Enjoy writing? There are lots of cool tools that can make planning, organizing, and writing easy and fun. All of the software and websites posted here are (essentially) free, though many appreciate a tip. Feel free to comment with requests, ideas, or anything else relevant. You may even see results from your comments as I seek to constantly upgrade this page!
TreeSheets is an amazing, free spreadsheet program. Though it has limited calculating ability, TreeSheets is useful for planning stories, making timelines, and more. Nested cells allow for a third dimension within your planning phase. The sheets also self-format and look amazing.
Though it says TreeSheets is in Beta for MacOS, I’ve found that it works as well in Mac as it does on PC.
A resource for discovering the nationalities, meanings, and sometimes even stories in which names have been seen before. Though far more complete for names with European origin, the site does include some non-western names.
If your book is to take place in a time period other than the modern one or in a fantasy realm, the names that parents would have given their children are different. You can surf the above link to find popular names by decade, but it may more useful to look at longer, more detailed lists. Select the “Popular Names by Birth Year” tab to search for names in a given year. Best for settings in the United States. Feel free to comment similar databases for other countries! I’ll even include them in this list and cite you (with your permission) as the person who led me to the site.
Polyglot, a Constructed Language Tool
A lot of books, most famously Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, include constructed languages (conlangs). I’ve tried several different ways to construct a language and, before this tool, had settled with making several Microsoft Excel and Access database files. While Polyglot is not perfect (it’s not entirely intuitive and requires RegEx to perform some of the conjugation), it does have the advantage of an interface that includes all the pieces of your conlang. The website has a handy manual that does a pretty good job explaining how to use the program, and install is easy. It runs off Java, so it is compatible with any system that Java can be installed on.
Though the intent of this site was to help people easily make their own font, I use it for something different. The conlang I am most interested in making has letters for sounds such as ‘sk’ or ‘tr,’ giving it 34 letters. By giving the language no capital letters and, instead, using the capital letters as new ones, I was able to create a new alphabet with sounds not included in English. Anyway, this site is very easy to use, either for making a new font or creating characters in a language that is at least somewhat alphabetical.
Writing and Editing Tools
For those who have a difficult time keeping on task while writing, Focus Writer removes all distractions. Accessing a menu can be accomplished through raising the mouse to the top of the screen, but even that disappears soon after. There are also timer options so you can set an alarm to let you know you’ve reached your writing goal for the day or just to see how long you’ve been writing when you’re done.
For writers who don’t write their stories linearly, keeping up with chapters, scenes, and characters can become confusing. yWriter is a freeware program similar to Scrivener, which breaks your writing up into scenes that can be compiled later into chapters or, eventually, a book. There are also tools to keep up with characters, locations, items, and more.
It is suited to Microsoft Windows, however, requiring services such as Wine to be functional in Mac or Linux.
A popular site for all your grammar needs, Grammar Girl shows examples, goes over minutia that you would never think about, and does so in a way that feels neither condescending nor overbearing. Having her as a reference when you come up with a question about how to make or edit a sentence is very handy.
After Your Story Is Written
Since Windows doesn’t have the handy Save as PDF function like many Mac programs do, or at least it doesn’t do a good job on those programs that do have it, CutePDF may be a solution. CutePDF is installed as a printer so, whenever you want to make a PDF of any file, you act as if to print the file and select CutePDF. It’ll ask in a dialog box after where you want to save it and produce an excellent PDF of your product every time.
That being said, Amazon does not suggest using a PDF for making a Kindle book. However, having a PDF available to send is a good idea. You can also put a PDF on your own Kindle, which can help you prevent waste of paper when you read over your own work.
Photoshop is an excellent program, but it’s definitely not affordable for many people, especially for those who plan to dabble in graphic design rather than delve into it deeply. GIMP is a free alternative with many of the same functionalities as Photoshop and an active user community. Great for making world maps in fantasy or alien settings, or for making covers if you are feeling ambitious. Works on Windows or Mac if you download the right file.
If you want to publish, professional editing is always a good idea, but it costs so much. If you want to polish your story without having to shove out the big bucks, Critique.org has several workshops for different genres of writing. In return, your payment is to do critiques of other works once a week, which can serve to help you become a better critic of your own works. They have a system to critique novels, but it doesn’t get as reliable or numerous responses as those for short stories.