15 Best Tools for Authors

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My husband and I built a swing set for our daughters last weekend. Honestly, it went pretty smoothly and quickly, all things considered. The fact that my husband has a giant tool chest with every type of wrench, drill bit, and ratchet we could need (and perfectly organized, I might add), made it that much easier. Sure, we could have possibly gotten it done with a single screwdriver and Allen wrench, but it would have taken so much longer (and been much more frustrating).

In the same way, having a full and functional toolbox for writing a novel can make the process so much easier and more enjoyable. Can you write a novel entirely in a Word document? Yes, you can. Heck, you could technically write an entire novel by hand, in a single notebook, if you’re desperate enough. But using the right tools will save you time, effort, and most importantly, sanity. If you’re in the process of building your writer’s toolbox, here are some of my top essentials for writers. (Note: none of these links are sponsored or affiliated.)

15 Essential Writing Tools

1. Scrivener

This is number one for a reason. There are a few writing softwares out there, but Scrivener makes the most sense in terms of interface, usability, and price. It’s a one-time purchase (only $50), rather than an ongoing subscription. I love organizing my chapters, being able to easily switch between scenes, compare two scenes or versions side-by-side, and move sections around as needed. The character profiles and notes sections also see a lot of use early on in my writing. I can compile research, motivations, descriptions, etc. all into one place and it’s organized perfectly in a sidebar. Anytime I meet a writer who mentions Word docs or Google Docs, there’s a 100 percent chance I’m going to suggest Scrivener to them.

2. One Stop for Writers

This website is a bit pricey in my opinion (about $10/month depending on the plan you choose), but every time I think about cutting it, I suddenly need it again. One Stop for Writers drew me in with the Thesaurus options, which offer detailed descriptions for hundreds of settings, occupations, emotions, and more. Need to describe a tattoo parlor but you’ve never been to one? OSFW has detailed descriptions of sights, sounds, smells and more. Have a frustrated character? You can get detailed physical expressions of frustration, emotions that lead to it, where it might go next, possible causes, and more. The OSFW Stacks are another fantastic tool. They walk you through creating a character, narrowing down possible wounds, resulting fears, lies they believe, and core motivations. Select a few quirks from hundreds of options, learn what types of traits they might have based on their career, and more. When I first started using it, I thought I might learn enough to outgrow it, but I haven’t yet.

3. A laptop

It’s obvious, but I have to mention my laptop. I guess you could use a computer, though I love the occasional writing session outdoors, or heading to a coffee shop when I need some people-watching while I write. Personally, I went through a couple of laptops before switching to a MacBook eight years ago, and I’ll never go back. I recently set up a home office and added a laptop riser, keyboard and mouse for a more ergonomic set up, which I highly recommend if you can swing it.

4. A good notebook and pen

While I won’t be writing a novel by hand, I love the tactile experience of jotting down notes. I’m a sucker for a notebook with a pretty cover and that lays flat when open. I’m also a big fan of bullet journals for writing notes because I like to graph out my plot points. And when it comes to pens… Well, I’ve been a journalist for seven years and there is only one pen I buy now. Zebra F-301 pens. These suckers will never skip or smear. To this point, I’ll add that you need a good note-taking app on your phone too. Because inspiration often strikes at the strangest times and places.

5. Wireless earbuds

A comfortable set of earbuds are essential for the endless hours of music you will be listening to. As a people-watcher, I can be easily distracted when I’m working in public spaces, so popping in earbuds and silencing the noise helps me focus. And I prefer wireless for those pacing-the-room moments.

6. Spotify

Endless hours of music require a good streaming service. I know a lot of Apple Music fans, but I’ve been with Spotify too long to change now. I have a playlist for each book. It helps me connect with the characters and set the mood.

7. Pinterest

I’ll do a post soon about the ways I use Pinterest as a writer, so for now I’ll keep it brief. I use Pinterest for three main things: book aesthetics, research, and writing tips. I create a board for each book, with subsections related to the characters, outfits, settings, etc. I’ll link research to a book board as well. And once you start following author-related topics on Pinterest, you’ll find lots of fun tips and tools too.

8. Thesaurus.com

I’m not above admitting my love for Thesaurus.com! When I know a word isn’t quite right, Thesaurus.com usually helps me find my way to the word I actually need.

9. A library card

The best writers are readers too. I’ll admit I don’t read as much as I should, but I still get good use out of my library card. Not to mention, my library hosts writing workshops and local author signings. I’ve also been scoping out the new fiction section lately for cover designs, back cover copy inspiration, and author bios.

10. An online community

Writing can be a lonely job. Of course, most of us are introverts, so we’re fine with that. But having some form of community is still important. We need to know we’re not the only ones who have ever wrestled with an ending or struggled with rejection. Plus, getting tips and inspiration in your inbox can help jumpstart those rough days. I’m personally a fan of Story Embers for Christian fiction, Hope Writers for Christian non-fiction, Jericho Writers for really sassy emails (and self-publishing tips), and Jerry Jenkins‘ website for writing tips.

11. WordPress

Every author needs a website. You don’t have to blog necessarily, but you need a one-stop spot for your author information, book lists, writing accolades, and contact information. I’ve used several website hosting platforms in the past, but WordPress is remains one of the easiest, most affordable, and customizable.

