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Writing Apps & Tools for The Techy Novelist

Once upon a time, a typewriter and a notepad were all you needed to get started on The Great American Novel. Nowadays, there are approximately one zillion apps and tools that will help you plan, write, sync, back up, proofread, and assess your novel. Here are a few of my favorites.

Planning Your Novel:

SimpleMind and MindBoard  (both free, available for Android)

There are lots of great mind mapping apps out there. I tested out SimpleMind, which lets you make colorful mind maps, and MindBoard, which lets you draw freehand diagrams. I’ll probably use SimpleMind for more in-depth brainstorming sessions, since it lets users add typed notes to the mind map “bubbles” and it keeps complex maps relatively neat. On the other hand, MindBoard seems better for simple mindmaps or diagrams that need to be hand-drawn.

There are also dozens of iOS mind mapping apps out there, including: iMindQ Lite (free), Popplet ($4.99), MindNode ($9.99).

Evernote (free, available for iOS, Android, and Mac and Windows computers)

If you’re writing something that requires a lot of research or worldbuilding, Evernote is ideal for collecting your reference materials and thoughts. You can drop images, links, articles, photos, and both handwritten and typed notes into Evernote, so that all of your information is in one place. The app syncs across all of your devices, so you can add and refer to your notes anytime. Evernote is also a great place to collect inspiration and story ideas.

Backing Up Your Work:

Google Docs (free, available for iOS, Android, and in-browser use)

Google Docs is a lifesaver if, like me, you switch between devices often. Google Docs lives in the cloud and you can open documents on any device anywhere with an internet connection and keep writing wherever you left off.

It’s also a good service to use if you want to make sure your writing is on the cloud, and not on a computer that you might be about to spill hot coffee on and ruin. (Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.) Of course, the functionality isn’t as complex as Word’s—you won’t be able to use track changes, for example. If you collaborate with other writers, Google Docs is a great way to share and edit documents together.

Google Docs is free, and you can export your documents as .docx files and modify them in Word if you need to. My only complaint about Google Docs for creative writing is that I’ve had lag issues scrolling through larger documents (10,000 words and up) on both my old iPhone 4S and my Samsung Galaxy S5. Different phones might handle it better, but it’s worth keeping in mind—if you’re writing a novel on your phone using Google Docs, you might consider splitting your documents up by chapter or section of your book to avoid annoying lag time.

Dropbox (free, available for iOS, Android, and both Windows and Mac computers)

If you’re just worried about backing up your files, Dropbox is a great cloud storage solution. You can download it onto your phone, computer, or tablet, and easily store and share files. Perfect for making sure you have a backup of your novel!

A word of caution: I’ve found that Dropbox can be a little finicky in collaborative settings. I try to use it for sharing and storing files only, rather than for long-term projects where a team of people are editing the same files multiple times.

JotterPad (free, available for Android), Draft (free, available for Android), and Write ($1.99, available for iOS and Mac computers)

JotterPad is a plain text word processor that’s designed for creative writing. I like its clean interface and the handy word count at the top navigation ribbon. Also, it integrates with Dropbox, so you can modify documents that are in the cloud. Draft also syncs with Dropbox and has a handy word counter at the top of the writing screen. IPhone users can check out Write, a writing app with similar features. As an added bonus for especially tech-savvy writers, all three apps offer markdown support, which could come in handy if you’re also a blogger.

For When You Need a Writing Boost:

Hemingway App (free, available for in-browser use)

Do you struggle with excessive adverb use? Do you write overly complex sentences? Try out Hemingway App, which will highlight adverbs (so you can replace them with strong verbs), flag difficult sentences (so you can simplify them), and note passive voice (so you can pump up the action.)

Writing Aid ($0.99, available for iOS)

This is basically an intelligent dictionary that’s more elegant than ad-loaded free dictionary apps. Writing Aid is designed to ward off writers block caused by not being able to think of the right word. The app features a word of the day widget designed to expand your vocabulary, plus it helps you find synonyms and lets you type in a phrase to find a more exact word.

What do you think of these apps? What are your favorite writing apps? Also, stay tuned for part two of our apps for writers series, which will focus on apps to help you defeat writers block and stay inspired.

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Christine Barcellona

Editor / I blog and edit for Swoon Reads, plus I'm the editor for our paperback line, Square Fish. Find ...

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