Tools of the trade – digital

It’s the third point of the triangle: my favorite purely-digital writing tools. Once again there’s a selection, depending on what part of the process I’m in. I don’t use all of these every single day – except maybe Microsoft Word – but they all tend to play a role in every writing project.

Microsoft Word – Yeah, I know, but first, most places want you to submit as a Word document, and second, I’m not going to talk about the typing aspect. While it’s useful, and my comfort my word processor, lately I’ve been utilizing the “Read Aloud” feature.

You can adjust the reading speed, but I keep it a little slow and jerky because I’m not really listening to get the meaning of what I’m writing. I use it to proofread, because Read Aloud won’t add extra words in if I’ve missed them, won’t skip over the extra words I’ve put there, and will pronounce whatever word I’ve written instead of the one I think I’ve written. Proofreading your own work is hard, but listening to a semi-robotic voice cover exactly what’s on the page helps.

Scrivener – I’m not as die-hard a Scrivener fan as some of my friends, but I’ve been playing around with it more since the update earlier this year. Scrivener lets you view things as notecards (a plus for me, considering my analog tool preference), move them around, and get an overview more easily than Word. You can choose how closely to zoom in on your work and when to pull back to see how it all fits together.

If you just jump in without watching the tutorial, you’ll probably be lost and think it’s pointless. It might not work for your writing style anyway even after you do watch the tutorial, but there are a lot of steps and processes built in to Scrivener that make it … Scrivener. Going through the tutorial means knowing all of the possibilities, and you might stumble across a different way of thinking about your writing.

Pro Writing Aid – A self-publishing friend of mine recommended Pro Writing Aid because it, like Scrivener, gives you a different way of looking at your work. You can try it out for free on the website with a small sample and play around with the various reports it offers. For me, Pro Writing Aid works best when I’ve got the writing as strong as I can, so it comes near the end of the process – I haven’t tried composing in the program, but just importing once it’s fairly polished.

All the reports and suggestions can be overwhelming, so it’s recommended to work on small sections at a time, anyway. It helps give an overview of your writing weaknesses and crutches, beyond “just” grammar and usage.

Dragon (formerly Dragon Naturally Speaking) – Whenever I mention this one, I get hit with “Oh, I could never dictate my writing!” I mean, not with that attitude …

There’s a learning curve. Any new process or technology has a learning curve. I first downloaded Dragon in December 2020 to give my hands a break because, for some reason, I decided to completely NaNoWriMo (50,000 words) in two days. Ow. So I looked into various dictation tools I already owned, and then went with Dragon because it’s not an add-on – it’s all they do.

And yes, you start off slow and feeling kind of silly. Yes, you have to train yourself to add in punctuation. But again, Dragon offers something that typing doesn’t, the way different programs have their own affordances and limitations. I like being able to dictate when my hands feel like they need a break, and I’ve put enough time into it that I can switch back and forth, depending on how I want to write that way. You absolutely can dictate your writing, if you decide it’s worth the time and effort.

What other digital writing tools do you use? Is there anything else I should try?

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