12. The Enneagram

Okay, this isn’t a very specific tool, it’s more like a concept. But if you’re writing fiction, I think the Enneagram is hugely helpful. Knowing your character’s personality type will help you create a consistent character with believable reactions and motivations. You can find out more about how I use the Enneagram as an author here, as well as my favorite book on the topic. If you prefer the Myers-Briggs, check out 16personalities.com.

13. Google Docs

Save the money on Microsoft Office and use free Google Docs instead. As I mentioned above, I don’t use Google Docs for my actual writing, but I do use it for the publishing process. I type up query letters, synopses, and proposals in Google Docs. And I use Google Sheets to track what queries I’ve sent, when I received a response, etc.

14. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Yes, everybody recommends it. And I wish I had listened sooner. This book is an absolute gem. It won’t tell you how to follow grammatical rules or the magic secret to plot outlining, but it will make you feel understood as a writer. Every page has me reading something out loud to my husband as I laugh and cry with it.

15. A grammar checker

Scrivener doesn’t have a very strong grammar/spelling checker in my opinion. But as a professional editor, those aren’t tools I typically need. However, when I get stuck on an issue, I refer to my AP Stylebook (journalist here) or Grammar Girl. If you need a strong grammar checker, check out Grammarly.

Bonus: Good walking shoes

When it’s all too much, put them on and go outside. A walk around the block can do wonders for your writer’s soul.


Whether you’re a new or experienced writer, having the right programs and tools makes the job easier! Were any of my “essentials” new to you? Are there any favorites in your writer’s toolbox that I missed? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!



#NaNoWriMo and a Novel Update

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National Novel Writing Month—it’s a crazy challenge that starts November 1 and ends on the 30th, with the goal of getting at least 50,000 words under your belt. Similar to one of my favorite tools for busting writer’s block—The Most Dangerous Writing App—the idea is that if you can just get the words out, you’ll find the story you were meant to tell (and you can always go back and edit it later).

That said… I did not participate. (Bum bum bum.) At least, not in the traditional challenge. I have two novels under my belt (the first is garbage, said every author ever) so as fun as it is to write, I feel responsible to actually finish what I’ve already set out to do. So, inspired by the NaNoWriMo community and movement, November was editing month for me.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, photo by yours truly. Representative of the giants I see ahead.

I spent the month editing my beloved second novel to prepare it for a second round of publishing submissions. This was the month to kill my darlings (read that post for some seriously good writing advice). Two entire chapters got the cut. Do you know how hard it is to trash things your own creation? Things that you were once convinced were brilliant and absolutely necessary?! Ahem. I did it, nonetheless. And honestly, it was overdue.

I finished this novel in March of this year and started submitting it to literary agents in May. Sadly, I was unable to find one. Honestly, it was crushing. I realized I still struggle with rejection. Not a good characteristic for a freelancer and author. It was frustrating too. One agent told me my genre wasn’t selling well (which I disagree with). And they all wanted platforms (I swear, that word has turned into a curse around here). I’m not an influencer and have no intention of becoming one—I happen to like being a real human who focuses on my real family, rather than forcing screaming children into coordinating outfits for the ‘gram.

So I did what every sore loser does. I got frustrated and gave up. I stuck that thing under the bed and turned my back on it for several months. I’m not very proud of this part of the story, so let’s ignore how long it lasted and continue.

Then. I was getting groceries at the beginning of the month when I heard a familiar song playing in the store. It was one of the songs I listened to repeatedly while writing the novel. Now, I certainly hadn’t forgotten the book (impossible), but I had avoided it. And it all came rushing back. When I got back to my car, I pulled up the playlist I had made for that story and listened to a few more songs. And I wasn’t frustrated, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t disappointed. I was convicted.

The Three Sisters of Glencoe. More giants in the land. I spy my sweet little toddler in a yellow coat ❤

I don’t like to throw around phrases like “I heard from God”—no, no booming voice came from the sky, no blinding light from the heavens. But I felt it. I felt the passion I once had for that project come back and the conviction that it isn’t just my story. It isn’t just something I made that I can decide to quit on. It’s a story that was planted in my mind, totally outside of my comfort zone, for a purpose. It’s a story that someone needs. Whether a traditional publisher will take it on or not, I felt the determination to continue and to explore the possibility of self-publishing. Because this is the story of church hurts, of the pain caused by purity culture, and of the long road back to faith after walking away in college. This is a story that I am absolutely convinced someone out there needs to hear.

When I hear people say God called them to something and they struggled to follow, I’ve always thought that seemed a little silly. I mean, if you know God is calling you, why not just do it? I figured I had just never been so sure. But I was lying to myself. I know for a fact God is calling me to write—and he has been since I was about 8 years old. And yet, there I was, hiding my talents in the dirt. I was looking into the promised land and saying, “No way, God, don’t you see the giants in there?” And I finally saw how silly it was.

So that’s how I ended up spending my November editing ruthlessly. My novel is coming back out from under the bed for a second round of submissions. And I’m hoping and praying that I’ll be a little more resilient this time around and be open to self-publishing, if necessary. Because Outside of Grace deserves to be read, regardless of what the giants have to say about it.