a let-down, so I think I’m going to let it simmer a bit. I’ll dedicate April to it by not even looking at it, then return in May and hopefully have a bit of distance to be able to evaluate it properly and figure out what secret spice is still missing.

It needs that zing.

Criticism:

  • I use too many ellipses (guilty)
  • Same but for semi-colons (definitely guilty)
  • Paragraphs could do with being longer to create better flow
    • Actually this one is funny because Identity has the exact opposite problem
  • Cut a little dialogue–“be careful, or the reader might feel a bit tired”

And positive remarks:

  • “I definitely can see that Anutéa has matured during the whole book, in fact she is my favourite character. But at the same time, she is really courageous and badass, something that I am not, but I know every reader wants to be”
    • YAY
  • “I also enjoyed how this book is fast paced, but at the same time it is not rushed as some novels tend to be”
    • DOUBLE YAY

And a really great idea:

  • “I enjoyed also how the book is structured!  It would also be cool to have a glossary on how to pronounce the names and a map! A map would be awesome”

Well, off I toddle to go Google the best way to create glossaries for entirely imaginary worlds which exist in my mind.

(The trouble with maps, of course, is that right now my jumpgate travel system is entirely non-falsifiable. I can say RE-ytri is a two-days’ journey from AA-olea, and who can argue? Once there’s a map though…

I foresee trouble ahead)

Writing a Chapter

I’m editing Sacrifice right now–step #2, create a clean copy–and it’s only at about fifty thousand words. This is for a couple of reasons–one, I wrote it during the last two weeks of NaNo 2018, immediately after finishing the draft for Loyalty, so I just didn’t have much time; two, it’s just the bare story.

This is how I usually write, actually. I get the plot done first->Norah goes here; Casey does that; Admiral Holdini sees this, and presto! Story wrapped up.

But there isn’t much feeling to a bare fifty-thousand-word recitation of plot events (obviously). Now that I’ve got a draft, and a clean copy, I’m looking at the story arc and thinking–yeah, some more actual storytelling needs to occur here.

First off, the intro. The intro jumps right back into it, but it’s too quick… I feel the reader needs some time to settle into the state of things as they were left after Loyalty. So I’m thinking->well, draw it out a bit! Following my Nine Hundred story pattern, the chapter perspectives go:

Loren, Anutea, Loren, Casey

On and on. Loren is in pretty good shape, and Anutea’s story is intertwined with his at the moment. So I need to add some Casey chapters, and that inspired my to write this post about How I Insert Extra Chapters(tm).

[It occurs to me that Casey would really hate me referring to him that way. Sorry 😘 Casilim-la!]

First: what is the point of the chapter?

Every chapter should have a purpose (duh). It doesn’t exactly have to be a plot purpose, but at the other end of reading it, we should know something we didn’t know before. Casey and Norah playing karlzn in Identity was one such chapter. It wasn’t in the original draft, and it didn’t move the plot along exactly, but on the other end of it we’ve learned a lot about Casey, Norah, and their relationship!

Sometimes these extra chapters end up moving the plot along in surprisingly impactful ways, too. In Loyalty, my alpha-reader didn’t like my portrayal of Anutea at first, so I nixed about the first eight thousand words and redid them entirely. Everything about Hettaka and the fallout from that? That’s all ‘new’ work. But it significantly impacted Anutea’s character arc, her story, and her journey towards–

Well, I shouldn’t say, because I’m still editing it!

The purpose… that’s where I’m aiming each little twist and turn of the narrative: accomplishing that purpose. My characters might decide to go off another way, to argue, to fight with me, but I’m going to accomplish that purpose in this chapter.

Second: I like for each of my chapters to be a roughly consistent length. This is because, as a reader, I like to read consistent chapters! I know this is a debated topic in the writing community, but for me: each chapter should be about two thousand words. I’ve gone higher and lower, of course–the narrative flows where it flows–but that’s the second part of my goal.

And third: a chapter should be a little story in and of itself. A chapter normally has a clear beginning, middle, and end: a hook at the beginning just like the novel to draw the reader in; a cliff-hanger or question at the end to keep them turning pages.

With all of this structure in mind, it’s usually pretty easy to churn out some words towards that #chaptergoal and bulk up the novel. If not, it’s not necessary, and I’ll skip it (maybe coming back later).

An Ongoing List of Filler Words I Have Abused

What’s on the tin, my dears.

Some of these are not actually filler words per se, just words I abuse way too much. I’m planning to update this list as I unearth more and ruthlessly expunge them from my narrative.

To use: Ctrl+F the word, look for it in your manuscript, delete/edit/revise/leave alone as necessary. These words are (obviously) necessary sometimes, but just not ever in the amount I like to use them.

