Writing Gadgets: Part One

Hello, my name is Joan Swan and I’m a writing-related gadget addict.

It’s a rather recent problem, since I went back to work full time and have both more money to spend and more excuses to spend it on anything and everything that might enhance my writing productivity, because, of course, I have less time to write.  I need all the help I can get, right?

Here, I’m going to touch on those little goodies that I’ve tried and share the goods, the bads and the uglies.  But there are so many, I’m going to have to break it up into sections.

In Part I, I’m going to give you my top three picks:  Jott, ClickFree and Liquid Story Binder.  (And, no, I have absolutely no ties to these companies what-so-ever.)

Coming soon, my take on other gadgets such as software, netbooks, music, books and even more techno-thingamabobbers.


This is a really new application for me.  I found mention of it on a blog and went to the website to check it out.  Basically, Jott is an application that “lets you use your voice (via your phone) to capture notes & to-dos, set reminders and appointments, send email and text messages, and post to your favorite web services, all on the go”.

Well, I’m on the go a lot.  I drive about 35,000 miles a year.  That’s just for work and doesn’t include playing taxi for the kids.  So, when I found out about Jott I checked it out, and I have to say, I really like it.  It does everything it says it does.  I’ve been playing with the trial period and have already posted to my facebook, set up doctor appointment reminders, emailed my husband, created and populated lists for possible blog topics and sent myself notes all via my voice over the phone.  Now, I know there are lots of phones out there that can do the same thing…but this does it by speaking the information into the phone, not having to text/type it in, which comes in handy in various situations.

While this is an awesome little treat to use for everything from grocery lists to email construction, I find it incredibly valuable for writing.  Driving for long periods puts your mind in a meditative state.  Similar to when you’re taking a bath or a shower or taking a walk, so lots of great ideas come to me while I’m driving.  But it’s never convenient to write anything substantial.  So, plot twists and character traits can be saved with a ten second voicemail, which is then translated into text and sent to you via email or text message.  Wha-la: saved in black and white.  No more thinking…what was that great idea I had about…? 

I got the JottAssistant, which allows you unlimited monthly messages that do all of the above for $3.95/mo.  The only limitation is how long you can speak.  In this package, you’re speaking time is 15 seconds.  So while you’re not going to be reciting a novel…you can recite a sentence.  And you could conceivably build your word count sentence by sentence, although it’s probably not the strongest use of the application.

Jott has other packages, but they cost more and are directed more for the sales or traveling professional.  Heck, for $3.95 a month? I spend more than that on breakfast every morning.


In December, my laptop was stolen out of my car.  We were on vacation, left the laptop in the car, went shopping, and when I got back, the laptop, my DSLR camera, my daughter’s purse and the GPS were gone.

Very difficult lesson: BACK UP YOUR FILES. 

I knew I needed to do it, but I didn’t really “get” the concept.  All I’ve ever known of backing up a computer involved a time consuming process of running software and trading out disk after disk.  And with everything else vying for my attention, I just never got around to fleshing out the details of how exactly to do it.

Painful doesn’t begin to describe the reality of losing my laptop.  Seven years worth of writing (transferred over the years from computer to computer as they were replaced) was on that computer.  And no, no backups.  (If I were a heroine, I’d be too stupid to live.)  Additionally, our desktop at home had recently crashed, so I couldn’t pull anything off of there either.

Long story short, I was able to retrieve the fulls of 3 manuscripts via contests I’d recently entered and 1 I had sent to my agent.  Another 5 manuscripts were lost.  Forever.  5 full manuscripts.  Luckily, they were my first few, which would probably never have seen the light of day.  Still, there was a lot of good stuff I could have used either for reference or for future manuscripts.  REAL bummer, to say the least.

My mom turned me on to ClickFree.  She picked up a heftier version than the one I’m linking to here from QVC.  I ended up finding a more portable version online and then picked it up at Office Max on sale.

It’s nothing but a connector between your computer and a usb drive.  There is a little “brain” in there that holds the software.  You plug it in to your computer and it loads the software.  After that,  evert time you simply attach it to your usb drive, it automatically turns on and starts backing up everything– all your files, all on its own.  You can set up the frequency and/or files directory, or you can simply plug it in and let it copy everything to the usb attached (which is what I do).

It’s slick.  It’s portable.  It’s a no-brainer.  Take it from someone who’s lost everything and lived to tell about it:  BACKUP YOUR FILES.

On sale at OfficeMax for $39.95.  Also need a usb, which run between $7 and $20 depending on size.

