Top Tech for Writers

In case you missed this in April, here’s an article I wrote for Ronel (at Ronel the Mythmaker) for her T entry in the A to Z Challenge. I love talking tech but generally bore friends and family with it so was beyond excited when Ronel invited me to discuss it as much as I wanted.

These are five of my favorite tech tools for writers:

self edit1. A good editing program

Whether you’re self-published or agented, you want your manuscript as clean as possible. You can edit it yourself, use beta readers, or pray, but one more option to include in your toolkit is a good online editing program. Often, these ask you to copy-paste your text into a dialogue box on their website and they take it from there. Sometimes, you upload your entire manuscript. What they do varies from simply checking your grammar and spelling to analyzing pacing, word choice, and more. I like Grammarly for basics and AutoCrit for more detail.

See my Grammarly review here.

 

2. A digital deviceipad tips

I know lots of people who write the first draft of their novels with paper-and-pencil but almost always, the next version is completed on some sort of digital device. That might be a Mac, PC, iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or in some cases a dedicated word processor like the Retro Freewrite or Alphasmart. Pick one or more that work for you, doesn’t matter which as long as it’s digital and allows you to type and edit your manuscript.

See my reviews here for Chromebooks, iPads

 

3. Google Forms

Google Forms are an easy digital way to collect information from readers, sort it, and throw it into a spreadsheet. They’re professional-looking, intuitive, quick to create, and can be personalized to your needs. I use them to collect data for blog hops, curate my newsletter list, ask for feedback, sign up interested readers for an upcoming book, and more. There’s just no reason to struggle through this sort of design by yourself anymore.

See my Google Forms review and another form program I like, JotForms.

 

4. Canva

It’s hard enough writing a novel and bringing it to publication, without then being forced to also market it. That includes banners, logos, fliers, headers, announcements–yikes! Years ago, I knew I had to reform when my kindest beta reader wrote, “Is the flier supposed to look like that? No–really, I like it!” Right. I found Canva.com. Canva provides all the tools writers need to create headers, banners, Facebook placards, Twitter tweets, informal book covers, and the myriad of marketing materials that are part and parcel of publishing a book. It provides templates, size options, samples, even a design school–all for free. And it didn’t take long to get used. Now, I create what I need usually in less than five minutes. You heard that right. Try it out.

See my Canva review.

 

5. Book Trailer Program

Book trailers are quite popular because movies are a nice way to get readers excited about your book. If you’re creating your own, you want a program that is easy to use with a shallow learning curve, looks professional, and is as free as possible. I’ve seen a lot of options for this task, everything from Animoto to Tellagami to even a storyboard program like Storyboard That!

 

More tech for writers:

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

8 Digital Tools for Writing

5 Must-have tools for Writers Conferences


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today and TeachHUBmonthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. Look for her upcoming trilogy, Crossroads, eta Spring 2019.

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What Authors Should Know About MS Sway?

Lately, among teacher-authors (these are teachers who also write), one of the most talked-about webtools is Microsoft Sway. Though fairly new, Sway may unseat PowerPoint as the presentation-tool-of-choice because Sway projects are visually appealing while minimizing the amount of time spent formatting.

What is Sway

Sway is free from Microsoft and part of Office 365 Education. It is an easier, more versatile alternative to the popular PowerPoint slideshow program. Using the Sway canvas, writers select a theme and then add notes and media. Sway organizes the content, suggests images and even data, and then helps the writer to quickly arrange everything into a comprehensive and fully-fleshed project. If the selected theme doesn’t work, simply click “remix” and get a different look. More advanced users can edit the pieces to fit particular colors and interests. When everything’s perfect, it can be shared, embedded, and/or published.

Sway accepts almost any file format including videos, PDFs, text, audio, images, native camera pictures, charts, audio clips, audio recordings, and links. A completed project can be embedded into any Office app (such as Excel, PowerPoint, or Word) and automatically updates with the original. Sway works in Windows, on iPads, iPhones, and desktops.

