The Organized Writer: Best and Less than Best of 2009

by Jeff Abbott on December 21, 2009

Here’s my list of my favorite tools for organized writers in 2009. And my list of products that are good, but could be better. I have no interest in doing a worst list.

Best Of 2009:

Scrivener. I had tried Scrivener a couple of times before, usually partway through a book, and I couldn’t get my head wrapped around how it worked. Scrivener is a popular combination word processor/project manager specifically designed for writing novels and screenplays; it allows you keep all outlines, text, and research for a project in one place, and to easily move scenes around. David Hewson wrote in detail about how he’d made Scrivener work for him, and apparently my brain works a great deal like David’s, because — hold your breath –NOW Scrivener makes sense. I’m happily writing my new book in Scrivener (having started it in Scrivener, which at least for me has made all the difference). My favorite side effect of writing in Scrivener: since I have a lists of all scenes in the book now, I feel like I have a constant high-level view of the book that I only used to get from spreading out index cards all over the floor. (Note that Scrivener is 25% off until the end of the year, which I think is a great bargain. I have no ties to Scrivener other than as a happy customer.)

Circa notebooks from Levenger. This is a simple idea: a notebook that you can constantly rearrange, without thick binder rings. I have been keeping my notes for my new series in Circa notebooks (as well as for another project I’m working on) and they have made it much easier for me to find, update, and keep useful notes. Out of a catalog full of terrific products, the Circa notebook is one of Levenger’s best.

Habana notebooks from Quo Vadis. While Moleskines seem to be the de facto bound notebook for many writers, I really love the Habanas. The paper is better than that of the Moleskines, especially if you use a fountain pen. And the Habanas are slightly bigger than the Moleskines, which make them more useful for me when I’m taking long notes.

Nathan Bransford’s blog. I get a lot of questions from people on how to get published and the first and best resource I can point them to is Nathan’s blog. Thoughtful, insightful, and genuinely helpful, Nathan’s take as a literary agent (and now as an author) is invaluable.

David Hewson’s blog. David writes with nerve and verve about the process of writing fiction, punching holes in stereotypes (such as “write what you know”). One of the best writers’ blogs out there. My pick for best group blog are the fine folks over at Murderati. They offer a variety of smart and timely takes on issues critical to crime writers.

Less Than Best of 2009

These are worthy products that just need a bit of recalibration.

Das Keyboard. This is a new keyboard that feels like an old, very “clickety” keyboard from back when I learned how to type. Where most keyboards now use membrane keys, these are high-quality mechanical keys you used to find on IBM and Apple keyboards. The Das keyboard has a great feel, I don’t get nearly so tired typing on it, and I love the noise of it, which I guess I associate with the sound of writing. The only reason it’s on the Less Than Best list is that if you’re a Mac user, you must buy the additional Mac keys (Command and Alt/Option) and you must “remap” the keyboard for it to function like a Mac. This becomes a headache when you have the Das Keyboard hooked up to a laptop (as I do on my desk, with a monitor as well). Because you can’t have the Das Keyboard in the correct configuration AND have your laptop in the correct configuration. So, Das, if you want Mac users to fall in love with your otherwise excellent product, make a real Mac keyboard and don’t make us jump through hoops and pay extra. We’re ten percent of the market now. (If you are a Windows user, then consider the Das to be on the best list.)

Levenger True Writer fountain pens. These are among the prettiest fountain pens I’ve seen. They are also very high maintenance. You must store the pen upright; you must use it every day. Otherwise the ink jams and you have to clean the pen. I don’t want to have to clean a pen everytime I pick it up to use it. In Levenger’s defense, this is the first product of many I have bought from them that hasn’t been terrific, and both times when I complained about the pen’s performance on Twitter Levenger customer service contacted me in five minutes, which is astounding, eager to make me happy. When the True Writer works, it writes beautifully and I’m happy with it. But whether it’s the ink or the mechanism of the pen, it’s not a great fountain pen and I wouldn’t buy another.

Facebook and Twitter: Useful tools that seemed to take over the entire lives of several writers this past year. If your word count on Twitter is passing your word count on your book, you have a problem. Turn off the social networking and go write a book people will be eager to read. The social network will still be there when the writing is done. My concern is not with the sites themselves, as much as how writers use/abuse/waste time on them.

