Tools for Writing

As a teacher of students with special needs and an author, I’ve been asked a few times what tools have been useful both in the classroom and for writing in general. This post is dedicated to sharing some of the best tools and strategies that I have found for writers who struggle with the task of writing and organization. I, myself, have ADHD and it wasn’t until later in life that I began to explore medication as an option to treat it. It opened new doors for me as I never thought that I could concentrate long enough to write. Even with medication, the task of writing is difficult. Keeping scenes and story-lines can be a daunting process. Fear not, for I have found some great tools and strategies that have made me a better writer and to achieve my dream of a published novel.

First, let’s address writing in general. There are several helpful programs that can help both students and adults to produce better written compositions and manuscripts. One of the most popular used in school is the SOLO Suite software developed by the Don Johnston Company. This is the leading software for students who struggle with DyslexiaDysgraphia, and other disorders which make the task of writing difficult. The software addresses two major areas of concern for most writers with disabilities, or even those without. It provides word prediction as well as text-to-speech audio feedback that can assist students and adults who struggle with spelling, phonological processing, auditory processing, or other orthographic disabilities. The software is easy to install and easy to use. While typing it gives the composer word choices that are both phonologically sensitive as well as context bound to ensure that the most likely word the writer is going to use will appear on the list of choices. This is essential to writing. Most word prediction software uses a similar approach; and word prediction is becoming more common place on mainstream devices. In time, the use of software such as SOLO Suite may become obsolete as these features will be built in to your devices by default. Until then, this is a great solution for written compositions in the home and at school

The use of tablet computers, such as Apple’s iPad is revolutionizing the way that teachers are able to teach and the way students are able to access information. In a past post, I illustrated the way that technology is providing opportunities for kids and students like never before. It has opened the doors for kids who otherwise would have been unable to perform on a given task. Because tablets like the iPad have many accessibility features built-in, it enables students to access information in a way that is natural and effective. The iPad has text-to-speech built right into iOS. This means that you don’t need to rely on 3rd party software to access this amazing feature. Jump into the settings under “Accessibility” and you can enable text-to-speech very easily. The voice is natural sounding with realistic inflection. This keeps it from reading like a monotonous computer and provides accurate auditory feedback for students.

I have also found this to be an indispensable tool for me as a writer. After I have completed a chapter or scene, I can easily go back and read the scene on my iPad, enabling text-to-speech and it forces me to read (or at least hear) everything I’ve written in a scene. I catch far more errors this way and it allows me to focus better on my writing. Without text-to-speech, I find that I “insert” words into my writing that aren’t there only to realize later that the sentence sounded nothing like I had read it in my head.

The iPad, of course, already has built-in text prediction as well as spell-check which are also essential tools for any writer. While the text prediction on the iPad is not as accurate or helpful as SOLO Suite software, there are 3rd party applications in the App Store that provide similar benefit. Abilipad and Typ-O HD are examples of two really good writing applications on the iPad that provide very similar features to SOLO Suite.

For organization of writing it doesn’t get any better than Scrivener. This word processor was designed from the ground up to be the perfect writing tool. And as someone who has tried many many writing tools, I can assure you Scrivener is by far the best. It offers a level of customizability that you won’t find in any other software. While some of these features may be a bit on the complicated side, the average user can function with the software just fine without ever even knowing they exist. It offers an outstanding organization feature that saves oodles of time. If you’re like me and have big aspirations for creating a plan for a story only to find that your scenes have gone off in completely different directions, you’ll appreciate the ability to move scenes around easily in Scrivener. It gives you the option to view scenes as notecards that can be rearranged on a whim which will move your scenes around in your manuscript with ease! It’s incredibly helpful even for the most devout plotter. You can build your scenes as a stack of notecards or an outline, make notes about scenes and characters, color code scenes based on whatever helps you keep track of things, and even add tags to help search for things in longer manuscripts. You can copy and paste research right into your Scrivener file so that everything you need for your manuscript is right at your fingertips! I can’t say enough about how wonderful Scrivener is. My only complaint is that they have not yet released an iPad app, however, it syncs very well with Plaintext (which is how I can easily read what I’ve written).

screen-shot-2013-04-01-at-12.25.19-pmIf you haven’t figured out the beauty of document syncing between devices, this is probably the biggest benefit I have seen with the modern push into the tablet world. I find it to be a very comfortable and effective workflow to type my story on my laptop, pick up my tablet and go read over what I wrote on the couch while I listen to it using text-to-speech. This not only breaks up the monotony of sitting in a seat (or wherever you type your stories) and then reading over it in a more natural way. Reading on a small tablet is like reading over your work in a book. It’s just one of those things you’ll have to experience for yourself. There are many many tools for effective document syncing: iCloudDropboxBoxSugarsyncSkydrive, etc… The list could go on and on. There are more and more solutions, each offering their own mixture of user experiences and usefulness. The two I rely on most are Dropbox and iCloud.

Whether you are comfortable with Mac or Windows, iOS or Android, there are many options out there that can help with improving your experience or your child’s experience with writing. It can make the difference between being able to write and not for some kids with disabilities and can enhance the writing of those who do not have disabilities. It’s all about finding the right tools for you. If you have any questions or would like more knowledge about how these software options can help you, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to offer any advice I can give.

Happy Writing!!

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply