Software Medley

Writing doesn’t require all that much in terms of software. Realistically, Notepad isn’t going to cut it if you want an industry-standard manuscript, but you really don’t need anything beyond a word processor to become a wannabe novelist.

Except I’m the kind of guy who really likes to use tools to improve his lot. So, just in case you were wondering what kind of software to get, here are some of my picks:

1-OpenOffice:

It’s an open source alternative to Microsoft Office, and it works just as well as long as you don’t need Powerpoint. As a bonus, it uses the old menus-and-toolbars instead of the ribbon interface. And with a price tag of “Free”, it’s ideal for the starving writer.

Obviously, the main draw for me is Writer, the word processor. But Calc does a pretty good Excel impression too, and Draw can do a decent job at graphical planning if you’re so inclined.

2-WikidPad:

My newest toy. It’s a tool to organise information in wiki form. It’s local-system based, not online, which is obviously a plus for a laptop user like me. But the real reason I like it is because it’s simple yet powerful enough for my needs. It took me about three minutes and five lines of tutorial text to figure out the basics I needed, and four more minutes to master the rest of the options I needed.

If your writing projects requires a tech bible, you’re probably going to love this little gem.

3-F.lux:

As I may have mentionned once or twice, I have a young son. Which means writing time is at night, and it competes with sleep time.

Which is a problem, because computer screens are great at emitting sleep-impeding blue light. So I lose maybe half an hour every day because it takes me a while to go to sleep after I stop writing.

Aparently, F.lux can help with that. It adjust the colors of my monitor at night to reduce the amount of blue light it emits. Which should help me go to sleep faster (and hopefully improve my sleep quality.)

I’ve just started using it, so we’ll see how well it works.

Well, that’s the basic tools I use. I also rely a lot on Google and on a few online ressources, which I’ll share the next time I’m looking for a post subject.

 

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Query Tracking

The querying process is long and arduous. That much should be obvious by now. You need to find agents (a task that is surprisingly time-consuming), to write good queries, and to keep an eye on the queries you’ve already sent.

And that’s not all – if you want to improve your queries (not just the letter itself, but your writing samples and synopsis over time, it helps to know what worked and what didn’t.

That’s an awful lot of information to track, which is why I created a spreadsheet to track my progress.

I’m not going to put it up for download, because it’sĀ full of weird color codes and assorted notes. It works for me, but it wouldn’t necessarily work for anyone else. Instead, here’s the list of the information I track:

  1. Name of the agency;
  2. Name of the agent;
  3. Date I sent my query;
  4. Date I received an answer;
  5. Date at which I should consider the query ignored or dead. Here, I make a note of whether no answer means I should re-query the agent, query another agent at the same agency, or consider that agency as a lost cause.
  6. What materials the agent requested. Some agents ask for five pages, other for ten or fifty. Some agents want a synopsis, others don’t. I’m tracking that to see if, for instance, I have more success with my first five or first fifty pages.
  7. Any useful comments made by the agent upon rejection – obviously, I don’t track form letters and generic rejections, but I do want to note any hints and pointers I get.

Hopefully that helps anyone looking for help in managing the query process.

On Screens, Hardcopy and E-readers

I love my Kindle. As an avid reader, having access to an entire library with me when I’m on the bus, on a plane or on vacation is a godsend.

But lately, I’ve fallen in love with how it gives me a new perspective when re-reading my manuscript.

Obviously, most of my revision work has been done directly on my laptop screen. It’s where I work, there’re those handy red squiggly lines to let me know about typos, there’s a thesaurus (and Google) right in the next window over…

But at some point, you have to review your manuscript in hardcopy, if only because your eyes get too used to the text on screen. Reading your text on paper will let you spot other mistakes and, if you’re anything like me, will let you get a better sense of the timing of your novel.

Recently, I converted my manuscript to a PDF and threw it on my Kindle, figuring Yet Another Reading of the Book couldn’t hurt. I expected to find a few more mistakes and possible improvements. But let me tell you, seeing my work in the same type, size and format as everything else I’ve read in the last few years has been eye-opening.

On the plus side: the Book is really quite good. I’ve read commercially successful works in the same genre that weren’t as well written.

On the minus side: over a hundred additionnal small corrections to make already, and I’m nowhere near done with that re-reading. Well, good thing I wasn’t planning on querying this weekend.

But seriously: if you’re writing your own manuscript, get a Kindle (or another e-Reader.) It’s absolutely worth it just for the new perspective it will give you on your work.