The Best Apps for National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo

When I see the Halloween decorations getting cracked out (ever-so early!), it's not the holiday itself I anticipate. It's what happens at midnight. It's the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, which is one of my favorite times of year. The community comes together and cheers each other on and the creative spark is nurtured into some 1667 daily words to meet the lofty 50,000 word goal. If this is new to you, I encourage you to check out the NaNoWriMo website and see what's going on in your neck of the woods.

Given the intensity of writing and my propensity toward technological solutionism (thank you, Evgeny Morozov for that lovely formulation), I have collected a number of apps over the years that enhance the process in any number of ways. Let me count them. I have maybe one or two suggestions for my PC friends, but this list is dominated by the Apple eco-system. #sorrynotsorry


Windows | macOS | iOS

It's software made for writing novels. It really doesn't get any more apropos than that. Scrivener is a feature-rich (possibly even feature-dense) tool for working on longform fiction. Whether you want a distraction-free editor or the ability to move your scenes around on index cards, this magical piece of software will accommodate your writing and editing style.

I'm particularly keen on the function that allows you to download web pages to view offline (Wikipedia, for instance) so you can turn your WiFi off to focus on your writing while still having your research handy. Also great for NaNo: you can set many different types of goals, including a daily goal of 1,667 (or your choice) words. There is also a recent addition to the family: an iOS app that syncs with your macOS and between an iPad and iPhone so you can work on the go.

Downside to all of this amazing functionality: it's expensive. With the desktop app coming in at $45 (check out their NaNo trial) and the mobile app at $20, this is no small investment. It is, however, some of the best software for writing and it will eat your Microsoft Word for lunch. [$45 | $45 | $20]


macOS | iOS

If you're interested in Scrivener but turned off by the skeumorphic design and complex interface, you should consider giving Ulysses a try. With similar functionality for easily moving scenes around and a nice typewriter mode to keep you from agonizing over what you just wrote, this beautifully designed app (winner of a recent Apple Design Award) might just win you over.

The minimalist interface reminds me of a particularly slick Evernote with its three-column layout, but unlike the notetaking app, organization and subheadings (for, say, scenes within chapters within parts within books!) are given great weight. The documentation is friendly and integrated into the app, which is great for folks who prefer to learn by doing. Also includes word count goal setting with nice visual indicators.

The price point is similar to Scrivener at $44 for the desktop version and $25 for the synchronized mobile, which strikes me as slightly high. I am, however, a proponent of paying for good design and while I wouldn't necessarily want both Ulysses and Scrivener, I would encourage someone who owned neither to download both trials and see what appeals. The Ulysses trial is available for 10 hours of writing time after which documents can no longer be edited. [$44 | $25]

OmmWriter Dāna II

Windows | macOS

This is not the fully-fledged word processor you're looking for. It is, however, a stunning distraction-free text editor with elegant writing backgrounds (think a snow-covered fields and neutral gradients), soothing music, and satisfying keystroke sounds.

OmmWriter fills a number of niches: hands-down the best distraction-free editor (far prettier than Byword or iaWriter, both of which are still excellent products), perfect background noise for when you don't feel like playing disc jockey, and the keystroke sounds are a unique feature that shouldn't be dismissed. The feedback that makes mechanical keyboards so satisfying is fully present here, but the sounds are far less intrusive than the traditional clacking noise of a true typewriter.  If you find yourself frequently distracted by the magical time sink that is the Internet, this app may be for you. [Pay What You Want | $6]



There are a million and one background noise apps available, many of which are fine -- lovely, even (I'm thinking specifically of RainyMood and Thunderspace here) -- but Noizio is, in my opinion, superior for two reasons: first, the variety of sounds is great without being overwhelming, and second, the design is tremendous. None of the alternatives hit both points and I always appreciate having a native app instead of yet another tab to manage and the ability to use it offline. If you're looking for a web or Android option, Noizio was heavily inspired by Noisli, which is another great choice. [ $5 | $2 ]

Be Focused Pro

macOS | iOS [currently unavailable]

The Pomodoro Method is famous in Indianapolis's NaNo community, so much so we have anointed one of our MLs The Tomato Queen. During our write-ins, we use Pomodoro timers to divide up our time between word sprints and social time.

A standard Pomodoro lasts for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. After the four Pomodoros, you take a longer 15 minute break. However, this excellent app gives you a great deal of flexibility in Pomodoro and break length, so if you work best in 45 minute chunks and want a 10 minute break, you can do that, too.

