Writer's Notes

High-tech and Low-tech Tools: a re-post


Today’s guest post is by Christina Dalcher, a linguist and writer. She has some interesting takes on this art/craft we call writing. I’m spending some time going through her old blogs but this one was particularly interesting as just last night at dinner, I referred a writer to two of these sites. I learned of several more, too.



by  Christina Dalcher

Linguist, writer

Stephen King talks about a sort of writer’s toolbox in his book On Writing. I’ll be discussing a different set of tools on Le Blog today.


Let’s go.


The high-tech

A voice recorder
You know that iThing you carry around with you all the time? I have one, but it’s the kind that doesn’t have a phone in it. (Yes, really. There exists a Jack Reacher in a skirt and her name rhymes with mine.) Whether it’s an iThing, an iPhone, an iPod/Pad/Raq, it’s got one of those little voice memo apps on it somewhere. Sometimes I like to talk into it while I’m walking the streets of The American South and pretend I’m Woody Allen. Point? Take it along with you and use it when you get an idea.


Useful if you’ve finished your novel (AND threw it out to some beta readers, listened to your crit partners, and revised the bugger, which of course you did, right?), but also useful to get an idea of how the querying gig works, start collecting a list of literary agents, and learn a bit about the fine art of the query letter. Basic membership is free and allows you to track queries and responses for one project at a time. Premium membership ($25 annually) adds in a few goodies like statistics and response timelines, both of which come in handy if you want to waste time interpreting the data while you’re waiting for the rejections to roll in. Naturally, I have a premium membership. Thonie: I’ve used QueryTracker for years and found even the free version is easy to navigate. Using this tool can cut down the time an author spends querying agents who are not right for their work. The filters are very helpful. 


An absolute necessity if you need your work critiqued. If you don’t need your work critiqued, you’re an idiot and you should stop reading right here because a writing career isn’t for you. Scribophile has some fantastic folks on it (along with a few weirdos who enjoy lecturing), and it’s a nice way to find some writing partners whose names don’t rhyme with Mom. I like the professionalism of my Scribo pals, my Flash group, and the fact that I don’t really know any of them so if they tell me I suck, I don’t take it too hard. Basic membership is free; premium membership (which I highly recommend) costs you sixty-five smackeroos per dozen lunar cycles. That’s $65 a year.



Imagine having your entire writing desk–notes, research, media, synopses, outlines, character sketches, setting descriptions, front matter, index cards–all in ONE document on your computer. Not one folder, one document. This is an incredible piece of software with built-in goodies that you can set up in Word, but you probably never will because Word can be a pain in the ass. Yes, there’s a learning curve. There’s also a tutorial to help you climb that curve. (Think you’re too good for tutorials? Trust me. You need this one.) I drafted my first novel without Scrivener and honestly don’t know how I did it. $45 for the software package buys you your very own virtual writing studio. Buy a premium membership on Scribophile or win NaNoWriMo and you get a discount. Thonie: I purchased the Scrivener program and I must confess that I abandoned my manuscript in the middle of writing. The learning curve is steep, indeed, and I felt I couldn’t take the time to learn. Now that I’m waiting for Beta-readers to return my work, I’ll go through the tutorials again. Maybe I won’t feel the pressure to make it work.


I know very few literary agents who use this Internet-based submissions manager–they still seem to prefer cluttered inboxes–but if you write shorts or flash and you fancy getting any of your work published, you’ll need a free subscription. I’d say about 90% of the fiction markets I sub to only accept electronic submissions via Submittable. Just follow the link on their subs page and fill out the little form. While your waiting for the inevitable rejections to flood in (you will be rejected, by the way), you can track those subs or bask in your past glory.


Publishers Marketplace
This one’s really for the industry pros, but I’m including it for those writers who:

A. Want to see what’s being sold a year or two before it hits the shelves
B. Need to scope out a literary agent’s prior deals
C. Enjoy stalking editors and publishers who are about to reject your novel
D. All of the above

All that lovely information comes at a price: $25 per month or $275 per year (note the lack of a discount). Depending on your financial circs, you’ll find this cheap or expensive, and aside from interest value, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you why you need a PM membership at all. My suggestion? Buy a one-month membership when you get an offer of representation and check out the agent’s past deals. If there aren’t any, ask yourself if you really want to accept that offer.

[Note: Agent member pages are always free to view on PM. The time to read these is before you query.]


The (Submissions) Grinder
AKA “The Grinder”

If you write short-form, you need this. Why? Because if you’re anything like that rabid pack of flash fiction fiends I’ve been getting to know over the past few months, you crank out few stories a week. Sometimes one a day. And because you don’t need (in most cases) to find yourself an agent who will send your lovely writing around town, you’ll be submitting it yourself. Here’s how crazy it can get:

Let’s say you write ten stories in July. By August 1st, they’re revised and polished and ready to go out on submission. So you have a stack of ten. Which you are going to submit to a dozen, maybe more, lit mags, some of which don’t operate via Submittable, some of which do. Most of them accept simultaneous subs; a few of them accept multiple pieces in a single submission. And ALL of them want to be notified immediately if you get accepted somewhere else before they get around to rejecting you.

So you need to keep track. Sure, you can make yourself an Excel spreadsheet, but why bother? The Grinder handles all those pesky little subs for free, tracking the date you subbed, the date the nice editor people acknowledged receipt, and the date they sent you that form rejection that tasted like “Not for me, thanks, — Joe.”

Plus, you can see where you are in the response timeline, search for appropriate markets for your work (you weren’t really going to send that horror piece to a romance mag, were you?), save contest deadlines, track your income (we flash freaks get paid by the word or not at all), and what-not. And you can feel like a piece of literary crap when you see your writing pals’ names in the acceptances feed. It’s nice. And did I mention it’s free?


It does the same thing the Grinder does, only it costs $5 a month or $50 a year. Go on, sign up. You know you want to. And you can write it off on your taxes for the first few years before the IRS calls that thing you do for forty hours a week a hobby. Thonie: Haven’t used this but a writer I really respect (Brenda Bellinger) does and is successful at posting, selling her work.


The low-tech
Okay, maybe not THAT low-tech…

A notebook
I have a nice little orange one. I write ideas in it when I wake up at zero dark-thirty in the mornings.


Several pads of ruled paper
You need these to scribble stuff on. I need them to draw diagrams of crystal radio sets.


A whiteboard
Especially useful if you’re plotting a monster of a novel or anything involving time-travel. You can also write your shopping list on it. Or the number of the nearest take-away Chinese place. Thonie: Guilty as charged! I use a white board and 3X5’s on a cork bulletin board to track each scene. Maybe they will go away when I learn Scrivener.


A library card
Because you are reading stuff when you’re not writing, aren’t you? Thonie: And Kindle, Kobo, B&N, etc. e-readers. My current challenge is reading the print books I got from the Public Safety Writers’ Conference in July for reviews.


The unnecessary

Thonie: not in my book but I have to schedule the amount of time I do all of these. Otherwise they become TIME-SUCKERS.




What is this, anyway? Oh, that’s right–it’s a time-sucker.

Notice a common thread here? Look, I have a Twitter account. I have a Facebook author page (with TWELVE followers!). I spend precious little time on either of them because every minute I hang about Twitting is a minute I’m not writing. Use them, by all means (and if you ever figure out how Pinterest can help you, do let me know), but use ’em judiciously. Because I’d love to know where to read your latest work, but I really don’t care what you ate for lunch.

I mean that in a nice way.



Guest post contributed by Christina Dalcher. Christina has a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in Phonology and Phonetics. Check out more of her articles on her blog.

By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

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