The beginning of November marks the start of NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month, an interesting exercise in the human ability to create, where you’re asked to write a 50,000 word novel in the space of November for fun on top of everything else you normally do.
We did it last year, and it’s great fun, proving to yourself that yes, you can write a book, even if you may not necessarily be able to get it published.
Participating in National Novel Writing Month won’t really get you any monetary rewards, as it’s more about your abilities, and challenging yourself to do what thousands of others can do: write for fun.
Writing has proven itself to be an excellent way to get out emotions, to throw out passion and fear and annoyance and a whole bunch of other emotions, all while conjuring up the brain and letting your imagination literally (and essentially literary) wild.
What’s more, after doing it – and completing it – last year, I can tell you that it’s not about having a novel edited and technically ready for print by the end of the month, but rather about turning that big old machine at the top of your head into a writing factory, churning out words and sentences and paragraphs into a long semi-readable block that proves you have a story in you.
Anyone can do it, and with all the computers we have in our lives – phones, tablets, laptops, desktops – here are some apps that can help you throughout the month on whatever platform you own, as well as some tips that we found along the way.
It might seem an odd place to start, but we find the accessories as helpful as the apps. A good keyboard is the best thing to get you on your way, and whatever you’re using – tablet or computer – you’re almost always going to be better with a physical device than an onscreen option.
You don’t necessarily need a case to improve the typing experience on an iPad, and the iKeyboard tries to prove this with a plastic bubble overlay that you can take with you on Apple’s 9.7 inch tablet.
Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (iPad)
Most tablet keyboard cases are bulky, but then there are the slim ones that seem like they’re just an extension of your initial tablet purchase. The Ultrathin is one of these, using Apple’s magnetic hinge on recent iPad models to snap on without any problems.
Adonit Writer Plus iPad
If the regular keyboard choices aren’t really working for you, try something else. Adonit’s uses a combination of aluminium, suede, and rubber, and the keyboard is detachable, plus, the iPad can be removed from the case quickly and easily.
Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard (iPad)
Believe it or not, this is what this journalist used last year for NaNoWriMo, and still uses it to write most of his reviews on. While it can weigh down the iPad and make it feel more like a laptop, it’s one of the few keyboard cases you can use on public transport because it always keeps your tablet upright.
Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 Universal (Android)
One of the very few Android tablet cases with a keyboard built in, this one is the Android equivalent of an iPad model we’ve reviewed, and can be modified slightly to fit most 10 inch tablets.
Apple Wireless Keyboard (iPad, Mac OS X)
Designed to for with Apple computers, but just as friendly to the iPad, the wireless keyboard from the company that made both uses two AA batteries, runs on Bluetooth, and is easily one of the better keyboards out there.
Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard (iPad, Android, Windows, Mac OS X)
Theoretically, every Bluetooth keyboard should support all operating systems, but Microsoft’s Wedge is one of the only ones we’ve found that actually acknowledges the other ones. Designed to be thin and light, the Wedge comes with a stand that should support any tablet, or go and use it with your regular computer.
There’s no doubting that Apple’s iPad is one of the best tablets out there, and it probably has one of the best supply of writing apps out for it. We’ve spent more than we probably should on different writing apps for this device, so here are our picks.
A relatively simple writing app, PlainText is inexpensive enough to please anyone, and yet still manages to include organisation with folders and Dropbox support. It does come with ads at the bottom of the screen, but if you fork out two bucks, you can remove them easily enough.
Do you long for the days where a typewriter was the ultimate machine for getting words out? That’s what this app recreates, offering you the “clack-clack-clack” sound of a typewriter while you type on your screen. Every document can be sent to an email as the original text, or with what looks like the slightly faded typewriter ink. It’s your call.
A simple and clear writing application that tries to remove distractions, there’s backup support for Dropbox and iCloud, as well as a focus mode which will let you see only three lines, forcing you to pay attention only to what you’re writing at the time.
