They say everyone has a book in them – but for some trying to get it down on paper is more painful than pulling teeth. If your dream is to write a book grab some inspiration from the What-if Machine, that allows you to set certain creative parameters then comes up with ideas for a basic plot. This is a really interesting scientific experiment more than a genuine writer’s tool, although I can see some of the simplistic ideas it comes up with being quite good for kids stories. But teaching machines to tell stories is one of the toughest challenges in AI. I can’t wait to see what it comes up with five years from now.
Another good way to get inspiration is through collaboration. Storywars is a great idea where you can read and contribute to ongoing stories or even start your own. The site works on creative commons license so the stories can be shared freely with attribution and the site’s developer hints at the possibility of a physical book at some stage.
If you’re serious about writing but lack confidence when it comes to punctuation and grammar, Writefull could be a real help. You’ll need an account sub for $5 a month to use the app for windows or Mac, which then analyses your writing to make better suggestions. Use the compare tool to check two phrases you’re not sure about… and if the right word is escaping you just replace it with a star and the app will come up with popular suggestions. It uses large language databases to search for the frequency of chunks of text; in other words how many other people have written that particular sentence then gives you the numbers and suggests alternative options where appropriate. So if you’re not sure if it should be ‘less people’ or ‘fewer people’ you can see what the majority thinks – although there are no guarantees the answer will be accurate.
Clichés are every good writer’s enemy – and using them can be easy to fall into if you’re not vigilant. Try The Cliché Finder, for a simple cut’n’pace tool to root them out of your prose.
For in-depth analysis, Autocrit is a great tool that will open your eyes to a lot of literary styles and techniques even if you’re a seasoned writer. Whether it’s spotting those clichés, repeated words or phrases or tightening up you pacing and dialogue, when I was writing Elite: Mostly Harmless this was really useful during the final editing phases. It’s $5 a month for unlimited access and is a web-based tool, so there’s no download.
Once you’ve got a story going, peer review platforms can be a great way to hone your prose with the help of the crowd. YouWriteOn is a great community where people share and constructively criticise each other’s literary efforts. Each month the highest ranking member’s work receives a professional critique from leading publishers and industry experts – an invaluable tool for improving your skills.
For many people the hardest thing about writing is blocking out those every day distractions that keep your imagination from doing its best. Omm Writer is an elegant text editor for Mac, PC, and iPad that focuses helps users focus while writing. Once installed it will open in full screen, blocking out your system tray any any pesky notifications that might try and catch your eye as you work. It also has a handful of backgrounds and soundtracks to improve the ambiance for concentration.
For the ultimate in distraction removal though, check out the Blind Write website. Here you pick a topic and set a time limit and you are challenged to write blind without even the distraction of the last letter you wrote to draw your attention. As an obsessive self-editor I find this tool both terrifying and liberating in equal measure.
For my final tip I was to introduce you to a project that has been going for many years and has inspired a lot of people to finally get down to putting some words down on (virtual) paper. NaNoWriMo.org is the home of ‘National Novel Writing Month – which is November if you’re interested. Sign up and you’re encouraged to write a 50k word novel in a month. There is a vibrant community, social tools to check your progress and compare notes with other, and the organisers have daily updates to keep you on the path to success. I HIGHLY recommend joining up with this project if you want an inspiration boost for your writing.