Let’s Get Technical!

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Photo by FirmBee at Pixabay

Technology has changed the way people write and share and publish books. In the five years I’ve been writing, I’ve found various ways to organise and improve my writing skills. Also, it’s really fun and gives me a creative break while still being productive with my writing.

Ok, let’s get the boring disclaimer out of the way. I am NOT promoting these apps or software for any personal gain. I’m offering my personal take on how the software helps me make writing easier and more accessible. Whether the paid or free version, I use all the apps below. Also, I use Windows and Android, so any iPhone versions may vary. I can’t possibly cover all the things I use within the software, but I’ll try to point out the main benefits.

Let’s start with the stuff that’s free or offers a great basic package.

WordPress

I thought it best to start with the software you’re using to view this post. Here’s my WP page I Love Fantasy Novels. And that’s based on the free version. 

  • Great for following writing blogs.
  • The free version includes a ton of customisable themes for a blog if you like ranting just as I do.
  • Add backgrounds and personalise your icon. I strongly recommend using copyright-free images like from Pixabay, Pexels, or Unsplash to name a few. I love Deviantart, but not all the images are usable.  
  • You can make pages that aren’t available front eh main menu for special people to check out your WIP page with images and synopses. I have some, but only people with the link can view it so there are no spoilers for potential readers.
  • With the paid version, you can customize your web address and get a whole host of themes for a personalised layout. I know I’ll but upgrading when I can justify it. 
  • You can add contributors so others can share their thoughts on writing via your blog to create a great community.  
  • You can connect to your other accounts like Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, and even connect your Google photos for quick access to your images when posting.

Google Drive

OMG. I loooove Gdrive. Let me count the ways…

  • Synchronising across devices. 
  • 15gb of storage on the free version.
  • Editing documents online, including Word documents.
  • Link your account with multiple websites so you don’t have to remember a ton of usernames and passwords.
  • You can share documents for viewing, commenting or editing so others can give you critiques of your work.
  • You can link your own Google accounts so you don’t have to switch from one to the other.
  • If you use Chrome as your browser, you can make files available offline for editing on the go. 
  • Built-in spellcheck or you can use add-ons such as Grammarly. More on that in a moment.
  • You can upgrade for more storage or to the GSuite. I use GSuite at work, and it includes things like Google Meet’s full package, personalised email addresses and other great apps for business use which may come in handy for promotion and marketing.
  • You can sync all your photos to it, or send saved images directly to your Google Photos from your phone.

Grammarly

Right now, I use the free version, but I intend to upgrade for the creative language suggestions at some point. Even the basic version is more advanced than Word’s editor, so it’s worth downloading. 

  • Works with Word and Chrome as an add-on, and also as a standalone app.
  • Great for picking out phrases and those pesky words like there, their and they’re. I completely admit I get caught out by those when I’m concentrating on my creative side as opposed to my grammar side. They don’t mix. 
  • It has various versions of spellcheck based on the style and register you’re going for.
  • It’s easy to edit with highlighted words and phrases based on colours as well as a personalised dictionary attached to all apps you connect your Grammarly login to.

Pro Writing Aid

Pro Writing Aid isn’t unlike Grammarly, but the pro version is compatible with Word, Chrome, and Scrivener, and many more. I use the free version on Chrome because it offers just a smidge more that the free version of Grammarly.

  • Checks SpaG errors in Chrome.
  • Works with any text input and Gdocs.
  • Has some stylistic suggestions and explains why it’s a better option.
  • Paid version works with a whole host of apps and software.

Discord

I’m still working on this from a writing perspective, but its free version is really versatile. I love it. Download it here for free.

  • Create chat groups to discuss whatever you want, including writing.
  • Create channels to keep conversations organised.
  • Invite users from all over the world and add moderators as your group grows.
  • It has both group and private messaging as well as video and voice calls.
  • There are amazing add-ons called bots. I have RYTHM where anyone can add music links or playlists and it plays like a radio station for everyone who connects to it. 

Natural Reader

This text to speech software has both an online version, a free desktop and paid version. I use the basic, free version. Here’s the link.

  • You can choose from American, British, male, female just in the basic version.
  • Free Chrome add-on.
  • Talkback is really good, but in the free version, you have to copy anything you want read aloud into its own software or use it through Chrome. If you use GDocs, then it’s not an issue. 
  • The paid version has plug-ins for Word along with various other software.
  • You can sample some of the premium voices for a limited time each day. This is great for short pieces of writing.

Microsoft OneNotes

This is either a free app, or slightly better version with Office 365, which I’ll discuss below. I find this great for brainbursts and jotting down thoughts quickly.

  • Quick notes, thoughts, or links on your phone or PC/laptop anywhere, anytime.
  • You can print to OneNotes the same way you can a PDF. Sometimes the format is different, but sometimes it works better depending on what you want it for. 
  • You can create tabs, each with multiple pages so you can organise your thoughts and ideas in categories or novels. Whatever works for you.

Now for the stuff I subscribe to.

