Archive for category Technology

Outlining: Zapier Review

Rather than repeat what has been done well elsewhere let me refer you to a good overview of outlining software for a variety of platforms, both free software and paid, over at

Some tools are aimed more at check-lists and task management, but I recommend you take a look at the following reviews:

  • OneNote – full featured, though complex to use. Great for research
  • Workflowy – A clean interface with simepl nested text
  • LittleOutliner – simple and easy to use, but requires a web connection
  • OmniOutliner – A good Mac tool, somewhere between an outliner and a database
  • CarbonFin – Full featured, but I would need to check how to get notes out of it
  • UV Outliner – A good free Windows Outliner, nice outlines but with check-list features
  • Scrivener – Scriverner is the Boss, but there’s a learning curve. Worth the cost and the effort
  • Mellel – Aimed at professional writers but with too much emphasis on formatting for me. Distracting.

So that’s a good round up, but there are other tools that might fit the bill which we will look it in due course

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Outlining: AllMyNotes Organiser

One of my objectives is to show how you don’t need to spend a lot of money to use a decent outlining tool. There are some excellent tools out there that are either free or are available at minimal cost, such as the example below:

AllMyNotes Organiser

Windows Only: Free Version, Deluxe Edition ($34)


AllMyNotes Organiser

Organisation – 7/10

AllMyNotes is a two-panel organiser with navigation on the left and content on the right. Notes can be organised into folders with each folder holding many notes or folders which can then be viewed by highlighting them in the navigation panel. Notes are Rich text, so you can add formatting such as bold or underlining, generate ordered or bullet point lists.

Perspective – 6/10

Using AllMyNotes allows you to see the framework of the outline you are working on but only in hierarchical form. You can show an hide elements to drill down into detail and expand to get the full hierarchy but this is quite a manual process. On large outlines you would be restricted by the amount of screen estate that you can access.

Function – 8/10

You can easily add a table and there are buttons to insert the current date and time. overall the functions are flexible and full-featured. You can also add reminders to notes so that they generate a pop-up alarm (assuming the program is running in the background). Notes are saved in .ddb format, which could then be synced using Dropbox or similar, though there is a separate backup feature. The notebook files can be protected by a password and the files are encrypted.

Speed – 6/10

The application is fast and responsive and although the buttons are non-standard, it’s not hard to figure out what they do. The active button highlighting looks strange but you get used to it. One issue is the lack of keyboard short-cuts. You find yourself flipping between mouse and keyboard for simple tasks like adding a new note or folder. Also notes or folder are added as peers unless the folder is expanded which you can’t do if it’s a new empty folder. It’s niggles like this that let the product down.

Compatibility – 5/10

The product runs on Windows only and ran well under Windows 7 and 10. There is no version for Android, Mac, or other non-Windows. There are various options to change to look and feel to suit your mood. Content can easily be exported to an HTML, RTF or plain text file, though there are no options to remove metadata like the indent level or title.

Verve – 6/10

Overall AllMyNotes is quite fun to use. Its speed and versatility are attractive, though it needs some usability work to make it really useful.

Overall – 6.4/10


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Wattpad – Reaching the Next Generation of Readers?

Today I opened my email to find this message, delivered via my website:


Subject: Reaching the Next Generation of Readers
Dear Mike,Please forgive the slightly skewed approach, but my name is Gavin and I work for Wattpad. We’re a community of readers and writers, and I work as part of their content team. As I’m responsible for Science Fiction and Fantasy on the site I wondered if I could entice you to join.Wattpad are a worldwide community of some 18 Million + readers and Writers, and we’ve attracted some great authors to the community like Brandon Sanderson, Cory Doctorow, Margaret Atwood and David Moody, who’ve posted everything from poetry and short stories to excerpts of ‘in progress’ works and full novels so their fans across the world can read them.The community is very much virtual, in that all the reading is done either online or via Mobile App, but that means that we can reach people even in the poorest parts of the world who have the odd position of having mobile devices but no books.I’d love to be able to talk more to you more about this, and if we’re able to pop up even a drabble or a short story for the community to read it would be wonderful to see.Thank you for your time, and I hope this email finds you well,Best Regards,Gavin

 The approach seemed genuine rather than a phishing attempt, which I also regularly receive, and I checked out the website and the entry on Wikipedia to see what they were about. It’s an interesting pitch because it invites me to reach out to the millions of people in the world who can’t afford books, but who are in the odd position (their words) of having an Android, Blackberry or IOS device, but no books. Still, an audience of 18 million is not to be sneezed at.

