Wednesday, July 14, 2010

WiP Wednesday: The Right Tools for the Job


I just got my home pc overhauled, got rid of my crappy Vista for Windows 7 and finally got a home copy of Microsoft Office 2007. My laptop is now a lean, mean, manuscript writing machine. It runs faster, jumps higher, and can bench-press 550... Okay, maybe that last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm excited. I don't know how I survived all these years without Word, how much time I wasted during my lunch breaks at work, reformatting and fixing my headers and page breaks, and emailing agents. It was a nightmare.

Which just shows to go ya—it always helps to have the right tools for the job. That's what my southern, retired Army Sergeant daddy always says, and if you're not going to listen to an ex-sergeant, who are you gonna listen to?

Now that I have Word, I'm wondering if there aren't some other tools I've overlooked or didn't feel like I needed. I mean, I've got a word processor and a notebook and pen. What else do I need?

Now that I have Excel, I'm planning on writing out character sheets to keep track of physical features of the characters in my WiP. Since I've got a lot of pseudo-science steam-punk type inventions, I may need another spreadsheet to keep track of inventions and the limitations of the power my sorcerer characters can access. I'm sure I could think of a million different things to keep track of on a spreadsheet, but only when I'm procrastinating. ;)

Every so often I feel the need to use a mind-mapping software, like FreeMind, which is a free download, and is pretty user friendly. I use this when I'm stumped about the progression of details of a scene, particularly action scenes where I'm not sure of sequences of events, or scenes where I need to know the order of information that is to be revealed. Sometimes I just want to write out my scene-goals, and it helps to do this on the computer rather than in a notebook because I can switch between windows pretty easily.

Another tool I use when I need to do some research is Google Scholar—which can sometimes turn out to be more frustrating than helpful if it directs you a subscription only site, and you can't access the article for free. I'm also lucky enough to have access to an online article site called JSTOR both at work and at my nearby alma mater. Though some people say, write first, research later for the details, my brain just won't work like that. I need to know the settings to properly immerse my MC and others in it. Not to mention, research helps get my creative juices flowing, and sometimes even helps me figure out plot details.

Right now I'm researching Delphi, Greece as a setting, and also rural areas of both Massachusetts and Mississippi. I like to use Google Maps for that and look at the satellite imagery as well as street views where they're available. Then there's the DaylightMap, which is useful if your characters teleport across the globe and you need to know what time it is in Turkey when they just left the southeastern US.

Do you have any favorite tools besides good old paper and ink? I'd love to hear about it!

15 comments:

Krispy said...

I always think about trying FreeMind, but I haven't yet. Seems like a fun tool.

DaylightMap looks cool! Definitely useful, even for non-writing related things.

Wikipedia is on my list, but it also turns into a massive time-suck for me.

JEM said...

"pseudo-science steam-punk type inventions"

I MUST READ THIS NOW.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Thanks for the wonderful tips of where to go for help. I use Google a lot for research. Sometimes I've found research answers on youtube of all places. You never know. ;)

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, I'm so impressed. I'm a research after kindof person, but these are great tips. You are so organized!

You more than listed ones I use. :) Well, maybe hardback books. But that's not exactly high tech.

Icy Roses said...

Wikipedia is a must-have. How would research go on without it? I still have Microsoft Office 2000, but that is because I am a conservative curmudgeon when it comes to technology. 2007 confuses me and it bothers me that the default font setting is Calibri size 11 instead of Times New Roman size 12. I have a strange obsession with fonts.

Jade said...

Google earth, without a doubt. It made setting Eternally Yours in York so much easier. The street view function is the next best thing to being there yourself.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is an awesome post, Tere! I've never heard of FreeMind - must check it out! :-)

Susan R. Mills said...

I love Google Earth. When I'm not feeling into my characters, I google the town my story is set in, and it gets me right back into the tale. In fact, I drive around town with Google Earth for too long sometimes, and all of a sudden, my writing time is gone.

Candyland said...

Oh my love for the online dictionary knows no boundaries!!! I can give you a synonym for love in three different languages:)

Theresa Milstein said...

You're better at utilizing tools than me. I just have my manuscript which I type directly in a Word document. If I have ideas I don't want to forget, I open up a separate file to jot notes.

If I wrote like J.K. Rowling, I'd have to have a more effective way to keep track of everything.

salarsenッ said...

Nice post. Came over from Shannon's blog. I hadn't heard of Freemind. I'll check it out. Thank you.

Melissa Gill said...

I have to try this free mind thing ASAP. That sounds like fun. I use Microsoft Paint to make maps, I'm sure there are better programs, but it's free and that's the only thing in my budget.

T. Anne said...

I haven't heard of these great tools. Thanx for introducing me!!!

Jen said...

This was such an awesome post... my thesaurus is always nearby. With a monster of a book I tend to repeat a lot of words so it's nice to look back and see if I've missed anything to swtich the word out with!!

Margo Berendsen said...

This is some useful and fun information! I'll have to try that mind mapping software. Great idea!