Tools of the Trade

By Neliza Drew

So, you’re pumped for November 1st. You have all the ideas – nay, All The Ideas! – and you’re ready to go. So, you’re going to need a way to write all those words. Below are just some ideas, some suggestions. Tools you can put in your toolbox or leave on the store shelf. You can always write by hand — and I know writers who swear by that, too. Heck, so many paper options, that could be its own post…

But, since it’s easier to count words with tech, let’s start with the tech.

MS Word 

The powerhouse. The go-to word processor for decades. The pricey prince if your computer didn’t come with a copy or you can’t just use it at work. There are other, free – or cheaper – options for writing your NaNoWriMo novel and I’ll talk about several below. That said, if you plan to eventually edit or submit your project for publication, you’re probably going to need Word at some point. While OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and gDocs will all give you a Word .doc or .docx file, they all are limited in their ability to display and interact with the changes and comments functions. If you have it or can afford it, Word is a great tool and if you’re very linear in your thinking or plotting, a blank page like Word is great. Additionally, if you’re willing to spring for the “rental” or subscription Office365 plan, it comes with a terabyte of cloud storage (so you have offsite backup for your new baby).

Pros: Has all the features and is fairly universal for sharing with critique groups or submitting to agents (after much editing – boatloads of editing). At this point, almost everyone has used it at some point.

Cons: Expensive and requires a computer you can download to, though there is a “online” version, but it’s honesty no better than some of the freebies.

Google Docs

How to Geek talks some about the pluses to Docs versus shelling out money for Word, but here are my two or three cents: Google Docs works great for shorter documents. I’ve used it for reviews and reports and short stories. You can convert your gdoc file to a .docx (new Word), a PDF, or a few other options. You can email it. You can print it. It saves automatically – even offline – and syncs to your Google Drive anytime it finds an internet connection. While in it, you can track your word count, copy, paste, change your font, insert tables, and most of the features you’re familiar with. That said, aside from not handling comments well, it gets slow – molasses going uphill in February slow – if your document gets much beyond 10,000 words. Which means, if you use Google Docs for your NaNowriMo project, you may want to split it up (by chapters, by acts, by 10,000 words, by whatever fits your story) into separate files until you’re ready for the big count at the end.

Pros: Totally free, syncs great across devices, and saves constantly.

Cons: Not that Mac friendly, mobile version is hard to edit, and it gets s…l…o…w… beyond 10k words.

Handoff & Continuity

I’ve heard great things about Handoff from Mac people. I’ve also heard terrible things about Yosemite, but I’m not a Mac person, so you’ll have to try it for yourself and let me know what you think. (For the record, I’m sure Mac is wonderful and everyone I know who has one talks about theirs like it’s the Ferrari of computers. I just…drive an ancient Jeep.)

Pros & Cons? You tell me.


Lots of writers use Evernote for notes, ideas, scenes, inspirational photos, lists, character traits, etc. Personally, I use it most for lists and notes, but I have been known to type out scenes on the go in it, too. The great thing about Evernote is that it syncs across your devices. Stuck in a boring meeting with your tablet? Work on a scene in Evernote. Heck, might even be able to get your coworkers to believe you’re taking meeting notes. Long line at the grocery store? Pull out your phone and work on some dialog while you wait. Back at home? Coffee shop? Write in? Use Evernote to keep going or copy and paste your on-the-go parts to your larger project document. Since it syncs across devices, it’s harder to lose your words.

Pros: Free version syncs across lots of devices with great features for lists and adding photos, etc.

Cons: Limited styles available in the free version so your project won’t be “pretty.”

OpenOffice and LibreOffice 

These two open-source Microsoft Office clones were OpenOffice for years, but things happened (you can read about that here if you want) and they splintered. Like MS Word, you need to back up your files somewhere, but neither come (at the moment) with a cloud storage option. I still say OpenOffice to encompass both of these because I’ve been using it since before the splinter. Currently, LibreOffice appears to be a better version. Both are free, but they do take up a good deal of hard drive space, so if you really want to try both, you may want to do it one at a time.

Pros: Free and expanded beyond what you get with Google Docs.

Cons: You need a cloud or other back up, redundant storage system and save regularly. Need a hard drive/computer you can download and save to.


Not free, but it has a free trial and if you’re a Wrimo, you can use a special NaNoWriMo verison that expires after November. Winners of Nanowrimo can take 50% purchase of their copy if they liked it and participants can get 20% even if they don’t hit 50k words before December 1. Use the link above to get to the NaNoWriMo specials – including a trial that starts now (so you can try it out, plot, etc. before Nov. 1st) and doesn’t expire until December 7th (after you know whether you’ve won and can use the 50% off code). I used to hate Scrivener. I used to just write in Word or Google Docs and I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do with all the extras in Scrivener. Then I ran into a plotting train wreck and started playing with Scrivener mostly as a form of procrastination. Now? Totally devoted. Love it.

Pros: So much more than a word processor. Has a corkboard and outline feature, a place to store research, and all sorts of organizational tools.

Cons: Not permanently free, (though that 50% off isn’t bad!), need a computer you can download/save to, and it’s only really for Windows and Mac (won’t work on a Chromebook, Kindle Fire, phone, etc.)

 Aeon Timeline

This one isn’t a word processor so much as a planner’s best friend. What it does is help you create a timeline for any project you might have in your head. Therefore, it’s great for anyone writing an epic story across multiple generations who needs to keep track of when each person lived and died; for anyone writing a “ticking clock” story who needs to keep track of every minute in a story; for anyone whose character has a complicated backstory to keep track of; or anyone else who wants to play with a cool gadget. Like Scrivener, it comes with a free trial and costs about $40 to buy. And, if you scroll down to the NaNoWriMo badge on the page, you can find coupon codes for Wrimos — participants and winners.

Cloud Storage & Back up


If you have a Gmail account, you probably have a Google Drive account whether you know it or not. It syncs across devices, though if I pull up a file and make changes on my phone (Samsung Galaxy S4), it forces me to rename it. Your mileage may vary there.


If you own Apple devices, your words and photos and random thoughts are probably already floating around on an Apple server somewhere. Just make sure before you write twenty thousand words on your Macbook and accidentally pour a glass of Chardonnay in it. (No, that never happened. *whistles and looks innocent*) The husband swears by his Apple backup.


The Microsoft version of the cloud, so if you subscribe to your Office suite instead of buying it outright, you get a TB of storage on One Drive. A TB is a crazy amount of cloud storage. I like to think of my subscription fee as just paying for the storage and getting Office for free.


A cloud option all its own without an affiliation to a specific platform. It got some bad press a year or so ago, but people still use it and I’ve heard no complaints lately. It’s not entirely free, but you can get a free trial if you want to dabble.


If you don’t have your stuff in the cloud – or you do, but you want another means of backup, everyone I know who uses CrashPlan raves about it. It’s not free, but it will keep you from losing work.


If you think of anything else, please comment below. Let us all know! And don’t forget to check out this post on some analog tools.

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3 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade

  1. Pingback: Paper Trade | Fort Writerdale

  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Tools | Neliza Drew

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