Monday, July 4, 2011

Writer's Toolbox: Google Docs

Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I'm not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing... our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer's Toolbox series.

There are some great programs out there that I can't yet afford, Scrivener being one I've heard much about and am currently looking into. In the lack of luxury, necessity can breed creativity. (Not sure what that means, but it sounds pretty intelligent and philosophical, right?) Over the past few years, seeing my struggles with organization and planning, my wife has stepped in and helped me find ways to get organized. Utilizing the amazing (and collaborative) free features of Google Docs, we created tools to track and predict word counts for chapters, schedule word count goals based on a deadline, to chart and pace the plot of a novel in progress, and other things. Very little of this is ground-breaking stuff, but I've found it extremely helpful. Since it is free, it's very easy to share what we have made with you.

For this first post, let's talk a little about Google Docs. You'll need that basic understanding to follow many of the other tools in the series, and it's a wonderful resource on its own. I love Google Docs. If you haven't heard of them, they are basically a completely free, online version of Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets and documents and more, I do the vast majority of my work there. I have access to it from any internet connection; I can download it to hard drives, print to pdf, even view it on my iPod. They're great. So, let's look at Google Docs.

Start by going to Docs.Google.Com.
You can also get there by going to Google's homepage, and choosing Documents in the list at the top. If you have Gmail, or use any other Google application, you probably already have a Google account. If not, sign up for one now, it's totally free. Upon signing into Docs, you reach the home screen, which will have a list of all of your documents, and folders(Collections) on the left to help you organize them.

There's a button at the left, under the Google Docs logo, that says "Create new". To start your own work, use that button to Create a new document, spreadsheet, Collection, whatever you want to work in. Once you give it a title, they save automatically, so you don't have to worry much about losing what you've written.

Another great tool in Google Docs, conveniently placed under "Tools," oddly enough, is the Word Counter. So many free-standing word counters on the internet, and this one is built right in. Bonus, it tells you a lot more than just word count for the total piece AND a selection as well! Words, characters, paragraphs, even readability stats!

Now to teach you about copying someone else's work, which is not something I allow in my classroom, but am highly encouraging in this blog series.

In a Google Document, click on File at the top, and choose "Make a copy..." (I know that isn't very intuitive, but work with me here!)
A box will pop up asking you if you want to make a copy of the document and what you'd like to title your copy, and warning you about copying collaborators and such. (It may also pop up without asking you for a new title, in which case the title will default to "Copy of [whatever it was called]." You can do this on any open document (like the templates I'll be giving you) and thus have your own version to use. Isn't Google great? I didn't create Google, I'm just a user. Next post, we'll get to the stuff I not only used, but I also helped design!

1 comment:

  1. I really need this tutorial Jace. Seriously. I'm not someone who plays around with a gadget until I figure it out (except at my day job).

    Thank you for the instructions. Can't wait for more.

    I hope your contest is going ok.