Then I started reading more carefully. Gavin says he works for Wattpad as part of the content team. He names a number of well-known authors as contributors, not least Cory Doctorow who is notable for his advocacy of free content. And then it struck me – if Gavin works for Wattpad, then he is getting paid.

I checked out the website further and discovered that not only is Gavin getting paid, but so is the HR Manager, the Business Development Manager, the Content Manager, together with a team of developers and marketing people. All these people are employees – indeed, Wattpad are recruiting if you are a talented developer and you live within reach of Toronto.

The message invites me to contribute some of my work to the Wattpad site for the benefit of the Wattpad Community, people who have joined the community for free, so they are not paying customers, and I wondered how Wattpad was paying all these employees if it’s free to join? So, I joined the site and soon found the advertising content on the search results pages. With an audience of 18 million, the advertising revenue potential must be considerable.

It was at this point that I decided to reply to Wattpad in this post, rather than send them a simple ‘not interested’ email. It seemed to me that there was a wider issue that should be aired.

The proposition from Gavin is that I provide them with a short story, part-work, novel or drabble, for free. This content is donated to Wattpad under the following conditions extracted from their Terms of Service:

6.C For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to, you hereby grant a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Website and its affiliates. You also hereby waive any moral rights you may have in your User Submissions and grant each user of the Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website. You understand and agree, however, that may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted.

Not only is the license for this content royalty-free, but it is also transferrable and applies not only to the site but also to its affiliates, whatever they may be.

My answer to Gavin and his colleagues at Wattpad, is no, I will not provide my work for your benefit, even if it means missing the opportunity to put my writing into the hands of people starved of books, but who are in the odd position of having an iPhone, Android device or Blackberry. By the way, countries where smartphones and tablets are in use widely tend not to be the poorest parts of the world.

Far too often authors are being asked to contribute their work for no reward other than the pleasure of pleasing others. It’s insidious, and at the base of it is the implicit assumption that an author’s work has little or no value, particularly when there is so much available for free. That leaves corporates like Wattpad, whose investors are looking for a return on shareholder capital from dividends and a rising share price, free to exploit both writers and readers.

So if you want to keep Gavin and his colleagues in work, and reward co-founders Allen Lau (Chief Technology Officer) and Ivan Yuen (CEO and winner of the Impact Infused Award, sponsored by Deloitte) with a big fat bonus, join Wattpad and contribute your efforts for nothing.

To Gavin, thanks for the offer. I know you’d love to talk to me about the benefits of contributing to a worldwide community of readers and writers, but the beauty of the Internet is that I am already doing that.



Tools for Writing 7 – Writer’s Café

Simon West

For this week’s post in Tools for Writing I have a guest contributor, Simon West.  Simon is a new writer, dipping his toe in the waters of fiction and non-fiction and has a long-term goal of writing for a living.  Simon has been using Writer’s Café and has volunteered to review it for us.  Over to you, Simon:

Writer’s Café is a software package on offer from Anthemion Software Inc – and yes, despite the single program, it is a package, targeted towards: creative story writers, screenwriters, biographers, directors – in effect, anyone who would benefit from an organizer to compile their ideas. Writer’s Café is not marketed as a fully featured writing platform, rather it strives to be a stimulant and nerve centre of creative thought; a “playground for the imagination”. Husband and wife team Dr Julian and Harriet Smart have attempted to offer writers a comprehensive set of tools to kindle and control the path of writing projects, and have outdone themselves in terms of customisation and escapism. What is meant by escapism? The tools are nestled within a Windows styled desktop which can be maximised to fill the screen, obscuring the taskbar and every other program (or rather, distraction) from view. This leaves the writer free to immerse themselves within their writing when research is no longer a necessity.

Writer's Café Desktop

The core features available are: storylines, pinboard, scraps, notebook, journal and the writing prompt. These sit alongside various eBooks of technical tips, inspirational quotes and a guide to fiction entitled: “Fiction: The Facts”, based on over twenty years of Harriet’s professional writing experience. A name generator is also included, however the results are often amusing and would likely be of most use during speed writing exercises. To access any of these features, program icons are locked to a grid on the desktop and snap to the four sides, while a windows-style start button groups everything into categories. A menu bar is also available across the top of the screen, providing links to tools and the home screen (desktop). Icons for all of the above on both the desktop and menu bar can be removed and added at any time via the preferences menu, so the environment needn’t be cluttered with unused tools.

