Writing Tools

There are basic tools essential to composing a grand opus.

A Dictionary

A physical dictionary is acceptable, but on-line access is far more efficient. Dictionary.com serves well.

True story: A politician (2020), in the midst of a soaring endorsement, declared a compatriot, "a mendacious individual of the highest order." Sounds breathtaking and inspiring... except... mendacious means he's a habitual liar, and while the statement was true, it wasn't the speaker's intention to out him. He liked the sound of the word, but was ignorant of it.

You may have some words in your lexicon that you rarely use—perhaps never in daily conversation—that you introduce to spice up your exposition or dialogue, as you should. They sound impressive, but... are you sure of their precise meaning?

For example:
  • Are you using the word literally correctly?
  • A factoid is not a small fact.
  • Flammable versus inflammable?
  • Irony? Ultimate? Redundant? Nauseous versus nauseate?
Look them up. While writing, keep a tab on your browser open to whichever dictionary you prefer and use it often to verify both meaning and spelling of words you're incorporating into your work that might be at the margins of your understanding.

A Thesaurus

Like a dictionary, a physical thesaurus is helpful, but on-line access is so much easier you're likely to use it more often. Thesaurus.com, sibling to Dictionary.com, is user friendly.

How many times do you have a character walk across the room? Why not stroll, stomp, saunter, strut, any of which better descibes their motion without [using, enlisting, employing] an adverb? Thesaurus.com [lists, itemizes, offers] 25 alternates for walk, and 12 for walking. Here's the 56 synonyms to walked.

There was a time a writer would never use a noun, verb, or adjective twice in a paragraph. But, sometimes you must and sometimes you're forced to for effect. However, if all that your characters do is look at each other and their surroundings—he looked steadily, he took a quick look, he looked around the corner—and never stare, glance, or peek, you'll fall into adverb hell and your writing will be... [boring, tedious, humdrum, monotonous, lifeless, stale, stodgy, tiresome, uninteresting?]
I'll choose lifeless to make my point.


Research is essential and Google is a favorite of writers. You may prefer Bing. Either way, cave scriptor.
  • Always check the source of information you use.
  • Discern fact from opinion.
  • Not all opinion is bad. Sort fact-based from wild-eyed opinions: is the opinion based on facts or fanciful speculation?
  • Keep a record of the source of your facts. Maintain a word processor file, "[WorkingTitle]_SourceLinks," for example, and append information you use in your work including the source URL:
  • Because the information provided by Google is so extensive, be cautioned against over-explaining things in your manuscript solely because you find it enthralling.
  • Be careful regarding unintential plagiarism.

About Plagiarism

It's been said that if you copy one source it's plagiarism, but if you copy many sources, it's research. It's the word copy that makes the joke.

Legal advice cannot be offered by IQ140. Seek legal counsel if quotes from copyrighted material are included in your manuscript. Here are a few starter questions to ask your attorney:
  • Is it true that song lyrics are so tightly monitored that quoting even a few phrases can get you a cease and desist letter?
  • Is it true that all works published in the United States in 1923 and earlier are in the public domain?
  • Is it true that titles cannot be copyrighted?
Beyond quoting Shakespeare, the ancient Greeks, or the Bible, and doing so surgically, it's best to keep to your own stuff.

Avoiding Data Loss

Many writers have wound up poised on rooftop ledges due to complete loss of their manuscript. Okay, that's hyperbole, but if you've ever lost a large file due to a computer crash, fire, flood, theft, or a stupid, "I don't believe I just deleted that," error, it sure feels that way.

Here's a protocol that will ensure file retention, protect the integrity of those files, and allow resurection of characters and scenes deleted in earlier rewrites:
  • When you save your manuscript file, Working_Title for the first time, name it Working_Title-001. Use at least 3 digit with leading zeros so the file names will be in order in your computer's directory.
  • Be sure to set your word processor to Auto Save, so it does back-ups while you're working, but also Save the file regularly while at the keyboard.
  • At the end of each writing session, Save the file. Then increment the number and Save As Working_Title-002, for example.
  • If during that writing, you eliminated a character, Nate, you may want to do an additional Save As Working_Title-003_eliminated-Nate. In this way, you can easily find the last file in the directory with Nate, Working_Title-002, and resurrect him if need be.
  • If you are power-writing—doing a marathon push as the muses descend upon you en masse—increment and Save As every few hours.
  • Once a week, or more often if you've been doing a lot of writing, after incrementing and saving the file at the end of your writing day, also save it to a flash/thumb-drive which you keep somewhere other than alongside your computer.
  • Periodically make an additional thumb-drive copy and keep it somewhere off-premises.
By saving generations of your work:
  • You can't lose more than a days work if a file becomes corrupted.
  • You can't lose more than a few days—back to your last thumb-drive backup—if you lose your entire computer.
  • You can go back to previous versions to reclaim good writing.

Programs and Application for Writing

Microsoft Word, MSWord, is not perfect, but it is the industry standard. If you choose not to use it, then Apache OpenOffice word processor, a free analog to MSWord, is a viable option.

When working with editors, agents, and publishers, the majority will request documents in MSWord format: .DOCX, though the earlier .DOC may also be acceptable.

The word processor you employ must support Track Changes which is a collaborative feature allowing an author and editor to work on a manuscript document, passing modifications between the two. This is sufficiently essential that a brief tutorial is provided: How to use Track Changes.

Other than MSWord: Schrivener, Grammarly, Dabble, GoogleDocs, Draft, WriteRoom for MAC, ProWritingAid, AutoCrit, Hemingway, iA Writer, and LivingWriter are just a few writing tools. Google: programs and applications for writing for links to, discussions about, and prices of each.

A compare and contrast is beyond the scope of IQ140. We prefer an undistracted writing space, but recognize that many writers find the additional organizational tools of these application integrate well with their writing style, and suggest research with an emphasis on reviewing the experiences of other users.

Commentary: Some of you, perhaps your children or grandchildren, came of age with the availability of the hand calculator. The debate: should young students be made to memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables—as previous generations were—or be allowed to use calculators in class and on tests? Today, it's common to observe people at the check-out line wrestle verifying their change on a purchase ending in .88 when paying in even dollars.

There are fundamental, foundational, core disciplines for which mastery is not an option. When writing, those who know grammar, punctuation, spelling, and vocabulary rather than have a program do it for them, are writers with greater creativity, flexibility, and agility.


Mention of products or web resources does not constitute an endorsement. This information is provided for your convenience and it is strongly recommended that you research the applicability, usability, stability, reliability, and affordability of these systems for your purposes.

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