It reminds me of the time I was slow-cooking a chicken and dumped the entire package of Montreal Chicken spice on top. That was a salty chicken.

As of March 2021:

  • So
    my nemesis
  • That is
  • Thing
    I used “thing” so much in Bolfenn that a beta reader called me out on it. What am I supposed to be, some kind of writer or something?! I’m always going to reach for the laziest word…
  • Sigh
  • Very
  • Some kind of
  • Almost
    “He almost sighed.” This phrase might also be my nemesis. Can one have two nemesis…es? Nemesi? Nemeses?

Editing

Work’s been kicking my ass lately. Okay, so it has been for most of the past twelve months now. It’s been especially kicking my ass since February.

(sigh)

Well, one of these days I’ll be a famous author and spend my days signing books and, uh, whatever else famous authors do right? Retconning shit on Twitter? Inventing backstory to questions my readers never asked? All that fun stuff.

Getting back to business, here, I thought I’d put together a guide to editing as practiced be me, a woman with little experience and questionable results. It’ll have a cool infographic though! I hear those are all the rage on the Twitter these days.

Oh, here it is.

I mean, it’s all there. Drama. Excitement. Huge space battles.

(I was thinking about Loyalty again. Sorry).

I’ll transcribe it all here as well, in case someone is using a screen reader or the image borks out!

STAGE 1: DRAFTING

You can’t edit a novel (or anything) if you don’t have a draft. Go write it.

What? You’ve written it already? It sits upon your computer in beautiful speckled glory? Continue to stage 2.

STAGE 2: WAITING

If you’re following along with the pictures, you’ll notice that our eggs have turned into a beautiful chrysalis, skipping the caterpillar stage entirely.

That is because after writing a draft, you must wait as long as you can bear (weeks or months, preferably) before you open it again.

Only then can your draft become a caterpillar, with apologies to Mother Nature.

STAGE 3: CATERPILLAR

Okay. You have a draft. You’ve forgotten everything you loved (and hated) about it. It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s…

Crawling around on a dozen creepy little legs and staring at you with six tiny stemmata*!

Now begins the fun. Open up that bad boy and read it. Don’t change anything! Don’t edit! If you must, make notes as you go, but try to just soak it in, beginning-to-end.
*stemmata are caterpillar eyes! Your Fun Fact for the day

STAGE 4: PEN-TO-PAPER

You’ve made a draft, you have a solid understanding of how it flows and where the weak points are.

Open the file, save a fresh copy (always save a new copy for a new draft! You might change your mind about edits later) and start from the first line, first word.

As you go, make wording and phrasing changes, copy-edits, grammar–everything you see!

The result of this will be…

STAGE 5: CLEAN COPY

Uh-oh, back to the chrysalis!

Give yourself a week off to let the changes you’ve just made settle. Once they’re not keeping you awake at night anymore, go back to your clean copy and give it another once-over. This time, make notes about structural problems: missing scenes, scenes which don’t flow well, characters acting in ways which are convenient for the plot but not necessarily their story arc. Go back, save another copy, and fix these problems too.

STAGE 6: ALPHA/BETA READERS

You now have a clean draft with few structural errors which you’ve read at least twice completely. It’s time to…

Get Outside Feedback.

Doesn’t have to be that scary, though. Give it to a trusted friend, preferably one who is also a writer or avid reader. Ask for their feedback, plot points, thoughts on characterization–whatever they’re willing to give.

All feedback is good feedback. Make that your mantra as you sit there in anxiety, waiting for a response.

STAGE 7: RINSE AND REPEAT

Keep going.

Listen to feedback and incorporate it if you feel it is useful. All feedback is good feedback, but it’s your novel.

Read and re-read and keep making changes if you feel they are useful.

Try reading passages aloud to see how they flow: something which reads awkwardly aloud will sound awkward in your reader’s head, too.

STAGE 8: SHIP IT!

You’re done!

You’ve copy-edited, read aloud, fixed structural problems, solicited feedback from friends, and read the manuscript so many times you’re starting to loathe the thing.

What you do next is up to you. Put it up on Wattpad? Publish on Amazon or IngramSpark? Start querying? The world is your oyster: you wrote a novel!

hello

Planning to use this as a sort of progress tracker for my writing/editing/publishing.

So the best way to do that is record where I am right now!

  1. Bolfenn: beta reading
  2. Into the Grey: drafting, 10k/100k target words
  3. Bootstrap_: alpha reading; ending needs significant re-write
  4. Loyalty: alpha reading
  5. Sacrifice: revising & adding scenes

Then there’s the “someday” projects which are not being actively worked on:

  1. Lesbian Island: needs a from-the-ground-up rewrite
  2. Sad Valkyrie: also needs a from-the-ground-up rewrite
  3. That Sequel to Bolfenn that Maria wants: outlining, 2k/100k words