How to get started

  • Install the Sway app to your iPhone, iPad, Surface Pro, or use it on the web.
  • Create an account so you can collect all of your Sways in one place.
  • Click the “Create new” button or alternatively, create a Sway from a topic or an uploaded document.
  • Click to add new “cards” (these are content areas; you might think of them like slides in a PowerPoint deck). These are stacked to the right of the screen and easily moved by dragging-and-dropping. Each of these contains space for all content related to the theme of that card.
  • As you add content, Sway suggests web material that may be relevant and might be good additions to your document.
  • When your Sway is finished, add it to any site that accepts embed codes, send it out as a link, or share it to a variety of social media outlets.

Prosms sway for writers

It’s free — so much power for no money. That’s amazing.

It’s easy to use and has lots of automated options that take the stress out of being creative.

Sways are automatically saved, by default to the MS Office account you used for the sign-up.

Multiple people can collaborate on a Sway. All you have to do is send the Sway link to collaborators.

Sway will create a project from a theme. You type in the theme and Sway suggests text, pictures and more that fit that topic.

Cons

Sway requires a Microsoft account (but not Office 365). This isn’t bad, just one more place that requires a log-in.

While Sways can be shared on various social media or via an embed code that can be played in situ, other options aren’t as easy.

8 Writerly Uses for Sway

Here are some of the ways my teacher-author colleagues and I use Sway:

  1. Easily create quick book trailers that pop to share with your writing community.
  2. Create a linear website for your book with content that’s revealed with a flick of the finger.
  3. Create a website with your resume and/or writer’s portfolio.
  4. Research and collect notes in OneNote, then send that information to Sway to be mashed up as a presentation
  5. Write and format marketing materials. Input the text and then let Sway suggest images and other resources.
  6. Prepare any presentation, much as you might a PowerPoint.
  7. Create a themed newsletter quickly to share with your (GDPR-approved) mailing list.
  8. Create digital stories with a mix of text, images, and other multimedia pieces.
  9. Create a portfolio of artwork, poems, or writing that can be shared to showcase your work.
  10. Collaborate with your writing team on your WIP or marketing materials.

Overall, Sway does a great job of minimizing formatting in favor of writing — a real plus in today’s busy world.

More on writer’s tools


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a weekly contributor to TeachHUB, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Review of Write!

For the last few months I’ve been test-driving Write!—a word processing application that lives in the grey area between a text editor and a WYSIWYG word processor.*

write-word-processor-994x400

Why, you might ask, are we talking about another entry in the word processing universe?  And that’s a fair question.  Since you’re reading this online, I’d be shocked if you don’t already have a go-to program when you want to hammer out a few pages.

But every job has tools—carpenters have hammers and chisels, analysts have computers and spreadsheets, and writers have pens and paper and word processors.  And anyone who performs a job for any length of time can get a little particular about the tools they use—just listen to a chef grumble if you tell them to use knives that are not their own.  Writers are not immune to this pickiness.  Bring it up at a gathering of writers and you’re likely to hear a dozen different opinions on what word processor—or lack thereof—works best.  Personally, since Ami-Pro—of the 1990s—disappeared, I’ve been drifting aimlessly. But for many people—and I’m one of them—using the right tool, or at least the tool that’s right for you, can be a critical thing.

This review has taken me longer than I expected; and while part of that has to do with the way free time dries up when you buy a house, it also took me a while to figure out how I felt about Write!  Not because it’s difficult to use—on the contrary, you can be up and running, and comfortable in your surroundings in less than 5 minutes—but because it’s fundamentally different that other word processors I’ve used.

After using it for several months I’ve started thinking of it as the Goldilocks of the word processing spectrum.  If you’re a high-end user of the fully-functional WYSIWYG programs, especially if you need something with powerful layout tools, Write! just isn’t going to be for you.  Conversely, if you’re like me, and gravitate toward the ultra-simplistic, barely-more-evolved-than-Notepad choices, Write! may have enough features to distract.  But if you fall somewhere in the middle, Write! could be the program that offers just the right mix of features to enable your writing, while getting out of your way.