Liquid Story Binder:

I’ve always found the theory of writing software intriguing, but never found one that worked with my eclectic brain.  I’m not a plotter, I’m not a panster.  I’m somewhere in between.  I’m also very visual, as I believe most writers are.  I sometimes make storyboards for my manuscripts to get a better overall feel for my characters, setting and theme.  I’m also very auditory.  Music lyrics, style and feel play a big part in helping me get into the mood of my story.  And I’m not linear in any way, shape or form.  Therefore, I couldn’t get with the structure of any of the software I’d tried; they were all too rigid and none that I had seen incorporated everything I needed/wanted. Then I was directed by another writing friend to Liquid Story Binder. 

Liquid Story Binder allows me to have multiple windows open at one time (they float and resize) which enables me to see multiple chapters at once and/or chapters with photos of my setting or my characters right there with a customized soundtrack for that novel playing in the background as I write.  And it’s all portable, in one compact little powerful package.  Talk about writing atmosphere…doesn’t get much better, at least not for me. 

Simply put: it’s amazing.  I loved it so much, I bought a second copy for my CP, sure she’d thrive on it.  I’m not sure she’s completely embraced it yet.  I will admit: there is a bit of a learning curve with this software.  It’s not particularly intuitive right off the bat.  But there is a lot of online help in the form of tutorials that are great.  And the powerful applications of this software kept me motivated to get it figured out.  While I’m not utilizing anywhere near the possibilities of this software, even the few items I am using has amped my overall enjoyment of the writing process. 

No, it’s not perfect.  As I said, there is a learning curve, but I believe the learning process has been time well spent.  There are a couple of things I would change from what I’ve seen so far.  But, far and away, the benefits outweigh the downfalls.

Yes, I believe it’s helped me stay in closer touch with my characters and storylines, and thus, made me both more productive and more efficient.

Here are some of its features.  I’ve starred *** the ones that made me fall in love:

Create Dossiers for major characters and settings.

Plot your novel by organizing cards along colored timelines.

Combine images and text to create a visual reference board.

*** Journals
Create a writing journal, or even fictional journals for each one of your characters.

Create a collapsible tree of plot ideas.

Link ideas together using lines and text.

*** Image Galleries
Organize your reference images into galleries.

Organize complex scenes using titles, descriptions, and color indexing.

Position Memory
Liquid Story Binder XE remembers just where you left off.

Manuscript Building
Combine multiple chapters into a single manuscript automatically.

Preserve your font and paragraph editing with Format Printing.

*** Workspaces
Preserve your favorite window layouts for quick access.

*** Project Goals
Words per day, words left to write, days remaining, multi-document word counts.

Color Schemes
Create the perfect writing environment with your favorite window colors.

*** Recordings
Record yourself reading your own novel. Test for pacing and time.

File Listings
Organize all your files into easy-access file trees.

Every Chapter has its own backup repository. Never lose a single word with automatic version and session backups. Compress your whole archive into a single ZIP file.

Quickly access your favorite external software and documents.

*** Statistics
Times, Word Counts, Goals, Sessions, Versions, Days.

Read over your work in a easy to view columned window, free of editing distractions.

*** Music Playlists
Add your MP3s and sort them into playlists. Set the mood for writing.

External Editing
Open your work outside of Liquid Story Binder.

30 day free trial.  $49.95 listed on the site.  I purchased mine during a ½ off fall sale.  You might want to email them and ask if there will be another sale coming up.

Do you use any writing gadgets?  How do you amp your productivity and/or efficiency?

28 responses to “Writing Gadgets: Part One”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Wow… I’d heard someone mention Liquid Story Binder, and just the name sounded cool, but I had no idea what it was.

    Is it compatible with Word? Can you keep copies of the manuscript in Word and jump in and out of the Liquid Story Binder program??

    I’m in the midst of revisions right now, and wishing I had a six-foot bulletin board and about a billion 3X5 cards…. This software may be just what I need. Anybody else use it?

  2. OMG, This is fanastic. I’m not a techno person. What I’ve learned I learned from watching others and playing around. I can’t wait until the weekend when I have more than twenty minutes to look at these sites.

    I can’t wait until you post part two.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi, Joan. I’m so sorry about the loss of your belongings and your manuscripts!

    I use a program called Scrivener (for Macs)–it sounds a lot like Liquid Story Binder. Very useful if you don’t write in a linear fashion.

    My mobile phone has a handwriting option. I can write “notes to self” using a stylus or my fingernail if an awesome idea pops into my head while I’m on the train.

  4. Man, that’s a bummer, Joan. I’d freak if I lost so many of my babies. My deepest condolences. The Liquid Story Binder sounds interesting. Although, I have a feeling I’d spend way to much time playing rather than writing.