Read the rest of this entry »


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Tools for Writing 6 – yWriter

We’ll be looking at a PC tool in this part of the series, and it’s one that is squarely aimed at the structured approach.  yWriter is produced by Spacejock Software, and as you can probably tell from the developer’s moniker, is designed and built by an SF writer, Simon Haynes.  Like some other tools that have been reviewed here. yWriter is free to download, but unlike some of the others it is actively being developed and supported.  There is an active user community and there are even video walk-throughs to watch on the website.  There is an opportunity to donate if you find the software useful.

yWriter Main Screen

The opening screen (shown right) provides an insight into yWriter. You see the main project window with chapters arranged in the left pane and the description associated with those chapters in the panel below.  The main panel has a number of tabs showing Scenes, Project Notes, Characters, Locations and Items.  Clicking on a chapter in the side-panel shows the scenes, etc. for that chapter in the main panel.

yWriter aims to structure your work into chapters which then comprise multiple scenes.  Clicking on a scene shows a preview of that scene in the bottom of the main panel, along with Characters, Description, Locations, Items, Scene Notes and Goals for that scene.

Writers working on multiple projects, or writers with large and complex works will know that it is sometimes hard to keep track of all the information associated with their work-in-progress and yWriter aims to address this by giving you ample opportunity to document what you are doing and build structure around your work. Read the rest of this entry »


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Tools for Writing 5 – FreeMind

As part of my series on tools for writing, I wanted to take a look at, not only tools for drafting and editing your work, but also tools to help you plan what you write and structure your thoughts.

In this post we’ll be looking at FreeMind, a mind-mapping tool which allows you to organise and structure your ideas.  FreeMind runs on a variety of platforms and is an Open Source project, so it is entirely free.  Don’t be put off by the fact that this is not a commercial product – it is well-supported, under continuous development and is downloaded about 6,000 times a day – so it’s a very popular product.  I have used it for years and found it to be very reliable.  You will need Java runtime on your machine to run it, though, but that is also free and many people will already have it installed.

Basic Mind Map (click to expand)

When you first open FreeMind, this is the screen with which you are presented (this is on a Mac, on Windows it adopts the Microsoft look and feel).  There is a menu, a toolbar with usual Save, Print, Copy Paste etc with a vertical toolbar with lots of small icons.

In the centre of the screen is an oval with the word “New Mindmap” in it.  If you type at this point it will replace these words with a title of your choosing, usually the subject of this particular map.

If you are familiar with the techniques of mind-mapping then you are going to be right at home, but if you haven’t used this technique are are unfamiliar with it then I would suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on Mind-Mapping, which is agnostic of any tool, or get hold of Tony Buzan’s book Mind Mapping: Kickstart your creativity and transform your life.  The claim may be hyperbole but it is an interesting book.

As a very quick introduction for the uninitiated, mind mapping allows you to connect thoughts and ideas to a central concept and then connect and re-organise those ideas in a non-linear manner allowing increasing levels of detail.  It’s like an ever-expanding tree of ideas, notes, concepts, reminders and thoughts, specifically arranged around a central concept. Read the rest of this entry »



Tools for Writing 4 – Scrivener

This time in Tools for Writing, I’ll be looking at another Mac product, Scrivener from Literature and Latte.

This is not freeware and costs USD $39.95 at the time of writing, but it’s still within the budget of most writers and it has advantages over the products we have been reviewing like RoughDraft 3 and Jer’s Novel Writer, in that it is both supported and subject to further development.  Scrivener is available on a 30 day trial as a download from the website, so you can try it before you decide whether to buy.

Main Window (click to enlarge)

The initial interface presented by Scrivener is relatively simple, showing a rich text editing window together with a structure pane to the left.  The name of the item being edited is shown above the editing pane together with forward and back button so that you can skip back and forth between items like a browser.

There is a button bar across the top with view and search options and a status bar at the bottom which controls the viewing scale and shows the word-count and target.  This simple interface hides a great deal of functionality, preventing Scrivener from appearing daunting to the novice.

As blocks of text are created in the tool they appear on the left in the outline.  How you structure these is up to you, but you can create folders and sub-folders, text files and sub-text files within that structure, allowing you to break up your work into chapters, scenes or whatever makes sense to you.  Rearranging your work is then simply a mater of dragging and dropping in the side-bar. Read the rest of this entry »