2018-05-15_20-48-09

Likewise, Write! sits in the Goldilocks price zone.  High-end packages like Word can cost quite a bit, and the free software generally just isn’t full-featured, or can be a bit buggy.  Write!, at $24.95 for a lifetime license, is inexpensive, and if it’s features are what you’re looking for, that’s not a lot to pay for a slick, well-programmed word processor.

At its core, it’s that dichotomy that made this review so difficult for me to wrap my mind around.  It took a long time to understand why there needed to be a middle-ground between the extremes.  The way I’ve worked for years is to open up PSPad, or the WordPress post-creation screen, and once the writing was done if I needed to make it look pretty, I’d copy/paste it into MS Word to do the heavy-lifting.  Write! won’t solve that problem—if you need to get a document presentation-ready to take to the printer you’ll still need something else to make it look professional.

Instead, Write! has included a suite of features that can help you with the technical work of pounding out the pages.  Instead of fancy fonts, and clip-art packages, Write! includes features focused on productivity—cloud storage, powerful cross-document search capability, quick publishing of documents to allow sharing and collaboration.  Focus Mode—where the paragraph you’re working on is highlighted and others are de-emphasized—is a feature I thought would bother me, but I found surprisingly helpful.

As with any program, it has it’s quirks, some of which may resonate with you and some won’t.  I don’t love the way the spell-checker works—I think it takes one too many clicks once a word has been identified, but a friend tried it and liked it better than what she was used to.

There are a lot of things to like about Write!, but there is one feature that I REALLY need that Write! just doesn’t do very well—Portability.  The main reason I’ve come to rely on Google Docs is that if I find myself with the time to write I can open the document on my home laptop, my work computer, my tablet, my phone, or any computer I borrow—all without installing extra software.  Write! has the ability to export documents to other formats (docx, pdf, txt, and a couple of others), but without a phone app, or web version, portability is limited.

So is Write! worth it?  That will depend on how you intend to use it.  It seems tailor-made for writing copy for online use, because the text it produces isn’t bogged down by formatting codes.  However, it doesn’t do everything as well as it does the basics, and if you use your processor to make flyers, brochures, or anything that needs graphics, visual elements and formatting, it’s probably not your first choice.  To me, it’s a solid program and it has it’s uses, but until I can edit documents on-the-go, I’m only going to use it when I’m home or toting my own laptop to the coffee shop.


*DISCLOSURE:  I received a free license for Write! in exchange for agreeing to evaluate it and share my thoughts.  Since that agreement my only contact with the Write! staff was to ask a few clarifying questions, and to let them know this review was scheduled for today.

 

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

digital storytellingA digital story is a series of images connected with text and/or a narrated soundtrack — captured by a digital device such as an iPad or smartphone — that tell a story. It can be fiction, non-fiction, narrative, biographic, expository, or even poetry. Think of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, or Colin Low’s City of Gold. Because of its multimedia approach and appealing blend of text, color, movement, sound, and images, it has fast become one of the most popular formats for visual writers.

According to Center for Digital Storytelling, there are seven elements critical to a good digital story:

  1. Point of View — What is the perspective of the author?
  2. Dramatic Question — A key question that keeps the viewer’s attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
  3. Emotional Content — Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the audience to the story.
  4. Voice — personalize the story with the author’s unique writing style to help the audience understand the context.
  5. Soundtrack — Music or other sounds that support and embellish the story.
  6. Economy — Using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
  7. Pacing — The rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.

These elements are conveyed by the vast swath of multimedia tools available in digital storytelling.

Writing a digital story includes five basic steps:

  1. Research the topic so you are clear on presentation.
  2. Write a script, a storyboard, or a timeline of activities.
  3. Collect the required multimedia parts — text, images, audio, video, oral selfies, and more.
  4. Combine everything into an exciting story.
  5. Share and reflect on the completed story.

These five steps are stepping stones for beginners and critical to experienced storytellers.

