Tools of the Trade: Editing tools for writers

Let’s discuss what writers need beyond a pen and paper or that all essential keyboard especially when it comes to making revisions.  The best tools are an exceptional dictionary, a handbook guide to grammar, a thesaurus and/or rhyming dictionary, a set of resources for naming your characters, tool bars and a search engine ready to look up not just information but to confirm quotations and facts, and personally I never leave a desk devoid of a stack of chocolate.

The Dictionary
Why is it necessary? Today we have spell-check everywhere. Except the more you write the more you realize that spell-check is not a highly functioning tool. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used a relatively obscure word that a spell-checker embedded into major software has not been able to clear and identify. I have these Twilight Zone moments when I race over to an online dictionary like Merriam-Webster.com and console myself that I’ve spelled the obscure word correctly. When I am correct, I’m sure to add the word to the spell-check dictionary by right-clicking on the word in whatever program I’m using to add it in. But imagine if you’re sometimes using a small program like Notepad, or in two or three various email apps or web browsers, or you’re using Word. You’ll never want to stop and take the time to open every single place you have spell-check software to correct it. Not when you’re on a writing deadline. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

So get a good dictionary, even if you only go online to Merriam-Webster Online and use it. Merriam-Webster Online is free and if you add it to your bookmarks toolbar, it’s right at your fingertips. Enter the word into the search box and it will try and find it for you even if you’ve misspelled it. Another perk to M-W.com is that they also provide sound clips of words to help with pronunciation. This is the most beneficial aspect of the site to me.

A Handbook to Good Grammar
Why is it necessary? As with the dictionary, you will have software monitoring your grammar these days too. But this is even more dubious than the spell-check because a computer is trying to check a thoroughly human process; namely speech patterns which are colloquial, regional and purposefully misused to good effect. The most famous book outlining correct grammar for writers who publish is the notorious title The Elements of Style by William Strunk and edited by E.B. White. This is affectionately known in writing circles as the ol’ Strunk ‘n’ White’s. You can buy it in a bookstore, or you can find a copy of it on the Gutenberg Project here because it’s now in the public domain. It’s invaluable to read it at least once. It’s the kind of book every writer can pull off their shelf, flip through it, and then put it back, presumably gleaning much excellent knowledge from it. (Even if you’re doing it to pose for your girlfriend for a few moments of giving the illusion of a tortured artiste.)

Another option is to go to Grammar Girl online. How did I find Grammar Girl? It’s a shameless tale of inputting search terms into Google like ‘explain it’s and its’ or ‘where to place the comma when using an apostrophe’ and lo and behold Grammar Girl would surface as one of the top search results with my answer. I tend to go to Strunk and White’s or Grammar Girl when I’m in that agonizing phase of the final polish, or when I’m helping proofread a novel that’s about to go to print. It’s indispensable and for a writer’s bookshelf non-negotiable. It makes you look great to have touched up your grammar thoroughly before publication.

Thesaurus or Rhyme Dictionary
Why is it necessary? It’s a simple answer. At some point your brain will misfire into a vocabulary recursive loop in which you fixate on a word repeatedly in the same sentence or paragraph. Ludicrous example: The waving waves of waving wheat were golden in the summer sun. In the light of a waning moon these words probably sounded like genius alliteration but by the cold light of an editorial Monday morning, you’ll soon think again. And then you’ll reach for that thesaurus possibly from underneath your desk. There is online help here as well and you can find it at Thesaurus online, a branch site of Dictionary.com. It’s great so use it.

And whether you wish to admit it or not, we’ll all need a rhyme, at least some of the time. You can buy a paperback rhyming dictionary in the writing section of your bookstore and you can also go to Rhyme Zone which is the site I prefer. They give you a great selection of rhymes divided up by syllable count.

Character Naming Resources
How do you choose a character name? There are several ways to choose an effective character name in the process of writing a story. The best way to choose a character name is to browse through popular baby names on the internet. You can also use a character surname based on street names or place names in your local geography.

There are books printed with lists of character names as well and you can find these books in the writing section of your local bookstore. I use The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook written by Sherrilyn Kenyon and have the second edition. This book is loaded with names and gives tips on various ethnic details about naming conventions. It’s well-researched and worth the purchase. This book also lists the meaning of each name given if possible.

Many name sites on the internet will give you the meaning of a particular name. Not all characters have realistic names and you may want an outrageous or poetic character name to fit a particular mood in your writing style. For example, science fiction character names may be quite outlandish and sound highly unique. But a simple, urban story may require that you choose a character name that sounds like you found it right from the phone book. Remember to look for names online by using search terms like popular baby names, or popular French surnames to find your results quickly.

Search Engines and Tool Bars
You’ll live attached to this like Neo from the Matrix, and whether or not you know kung fu at the end is really a matter of effort. I don’t know a writer who isn’t attached to Google or some other search engine (or more than one) almost twenty-four hours a day. You need to verify everything in publishing. There are a few hard and fast rules, for example, like fair use acts when quoting other material, or verifying that Gene Kelly really did say this or that phrase and not Fred Astaire. Sometimes writers even need translation tools, or weather and astronomical tools that are also available online. One of the best ways to keep your tools at your fingertips is to create a long list of resources in your Bookmarks Toolbar. It will sit just under your web browser’s major interface and you will have a visual dashboard ready to go anywhere on the web with a click of a button. If you’re a mobile writer, you can add these sites to your iPhone, iPad or other mobile devices too.

Chocolate
Is it really optional?

No.

Editing tools for writers differ from many other fields in that they might almost seem invisible or commonplace; just a book on your desk or clicking on a search engine box and using it. However, this rather compact set of tools is vital for attaining an excellent writing style so take the time to find your stash of tools and keep them on hand where ever you go.