Josh’s National Novel Writing Month Writer’s Toolkit Roundup

26 Nov

A couple of people have asked what was in my toolkit for NaNoWriMo this year, ranging from what computer I used all the way through to what music did I listen to. So here’s a roundup of what was in my Writer’s Toolkit this year…and what will be staying as I go back to a normal (if such a word can be applied to a writer) writing process.

First, let me note that at no time was my television on while I was writing. There is nothing more destructively distracting than a television. If you’re planning to write, start by turning the TV off! 🙂

Apple 13” Retina MacBook Pro: This replaced my 13” MacBook Air back in August, and is a sturdy, steadfast writing partner. No crashes, no hiccups, no slowdowns. I’ve had a few little issues since upgrading to Yosemite (OS 10.10), but nothing that rebooting and a few third-party programs didn’t fix. The Retina display is a bigger deal than I thought it would be…after hours of staring at the screen, my eyes aren’t nearly as tired on the Retina display as they are with a normal monitor, so the high-resolution screen definitely makes a big difference.

Scrivener: ( For a few years now, Scrivener has been my go-to tool for organizing all of my notes about a novel as I’m writing. Whether I’m doing research (it can import and store web pages, images, PDFs, and almost every document format), creating characters, outlining, storyboarding, or keeping track of draft revisions, Scrivener is flat out the best tool for the job. Each book gets its own Scrivener file, into which all of the material for that book – including the book itself – goes, making it a fantastic top-level organizational tool as well.

Scrivener comes in both Mac and Windows flavors, and its format is cross-platform. They’ve been talking about an iPad version for a couple of years now, but don’t plan to release it until its feature-set matches the desktop version. At $45 (often on sale), it’s a bargain.

FocusWriter: ( FocusWriter is a new addition to my toolkit this year, and will be staying in it for the forseeable future. After trying a huge variety of the new “Distration Free Writing Solutions” (including iA Writer, OmmWriter, WriteRoom, and Byword, amongst others), I settled on FocusWriter for several reasons:

First, it’s Donationware. Which is nice, since I got to try it out without having to pay for it, and when I found myself at home with it, I made a nice donation to the programmer to help support it. I like this business model, because I don’t get fleeced up front for a product I’ll never use again (I’m looking at you, iA Writer and Byword).

Second, I like the fact that it’s distraction free, not feature free. I do not like Markdown, which has become the go-to tool for so-called “distraction free” word processors…it feels like programming, and distracts me from the creative process of writing. FocusWriter is a traditional Rich Text (RTF, though it can also save as ODT and DOCX) editor with a hidden and minimalized user interface…so I can write with nothing between me and the words, without losing basic and critical formatting options like italics and bold.

Finally, it has a customizable writing environment, and I love the old-school green text on black interface option it comes with. It’s surprising how easy it is on the eyes.

Microsoft Word for Mac 2011: Unfortunately still the industry standard for word processing. I don’t say unfortunately because it’s not useful, but because it’s been almost five years since Microsoft’s last serious update to Word for Mac, and it’s spectacularly long in the tooth. However, its collaborative tools are unparalleled, and I will happily continue using it with my editors to make it easier for them to make corrections and comments.

Apple Pages 5: For several years, I felt that Pages had the potential to be a major competitor for Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, the most recent version is a disaster. Apple stripped out major features, crippled the user interface, and made the collaborative tools difficult to use effectively – all in an attempt to match the feature set with the iPad version. The previous version still runs well enough in Yosemite that it’s still useful for compiling the book into various formats – including the easiest ePub conversion on the market – but for actual editing, Microsoft Word crushes it.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergononic Keyboard: ( Anyone who’s spent enough time around me knows that I have a tendency to replace my keyboard on a regular basis. I’m very hard on keyboards, and have a long-standing tendency (thanks to having learned to type on old manual typewriters) to pound on the keys. For years, I’ve been relying on Apple’s low-profile keyboards and a variety of Logitech keyboards to provide me with comfortable and reliable typing experiences.

This year, I decided to try out the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, because my hands have been bothering me lately, and writing 50,000 words in a month is guaranteed to cause wear and tear on both computer hardware and on your hands.

After a month and almost 60,000 words (not counting email and chat), I’m pleased to say that this keyboard was an excellent investment. My hands feel better than they did before I started, and the keyboard has performed admirably. It’s comfortable to type on for long periods of time, and being wireless is easy to place precisely where it’s most comfortable for you. The detached numeric keypad makes it even easier to lay out well – I find that putting on the left side of the keyboard actually makes it more comfortable to use.

I highly recommend the keyboard. In fact, I plan to buy a spare for when this one inevitably fails. 🙂

Music: What to listen to while writing is a highly subjective and wildly variable thing. This year, Jazz appeared to be the order of the day. Fortunately, iTunes’ Internet Radio provides easy access to a wide variety of options, including a full range of’s stations. My favorites are their Piano Jazz, Saxophone Jazz and Trumpet Jazz channels.

Other music included my usual bizarre range of music from movie soundtracks (Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the 1999 version of The Mummy and Basil Poledouris’ score from Conan the Barbarian were popular this year) to Japanese pop music. Whatever gets the creative juices flowing.

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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in My Writing, Ramblings


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