There are so many online options for digital storytelling, rarely is there a writer who can’t find a web tool that fits their communication style. Here are some of the most popular. Try them all and then pick the one that works best for you:

adobe voiceAdobe Spark Video

Free; iOS

Adobe Spark Video is an easy-to-use digital storytelling app for iPads. It integrates text, images, royalty-free clipart, background music, and your own artwork into a story you tell and then render as a movie to be shared easily through the cloud. As the name implies, the storytelling revolves around your voice. While it lacks many of the bells and whistles of more sophisticated digital storytelling tools, it includes everything necessary to relay exciting, creative stories.

puppet palsPuppet Pals

Freemium; mobile app

With Puppet Pals, you add a voice-over to a selected cast of characters (only one available with the free version) and animate them to tell a story. The paid version provides additional characters and more storytelling options, but the free version allows for a great deal of flexibility in the writing process as well as an authentic expression of ideas.

storybird kindergarten digital storytellingStorybird

Freemium; web and mobile app

Storybird is a gorgeous collection of high-quality artwork that has inspired over 5 million to write. You pick an artistic theme for a story, then add text to as many pages as you’d like. Once finished, the story is saved as a booklet that can be shared via a link, printed, or embedded in blogs or websites.

storykit1Storykit

Free; iOS

Storykit makes it easy to tell stories with photos, text, personal drawings, and audio. Each page is created individually using images from the camera roll, the optional addition of audio, and then curated into a link that can be shared with others or uploaded to the Storykit server and made available to all users.

tellagamiTellagami

Freemium; iOS

With Tellagami, you create a thirty-second story using an animated avatar (called a gami) that moves and talks in response to a recording of your own words (added via voice or keyboard).  After customizing the gami’s appearance and emotions, it is placed in a background selected from the camera roll, taken with the device camera, or hand-drawn directly onto the screen. Finally, the audio overlay is added.  When completed, it can be saved to the camera roll or shared via email or a variety of social media options. This app is well-suited for book trailers or anyone who wants to promote their book but doesn’t like a visual recording of themselves. The cartoon character makes it easier to communicate required information without what is–for some–the embarrassment of seeing themselves on video.

voicethreadVoiceThread

Fee; web or iOS

VoiceThread is an interactive, cloud-based slideshow approach to digital storytelling that can share images, documents, videos, voice, and more. It’s intuitive to use, as simple as adding the media you desire with the click of a button and a drag-drop from your digital device. Once published, viewer comments are appended via typing, audio, or video. As others comment, they can draw on the screen and/or add other documents (images, files, and more) to better explain what’s being said. When completed, it’s saved as a video and can be shared in a wide variety of methods.

This is one of the most powerful digital storytelling tools, allowing users to share a wide variety of media in support of their story, narrative, documentary, or argument.

***

However you start the use of digital storytelling, just start! It will change the way you think of writing.

More about Digital Storytelling

Storyboard That–Digital Storyteller, Graphic Organizer, and more

8 More Digital Storytelling Websites

19 More Digital Storytelling Apps


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

What is Google Keep and Why Use it in Your Writing?

My daughter just bought her first house (though it went on hold several times as the Navy threatened/offered to move her). We wanted a simple way to share a ToDo list that would be available on phones, iPads, and computers, and would auto-update with our ideas. I looked at a variety of options but found something wrong with each of them.

Until I found Google Keep. It is marketed as a note-taking app — which it is — but trades sophisticated note-taking tools (like formatting) for simplicity. It is similar to iPhone Notes, but is more visual, syncs across all devices, and allows collaboration. You can add thoughts by typing or speaking (mobile devices only), as a narrative note or a bullet list, and include images from your collection, your camera roll, or by taking one with the native camera (mobile devices only). The title is auto-formatted to stand out from the rest of the note. You can organize notes by category or color, search for a particular note, pin the most important to the top, and re-arrange the collection by dragging-dropping. As in Google Reminders, you can set a location-based reminder to pull up your grocery list when you get to the store or a time-based reminder to make sure you never miss a parent conference.

