15 Best Tools for Authors

Author, Blog

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!



How I Use Music in My Writing

Author, Blog

Music is essential to writing a first draft. It sets a mood, fuels creativity, and offers words when I hit a blank. But music can also be distracting and enabling. I try to be intentional about how I bring it into my writing and what types of music I use. Below, I’ve got some tips on how I balance music with my writing. Plus, my “official” Outside of Grace playlist (with some teaser info at the end)!

Moment of honesty first: sharing the music I listen to is terrifying! I discovered in college that whatever I listened to, regardless of what it was, was definitely uncool. I once had a TA do a music session in lab at the end of the semester and let everyone pick songs. My song was the only one immediately booed and voted off. (If that happens in a future book, now you know.) So I’m pretty self-conscious about my music. But whatever. My police-officer dad raised me on a steady stream of Enya. I’ll never be cool. I’m learning to be okay with that.

Set the Mood

Whether it’s a sad, reflective moment, or an upbeat, hopeful scene, music helps me get into the right headspace. As a mom of toddlers, if I’m going to quickly go from changing diapers to writing about college kids in a bar, I need the help of music. I have a playlist for each novel I’m working on, and each one features a unique style of music. The Outside of Grace playlist (above) walks through the moods of the book—ranging from Scottish ballads to house beats and more. I wonder how much of the book can be given away in that playlist alone? It should probably come with spoiler alerts!

Find the Songs

Another novel I’m drafting is more character-focused and doesn’t feature as many drastic scene changes. Rather, it develops two characters who are total opposites. Thus, the playlist for that book features songs that help me get into the character’s heads more, focusing on who I’m writing about and the way they view the world. One of them is very bohemian—and I’ve got her listening to indie songs with a nature-focus. Finding Bohemian and Christian Boho playlists on Spotify was very helpful in building my own playlist. Spotify’s suggestions were helpful for building onto a playlist once I got started.

Words or No Words?

I used to hate songs with words when writing. If I’m trying to get an academic paper just right the first time, I’m likely to stick with classical music. But for the creative process, I find that the slight distraction of songs with lyrics helps take off the pressure of a blank page. I can let loose, fill the page with words, and then come back to it for edits later.

Zone Out

I’m a shameless repeater. If I find an addictive new song, I’m likely to play it on repeat endlessly until I can hum it in my sleep. (With headphones of course, so I don’t drive my husband insane.) It becomes a background noise that helps me zone out and focus on writing; I think it keeps me from getting distracted by other thoughts.

Religious or Secular?

A quick look through the Outside of Grace playlist will reveal a majority of secular songs, which may seem odd—possibly even offensive—for a Christian novel. As a teenager, a small church I visited wanted members to only listen to Christian music. To an extent, I can see their point. Honestly, I find my mental health tends to be better when I primarily listen to Christian music. However, I think being aware of current music trends and culture can be helpful (Acts 17:22-31 is a good example of being aware of the culture). Outside of Grace deals with a lot of secular settings—bars, college campuses, etc. Pretending like Christians don’t encounter that sort of thing on a regular basis doesn’t help anyone.

In theme with setting the mood, when my main character is wrestling with her faith, my listening will reflect that. Artists like Matt Maeson, who is vocal about his experience of turning away from religion and later rediscovering it, capture the feel so well. Several of his songs filled the playlist when I was considering how to accurately represent a crisis of faith. (Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco also wrestles with topics of religion in songs like Say Amen, while offering the vibe I needed for certain scenes.)

*Let’s just take a break here to say that you’re probably thinking I’m an insane over-thinker. You would be right.

“I don’t even like the idea that there is a separation between Christian music and non-Christian music. [That designation] makes it seem less approachable… I wouldn’t label my music Christian music anyways, but it does have a lot to do with faith.” 

Matt Maeson

Reverse the Mood

When it’s time for edits, I try to challenge myself to reverse the mood. Listening to something peppy and upbeat before editing a big tear-jerker scene is a great way to test its strength. The scene must be written powerfully enough to bring me back down. And while I’ll do copy editing with music, I need silence for line editing. Once I’m ready for final edits, I do crazy person things like stand in my room, alone, and read the entire thing out loud. It’s amazing how much more you can catch when you have to speak the words and your brain can’t just auto-pilot through them.

Have Fun

Now go forth, Writer, and picture your perfect playlist as the soundtrack to your wildly successful book-turned-movie. Or, Reader and epilogue-loving Fan, find your author’s playlist and reread the scenes you loved with all the feels. Having a playlist is just plain fun.


Outside of Grace Teaser

The playlist above used to be perfectly organized with one song corresponding to each chapter. However, it’s changed a bit and recent edits have dropped an entire chapter from the book. When writing the first draft, I had a massive playlist for inspiration that wasn’t nearly as carefully curated. But the “official” one features the songs that I felt best summed up scenes. Since doing edits, I’ve messed around with it a bit and added a handful of extra songs to it. It’s still pretty representative of the book, so if you want a sneak peak, give it a listen!

Bonus: If I had to pick one song to represent the entire book, it would be Leave a Light On by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Tom Walker. (Fun facts: they’re both native Scottish artists, because I. Must. Be. Genuine. Part of that over-thinker thing.) This song is probably not the coolest. There are bagpipes involved. But I love it and will stand by that. (Obviously 8.6 million people agree with me, so I’m not that far off.)

TL;DR – listen to that song ^