Microsoft 365 (Previously Office 365)

I pay for an annual subscription to the personal version which varies depending on the country. But I feel like it’s worth it. There is a free trial, but for ongoing use, you have to pay.

  • 1tb of synchronisable (not a word but it should be) storage and online access.
  • The full Office package with Word, Excel, OneNotes upgrade etc.
  • Sharing with other users.
  • Great formatting options.
  • Word has its own tts option, but it takes a while to get used to. Personally, I quite like it and got used to it just fine.

Scrivener

Same as Office 365, you get a free trial before shelling out for the full package. I’ve found it immensely helpful in organising my writing. Also, I haven’t even used all the features properly yet so this is just what I use so far. Check out their site for more info.

  • You can create separate collections for each novel or series.
  • You can organise folders for novels, versions, chapters etc.
  • You want to add feedback from your critters, you can do that in another folder.
  • There are character and worldbuilding templates.
  • It has an ebook maker so you get an idea of what an actual book will look like.
  • It has a built-in editor.
  • An iPhone user told me she can access her Scrivener on her phone, but there are ways to access the individual pages via Android if you have a txt editor on your phone. Or make the notes in a note app like OneNotes, and copy them when you’re on your laptop or PC.
  • You can add general or detailed outlines and synopses for your novel as well as individual chapters.
  • You can organise chapters or scenes with colour codes for different POVs or locations or whatever else you want to file them as. 
  • Mark things “To Do”, “Done” etc to help with productivity.

Critique Circle

CC is an amazing writing website where people can share and critique one another’s work either with a free or premium account. I’ve learnt a lot from feedback as well as giving it, and even though I was terrified when I first shared, I found people were pretty nice, bar a few grumpypants. Click here for the site and here for my profile.

  • Everyone can share and crit in the public queue with a free account. 
  • Stories are organised by genre and can have a subgenre so it’s easy to find stories you’re more likely to enjoy.
  • The credit system is great in my opinion. You get credits for each story based on the length.
  • There is a weekly cycle in the public queue to make way for new submissions every week. 
  • With a premium version, you can make a private group and invite the critters you think will bring out the best in your work.
  • There are public and private discussion areas where you can share thoughts on writing, ask for feedback on short snippets or poems, and ask other writers about anything that will help with your writing from life experiences, writing advice or brainstorming. 
  • You can organise your stories by novels so people can jump easily between chapters. You can even add outlining info and character descriptions.

We’re in the 21st century people. This is digital evolution.

I Dare You!

Warning: Graphic images of adult content.

How many ways can you be daring in your writing? 

It’s all about showing the most vulnerable side of your characters, which might represent your most vulnerable side, too. No matter your experience, there are certain emotions that can push our writing to its limits. 

There are many events in a book that can make readers uncomfortable, angry, or thrilled for your characters. I’d call any of them a compliment if that was your intention. I’ve read many a torture scene that grossed me out (it’s only fiction) or a sex scene that had me raising my eyebrow or an emotionally tragic scene that brought a tear to my eye.

Death.

Sex.

Insanity.

Abuse.

I’ve read a few pieces inspired by extreme emotions or devastating events. They mean so much more when they come from a place of true emotion, good or bad. This is what connects me to a story and what I hope connects readers to mine. I’ve had amazing responses from my crit buddies to the emotions I’ve poured into my work. 

Don’t fear that vulnerability. Own it and write your heart out. Trust me, it feels amazingly empowering.

Show your crazy. 🤪

Not My Thing!

Photo by Annie Sprat

This is a little bit of rant here. But I hope you see my point that critiquing work in a writing group isn’t just about sharing an opinion, it’s about encouraging writers and bringing out the best in their work. Critique honestly and constructively. Writers join these groups to share and grow, not to be discouraged or insulted.  

Last post, Brainstorming, was about the positive side of sharing your work with writing buddies. But there are downsides. 

I’ve had many a critique where my writing buddies have pointed out issues. That’s exactly why I share my work there so I can get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. It’s what writers do to improve and get support as they go. 

I’ve also critiqued many stories that I wouldn’t have critiqued if it weren’t for knowing the writer or returning a favour. I enjoy critiquing these stories because it forces me to think outside my usual wheelhouse. But if I don’t feel like I can adapt to offer constructive thoughts, then I’ll send a message to explain.

Something that bothers me both personally and empathetically is when critters say “This isn’t my thing,” or “I’m not a fan of this genre…blah, blah, blah,” but they feel like they should give you their biased thoughts anyway. I’m sure they have good intentions, but more often than not, they just waste their time, and yours. 

Why critique something that isn’t your thing? 

Many are returning a favour or welcoming newcomers to the group. It’s great to reach out in this sense. But it’s also better to say “I read part of your story, and while it’s well-written, it’s just not my thing, so I don’t feel like I can give you a realistic critique based on the target audience.” The number of times I wish people would have said this rather than critiquing something they just aren’t into and giving and being unnecessarily negative.

