10 Top-Secret Author Must-Haves

So over the years I’ve been exposed to quite a few programs and websites, all that claim to help authors write better, faster, easier – whatever. Some of them work, some of them don’t. I’ve created a list of some of the programs I just wouldn’t be able to live without.

The links to all these amazing must-haves are at the end of the list.


1) Scrivner

The Awesomeness that is Scrivner
The Awesomeness that is Scrivner

Whether it’s a novella, a screenplay or an epic seven-book fantasy series, Scrivner is the best of the best.

Still using Microsoft Word? Shame.

Dare I ask, Notepad? May the force be with you.

Scrivner was designed with authors in mind, and as such, it beats any word-processing software on the market. It makes it super-easy to arrange things like research, drafts, front-matter, character charts and just about anything else you need to write that 1000-page grimoire about life on Xeta-Pi 45.

At first, I wasn’t that convinced. I’m a total folder junky when it comes to organising stuff, so I thought keeping the research and character charts for my trilogy “Corrupted SUN Script” would be a breeze. But then Scrivner came along and showed me just how puny my folder system was compared to the wonderland of Scrivner’s collections, folders and tags system.

I could dedicate an entire blog post just to Scrivner, so I’m simply going to leave you with the absolute highlights, but just know this, these items are just the cherry on a very large, very sweet, massive ice-cream. Or cake. Mmmmm…

  • Scenes can be tagged by character POV, chapter, whatever!
  • Distraction-free writing mode. Man, does this get you in the zone.
  • Collections can be used to temporarily group scenes according to character POV, or anything else you please.
  • Scrivner compiles directly into formats like Kindle, E-Book, Mobi, PDF & Word.
  • Has awesome tools like name generation and thesaurus/dictionary lookups.
  • Word count for each session (independent of which chapter/scene you’re working on).
  • Set goal word counts and see how you’re faring with a simple keyboard shortcut.

So if you’re looking for something to make your writing life a whole lot easier, and stress free, get Scrivner. Seriously. It’s amazing.


2) ProWriting Aid

ProWriting Aid
Write better

This is on the list because it’s free, and I love free stuff. I don’t know an author (except those rare, best-seller jobbies), that don’t love free stuff.

ProWriting Aid does amazing things for your writing. You simply register and chuck your chapter into the grinding machine. What comes out the other end? Some surprisingly succinct suggestions for your writing.

Here’s some of what ProWriting Aid checks and gives you suggestions on:

  • Spelling mistakes,
  • Overused words (I never knew how fond I was of the word “nearly” until I used this program),
  • Cliches and redundancies (because we almost never realise we’re using them in the first place),
  • Passive & hidden words (this one’s really amazing!),
  • Sticky sentences (don’t know what this? Neither did I. Lists sentences that use too-common words, slowing readers down),
  • Dialogue tags (overuse of ‘she shouted’, ‘he exclaimed’, ‘she hissed’… etc.).

If you’re really keen on your writing, and want some ‘editor-style’ feebdack without shelling out the bucks for a warm, gooey human, then this is the program for you.


3) Hootsuite

Social Media made easy

Ah, social media. The time-sucking, soul-banishing thing that is social media. As a modern author, (traditional or indie), you just cannot expect to sell books or create a fandom without using social media. It’s there. It’s enormous. But it’s just so damn time-consuming! I’d rather be… well… writing! Editing! Re-writing!

Hootsuite solves a massive 80% of the time-suck that’s social media. Here’s how:

  • Schedule tweets, facebook posts, google posts and linkedin updates with one platform.
  • Add special tweeps to lists to filter out their awesomeness from the random chaos that is the rest of Twitter.
  • Keep track of who mentioned you, and schedule your replies to avoid spamming.
  • Only have one hour on a saturday? That’s all you’ll need from now on.
  • Set the times you want to tweet to ensure you’re hitting the social media sweet spot.
  • Spammers? Ha! Thing of the past.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a free version? Not? Oh. There’s a free version.

4) Unfollowers

More social media goodness

Yes, we’re still with social media, simply because it’s that important. Now, something Hootsuite didn’t do, which was taking another huge chunk of time away from my darlings, was helping me keep my following/followers in check. 

Let’s face it, not everyone follows you back, probably because they didn’t realise how awesome you are. Maybe they just didn’t get the joke on your bio, or maybe they don’t like your profile pic. Whatever. Point is, you need to know, at a glance, who’s following you back, and who should get the boot.

Amongst other things, here’s a quick list of what Unfollowers (effortlessly) allows you to do.

  • Lists exactly who’s not following you back,
  • Shows your fans,
  • Makes it easy to ‘copy followers’,
  • Auto-thank new followers.

Oh, did I mention it’s free? Sheesh, I keep forgetting… this one’s free, too.


5) Feedly

Read everything, one time
Read everything, one time

Ah, the great wonder (time-sucking black-hole) that is the internet. Oh, the hours one can spend on Sciencedump. No, Youtube. No, Facebook. Aaargh, Twitter!