It requires a Google account and — as with other Google Apps — the amount of space you get for saved notes depends upon your Google Drive size. It works on iOS, the web, Chrome (with an add-on), and Android.

google keep

Pros

Because Keep doesn’t include a lot of (rarely-used) tools, it is intuitive to learn, simple to use, and really quick to start up. Just tap the icon to open the program, tap to start a new note. That’s it. This is ideal when you want to quickly jot down a phone number or email address, or take a photo. You don’t need to fumble through an armload of start-up functions while whatever you wanted to note down disappears or is lost in your short-term memory. If you’re driving or both hands are busy, simply tap the microphone and talk. Keep records your audio and adds a text version of the message.

One of the most amazing features of Google Keep is that it will pull text from images (such as pictures of pages from a book) into typed text.

For Android users: You can add a drawing to your note and/or draw on an image that you took or is shared with you.

Cons

There are few formatting tools available (all you can do is color the note and add checkboxes) and no audio recording ability in the Web app. While Android users can annotate images, no versions at present allow for PDF annotation.

Writing applications

Many of my colleagues consider Google Keep an easy-to-use, easy-to-deploy note-taking option for students. Here are nine suggestions for using it in the classroom:

  1. Bookmark interesting links. While researching a topic for your next novel, copy-paste the links to a Keep note for reference. Most links show a preview in a list below the link collection so it’s easy to see what’s covered on that site.
  2.  Write notes to yourself. Because it’s easy to take and categorize notes, this is an ideal way to jot down quick notes and reminders like an appointment or phone number.
  3. Share information with others. Because notes are easily shared, this is great for group projects. Data that can be shared include links, images, screenshots, videos, camera shots (mobile only), and more
  4. Color-code a note for “WIP” and pin it to the top of the Keep canvas. This makes it quick to add ideas that come to mind anytime and then make sure you blend them into your WIP.
  5. Set time-based reminder alarms for notes and bookmarks. This alerts you to meetings, group projects, or anything that is based on a due date. It might even be to remind you to take a break from your writing and pet the dog!
  6. Set a location-based reminder. This reminder goes off based on the GPS location of the user (and their phone) in relation to whatever event you programmed the alert for. For example, you may set a reminder to bring a flier to your book club meeting that is tripped when you leave your home.

***

Overall, Alan Henry over at Lifehacker said it best:

Comparing Google Keep to Evernote is a bit like comparing a screwdriver to your favorite cordless drill. One is a generic, basic tool that can be used in multiple ways, but has its limits. The latter is a tool that can be used in place of the former, has a broader set of use cases, and is admittedly more powerful.

In short: Google Keep is an uncomplicated note-taking tool that allows users to take notes quickly, intuitively, and share them with others without the sometimes confusing mix of optional tools available in Keep’s more robust cousins

More on digital notetaking:

How to go Paperless in Your Classroom

5 Programs That Make Digital Notetaking Easy


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

The Writers Circle: Handwritten or Typed

TWC
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:

When you begin working on a new project – be it to start the actual drafting or to start building an outline – do you have a tendency do this with pen and paper? Or do you tend to do this on a computer? Do you find your level of productivity with the initial work on a new project to be better if you write it out by hand or if you type/draw it on the computer?

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

The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers 2016

TWC
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:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list? If you’ve been shopping this past weekend or today for Cyber Monday, did you come across any great writer-oriented gifts?

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

The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers 2015

TWC
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:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list?

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

The Writers Circle: Helpful Websites

TWC
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:

With NaNoWriMo less than a week away, thoughts for many people turn to ways to build higher word counts.  But whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not, sometimes having help getting motivated to write is a good thing. There are many websites out there that are designed to encourage you to write more words quickly and save the editing for later.  What are some of your favorite sites and tools to help motivate you and increase your writing output?

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

The Writers Circle: NaNoWriMo Poll 2015

TWC
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:

It’s a special Thursday edition of The Writers Circle!  Now that we are mid-way through October, we wanted to check in once again to see how many of our community members are joining the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are excitedly anticipating November 1 and the start of NaNoWriMo 2015.  What are your thoughts are about NaNoWriMo this year?

After taking our unscientific poll, leave a comment to discuss NaNoWriMo:  Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What have you learned or gained from it?  Will you do it again?  If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo, are there reasons you would or would not consider it in the future?

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