Thursday, July 1, 2010

Internet Writers Resources - free for the taking!

(or confessions of a cheap writer)

by George Allwynn

As a writer, I have to make every penny count. I pinch it so tightly, I make Abe squeal like a little girl. That action gets plenty of stares from people, and an occasional slap from a blue haired granny at the checkout lane.

But, I digress.

I'm sure the other writers, all more culturally refined than I, will share with you a bounty chest full of brilliant writer programs and a treasure trove of state-of-the-art resources, the creme-de-la-creme of the latest and greatest writers gadgets, guaranttee to click the heel of your ruby slippers together!

However, my jewels don't sparkle that way. Simplicity and functionality is the name of my game.  My favorite writers resources have less than current published dates. Nor are their websites exciting and fresh. No bells, no whistles.

In my quest to be thrifty, I have trodden many and diverse Internet paths. Not an easy feat, as I am somewhat of a tech moron when it comes to computers. A lot of trial and error on my part (heavy on the error.)  Needless to say, I am still perfecting my computer savvy.

During my googling journeys, however, I've stumbled upon the wonderful world of freeware and open source.

Freeware is free, copyrighted software which is made available gratis/free of charge. Typically, freeware is proprietary; distributed without source code. It usually carries a license that permits redistribution but may have other restrictions, such as limitations on its commercial use. Although users may download it at no cost, the copyright keeps the software from being used in any way not expressly approved by its author.

Open Source is software that can be used, redistributed or rewritten free of charge; it's usually created by volunteers. Often referred to as a movement, open source software (or other content) is publicly shared intellectual property. They come with no warranty but are usually very well tested by development groups.

Once I find what I am looking for, I normally go straight to the creator’s web site to download. However, there are reliable web sites that specialize in localizing both freeware and open source. These usually have anti-virus programs that 'wash' the download as it is coming to you.  (I have been downloading freeware and open source for three years now, and have never had a problem.)  NOTE: Because so many people use these programs, other companies have been sneaking in under these titles with their try-then-buy policies. Please read through the information. Free is free (although some will ask for a donation to keep it free on the net.) This is different than a limited trial period, during which they will bug you to buy the full version.

Here are three of the many free programs I use and absolutely adore.

1. Writing Programs -


Don't dismiss this program because of the lack of beauty.  It is a functional tool, worthy to have on your computer.

What is yWriter?  It's a word processor created by a writer for writers.  It breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.  Although yWriter was designed for novels, enterprising users have created their own translation files to customize the program to work with plays, non-fiction and even sermons.

Features include: Organize your novel using a 'project,' adding chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations, display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total, progress tracking, automatic back-ups, multiple scenes, viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene story board view, a visual layout of your work, able to re-order scenes within chapters, drag and drop of chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations, automatic daily zip of the entire project, and text-to-speech built into the text editor.

Another free writers program is StoryBook. I've worked nicely on this one as well (in fact, I have StoryBook on one computer, and yWriter on the other).  This program, a tad more colorful than yWriter, will upgrade for a 10 dollar donation. Don't feel you have to. Yet, once you start working on it, you might find yourself inclined to say 'thank-you' with a donation toward their website expenses.

2. Distraction Programs -


Q10 is a dark, full screen generator.  Why would a writer want this as a resource?  Well, if any of you have ADHD or OCD (or have any attention disorders, no matter how small) this little baby will help you, big time!  This is also great for Nanowrimo warriors, word wars, and timed writing jaunts.

How?  By allowing you to focus on your work, and ONLY your work!  It darkens your whole screen so all you can see is the contrasting color text you type.  It has word, page and character counts that are updated live as you type.  Also included is the customizable look and paragraph format, change the colors, line spacing, first line indent, paragraph spacing, font, a timer, spell checker, auto saving, --- and this is SOOOO cool, it has a typing sound effect (you know, for us archaic writers who miss the hypnotizing sound of the clickity-click-click the old typewriters used to sing to us...)

Other free, dark screen programs include Write Room or Dark Room

3.  Text to Speech programs -


It is always good to check the flow of your stories by reading your works out loud. Even better if you can have someone else read it out loud while you relax and let it sink in.  If you don't have the luxury of waking up your mate at 3am for instant gratification of the novel kind, text to speech programs fit the bill. In fact, once you get situated with one, you'll wonder how you managed without it.

