10 Time-Saving Tech Tips for Writers

  1. Make Google Chrome the default web browser on your computer and phone.

    The cool kids have already switched to Google Chrome, with good reason. As of March 2013, 51.7% of web users browse with Chrome, and it’s still gaining in popularity. Usage statistics are extremely important because web designers build sites to function correctly on the most common browsers. FireFox (28.5% of users) and Internet Explorer (13%) are trending down, while Safari (4.1%) and Opera (1.8%) are holding steady at the bottom.

    Chrome has several noteworthy features. Here are a few of my favorites: (1) Chrome synchronizes the bookmarks I save on my PC to my Google account, and then syncs from the cloud to the Chrome app on my iPhone, and vice versa. (2) Chrome’s homepage displays my favorite apps so I can access them quickly–a simple, yet effective time-saving feature. (3) Chrome’s bookmarks bar is simple and brilliant. (4) Chrome’s built-in “inspect element” feature lets me view the webpage code for specific images and text, which helps me learn HTML and CSS.

  2. Run blog posts through Facebook Debugger before sharing them.

    Ever have trouble sharing a blog post on Facebook? Try entering the web address of the blog post into Facebook Debugger, which clears any previous cache of the webpage and indexes the current page into Facebook’s shareable cache, or tells you why the post isn’t tagged correctly.

  1. Use one space after sentences, not two.

    Skim your books and magazines, and you’ll see that none of them use two spaces after sentences. A debate exists over whether the typewriter and its monospaced font created the two-space trend, or whether it was inherited by European typesetters. Regardless, two facts are clear: (1) proportional fonts have replaced monospaced fonts, and (2) typesetters no longer use two spaces at the end of sentences. Not only will your work be more readable with one space after each sentence, you’ll save yourself the time and effort of unnecessary spacebar hits.

    To change the sentence spacing setting in Word 2010, go to Options, Proofing, Writing Style, Settings, Space required between sentences: “1”

  2. Learn e-book basics.

    When you finish your manuscript, you’ll probably need test readers, and they’ll want to read you manuscript in e-book form. Kindle devices need mobi or KF8 files, while the other devices (iPad, Nook, Kobo, etc.) use a more universal file format called epub. Adobe InDesign can be used to create professional versions all three file types, though there is a learning curve. A free alternative is Calibre, which can convert Word documents into epub, mobi, and KF8 files. To create my test reader manuscripts, I imported my Word chapters into InDesign CS6, exported to epub, and then used Calibre to convert my epub file to a mobi file.

    E-readers and mobile devices interpret e-books as flowable content XHTML webpages. The table of contents acts like a homepage with links to each chapter. XHTML files are coded using cascading style sheets (CSS) that define the e-book’s formatting. For advanced formatting, use a program such as Sigil or Mobi Unpack to “explode” the e-book file and edit its CSS code. CSS is the foundation of all modern websites and e-books. Learn CSS for free at Code Academy.

  3. Keep your laptop “shotgun ready.”

    Keeping your laptop “shotgun ready” means knowing that if the software on your laptop is erased, you can recreate the same software environment on another machine. New laptops usually include an operating system serial number, but not the disk containing the software. Manufacturers sometimes offer the operating system disk for a fee of $10 or $20; pay it. If you need to restore your laptop, that disk will be your new BFF.

    Think of your data files as a separate entity from your OS; they’re the files that can’t be re-purchased. Check out my post on backups, written as a short story. In my post, I mention six backup methods: Gmail, thumb drive, Dropbox, external solid state drive (SSD), DVD burner, and hard copy. Programs designed to automatically back up files are common, but they often compress data into proprietary formats and make restoring lost files confusing. You’re likely better off manually compressing and storing your files. If working on a manuscript, the simplest daily backup method is to compress the folder containing your document files, and then email that compressed file to yourself using a cloud-based email service, such as Gmail or Outlook.com. In case you are unfamiliar with how to compress folders, here are directions from Microsoft and Apple.

  4. Don’t install third-party antivirus software.

    For the average internet user, the odds of falling prey to a computer virus in 2013 are practically zero. However, engaging in activities like downloading bootlegged versions of Adobe Photoshop causes the odds of attaining a virus to skyrocket.

    In 2009, Microsoft released its own antivirus software, Microsoft Security Essentials, a free download. If you have a Windows computer, that’s what you should be running to protect your PC—nothing more. Apple computers remain mostly virus free and now include an anti-malware program called Gatekeeper. Unless you venture into shady parts of the internet, additional antivirus software will only steal your system resources and slow your computer.

  5. Create a new Word document for each chapter/section.

    Author’s don’t create quality books by sitting down and typing out a story as it comes to their brain. Good books require months of planning before the story forms on the page. Part of that planning is figuring out how many chapters to include, and what causes a chapter break. Making each chapter distinct is easier when you work on it as its own Word document. If you’re backing up your data using the compressed file option, you’re still just uploading one file. After writing all the chapters, just build one document, your manuscript, using copy and paste.

    Not only does one chapter per document make sense from a writing standpoint, from a tech standpoint, Word is far more stable when working with smaller files. Plus, e-books are simply a collection of XHTML files (one per chapter) with a linked table of contents, so it’s smart to start thinking of your manuscript this way. The individual documents also make tracking chapter word counts a breeze.

  6. Purchase an IPS monitor that swivels.

    A secondary monitor is extremely useful because it allows research to take place on one screen and writing to take place on another. Unlike standard LCD monitors, IPS screen technology produces “consistent and accurate color from all viewing angles.” This allows IPS monitors to include a swivel feature, meaning users can rotate the monitor into a vertical orientation.

    IPS monitors that swivel are coveted by software engineers who need the ability to edit lots of on-screen text: the benefit of vertical space also applies to literary works. I usually keep my IPS monitor horizontal, but when I want to check or change the formatting of my manuscript, full-page viewing makes life much, much easier. Be sure to download Display Fusion so you can set different backgrounds for each monitor or one background that stretches across your screens.

  7. Purchase a docking station for your laptop.

    As mentioned in my post about the best laptops for writers, a quality docking station eliminates the need for a home desktop computer. Setting my laptop down on its docking station instantly connects seven cables that I would otherwise need to plug-in and unplug almost every day.

  8. Try digital brainstorming.

    Mind mapping software allows users to express their ideas in little bubbles of various shapes and colors, then easily link or group them into a logical map. I used mind mapping as my starting point for brainstorming Black Collar. After listing my themes and characters, I grouped the best ideas and character traits. With those ideas, I moved on to handwriting my major plot arcs, and eventually to storyboarding the plot using index cards. Mind mapping helped me get started. I used the free version of Edraw MindMap, but there are many others. SimpleMind makes popular mind mapping apps for iPad and iPhone, and Android products.

I hope these time-saving tech tips for writers make your life a little easier. If you have any tech tips for writers you’d like to share or want more information about any of the above topics, please comment below or contact me directly. Thanks for reading!

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