Bookbanter Column: Great Tools for Writing (February 17, 2012)

A lot has changed in the world of writing since the first word was recorded by human kind, and how writer’s write has changed greatly also.  There were the Egyptians recording on their papyrus, Homer carving into stone, Chaucer writing away on vellum, Shakespeare scratching on parchment, writers of the twentieth century tapping away on their typewriters; and then there was the dawning of the new age of the computer or word processor.

No longer did writing involve multiple instruments of paper and pen, pencil or quill, there was just the comprehensive unit of the computer: a monitor and keyboard all that was needed to record the written word.

With the advent of the internet and the many tools and programs that have become available through it, the dynamic of writing has evolved a step further, making it easy to do your writing wherever there is a computer and internet connection.

The concept of the “iCloud” from Apple is making it so that you can access all your “stuff” – be it music, writing, photos, or whatever – from the device of your choosing which connects with the “cloud” and grants you access to all your material.

The only problem is that the iCloud is a subscription-based tool, and for us struggling writers cost is everything. Fortunately, the internet – that bastion of so many free and important programs – has a number of tools for writers to make the process of writing that much easier and enjoyable.

Now, I am not advocating that these recommended programs below will by any means make your writing better, or ensure that you’ll get that story or manuscript published, or even that you will actually do more writing . . . however, these tools will help set the “ideal” conditions for most (if not all) writers. Writers, whether we admit it or not, are fickle beasts who will come up with any and every excuse under the sun to put off doing any sort of writing when one is planning to, especially if it is a particularly meddlesome passage or scene that needs to be written.

These tools will help one focus on the work at hand, make the accessing of one’s writing quick and easy, and set the correct parameters for one to be productive and prolific, and they’re all very free and available to everyone.
Tools to help you in your writing
These are tools that will help keep your writing in one place and make it easy to access wherever you may be, so long as you possess an internet connection, making it possible for you to be writing anywhere at any time.

It seems like every time Google comes out with another update, there are those who think it brilliant and revolutionary, and those who find it annoying and a hindrance. The jury appears to still be out on Google Plus, but Gmail continues to improve by leaps and bounds.

In addition to a very large amount of space, you can access your Google calendar, your photos, as well as a number of other shortcuts all within your Gmail account. You can also access a thing called “Google Documents.”

So here with Gmail alone there are two important tools available to writers (which I personally use all the time):

1) A Whole Lotta Room
Gmail grants you seven gigabytes of space for your emails. While this certainly seems to be a form of overkill, for a free program, it’s invaluable! You never have to delete another email again, and can backup everything without worrying about running out of room. Coupled with Gmail’s excellent search ability to track down “that old email,” by any keyword, it makes it all worth it.

There’s also another important facet to this large amount of space: you can backup all your writing!

I learned this from a blog post from Neil Gaiman a number of years ago, when he admitted that he does this: all his writing is backed up on his Gmail account, sent to himself as an email. Words don’t take up that much space in documents, even when there’s hundreds of thousands, or even millions of them.

This is a practice that I constantly employ now, where after each writing session I send myself an email with an attachment of my latest work, whether it be a story or completed part of a manuscript, and with Gmail’s great filing system, I just archive it under the specific folder and feel at ease knowing the words are safe. That way should my computer or laptop mysteriously blow up, I have a copy of my work saved in cyberspace.

I recommend everyone do it, as it also gives you the ability to access your writing wherever you are with a simple internet connection.

2) Your Cyber Documents
Selecting Google Documents will open up the documents section where you can organize and create a new document, be it a spreadsheet, PowerPoint, or any number of other options, including a regular “Document.”

Selecting this will open up an inviting blank page, encouraging you to begin your next opus . . .

It is essentially a word processing document where you can do most things you do with your word processing software on your computer. There’s even an option for viewing word count, to see how you’re doing. The key here is that it automatically saves constantly, and has a number of shortcuts to make it quick and efficient to use.

So from now on you’ll be able to access, view, edit and/or add to your work again simply with just the use of an internet connection.

My Writing Spot
My Writing Spot is another tool that works much like Google Documents; in fact it links with your Gmail account, and offers a simpler document program for writing, with fewer distracting options, but again plenty of shortcuts to make it quick and easy to use. A nice perk of this program is that your word is constantly on show, egging you on to keep writing. In fact, this is the program I’m using right now to write this column.

