Software For Starving Authors (and not so starving ones)

By Butch Wilson

Then what you’re

looking for is at your fingertips.

Software for Starving Authors

(and not so starving ones).

Hi Gang –

I’m Butch Wilson, an Educational Technologist by trade, a writer and storyteller because I just can’t help myself. “Educational Technologist” is a fancy way of saying “that computer guy at the school”. In my case, it’s a bunch of schools. I provide technology support and software training for fifty two schools in Southern Illinois.

Part of my job is helping teachers find free, and nearly free, ways to help kids learn. Over the past year enough folks have said that I should be passing some of this stuff on to writers that the idea finally sank in. So, until that “House in the Hamptons” book deal comes through, and we can hire people for the grammar checking, typesetting, and publicity, let’s share some “cool tools” to help us in our craft.

A couple things up front:

You know that internal editor that you have? The one that hangs out and makes snarky comments while you work? Sometimes he or she does play by play of your day. (spoons go in the dishwasher, not the disposal…) Maybe it’s a side effect of my job, but mine is, well… not so internal.

You’ll find the inner dialogue in italics. Sometimes it’s just me being snarky, sometimes I might just be working on a new chili recipe. Feel more than free to skip over it. (Unless, you know, you want to compare chili recipes…)

My hope is, each time, to give you something from at least one of the following categories:

  • a tool for our everyday use of the computer
  • a tool or resource aimed at helping us develop or promote our writing goals
  • and maybe something to help keep us motivated.

I will try to include clickable links that will take you to more information on all the things presented, (because there is ALWAYS more information a mouse click away).

The bottom line, for me, is this:

Writing and creating is hard work. Getting the tools to do it shouldn’t be.

They shouldn’t cost us the light bill to get, and the best ones,

the “Cool Tools”, should work and stay out of the way of the process.

Every Day, Hands on the Keyboard stuff:

I was standing at one of the big box electronics stores awhile back, and met a very nice lady buying the MS Office Suite for her high school aged daughter. Current list price (at this writing) for Office Professional is about $400 bucks. The store wasn’t bothering (because they probably didn’t know) to tell Mom that she could get the Home and Student version for $90. The major difference? Home and Student doesn’t come with Publisher. Since her daughter needed it for homework, not desktop publishing, it worked out good for them.

You can find it at a number of reputable online and brick and mortar (read regular) stores. All you need is a mouse… and a credit/debit card.

Now, if you aren’t a slave to the brand name? Allow me to point you to the same writing and budget management functionality, for $0 dollars.

OpenOffice, courtesy of the nice folks at, does pretty much everything a writer needs, and more. And, it is Open Source. In layman’s terms, that means it is free for you to use.

(No, Auntie June, I promise this is not a trick. Not at all like that pretty movie I emailed you,

the one with the peaceful spring meadow where the zombie jumped out, screaming, at the end.)

Umm… where was I?

You can download the program, all of it, at the link above. Once you have it installed, you will see that it works, pretty much, just like the commercial word processing software (Word, Wordperfect) you are used to. Some of the buttons may be in a different place, but the learning curve is a bunny slope and you can be back to writing in no time.

One BIG difference? Stories written in Open Office can be saved in Word or Wordperfect, and, stories created in those programs can be opened and edited in Open Office.

How cool is that?

Need some help? Check this out Tutorials for Open Office. Just like the link says,– free, step by step and guided tours, for you to print out, or open on your computer and follow along, no experience necessary. Really. They even have one called “No Computer Experience”.

Which begs the question: “If you have no experience, at all, how’d you get to that page on the internet?”

Not ready to give up your brand name word processing? Ok, here’s the same thing for you, courtesy of the amazing educational folks at Florida Gulf Coast University. They have online tutorials for all of Office 2000 AND Office 2007, and all you need is a mouse. Here’s the link: Office Tutorials

One other “hands on” writing related tip:

While we’re still in word processing, MS Office 2003 and 2007 both have a standard template for “Book Manuscript”. In 2007 you can find it by clicking “New” & “Installed Templates”. In both, you can also find it by opening Word Help, then searching for “Book Template”. Or, you can download it, free, here, from Office’s online help site.

Cool, huh? (But wait, there’s more) Whether from a generic Word document, or the template, you can change the margins, line spacing, the distance to indent first lines…. All that, and then create your own template, simply by clicking the “File – Save As”, and selecting “Word Template”. Call it something you’ll remember, save it somewhere you’ll remember, so you can open it when you start the next book or draft. Viola! The grunt work of starting your next piece is done, “auto-magically”. It works the same way in Open Office, by the way.

Just remember to hit the “Save as” and save it as some other name – “My New Book” document, the first time you save. That way the template you created will still be there, clean and formatted and ready to use.

Ever gotten lost in your own novel?

I have. I sometimes lose track of how tall Billy is, or where he lives (and just why did his accent go from Scottish to Italian?), or when Mary had to die (shh, she doesn’t know). That is where Plotcraft comes in. Plotcraft was created by programmer, fellow writer, and all around interesting guy, Fahim Farook. It’s designed to help folks like us keep our tales on track. It’s an easy download, easy install. It runs, I know, on Windows XP and Vista. AND? Plotcraft is available free for your use.

Unlike the Open Source license, Fahim calls his licensing model “Care Ware”. To quote the license itself: “Simply pay for it by caring enough about the people around you and helping them out whenever they need help.” I told you, he’s a neat guy. He does mention that, if you want to do something nice for him, you might, maybe, buy his book. His website includes a link to that.

Ok, so is that enough to play with today? Yeah, I know, if you do ALL of this, one at a time, we’ve sucked up your free time until a week from next Tuesday.

The thing to remember is this:

Just like with cooking, writing, and plotting the perfect murder, being willing to try new things teaches us how to get away with a lot more, a lot faster.

If you have questions, or you want to whack me over the head for getting something wrong, click here and drop me a line.


About Clay Stafford

Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker ( and founder of Killer Nashville ( As a writer himself, he has over 1.5 million copies of his own books in print in over 14 languages. Stafford’s latest projects are the feature documentary “One of the Miracles” ( and the music CD “XO” ( A champion of writers, Publishers Weekly has identified Stafford as playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” throughout “the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13)
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