It might feel like we’ve harped on and on about this app in the past, but we really like it. Daedalus turns writing into a touch friendly exercise, separating each chapter into a sheet of paper, or if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, consider each day a brand new sheet. It compiles all these sheets in a folder, and you can quickly use your fingers to jump around each document, or search for specific terms with the search bar. Backing up is vitally important for writing, and Daedalus syncs to various cloud storage systems, as well as informs you of how many words you’ve completed.
Novel in 30
This is one of the only dedicated iPad apps designed for the 30 day writing challenges, and Novel in 30 will offer you a new sheet for every day, counting your words and offering you little notifications when you’ve completed a milestone, such as 10,000 words, allowing you to share in your glory with friends and family on social networks.
Often seen as the inexpensive alternative to the iPad, Android tablets are growing in numbers, and while there isn’t much in the way of writing software out yet, you can still churn out a decent set of writing with tablets running Google’s operating system.
An excellent note-taking application, Evernote could be used for writing your book quite easily, with a new note each day that synchronises whenever you’re on WiFi with Evernote’s servers.
There isn’t much to Writer, with a basic file system and organised by title or date, and a plus symbol to create a document from scratch. You’ll always see the number of words and characters you’re writing at all times and, hey, it’s free.
Write: Tablet/Notepad Journal
Easily one of Android’s best writing applications, it’s about as close as you can get to the simplicity of iA Writer, with a way of backing up easily to Dropbox. Worth checking out.
We wish there were more writing apps on Android, but xWriter is a great one to check out, with a straight-forward organisation system that pulls its inspiration from binders and manilla folders, and allows you to export into PDF, as well as backup to Google and Dropbox. There’s a free app so you can try it, but this only supports up to three notes, so if you like it, you should probably spend the three bucks.
Mac OS X
Still write on a traditional computer, and is it a Mac? No worries, because we’ve got that covered, in both Mac and Windows apps below, starting with the best of the best on the Apple OS.
It’s not much to look at, but Apple’s TextEdit is the cheapest writing application you’ll ever find on Mac, because it comes with the operating system. Mountain Lion (10.8) users can even save to the iCloud, so everything is backed up nicely.
Clean Writer Pro
We’re fans of not paying much, and Clean Writer Pro offers a fullscreen minimalistic writing experience for a buck. The app is pretty basic, while it may not be as pretty as iA Writer, we like how the lines we’re not working on are greyed out as we keep writing.
Price: $4.99; Older version available for free
One of the more unique writing experiences you can have, OmmWriter has you type on a screen with a minimalist wallpaper, playing a similarly minimalist ambient relaxing soundtrack behind it all. Good for getting yourself in the mood to write when you’re itching to clear your head.
As clean as its iPad equivalent, iA Writer is one of the best options out there on Mac OS to write. The app is about as simple as it gets, and your entire screen will go to a slightly off-white, allowing you to immerse yourself in your writing and only your writing.
Price: $9.99; Free option available
Another clean writing app, this one features an iOS version too (iPad, iPhone) that can use Dropbox and sync the apps together, not only allowing you to read what you’ve written at home on your iMac with your phone or tablet, but edit it too.
Price: $45; 30-day free trial available
Probably one of the best solutions for writing and putting together a book, Scrivener is more than just a writing application. It throws in a corkboard for ideas, ways of throwing in pictures and keeping your thoughts together, and even making it possible to export your book as an ePub so friends can read it on an iPad or eReader.
There’s more to life than writing on tablets, and most people have access to a computer of some kind. Now that Windows 8 is actually available, this section will cover apps for both, as all Windows 7 apps will work on 8, and there are certainly more of those out right now.
Like TextEdit on Mac OS, you can always use the Windows favourite Notepad to write in pure text, or even switch to Wordpad if you want to save in something a little more interesting than txt format. Sadly, Microsoft never really updated the program, so it won’t export to Dropbox or other backup services natively, so make sure to backup your files by hand.
Clear, simple, and fullscreen, Q10 is about as distraction-free as it gets, and since iA Writer doesn’t exist
A clone of OmmWriter for Windows, ZenWriter includes similar minimalist background music and a serene wallpaper to write to. There are a few background to choose from, and you can spellcheck inside the app, create folders, and print.