Again, to gain access to this tool, all you need is an internet connection.

Tools to help you focus on your writing
These are tools that help provide music, essentially. I’m a big fan of listening to something when I’m writing, that way if there are people talking nearby (like at a cafe, or perhaps a busy household), putting on headphones and listening to some music helps me focus on losing myself in the world of my writing.

So here are some tools to help you enjoy some free music and help yourself be whisked away with your words.

Many people are familiar with Pandora, and for any of those who aren’t, it’s a great free music application. There are a number of preset channels you can use just by putting in a keyword to search for them.

Alternatively, you can create your own channels for the particular types of music you like. I enjoy instrumental music mainly when I write, and have a number of music channels such as Celtic, new age and electronica. Pandora works by you adding an artist, and then playing a song by that artist, and you can continue to add more artists to make up a playlist of sorts; the algorithm will then select songs of a similar sort to play.

Here’s the real nice thing with Pandora: if you don’t like the song, you can indicate this by clicking on the downwards thumb icon (and alternatively, if you like the song, click the upwards thumb icon) and it will skip to the next song. You only get so many “skips” as a free subscriber, but it’s a very handy tool. Some other free music programs include Last FM and Spotify.
Capital Public Radio
This for those fans out there who enjoy some good classical music to lose themselves in their writing.

Finding a good classical music station is a hard feat, since a number of the so called “popular” ones play nonstop pieces that have become quintessential and at this point cliché when one thinks of classical music . . . as if the likes of Mozart and Beethoven had never created anything else. Capital Public Radio is a public radio station based in the Sacramento, California area that has both a jazz station and a classical station.

I have been listening to the classical station for five years now, enjoying its fresh and moving classical music. The hosts are talented in their choices and I always look forward to listening to the radio station. Capital Public Radio is, very fortunately, available online for streaming, making it available to anyone on the planet with an internet connection. There is a music playing application, as well as apps for Apple and Android.

I recommend this station heartily to take you away from the real world into the one you’re working on creating.

These recommended tools represent merely a minor smattering of the many that are available online. I hope that I have at least provided some options to aid you in your endeavor to get some good solid writing done, with the aid of these writing programs, and some distracting music. If there are other tools that you enjoy using and recommending, feel free to mention them in the comments section below.

For now, open up that Gmail Document, set that Pandora station playing and get some writing done!

(Originally published on Forces of Geek)

BookBanter Episode 28 with Kim Stanley Robinson



On January 23rd I was given the opportunity to interview Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the award-winning Mars trilogy, as well as other bestselling books such as The Year of Rice and Salt and Forty Signs of Rain, in person at the Avid Reader Bookstore, in the city of Davis where Robinson resides. The interview was conducted a little while before his reading and signing for his latest book, Galileo’s Dream, which is a science fiction novel, but is also a biography of Galileo’s life, as well as his problems in dealing with the Church. During the interview, Robinson talked a lot about how he came up with Galileo’s Dream, how much work and research the book took. He also talked about what got him into writing, what he thinks readers will get out of reading his books, and what he’s working on next.

Thanks go to Sunny Baadkar and the Avid Reader in Davis for helping to organize and provide a very comfortable space to do the interview (and that’s classical music in the background from Capital Public Radio).

Featured in the episode are my reviews for: Galileo’s Dream, A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire, The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell, and Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons.

This episode of BookBanter is brought to you by East Bay and Footlocker, leading world suppliers of athletic footwear, apparel and sports equipment, featuring top athletic brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Converse, and Nike.  Go to East and use the code AFBOOK15 to receive 15% off your order, or the code AFBOOK20 to receive 20% off your order of $75 or more.  Or go to and use the code AFBOOKFL to receive 15% off your order.

Please join me next month, on April 2nd (I’m avoiding April 1st because of its connotations) where a number of things will be happening: you’ll get to hear my interview with the incredibly talented minds behing the renowned web coming Penny Arcade; coupled with this will be a full site upgrade with a whole new look, new pages, new items to read, new layouts, even more book reviews with better and easier way to access them and find them, as well as a host of other additions and new items such as the original BookBanter theme song and a special recorded interview with yours truly on BookBanter, where it came, and where I’d like it to go in the future.

Until next time,

Alex C. Telander.