The Writer’s Tool Box – Online Pt. 1

Today, children, we’re going to learn about the tools to be found online that grant aid and sustenance to the struggling writer.  This will be a multi-series blogging experience. A first for me, and my readers.

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As a writer, I need access to my current work-in-progress (hereafter addressed as WIP). You never know where you’ll be when the mood to write strikes you, much like a lightning bolt could always pick your car that one fateful night on the road.

I generally carry a journal for these writing emergencies. It’s a magical one that I believe passed along a newer, much more productive Muse. Also, it’s bulky, heavy and wrapped in wood, bound with leather. (An expensive gift that I love very much. Thanks, Kristen!)

If the mood really strikes, then there’s no way my hands can possibly keep up with what’s racing around my head. I just can’t write that fast. But I do type that fast, so if I’m really getting whipped by my Muse, I turn to a computer – any computer – in reach.

Here is where we find a major dilemma.

While most of the United States is, for the most part, tech-savvy, I still meet people who have no idea what a flash drive is. (A flash drive is a small device you can carry around, plugs into the USB port on your computer and stores information.)

I had never considered using a flash drive to store my stories, those active and completed, until a friend of mine suggested it. My poor, abused flash drive goes with me everywhere. The day it’s not in my purse is a rare one.

In its journeys with me, we’ve learned that sometimes carrying the WIP on a flash drive is down right frustrating.

First, there’s the wait while the computer acknowledges the flash drive, pretends to need the software in order to use it, etc. Then there’s the Crap-the-stupid-thing-didn’t-save-properly-last-time-and-I’m-missing-half-the-story issue.

Beneath it all is the lurking fear that you’ll drop your bag/briefcase/purse/wherever-you-keep-your-gizmos, and somehow permanently mangle the drive so it never loads again.

Through it all, you know that one day, you will have to buy another flash drive. It will run out of space, sooner or later.

There is a solution to these obstacles, though. As writers, I think we’ve underestimated the value (and distraction) of the Internet.

My favorite web service of all time is Google. Google_1247646805058

Why, you ask?

Because Google doesn’t play. The wonderful people at Google spend all their waking time on the Internets trying to find ways of making our lives easier. (Recently they released a new browser, designed specifically by them, called Google Chrome. Check it out. It is awesome.)

Not too long ago, they released what is essentially an Open-Source Word Processor ….. Online.

They call it Google Documents.

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When I say that it is one of the most incredible, mind-blowing gifts I have been given as a writer, I am not joking around.

Through Google Documents, I have complete, secure access from any location to every single one of my documents. (Permitted I have uploaded them already.) I can pull up a story in a new window or tab, do some writing, quickly pull up a blank document if I feel like making notes as I write, and if necessary, pull up another tab to do some fast research. All within a single browser. All at a fairly decent speed.

The best part?

The possibility of Google Documents crashing is ridiculously minimal. (Though I would never inherently trust Google to fight to the death to save a little nobody newb’s writing. I do back-up what I put on Google, though I feel secure enough not to do it every day.)

They also offer you INFINITE space for every document you imagined you would write/work on.

Not only that, they also have templates for other projects (ranging from spreadsheets to resumes), you can “allow” outsiders to peer at your work, regardless of whether or not they have a Google account. They can edit, offer comments, make up a new part of the story, whatever.

The only thing that hinders you with Google Docs is your own imagination and paranoia. (That thing when you save 4 copies in different places and still worry about losing the whole shebang.)

I personally find Google’s organizational options to be more than satisfying. I can make as many folders as I want/need, rename at will and change label colors.

My only complaint is that Google Docs is falling behind as far as format goes. While writing, I tend to do so in block paragraphs, justified left, with an extra space between. In order to submit, that seemingly neat set of words must be double-spaced, tab indented, with zero extra lines between paragraphs. (Not to mention, headers and a cover page.) Here is where I’ve found my only problem. Google Docs at this time does not allow a lot of these changes. (It will probably change in the future.) So you will still need to copy/paste the WIP to a new doc and alter the format to suit your market’s needs.

Writer’s Tip #47: Once you have correctly formatted a story in standard manuscript format (see an example here), save it twice – once as your story, the other as a Correct Format Template. Then all you’ll need to do is copy/paste your future stories into the template and alter headers, title and byline, etc. as needed.

Also keep in mind that some markets chose to do things differently. Always read your markets guidelines before submitting!

So if you haven’t tried Google Documents yet, get yourself over there. It’s perfect for those times when you’re visiting family or friends and are, for whatever reason, unable to use your flash drive or whichever preferred method of keeping your stories close by.

I personally find the folders, labels, colors and infinite organization to be my favorite part. It’s far easier to move stories from folder to folder, or rename them in seconds, and so on and so forth. Imagine it as a gigantic filing cabinet, and you’ll never run out of file folders!

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Here we come to the end of The Writer’s Tool Box – Online. I hope I’ve offered some interesting tidbits and maybe some helpful advice.

Look forward to another installment next week. We’ll tackle the various websites online where writers can find markets to submit to. As well as any other ideas that jump into my head.

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As for other cool gadgets online, I just found an extension on Flock (my chosen web browser) that allows me to create and save screenshots of anything. (Where’d you think the screenshot of my Google Docs came from?)

It’s really cool and so easy to use, even I have no trouble. Check out Flock and their amazing extensions/add-ons.

Shanna - MySpace.com_1247704162192

I love playing with my gizmo.

If you haven’t already, stop by Myspace and add me as a friend. Just click the shot of my profile above.

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One more shot before we close the bar….

Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
Stephen King

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