The Write Tools

Below is a list of the essential software, tools, books and story theories I use to do my writing, split into the main stages of the writing process.


1. Creativity — The Artist’s Way, by julia cameron

Julia Cameron’s marvellous book is billed as:

A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.

Well worth a look. If you take nothing else from this course in spiritual awakening of your inner creative, the habit of doing your daily Morning Pages will serve you well.

2. Story theory — the story grid, what good editors know, by shawn coyne

Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid has truly helped me understand how to tell a good story from start to finish. Unlike a lot of story theories, Coyne’s approach is both practical and easy to apply to your story. His theory hinges on fundamental changes in human life values (much like Robert McKee’s STORY) and how character’s react to those changes. It also focuses on the Five Units of Story, the beats that any story must have to make it tick. An invaluable resource for storytellers everywhere.

5. story theory — the anatomy of story: 22 steps to becoming a master storyteller, by john truby

John Truby’s classic masterpiece for how to tell a great story is a fascinating and insightful read. Its scope is too wide and too deep to do justice to here, but it serves as a masterclass in how to generate a Premise; a Designing Principle (a premise but rethought in terms of deep story structure); how to map out characters and their opponents on a character web for meaningful conflict; how to use symbols and themes; and what characters and stories need as vital components to make a story truly shine. A great book and well worth a look at.


4. Capturing Ideas — Drafts 5

A digital notebook on steroids. Drafts is a brilliant app with a deceptively simple premise; capture ideas quickly, whenever and wherever. Then send them to where you need to work with them next. Drafts is available for MacOS, iPadOS and iOS.

5. Mind mapping — Scapple

Scapple is made by Literature and Latte, the makers of Scrivener. It is a freeform mind mapping program. Useful for when you want an infinite whiteboard of notes on which to explore ideas. Scapple is available for Windows and MacOS.

6. general outlining — omnioutliner

I used to do all of my outlining in OmniOutliner, including my novel outline. I have now moved to another app for that (see below). Now, OmniOutliner serves me as a tool with which to outline blog articles and sometimes detailed scene sketches for my novel. OmniOutliner is available for macOS, iPadOS and iOS.

7. novel outlining and planning — aeon timeline 3

I have used Aeon Timeline on and off over the years. That is, until I got involved in the Alpha and Beta testing of Aeon Timeline 3. The software has undergone a fundamental rewrite from the ground up. And I love it. In fact, I simply could not imagine trying to outline my books without it. Powerful, flexible, and creativity boosting, version 3 of Aeon Timeline has just been released. Watch this space for a full review. Aeon Timeline is available for macOS, iPadOS, iOS and Windows.

8. personal knowledge management — DEVONthink 3 & DEVONthink to go

Devon Technologies make DEVONThink (macOS) and DEVONThink To Go (iPadOS and iOS). They are both powerful knowledge management suites which I use to collect and manage research documents such as PDFs and bookmarks for websites. The iOS version, DEVONthink To Go also has great PDF markup functionality and has largely replaced my previous PDF management application, PDFExpert 5 by Readdle.

9. novel writing & blogging — ulysses

Ulysses is my writing app of choice. It replaced Scrivener, my previous favourite app for writing novels, some years ago. It offers a minimalist writing experience but behind its beautiful exterior (and trust me, Ulysses is a stunning looking app) lies a deceptively powerful and feature rich writing studio. It has pretty much everything that Scrivener has to offer novelists (minus a dedicated outliner and snapshots) but it also shines as a fully-fledged bloggers delight. It also syncs seamlessly with Aeon Timeline, therefore negating the need for a dedicated in-app outliner. Ulysses is available for macOS, iPadOS and iOS.

10. grammar & style, copyediting — prowritingaid

ProWritingAid is a comprehensive copyediting suite which will scan your writing and check it for a vast array of grammar and style issues. There are reports which will look at passive and active voice, wordiness, repetition, clichés, alliteration and many, many more grammar and style suggestions. Not to be used during the writing process if your inner critic finds it difficult to forgive you. But superb for first draft copy edits. ProWritingAid is available across most platforms and it also has a web editor.