Tools of the trade

With lots of people posting their initial impressions on Scrivener 2.0, I figured I’d talk about some of the other tools I use since I plan to write about my impressions of Scrivener 2.0 after I’ve completed NaNoWriMo.  Scrivener is, of course my main tool for writing because it does a whole lot of things very well. But there are other tools I use and these are listed below.

Tools for backups

As a writer, the stuff that I write is difficult to recreate should it be lost. Ultimately this is true of any data stored on computer and we have almost all experienced some sort of data loss from which we couldn’t recover. Here are the tools that I use to ensure that I never lose any data, whether its the story I’m working on, photos, music, research, whatever.

  • iDrive for Macintosh.  iDrive is a “cloud” backup application that backs your data up to the cloud.  The nice thing about iDrive is that you can backup up to 5 computers and so this software is used on my laptop, Kelly’s laptop and the desktop that acts as our server.  iDrive backs up small files in real time as changes are made.  For larger files, backups are scheduled nightly and as long as the computers remain on, the data gets backed up without thinking about it.  I pay for 500 GB (1/2 TB) of storage space and it costs about $100/year.  The very first backup (which backed up all my music, photos, videos, etc.) took a couple of days, even with the pretty high upload speeds that I have, but all subsequent backups are quick and if the computer is not connected at the scheduled time, the backup takes place the next time it’s connected.  Restores are easy (you can restore from anywhere using a web browser) and for full-restores they will send you a flash drive with your data if requested.  I sleep easy at night knowing that our stuff is always backed up.
  • Thumb drive backups.  After I finish a writing session, I take the extra precaution of backing up my writing data to a thumb drive.  I have an Automator script that I run on my mac that backs up all my writing files to the thumb drive.  This is perhaps paranoia on my part, but it makes sure that the stuff I write gets backed up if for some reason the iDrive backup doesn’t happen for a few hours.

Submission/story tracking

There are now lots of tools out there for tracking stories submissions and other business online, but my methods have evolved over 15 years and center around spreadsheets and so I stick with my own custom system.

The system makes use of a Google Docs spreadsheet–so that it accessible no matter where I go.  The spreadsheet has a number of tabs to track things in different ways:

  • Submission log: lists all of my submissions in order of date, going back to January 1993.  I track the story, market, current status, notes, final date, and number of days out for submission.  For rejections, the status links to either a copy of the gmail rejection message or a scanned in copy of rejection letter.  For acceptances, the entry links to the acceptance note and a copy of the contract and check, all of which are stored in Google Docs.
  • Publication log: lists all my publications by story, market, publication date, type (original, reprint) and payment.
  • Story log: list all my stories in order of completion.  Each story contains some summary information culled from the Submission Log: # of submissions, rejections, sales, publications and the total payments received for the piece.
  • Market log: an alphabetical list of all markets to which I have submitted, along with summary info like #submissions, rejections, sales, and the average response time.
  • Expense log: a list of all writing-related expenses along with links to scanned in copies of receipts for tax purposes.

Calendar and scheduling tools

I use Google Calendar for tracking writing-related events and progress.  I have a separate calendar called “Writing” on which I put anything writing related, whether its a meeting of the Arlington Writers Group, a science fiction convention, or other event.  I also use the calendar as my “timesheet” for tracking my time writing (important for tax purposes for certain types of write-offs).  Each writing session goes on the calendar with a subject something like this:

5-7am Far Away Places (1,635/23,924)

That tells me that on that day, between 5 and 7 am, added 1,635 words to the story Far Away Places, bringing the total word count to 23,924.  I will add other notes to indicate revisions, proofreading, research, outlining, etc.  I have ben using this method for over a year and it is simple and works well.  Once per quarter, I take the data from Google Calendar and export it to my spreadsheet where I can filter it and compute totals.  In fact, “Take One for the Road”, the story I recently sold to ANALOG, is the first story for which I can give an exact accounting of the total time I spent working on it from first conception to sale.

Domain, website and blog

For a few years now, I own and maintain three domains to use for my Internet presence:,, and  These domains host my website and blog, and these are the tools that I use to make it all work:

  • DirectNIC: this is the company I use for hosting my domain.  They are relatively inexpensive and provide a good set of tools for people wiling to do some grunt work (which means you have to know what you are doing).  One of the reasons I chose them is because they provide MySQL database access which is something I wanted for my website.
  • MySQL: I use this to manage databases, primarily the databases used by WordPress.
  • WordPress: I use a custom installation of WordPress which I installed on my own and customized some of the code and templates to meet my needs. My installation of WordPress automatically crossposts my blog entries to my LiveJournal account, as well as to Twitter and Facebook.

Other tools

A few other items worth mentioning:

  • Gmail.  I use it for all my email needs.  It is by far the best email system I have encountered and I’ve never had a problem with it.  At this point I have it highly customized to my needs, with labels, and filters that make going through my email easy.  All software should be this easy and intuitive to use.
  • Google Docs.  When I am away from my laptop, I rely heavily on Google Docs for writing-related functions.  While it’s no Scrivener, it’s the next best thing.  I can work on a story, or notes, or whatever and then copy or import them into Scrivener at a later time.

That about sums it up.  What tools do you use?


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.