I’ve been blessed to get to write more often over the past couple of months, and man, have I enjoyed it. When I started working on Cabin Girl again in May, it’d been a solid eight months since I’d made serious progress on it. Getting engaged, married, and moving kind of has a way of taking up time, haha.
After getting married, I actually left one of my part-time jobs so that my husband and I could have similar schedules again. We both solely work at the same business now! And I’ve been gifted a couple of days each week that I can use to pursue writing again.
As I’ve been figuring out my new writing routine, and what works best for me in this new stage of my life, I’ve been giving extra thought to the tools I use while writing. To me, it can be difficult to find the balance between keeping things simple, and also saving myself time and hassle where I can.
I don’t have everything perfect yet (and likely never will), but I have found a pretty comfortable mix of tools, programs, and processes that help me write productively. Every writer has a different mix that works best for them, and today, I thought I’d share mine!
I’m going to start with a big one. This is a writing and formatting program (which you can find here), that’s meant to be similar to the widely-praised Vellum for Apple products. I don’t use Apple, and when I discovered Atticus, I was looking for a easy-to-use but affordable program that I could continue to use with all the books I plan to publish.
So far, Atticus has worked great for me! I used it to format The Toymaker’s Doll for publication, and have been working on Cabin Girl with it as well. In addition, they’ve already added many helpful updates since I started using it. My only hesitation was the cost, as is to be expected, but there are a handful of writing tools I’ve allowed myself to invest in, and this one has been worth it to me.
Now, as much as I love Atticus for the formatting side of things, I’ve always used Microsoft Word to do the actual writing of my books. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and it’s what my family always had on their computers, so it’s just what I grew up learning to use. I tend to get frustrated writing with any kind of online platform, as my internet is not always the best, and when my thoughts and fingers are moving, I don’t want to stop them, haha.
The sheer amount of Word documents I have on my laptop and flashdrive (I keep all my important stuff on a separate flashdrive in case my laptop dies) is a little embarrassing, and very messy, but it works well for me. I also don’t think many people realize just how much you can actually do in Microsoft Word, including formatting. There are a lot of useful tools!
I’ve been using Bookbrush (which you can find here) since I started my website in 2020, when they were running a great sale, and I needed some way to make graphics for my blog. I continue to make all my site images on it, as well as some covers for short stories (such as The Toymaker’s Doll), my Pinterest pins, ads, and promotional images. You can also make book trailers and box sets, though I haven’t tried those out yet.
I will say, I have also dabbled in Canva recently (I made my wedding programs there), and may start doing more with it. The cheaper or even free price is a huge benefit, I just haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. But besides the higher price, I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy using Bookbrush, as it is a very impressive and helpful tool for everything image related.
This program is the other writing/publishing investment I made a couple of years ago (which you can find here), by the same creators of Atticus. This one helps you figure out the best Amazon categories and keywords to publish your novel or short story under. Thankfully it’s another one time purchase that continues to receive free upgrades and additions through its lifetime.
I don’t have much experience with this, as I’ve only used it to publish one book so far, but it did make the process extremely simple, and took me far less time than researching and figuring it all out myself would have taken. To me, the cost was worth saving myself the time and hassle, and it does a great job. It’s definitely possible to do it manually though.
This one is obviously not a writing tool itself, so maybe it’s a cheat. But I thought it was worth mentioning in this list because it’s almost always going when I write. I have a playlist for each of my stories, as well as general playlists that include certain types, genres, and ‘feels’ of music.
When I’m writing on my blog, it’s usually classical or soundtrack instrumentals, when I’m writing fiction, it’s mood music and appropriate soundtracks, and when I’m doing mindless work like making blog images, I’m bopping along to Broadway or other music with lyrics. It’s amazing how much music helps me to be productive!
You can find my listener profile here.
“Wordcount” Excel Spreadsheet
This is something I’ve done for years, and plan to continue. At the beginning of the year, I create a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to hold my yearly wordcount. I create one sheet for my fiction wordcount, and one for my non-fiction (blog posts mainly). From there, I separate it into weeks through the entire year, and formulate it so that each week totals itself, and feeds into a grand total that I can look at at the end of the year.
I’m no expert at Excel, and this takes me longer than I’d like to admit, but it’s really not too difficult, and I’m always thankful to have the data to look back on. The exact day I write doesn’t really matter, but it’s interesting to see which weeks I’ve been most productive in fiction or non-fiction throughout each year. It’s also motivating to see the numbers rise!
Every year, I enjoy picking out a new planner to keep track of my writing with (I have a separate one for my ‘regular’ life), and this one by The Happy Planner was the one I happened across for 2023. It’s a mess at this point, and though it’s a goal of mine to some day keep my planner pretty and aesthetic, today is not that day! It works well regardless.
I’m not too picky when it comes to planners, but I’ve found that if I don’t have one, it’s nearly impossible for me to keep track of my blog posts and writing goals long-term. I usually end up feeling bad that I don’t keep up with all the daily sections, but the monthly and weekly ones are extremely helpful, as well as the random spots for notes and lists.
Yes, I’m that person that has a ridiculous stash of notebooks. Nothing special, just the typical 70-100 sheet college-ruled (always college-ruled, not wide-ruled . . . which one do you prefer?) notebooks that you can get from Walmart for a dollar each around school season. When I get the opportunity, I grab a few, as I’m constantly using them up.
For any project, I usually have at least one small notebook full of notes, plot lines, brainstorming sessions, and reminders to myself, otherwise I’ll forget all of it. Even for my blog, I keep a notebook of post ideas, theme design ideas, and things I want to try eventually. There’s something about putting a pen/pencil to a page that stirs my creativity.
I got this idea from Sarra Cannon at Heart Breathings, and have been experimenting with my own Kanban board since last fall. It’s simply a whiteboard that I turned vertically and added washi tape dividers to, then wrote my primary goals for a three month section of time, and filled with sticky note flags that each stand for one task within those goals. Notice the orange flags for Cabin Girl haven’t moved nearly as much, as they take longer.
I thrive when I have tangible and very visible evidence of progress, so I’ve been extra motivated since starting this, and I definitely plan to continue! I love seeing tasks move from “To Do”, to “Doing”, and finally into the “Done” section. It’s helping me realize the areas I overestimate how much I’ll get done in, and the areas where I can do more, and it’s also just a good reminder of what I need to focus on within each quarter.
I’m so grateful to have found so many processes and tools that work well for me and my writing! Could I make do without many of these? Absolutely! But I feel blessed to have them right now, and to be making progress toward my goals. Maybe something I’m using sounds helpful to you – please feel free to ask any questions you might have!
What’s in your writing toolbox? Do you use anything special to help with your writing, or do you keep your equipment minimal? Our individual writing processes are so fun to learn about, so I’d love to hear about yours! Let me know in the comments below!