Five Tools to Organize Your Digital Junk Drawer

Photo by net_efekt.

So today I’m going to talk about writing software. No, not Notepad or, God help us, Microsoft Word. I’m a FocusWriter man when it comes to raw text generation, thank you very much. I’m talking about keeping all those ideas, scraps of dialogue, abandoned outlines, inspirational pictures, and the other assorted objects that pile up in one’s digital writing drawer.

Almost all of the software I’m about to talk about has proven tremendously useful in organizing my writing. Problem is, learning software takes time, and organization can itself become an obstacle to writing — as can looking for shiny new tools to replace the familiar yet no-longer-so-shiny old tool.

Although these aren’t formal reviews as such, I do include a short list of pros and cons for each. I’m a big believer in using the tool that works best for you. So if you like a big folder full of Word files, go! Be that thing! But this is what’s worked for me.

1. Snowflake Pro

Snowflake Pro

Specifically designed for Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method — a method I’m quite fond of, by the way — Snowflake Pro is a very slick tool. Ingermanson was a software engineer, so Snowflake Pro is intuitive, well-documented, and easy to use. I picked it up on a significant discount, and it got me through the last couple years of National Novel Writing Month. The most impressive thing about Snowflake Pro is how it helps assemble a killer proposal — that alone is nearly worth the price tag.

Pros: Intuitive, friendly, well-documented, Randy is a helpful guy who will answer your emails.
Cons: Non-trivial price point, Java-based, doesn’t work perfectly on Linux (unfortunately for yours truly).
Website: Snowflake Pro

2. Liquid Story Binder

Liquid Story Binder

If Snowflake Pro is a finely honed tool for a specific purpose, Liquid Story Binder is a Swiss Army knife that just injected itself with horse steroids. Sleek, attractive, and distressingly flexible, LSB can take on crack-like qualities to writers obsessed with organization. LSB not only has planners, outlining tools, and storyboards, but image galleries and almost endless customization capabilities. For smaller projects, it’s like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly, but if you’re trying to wrangle a ton of content into a single place, LSB is a great tool.

Pros: Flexible, attractive, unparalleled freedom, handles images, sound files, and other media.
Cons: Payware, high learning curve, may harm your productivity in the short run because SHINY.
Website: Black Obelistk Software

3. CeltX

As far as I’m concerned, Celtx is simply the best screenwriting tool out there. It’s very full-featured for a free download, and the payware add-ons bring some very slick functionality to the software (especially the Writer’s Bundle, which is quite nice). I love Celtx for writing scripts, but find it’s not quite as well-suited to prose writing as, say, LSB.

Pros: Free, great screenwriting tool, lots of plugins and support.
Cons: A bit clunky at actual text editing.
Website: CeltX

4. Devonthink

Back when I was a Mac user, I swore by DevonThink. It was my first experience with a powerful organizing tool, and I loved it infinitely. In fact, it was my search for a free and / or Linux-based alternative to DevonThink that led me to most of the tools on this list. I don’t use a Mac anymore, and I bowed out before Scrivener became popular, but I still think it’s a fine piece of software and worth a look if you use Apple products.

Pros: Powerful, intuitive, holds all kinds of media, easy to import / export.
Cons: Payware, Mac-only.
Website: DevonThink

5. Zim

Zim is what I’m writing on right now. A “desktop wiki,” Zim organizes text into a series of files, which can be hyperlinked to one another, indexed and mapped. I like it mostly because it organizes everything into tidy “notebooks,” which I keep on Dropbox for easy and pain-free syncing. (I talk about said pain-free syncing at my gaming blog, but it works for any kind of writing project.)  Zim doesn’t really handle much beyond straight text, but sometimes the simplest tools are the best.

Pros: Fast, free, lightweight, writes everything to plain text files.
Cons: Bare-bones functionality, the occasional minor software bug.
Website: Zim

Honorable Mentions

yWriter and Writer’s Cafe. I used both for awhile, but ultimately abandoned them in favor of one or more of the tools above.

So what about you? Any particular writing tools you swear by?

Website: Snowflake Pro

6 Replies to “Five Tools to Organize Your Digital Junk Drawer”

  1. I tentatively downloaded yWriter5 and fell in love with it instantly. That is… until I tried to open my project the other day and everything was lost! :'(

    In yWriter5’s defence – I think it may have had something to do with me shuffling my desktop icons around (to make your NaNo wallpaper more visible, actually!), and putting all my yWriter5 files into a newly created “ywriter5 stuff” folder.

    Even though it may have been my own fault… I’m too scared to try anything else for the time being! *traumatised*

    I may look into Zim for my next project though… once the pain isn’t so raw…

    1. I might give yWriter5 another chance one of these days. I just had a hard time getting it running on Linux, and then it didn’t thrill me. But I go through these minimalist periods where something like Zim really appeals to me.

      My condolences on the loss of your stuff. That’s got to hurt. If you ever do try Zim, it’s pretty difficult to lose your materials, since it just writes everything to text or rich text files.

      I hope you get your novel reconstructed soon!

    2. Oh no! I’m very sorry to hear that Catherine. I hope the trauma fades soon, and you can recover/remember most of your work. 🙁

      I use Liquid Story Binder because I’m actually not distracted by SHINY (rather, I’m more likely to be gently frightened of feature-rich editors). I haven’t lost any of my work in LSB, because it writes its files to the rich text format. As long as you are only moving the story binders (which are these folder trees that LSB handily creates for you), you can always find your work again!

      Of course… it can be a bit daunting to find files from within LSB at first. It has a high learning curve. You need to sit down with it, and its online manual for a few hours to get started. When I need or want that kind of organization, it’s my one-stop shop.

      But to be honest, usually I just write in Notepad. :X

  2. This is really helpful! I started exploring the freeware options and decided to try yWriter5 (a runner-up, I know, but one of the simplest ones for non-techie-me to handle). I guess it really is high time for me to get organized!

    Thanks mucho!

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