Someone outright insulted a fellow writing buddy’s work because her amazingly emotional and personal short story wasn’t their thing. They said they hated it. Why do that to an aspiring writer? This was beyond wrong for that person (not returning a critique or following up any previous correspondents whatsoever) to insult her work for no reason at all. The same critter actually did something similar with my work only a month or so before, but I saw their negative critique for what it was, lording some sense of experience over me since they thought I was new to the site. I was a returning member and more than familiar with his type. 

Okay, so this was a pretty nasty experience. Many of the “Not my thing,” people aren’t this bad. They’re just not useful. Would you ask a sci-fi fan to read your historical fiction novel if they weren’t open to it? Or a romance fan to read a war story? Maybe they choose to read it with an open mind and actually enjoy it as I have. If not, you’re just wasting your time and the writer’s while risking insulting others. 

It’s great to look for other genres to critique beyond your favourite or what you write. Just remember that the writer has a particular target audience in mind. Mystery fans, fantasy fans, teens, middle grade, adults. If you don’t feel like you fit into that group or can’t adapt to that group, then you should seriously consider what you can offer the writer in their journey to being published. Because they are still on that journey.

I’ve chosen my critters carefully for my private group where only they can see my work. I feel strongly that each one offers many benefits in their feedback on my work and appreciates my writing and story as well as my personal hopes for it in the future.  

It’s okay to say “It’s not my thing so I’m not going to critique your story”.

Balancing Act!!!

brown wooden framed candle holder on top of books
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Like everything in life, balance is key. But it’s also subjective, so finding a balance between your own writing and critiquing others’ can be a case of trial and error.

I’m on an online critiquing website, one I’ve had some ups and downs on but that I’ve also learned a lot from and refuse to let the bad outweigh the good because I misjudged things. There was a time early last year where I overstretched myself with other people’s work and kind of lost my own. 

It’s okay to spend time reading and critiquing other stories if you need a break from your own work or just want some inspiration to help kickstart your imagination. But when it gets in the way of your writing, you have to ask yourself if this is worth it. Critting only works when both parties take a genuine interest in one another’s work. I admit I’m a slow reader at the best of times, but critiquing also takes time because I want to be throrough.

Sure, it’s hard to have to let people down, but you’re not doing them any favours by forcing critiques out of yourself when part of you might resent the time you spend on it. Explain it, and they’ll understand. I’ve had it done to me where people just can’t keep up. I was disappointed, but at the same time, I completely understood. I wouldn’t want people resenting my work because they don’t have time for their own.

I had a crazy job until last June, and although I wasn’t critting then, I had been when I started and realised it was just too much. I should have focussed on my work then worked on other people’s once I was ready to share mine.

This time, I’m being realistic with the balance and have a less demanding job that allows me time to write and critique without me feeling pressured. In fact, I could probably do more, but I want to keep a nice balance in case I get busy again. I have other hobbies too, and I want time for it all.

Account for those busier times in life or work. Sometimes we can plan around them, but sometimes, things just spring up that we’re not prepared for. Don’t fill too much of your free time with critiquing because if you lose that time, you’ll just end up using your writing time. We all get busy and we all understand when things need to take a backseat. 

Balance is key to everything, even writing. Find your balance and don’t let the pressure get to you. Writing should be fun and passionate and imaginative, not a chore to appease others out of obligation. If they’re good crit buddies, then they’ll understand and wait for you.

Criticism vs Critique!

MacBook Pro near white open book
Photo by Nick Morrison

If you’ve shared your writing online, you’ll know that tense feeling you get the moment you click “submit” or the morning your work is about to go up for review on an automatic site. It’s scary and brave and exhilarating and nerve wracking all at the same time.

Then you get that first critique. And cry. Hah, maybe that’s just me. I’m kidding. 

End of last year and throughout most of this year, I was losing more and more confidence with my work. For many reasons, I felt demeaned and not good enough. When I shared my work on a writing site last December, it was a hard hit. Not because the comments were particularly bad, but because they looked a lot like the critiques I’d received ten months earlier. I felt like nothing had changed in my work. I thought I’d failed at improving.

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But that wasn’t the case. At least I realise that now. I was focussing on the negative critiques, the ones that spouted more criticism than constructive suggestions. Now, when I look back at the comments, I see them for what they are. Criticism, not critiques. 

Critique should of course point out issues like obscure wording, character inconsistencies, plot holes etc. But they should also encourage writers to play on their strengths while working on their weaknesses. It’s like writing therapy. 

I think every critter should ask themselves what does this person want their from work and how can I help them achieve it? If they don’t think they can offer suggestions suitable for that writer, then just don’t crit. It’s as simple as that.

We are not all writing the same novel to the same format, or any format for that matter. Rules are only made to be broken if you know why you’re breaking them. Same goes for critting. 

A writer chooses to write that story or that style for a reason. So respect it. Nurture it if it’s not growing so well. Guide it until it blossoms and becomes a publishable flower of beauty. Roses, sunflowers, lilies, geraniums. They’re not all the same, but they’re all just as beautiful to those who love the romance in a rose, the happiness of sunflowers, the sad beauty in a lily, and the enduring strength of a geranium.

So don’t rip flowers from their roots just because you don’t like them.

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