This blog. I definitely could have written more this year on the blog. Not necessarily on Organized Writer topics — I only have so much to say about planners and motivation and getting your act together — but in general about the writing life, reading good fiction, and more. I’ll try to do better in 2010.

    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    David Hansard December 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for putting these up, Jeff. I am now using Scrivener and I think I like it but I don’t know if it likes me as much as I like it. (Kind of like the cute girl with the ponytail in 4th grade). I find myself composing in Word then pasting the whole thing into Scrivener to organize, because Scrivener doesn’t autocorrect typos and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to make it show page numbers. It may be we just need to go away for a long weekend together. (Which I wanted to do with the girl in the ponytail but our mothers wouldn’t let us).

    Mike December 21, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Is there a Windows version of Scrivener? If not, is there a like-product? I have about a book and a half completed in (somewhat) organized fashion, but I know I need to dedicate some clean-up time to those pages plus complete the remaining 1.5 books.

    A decent organizational tool might be the perfect Christmas gift.



    Tracy Hahn-Burkett December 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Love, love, love Nathan’s blog. It’s relevant, informative and makes sense all the time. Seriously. I read a number of industry blogs, but Nathan’s is the one I make sure I visit every day.

    Jeff Abbott December 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Mike: There is not a Windows version of Scrivener. I would probably do a google on “Windows Scrivener” and see if you can find something similar. Not being a Windows user, I’m entirely unfamiliar with the software program available there. Thanks!

    Lindsay Oberst December 21, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I need to be a more organized, planning-ahead type of writer, so I appreciate this list. I tried out Scrivener during NaNoWriMo this year, but it didn’t make sense to me, or seem to help (I’ll see if the post you pointed out clears things up). Otherwise, what are some other noveling programs you have used and not liked? or liked?

    Love love your inclusion of twitter being overused by writers. It’s so east to get caught up and not remember to write. Thanks.

    Paige Bruce December 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I’ve heard a lot of really great things about Scrivener for a long time now, but unfortunately when my budget allowed for a new laptop earlier this year it didn’t quite allow for a new Mac one with the features I wanted, and so I’m a Windows user.

    If you’re interested in reviewing a few more programs for Windows users, then I’ve really enjoyed using Q10 – ( – as a writing program that eliminates all distractions. I find that the new Microsoft Word program is just too distracting to really get into the art of writing and I’m the type that likes to “play” instead of focusing! Q10 lets you do all the writing without the distractions, then you can take the resulting .txt file and open it in something like Word in order to fix the formatting of it.

    Either way, great post! As distracting as Twitter is, I’m glad I clicked the link to get here. :)

    Livia Blackburne December 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    “If your word count on Twitter is passing your word count on your book, you have a problem. ” Lol! Sad but true.

    Shayne December 21, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Hey Mike,

    I don’t know if it quite compares to Scrivener, but you might want to give yWriter a try. It’s free, and it’s cool. Here’s the link…


    Jeff Abbott December 22, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Paige and Shayne: Thanks very much for the Windows products recommendations. I’m unfamiliar with what’s out there for Windows, but am most glad if others can recommend tools that have worked for them.


    Pari Noskin Taichert December 26, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Thank you for the mention of Murderati. We’re all quite honored.

    My best for a wonderful New Year,

    smathers December 28, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Actually, what you say about key remapping in Das Keyboard isn’t true if you are running a recent Mac OS. Go to system preferences->keyboard->modifier keys. The keyboard should be recognized as a Das Keyboard, remap only those keys, do not remap the laptop keys. The result is that both the laptop and Das Keyboard will appear to act properly.



    David Johnson December 30, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Thank you for the blog post Jeff. Really glad that Scrivener finally made sense! ;-)

    Just wanted to let your readers know that we are working on ‘Scrivener for Windows’. Anyone can join our newsletter to obtain information, when it becomes available.

    Thanks again. All the best, David.

    D. Antone January 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll definitely be picking up Scrivener ASAP. I’ve been on the lookout for something like it.

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