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