Price: $4.99; Older version available for free
Just like its brother on Mac OS, OmmWriter is all about clearing your head and typing. We’re more fans of the ambient soundtrack in this than in ZenWriter, but both have free versions, so it might be worth checking out the duo and seeing which you prefer.
Note Sphere (Windows 8 specific)
Windows 8 hasn’t been out for very long, and as such, there aren’t many apps that take advantage of the neat and clean modern touchscreen interface it uses. Note Sphere isn’t the best writing app we’ve seen yet, but we could certainly use it for NaNoWriMo, and it’s actually what we used for writing this story and even a review or two. You can create categories and add notes for each day, and it backs up the information to various drives too.
Price: $40; 30-day free trial available
Just as good as its Mac OS brother, Scrivener for Windows lets you do all the same things such as scrapbooking ideas, work the chapters out on a corkboard, and export into PDF and ePub, only it works in Windows.
If software doesn’t cut it for you, why not try the online option, using websites
National Novel Writing Month official website
Price: Free; Available at nanowrimo.org
NaNoWriMo hosts its own text entry service, and you can certainly use this to enter in your story here, though it’s pretty barebones and we only used it to count our words last time.
Price: Free; Available at Google Drive
Google’s online document system is a bit like the free web-based equivalent of Microsoft Office, allowing you to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with ease. All you need is a Google account – the same one you use for Gmail – and you can login, creating documents and editing them from anywhere, including Android or iOS devices, as well as, of course, your web browser on a PC or Mac.
Price: Free; Available at wordpress.com
A slightly different approach to NaNoWriMo is to write each day and each chapter as an entry to your own personal blog, showing the world exactly what you’re writing. WordPress can host your pages, you’ll just have to fill in what they say.
Adding to the NaNoWriMo word count
As you can see, there are quite a few different ways you can work on a novel or other form of writing, but none of these apps really connect with the official NaNoWriMo website, except of course for the site itself.
So make sure to login every day or two and update your account with your new words, allowing the website to calculate how many words you’re up to.
This is one of the reasons why we work in sheets based on the day we’re writing, because it makes it so much easier to select all and copy day two into the NaNoWriMo online word count, as opposed to remembering where we finished last.
Backing up is your friend
Many of the apps we’ve mentioned have some form of backup, and it’s insanely important that you take advantage of it.
This is your book, your novel, and keeping it backed up – not just on your physical device, but somewhere on the cloud – will mean it’s stored safely so you can possibly edit it later on.
If the app doesn’t have Dropbox integration or you’re using a computer, grab an account at the service and copy the files over while you’re writing.
Trust us, the last thing you want to do is lose all that work.
Over the course of a day, we write at least three to five thousand words. That’s a decent amount, and then during National Novel Writing Month, we go home and write some more.
This much writing means we know how important it is to get comfortable, because you need to put all of your attention into your words.
We find it best to set yourself up, maybe on your bed, or in a sturdy seat with a decent back, and just make sure you’re going to be comfortable. This might mean there’s a cup of coffee at your side, or something else relaxing.
Whatever it is, just make sure you’re comfortable, because it’s hard to get words out if you’re not.
Writing seems difficult, but once you get into your flow, it’s pretty much full steam ahead, and you brain can just let you dive in, your fingers going to work.
Some people worry about editing their work as they go along, because much of what you type can be nonsense, but don’t worry about this, because NaNoWriMo is about writing, not editing.
So keep writing, and don’t worry about the end result. If it sounds like a mess of words and a chaos of sentences and poor structure, fix it later, after you’ve completed the 50,000 word minimum.
Just concentrate on writing words, that’s the important part.
Don’t worry if you can’t fill the word quota
National Novel Writing Month is great fun and tends to exercise that big muscle in that head of yours, but don’t worry if you can’t fill the word quota every day.
With a 50,000 word minimum, that’s roughly 1670 words per day, which sounds like a lot.Don’t worry about that number, though, and make sure you’re enjoying the act of writing.
If you’re doing it and finding that writing had become more of a chore, stop for a while and come back later.