Four Wonderful Tools For Writers In The Digital Era (That Aren't Word Processors)

This article, from Jeremiah Tolbert, originally appeared on his site on 5/11/09.

As a designer, I’m always stumbling across useful resources and tools online, but for whatever reason, I find fewer tools that really exist to help make writers’ lives easier.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.  It just means you have to dig a little deeper.  Today, I thought I would share some tools that can make certain aspects of the writer’s life a tad easier.

1. Dropbox

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always remember to run your backups.  With recent computer troubles, I’ve been making a much bigger effort to backing up everything of importance.  About six months ago, I started using Dropbox and I haven’t looked back.

Dropbox is an online versioning and backup system.  You install dropbox on your windows or mac computer and everything in the folder called “My Dropbox” is constantly uploaded to the server.  When you make modifications, it keeps a record of these changes and you can go to the web interface and load older versions.  Accidentally overwrite a file?  Dropbox can save your butt.  It has saved me on more than one ocassion.

Even better, Dropbox can be installed on multiple computers, keeping your dropbox folder synced up to all of the machines.  Whether you’re on your office computer or your laptop, you will have access to your files.

Finally, Dropbox users can share folders with one another.  We use this feature extensively at Escape Artists to deal with our production files, contracts, and various business documents and resources.

My biggest concern when I first started using Dropbox was that it would constantly be uploading my 50+ megabyte photoshop files, and my bandwidth would be devoured.  It actually tracks the differences, though, and only uploads the changed bits.  I’ve never noticed Dropbox being a hog of my writing.

There’s a free 2 gigabyte account, which should be more than enough to protect your writing documents.   I pay for the 50/gb a year plan for $99 per year because I truck in larger files.    Dropbox is available for Mac, PC, and Linux.

2. Evernote

I work across 3 different computers, and keeping my research notes in an easy-to-access format, while maintaining flexiblity and a variety of formats, isn’t easy.  That is, until I discovered Evernote.  What I was looking for originally was productivity software to help myself implement the GTD method.  What I found instead was a very useful program for organizing all those little bits and pieces of things that I need to access from time to time.

Evernote works on a very simple system of notebooks and notes.  You can add tags, and just about any kind of media into a note.  You can clip entire webpages into a note, or just the URL.  You can make screen captures very easily.  And then the real power is, it’s constantly backing up your notes to the server, and syncing them with all machines you run it on.  There’s a usage limit for free accounts based on data transfer, but I’ve never even gotten halfway there.  I don’t tend to use much in the way of multimedia files though.

Not only do I use Evernote for sorting and keeping track of things like research notes, storynotes, and so on–I often start writing my blogposts there.  Any kind of document where the format isn’t necessary, that I want to be able to access from anywhere.  You can even record voice notes with the iPhone app and they will be synced to all your machines.  I used this feature to take down some notes on my novel project while I was driving across Kansas alone.  Very useful feature.

There are a few things about Evernote I do find lacking.  For one, you can’t sort notebooks into collapsible hierarchies.  I would really like to be organize my notes in a similar fashion to my email program.   You can kind of fake this with saved searches for tags and so on, but I don’t really need a more detailed system of organization than notebooks/folders.

Evernote is available on Mac, PC, and iPhone. It has a very nice web-based interface as well.  If you have an internet connection, you can get to your notes.

Read the rest of the article, including tools #3 and #4, on Jeremiah Tolbert’s site.

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