And breathe. There’s an easier, kind-of distraction free way of wading through the mire that is the internet. As authors (and human beings), we need to keep a constant flow of information heading our way. But who has the time to labouriously go through each of our favourite blog sites to see what’s hip and happening. Sure, you can subscribe. But if your inbox looks anything like mine, it’s not exactly a fool-proof plan.

So what’s the best way to get all the blog posts, interesting articles and news alerts that you need to survive delivered to you? And delivered in a way that makes it a breeze to read and share? Feedly! (free).

  • Get all your favourite blog posts delivered in a stream.
  • Remove images, so you can quickly scan through the headlines of your favourite sites’ posts.
  • Use Hootsuite to schedule re-posting gems.
  • Discover new, even more exciting blogs!

It’s the most efficient way to stay on track with current events, without zoning out for seven hours watching cat videos on Youtube.


5) Scribophile

Critiques, friends, awesomeness
Critiques, friends, awesomeness

Ah. Now here’s a good one. So, you have a gazillion friends, yeah? Like, thirteen-thousand second-cousins that can give you concise, constructive criticism on your next best-seller?

Not? Oh. Me too.

So, if you’re an introvert like me and can count the number of people you know by their first names on the same hand you nearly amputated in that mincing machine last year, then you’re going to need to some help critiquing your drafts.

And since people you walk up to in the street often scuttle away looking very nervous when you try and bash them over the head with your 500-page manuscript, you’ll need to reach out. A lot.

Scribophile does this:

  • It’s a network of authors and readers that critique each other’s work.
  • You build karma points by critiquing other drafts, and can then post your own work.
  • There are hordes of groups and forums, so you’ll even find a place for your historical-erotic-horror fiction work.
  • Get inline critiques, so you get real-time feedback on what goes through a reader’s mind when he reads your work.
  • Make friends, meet fans, and see the start of something wonderful, every day, every time.

And for those socialite flutterers amongst you, no one can pass up unbiased critiques.


7) Focus @ Will

focus at will
Get in the zone, at will

Barking dogs? Demanding cats? A goldfish that stares at you through his fishbowl like he’s plotting to return in his next lifetime as an alien life force and laser-beam the crap out of you? Really? Me too.

So, if you struggle to ‘get in the zone‘ like I do, this is a deal clincher. Before I go any further, let me just mention: it’s free. There, I said it.

This techy online app has some serious science behind it. It actively gets your brain into the sweet spot zone for focus and concentration.

  • An hour long session of ‘in the zone’ bliss.
  • Different styles of music, from techno beats to baroque piano, just to mix it up a little.
  • Allows you to focus on what you’re doing, while blocking out the external (and internal) noise of the world.
  • For extra effectiveness, use headphones.

P.S. Don’t forget to feed the goldfish. No, really, you don’t want to forget to feed him.

8) Toggl

Time tracking made easy
Time tracking made easy

So you might think that you’ve spent a lot of time writing your manuscript. But just how much? Ten hours (what’s this, a poem?), forty hours (short story, maybe?), seventeen-thousand gazillion hours (epic fantasy).

But in actual fact, you don’t know. You can only guestimate. And trust me, when you actually keep track of how much time you spend on your writing, you’ll become and even better advocate of your work. Because dammit, you spent (insert hours here) writing this, it’s damn well good, and you should bloody well read it. *clears throat*

Toggl is:

  • A way to keep track of your writing hours
  • Helps you gain perspective
  • Can be used with other things, like work
  • Printable reports
  • Interacts with a ton of other online productivity programs

That is, if you want to know how much time you spend on your writing. At the time of this post, I’ve spent 347 hours on book one and half of book two of the “Corrupted SUN Script“. This tally also includes marketing and research. Interesting, no?


9) Thesaurus

New, more exciting words!
New, more exciting words!

A techy way of finding better words for nearly anything. Especially if, like me, you like to use the word ‘nearly’. A lot.

  • Used in conjunction with ProWriting Aid, you can ensure your writing is not repetitive.
  • Discover new words for old faves.
  • Find different ways of describing the ordinary.
  • Displays anything from direct to arbitrary synonyms.

Warning, this can be a surprising time-suck. Like when you’re looking for another word for destroy. Seriously, try it.


10) Urban Dictionary

urban dictionary
Get the most amazical lingo

If, like me, your idea of socialising is sending out a re-tweet, then you might need some help with your characters’ lingo. You might think this is just for YA novels or some such, but Urban Dictionary can be surprisingly… descriptive.

  • Find synonyms for ordinary, boring words.
  • Get a surprisingly large dose of imaginative thinking.

I dare you to read the entire front page without cringing. I dare you.


The Links

As promised, here they are 🙂

Did I leave a tool off the list? Let me know what you’re 10 must-haves are!

Ronel van Tonder

Ronel van Tonder is a science fiction author from South Africa. Having recently completed her dark, dystopian sci-fi trilogy, The Corrupted SUN Script, she's hard at work penning a new standalone sci-fi novel, The Seventh Glitch. When she's not writing, Ronel spends her free time slaying rendered baddies in the form of robots, gangsters and aliens - with any weapon that happens to be at hand.