    • Joan Swan says:


      I did spend a few days reading tutorials and getting the basics of LSB down, no doubt. But in the end, the flexibility and the software offers me in the way of inspiration has made up for the lost writing time and shot me ahead of where I’d be if I’d stayed on Word.

  5. Pamela Cayne says:

    Joan–what a great post, especially with such wonderful links! I just did a backup this weekend, but it was manual, so anything with a tiny brain in it is worth a second look.

    Also, I’m like Vanessa in that I use Scrivener, but I know I’m not using it to its full potential. I don’t even know if it allows for mp3 imports, because seeing that extra on Liquid Paper Binder makes me drool an embarassing amount–I’m like you in that the auditory is so important!

    • Joan Swan says:

      Hi Pamela,

      My CP was the one who turned me on to the power of music. At first, I thought she was crazy–burning CDs of songs related to her ms. Then I started choosing theme songs for my mss, which was cool. And that developed into choosing a few songs that represent different elements in the ms. Now, I’m into the whole burning a soundtrack for my book. It really helps get the creativity flowing!

      Before I figured out how to use the LSB audio element, I used to run iTunes in the background, construct a playlist for the ms and just play that.

  6. Pamela Cayne says:

    Er…I mean Liquid Story Binder. I think I’ve been sniffing the Liquid Paper too much.

  7. I bet losing your work was like losing a pet. Okay — not so much with the heart-wrenched sobbing, I hope, but still, that same breathless blow to the gut, the knowledge that it’s gone, baby gone, and the eternal regret that you didn’t do more to save it.

    I just thought of a super low-tech way to back up files. Print them out, in full, and put them someplace safe, preferably several copies in multiple safe places, all separate from each other. Worse case scenario: scan them in, page by page, using OCR.

    Also, I’m SO JEALOUS of Mac users who get to use LSB. I’ve looked into Scrivener, but it just doesn’t seem as perfect as LSB. Hubs recently whispered something about buying a Mac laptop, though, to which I responded, “That’s ridiculous,” but maybe it’s not. Maybe…it could be MINE!

  8. I love my Mac. Wouldn’t use anything else … except maybe a bright, shiny new MacBook Pro. 😉

    Those sound interesting. And I live in fear of losing everything. I have a flash drive with everything that’s most current in my purse at all times, and a couple of others that don’t get backed up quite as often in various locations.

    Think I’d better go back them up again now!

  9. Elise Hayes says:

    I’ve only ever lost a few days worth of work, Joan, and it left me weeping (I was working on a tight deadline and lost about 10 hours worth of insanely difficult writing). I can’t imagine losing FIVE FULL MANUSCRIPTS. I think I’d have a heart attack.

    Really enjoyed reading about the techy gadgets for writers. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  10. Joan Swan says:


    Yes, it was painful to say the least. Even now just thinking about it weighs like a rock in my gut.

    Even more than the past fulls I lost (because they weren’t saleable, although, as I said, they had great kernels I could have pulled) was what I lost related to the ms I’m currently writing.

    It is the second book in a series. I started to write it before I had revised book one, which completely changed the look of the series. I was in chapter 10. Good story. Really liked it. But it wouldn’t have worked for book two.

    So, I set it aside and started again. I was in chapter 6 of my current ms when the laptop was stolen.

    I lost 16 chapters of really good stuff. And while you think, I wrote it once I can write it again, I’m here to tell you, it’s not the same.

    Rewriting those 6 chapters was one of the toughest things I’ve done. And no matter what I did to try and keep the flavor the same, I couldn’t. It changed.

    Now, I’m good with it. Some parts are even better. But I hope and pray I will never have to do that again and I hope my story keeps others from having to experience it.

  11. Tina Joyce says:

    Joan, huge hugs on the lost manuscripts. I can’t even begin to imagine…
    Thanks so much for the links. I’m off to check them out.

  12. I have Liquid Story Binder, and really like the character dossiers and being able to have a bunch of images at my fingertips for inspiration. I don’t use it much for the actual writing, I still find that easier to do in Word, but I like it for the planning stages of writing.

    Of course, I haven’t played with it as much as I should, so I’m sure there’s some features I’m missing out on!

    • Joan Swan says:

      I think however it works for you is how you should use it. Bells and whistles are all well and good, but why complicate things if simplicity works? The additional features in LSB work for me…but not all of them. It’s a pick and choose what suits you best.

  13. Thanks, Joan. I’ve never heard of any of these. You speak so calmly of losing three manuscripts. Ack!! That’s horrible. Just the thought of it makes me sick.

  14. rita says:

    Thanks for the info. I nearly died when I lost a few thousand words. You are right, you get it back but the flavor isn’t the same. heavy sigh.

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