The Writers Circle: Online Tools for Writers

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

We have talked in the past about important tools for writers such as software or specific kinds of notebooks and pens. Today we’d like to hear what kinds of online resources and tools you find helpful to your writing. Are there specific websites you use for research? Online tools to inspire you to write? What do you find invaluable on the internet when you look at your writing life?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.


I Found It on the Internet

internetSurely you’ve heard the comment, “I found it on the Internet.”  You can write an entire book just by finding information on the web, trolling around Google Earth to discover how a location looks, and verifying historical references on Wikipedia. Search through a thousand images to describe the object of your dreams or nightmares. Write it all out in your own words, add a few intriguing characters, devise a dilemma, pop in several crises and red herrings. Spend three months or a year hanging out in Starbucks sipping your favorite wrappa-frapppa-chappa frothed with whipped cream while plugging away on a laptop. Title your production, apply for an ISBN, self-publish or try for the traditional format, and you’ve got yourself a book. Maybe not a great piece of literature, but a story of sorts. Flash fiction, a six word story, a screenplay or memoir. Perhaps a prospect for a serial looms, each relating similar hi-jinks and low brow appeal. Anybody can try. Everybody can be a writer.

My newest WIP is loosely based on my grandparents’ and parents’ lives early in the twentieth century. Of course I didn’t know my parents when they were kids, and the stories they told are bereft of the details I want. I find myself checking the Internet for the facts I need for my WIP. It isn’t that I’m too lazy to go look it up in a library among the stacks of real books. It’s that the library of today is a media conference room and cultural gathering space. Kids without after school care wait there for parents; the homeless find it a safe place to doze while appearing engrossed in pamphlets left by various businesses. The unemployed bring their dismay with them while searching job opportunities; the elderly gather to read magazines and newspapers, and to socialize. Books? Many of the shelves have been swept of books, the more room for videos and CDs. So I can’t peruse the stacks in search of corroborating information for whatever premise I’ve devised – the books aren’t there. It’s Internet browsing for me as well.

Ah, computer research. There I’ve located my childhood homes – seven of them, all posing for their photos, a few looking dated and worn, but most graciously maintained and remodeled attractively. One in Philly, one in Hawaii, three in New Jersey, two in California. I discovered that Trenton and much of New Jersey were very much the center of the Revolutionary War. I grew up mere miles from the places whose history made me American. How I wish I’d been properly impressed when studying it as a kid. I learned about the arguments defending many sides of controversial subjects, and seeking noble ground, found that everything is controversial. Unknown heroes  and unfamiliar words reveal their mysteries in on-line encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauri. (Yep, that’s the correct plural – I looked it up on the Internet.)

Several book titles related to my subject are suggested. I dare not read a book without first scanning reviews on Goodreads and Kirkus to assure I’m not wasting time on a tome I won’t like, and reading the reviews takes time. I get up to heat water for tea and remember the microwave is broken and not repairable. When buying appliances, I can find out the safety, efficiency, and value ratings before handing over my credit card, all of which I can do over the Internet and never have to enter a store. The entire world lies before me on the screen, seducing me away from everything else I need to do. Away from writing. Ah, but it’s all so interesting.

Fact is, I can find out nearly everything on the Internet, but I must write my own book. I’ve certainly heard that there are no new stories, only new tellings of old ones, and only a limited number of themes to explore. The fresh approach must be mine. Time to close the browser with all its attractive and tempting images, jingles, pop ups, cat videos, on-line personality quizzes, and links, and hie myself to my story files on my computer. I went looking for a few facts to put in my book and became distracted with a million (fascinating) excuses not to write.  But I am a writer.

I could be dipping a quill into ink, scratching a pencil in a journal, typing on my old manual Olivetti. Armed with ideas and information, my story is waiting to be told, and only diligent application of words to document will result in its continuance. So now I write. New document page please.