If you don't use the one hidden in your Microsoft program (or you don't use Microsoft), try either the Panopreter program (address above), Alien Speech or Speak Out .  These all do basically the same thing (read your text aloud) - but some people prefer different 'voices' (I for one, am totally in love with the British voice of Peter. He reads ALL of my stories to me!)  Some computer voices are better than others, and, of course, some of them let you choose between male and female.  Once again, these programs are free to use.

Beside the freeware and open source programs, I also take advantage of web sites pandering to the needs of writers, especially those sites which have many of their resources for free.  I highly recommend two (although expect to lose track of all the hours of fun you'll have exploring the sites)

4. Generator Blog -

This website has a plethora of generators - anything you can think of!  I use them during writers block as, sometimes, all I need is a well worded sentence or a kick in the butt to get me out of my funk and on my way to story land.  Some of the ones I have found here are (a whole mess of generators for nearly any genre), (I use this to make sure my female characters sound like females, as I have a terrible time writing women), and (always handy when a telephone book isn't around).

5. Writing Links -

Too numerous to go into detail, you'll want to bookmark this sweet thing! An up-to-date, awesome website filled with all sorts of writing resources, some of them freeware and open source programs to get you started.

So, there you are. The top five items (plus a few bonus alternatives) I use in my arsenal of writing weapons. I encourage you to investigate these offerings on your own because, in these economically depressed times, it doesn't take living on a writer’s income to see the wisdom in taking advantage of all the good, free things the Internet offers to us writers.

With all that said, I just wish someone would invent a program granting a few extra hours per day. Imagine the word count I could accomplish!


  1. I'm right there with you on these, and while I consider myself "up to date" with the free and inexpensive on line, your post gave me some new resources to think about and play with. It is only fair I do the same for you!

    From the man who gives us yWriter comes another writer's tool. It is called SONAR (like yWriter a free download). SONAR is a tracking app for managing your short-story submissions. Keep track of who you sent your latest story to, prevent inappropriate multiple submissions, and so forth.

    Thanks for this post. Always glad to learn of more writer's software and resources!


  2. I learned a lot as well, George! Thanks so much for the great suggestions. I'm embarrassed to admit I've tried NONE of them.

  3. Great post, George. I will certainly check some of these things out. I do like the idea of someone (albeit a canned someone) reading my story back to me! Now that is a cool idea... :)

  4. I was wondering about that - do you take notes as you listen? Or have the document open and pause/make corrections as they come up?

    How sad is it I didn't know my Word program even had that option? Going to try it this week!

  5. Thanks for the heads-up. I've never heard of any of these programs, so that tells you how short my tech savvy really is. I'll check out the SONAR.

  6. Someone reading my stuff back to me? Wow, now I can stop creating multiple personalities. Thanks for the info, George. I didn't know most of this stuff existed.

  7. Richard - thanks for the tip! The way the economy is now a days, ever bit helps - whether you are a writer or not!

  8. CJ - you would be really surprised what is free out there - and don't be afraid to try them. With the free virus de-bugging programs out there (or if you try some of these freebies from places like Source, or download.cnet (and there are a bunch of other sites, but those are the two I use the most) - they make sure your downloads are virus free...,

  9. David - I really love mine! I just place my chapter in place, and turn Peter on (oh - that didn't sound quite right, but you all know what I mean) - and this nice, male British accent comes on and reads my chapter to me.

    I can adjust the speed, the pitch - or even go female. There are other voices - Mike from Microsoft still sounds a bit too robotic for me, and of course, there are females as well. Depending on which free program you go with.

    For me, it has been wonderful - and the best price of all - free! (BUT I tried several out there before I settled on the one I wanted.

  10. CJ - I usually do it twice - the first time I close my eyes and lay down. I want to judge the flow of sentences, the flow of the arcs, the flow of one scene into the other...

    The second time around, I do take notes - either on a plain paper (if my chapter wasn't too bad) or with a print out of my chapter and my red pen handy.

    You pause, do what you need to do/correct, and continue.

  11. Hi Gregory!

    The ones I work with are free. Now, if you want to get really fancy (with other accents or foreign languages and a few other bells and whistles) - there are ones you can buy.

    However, for my purposes, the free ones have worked quite well for me - and I'm in love with Peters voice...

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