From Idea to Publication: The Tools and Systems in My Writer's Toolbox

From Idea to Publication: The Tools and Systems in My Writer's Toolbox

Whatever your craft, an artist is only as good as his tools. Or whatever that saying is. I know when I was trying to write my first full-length work of fiction, I spent a lot of time researching the best tools to use...for capturing ideas, for drafting, for editing, for formatting, and everything else. Now, the secret behind all of this is that there is no perfect set of tools that will turn anyone into a New York Times bestselling author. And there are also myriad ways of carrying out any step in the writing process, so what works for me won't necessarily work for another author. With all of those disclaimers in place, today I'm sharing the essential tools in my writer's toolbox. Maybe you'll find something new here to try out for your next draft.

Capturing Ideas

It’s helpful to have a system to capture ideas, but let’s face it: perfection in this area is unlikely to be achieved. If you have an idea notebook that you swear is the only place you will ever write down a writing-related idea, what happens when you’re out and about and inspiration strikes but you forgot the notebook at home?

Part of my journey as a writer has required embracing mess and imperfection. My desk is covered in sticky notes, and I have a few different notebooks where ideas can get jotted down–though my favorite one was a Christmas gift from my niece and is covered in sharks and full of some of my favorite ideas thus far. 

And then there are the digital options: I’ve got notes in my phone, a Google Doc full of outlines, and at least a few Evernote pages that no longer make any sense to me.

The point here, the one thing I absolutely won’t change my mind about, no matter how many times I change my method for capturing ideas is this: they need to be captured. If you have a great idea, write it down. Don’t tell yourself you’ll remember it. You might think the idea is so great there’s no way you can forget it, but that’s one area where my brain likes to surprise me by excelling: if it’s not written down, it will vanish without a trace.


The first video I ever watched about outlining a novel was this one from Katytastic, which was a resource shared during my very first NaNoWriMo attempt. I still revisit it, even after learning more about outlines and beats and writing a few full-length works of fiction. As mentioned above, I keep all of my outlines in one Google Doc, which is easy enough to do when my outlines are each less than a page in length. I know many writers outline for thousands and thousands of words, and if that was my style then I would definitely have a separate file for each one. As it is, having all the outlines there together helps if I need to refer to another story to make sure I'm not writing the same Act 3 again, for example.


When I'm in drafting mode, my favorite, favorite, favorite tool is 4thewords. I can't speak highly enough about it, and naturally as I am writing this right now, I'm currently using it. 4thewords is a gamified writing platform, and it has been a total game changer for my writing productivity. The way it works is that there's a storyline, an epic battle that you're chipping away at day by day. The way that you engage in that battle is by fighting assorted monsters—each monster has a wordcount and a time limit, meaning that in order to beat that monster you need to write that number of words before the timer runs out. It's incredibly motivating, even for a non-gamer like me, and I look forward to logging into it every day. This is a paid membership, running about $4 a month, but from my experience it's completely worth it. If you're not sure if this is the kind of thing that would be motivating for you, it's worth checking out a 30 day trial to see how it goes for you. When I did that, it got me out of a writing slump and back into the habit of chipping away at my story day by day. I have a referral code that will get you free crystals (which can be used to purchase additional subscription time or to trade in for goodies in the app) when you sign up. To try it out, just visit and enter this code: MVCNK22186.


Apart from the humans who play an indispensable role in the beta reading and editing process, I also wanted to find a software to help me do my own self edits. For me, the clear winner (and there are a few alternatives out there) was ProWritingAid. I like the variety of reports that it can run, along with the fact that you can tailor the settings to different genres. Perhaps most significantly, I'm always a fan of a lifetime fee over a monthly membership. I purchased a lifetime license for ProWritingAid during one of their sales, and I haven't looked back. I'm still finessing my workflow for ProWritingAid, but I have no intention of trading it in for one of its competitors any time soon.


My go-to for formatting is Atticus. I've used different formatting software in the past, but getting in on the ground floor with Atticus, while they were still in their beta launch mode (which basically meant the price was slightly reduced and there were still some bugs being worked out) worked out in my favor for all future books. Using the same software for every book makes it easy to apply the same style with a few clicks, to add template pages (such as an "Also by this author" page or other front/back matter) without having to recreate it from scratch every time, and I like that I can access it all anywhere since it's online. 


In general, I publish my e-books direct to the retailers. The exception to this is Apple Books, which I reach through Draft2Digital, along with some other, smaller sites like Scribd. For paperbacks, I’m a big fan of publishing through IngramSpark and getting those paperbacks everywhere. I’m going to start branching out a bit and publishing paperbacks through Kindle Direct Publishing (just for Amazon), IngramSpark (for all the other retailers), and BookVault (for my own direct store). I’ll keep you posted on the comparison in printing quality through the different sources. 

writer's toolbox software and systems

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