Be Focused has a free version in the Mac App Store, but if you want synchronization between iOS and macOS, then you need Be Focused Pro, which is $4.99. You can name your Pomodoro tasks and keep track of how many Pomodoros you spend on your writing! A great productivity tool whether you're working alone or at a write-in. [$5]



If you've never heard of the Seinfeld productivity method, it's pretty straightforward: you identify a habit or task you want to begin doing regularly. Every day you do said task, you cross a day off your calendar. By crossing the day off, you're creating a chain that, theoretically, you won't want to break by skipping a day. If you'd like to apply this method to your NaNo activities, this is a wonderful app! You can track multiple habits or tasks, so while you're tracking your daily writing, you can also make sure that you're still keeping up with things like bathing and reading. Fun little app with absolutely beautiful design (another Apple Design Award winner!). [$4]

Part 1: #acrl2015, #lpforum, and Faculty Instruction

Groot spoke to a standing-room only crowd at ACRL. Everyone nodded sagely as he explained: "We are Groot."

Groot spoke to a standing-room only crowd at ACRL. Everyone nodded sagely as he explained: "We are Groot."

After seven days in the beautiful city of Portland and a pair of rich, fulfilling conferences, it’s a little anti-climactic to climb into an airplane where keeping your thoughts to yourself is perhaps the kindest thing you can do for your seat-mates. I’m bursting with feelings and ideas and predictions and questions and I’m loathe to interrupt the surely-precious reading time of the man in the aisle seat. He’s enjoying Cheryl Strayed and nibbling on peanuts. I respect that.

This is the first of several posts on ACRL and the Library Publishing Forum, which will probably be short and unified by topic, rather than in any chronological order. Apologies for the lack of narrative, but that’s how I roll. 

Since September 2014, when I first started tracking statistics on Twitter, I have posted an average of 30 tweets a month, give or take. I have posted 500 since the beginning of March, most of that in the last week. My colleagues teased me about my inclusion in the list of top tweets from #ACRL2015 and I felt a bit of private glee as I gained over a hundred new followers. I’ve always felt the lure of the livetweet, having been a consumer of hashtags for far-flung conferences I’ll never attend, and the 140-character limit helps me think more critically about my note-taking.

If you attended either conference and got sick of seeing my smirking Twitter avatar clogging up your feed, I apologize profusely. I hope you engaged the mute button and I hope you’ll un-mute me now that I’m returning to my usual smattering of link-sharing and work-life updates.

Instruction for Faculty

I do a lot of one-shots. A lot. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, with a few rare exceptions, all of the instruction I do is in the one-shot format. I get a lot of office visits post-instruction, probably because of my friendly, baby face and repeated exhortations (usually accompanied by jumping up and down) that I want to meet with my students if/when they need further help on their projects, which are usually too far out for my procrastinatory darlings to have begun thinking about them at the time of instruction. (I am not so far removed from being a student myself that I have forgotten this.)

I’d love to do things that are not one-shots, but I am hyper-aware of my faculty’s limited classroom time and the fact that infolit lessons are only really effective when presented at the time of need. Since there is not enough time in the day for me to be able to attend every class in Philosophy, Religion, Classical Studies, Spanish, French, German, and Chinese, not to mention the First Year Seminars and Honors seminars to which I am assigned, and use of our LMS is sporadic (so online embedding is only rarely an option), it seems to me that one of the best things we can do is empower our faculty to incorporate infolit into their teaching. 

We have a few faculty on campus who are already there (see these amazing dueling information literacy videos from my amazing allies in the Department of Religion: ), but ACRL drove home for me the fact that there is still work to be done in educating faculty, and perhaps if we buy into a theory of trickle-down infolit-omics, we’ll see our threshold concepts and standards incorporated into the classroom more organically. As librarians, we’re rarely consulted about assignment design—but with a little thought about infolit at inception, we won’t see the kind of assignment I heard about from a colleague at one of the roundtables I attended:

One of the classes in the nursing school assigned a literature review assignment. Their criteria: must be an article written in the last five years with the word “nursing” in the journal title.

Bringing this back around to the scholarly communication issues that occupy most of my days (and nights—open access activism doesn’t take a break when the sun goes down!), a discussion about scholarship as conversation would go a long way toward making the assignment above into a useful endeavor (though annotation/analysis would be even better). 

Other opportunities for faculty instruction from ACRL 2015 & LibPub Forum:

  • Open Access: I, for one, feel like I’ve probably annoyed everyone and their dog with my OA activism on campus, but a number of panels drove home that no matter what level of saturation you think you’ve reached, there’s a hell of a lot more work to do. Whether it’s just pure confusion (Open access? Is that where I put stuff up on the Internet and anyone can edit it?) or misunderstanding (I can’t publish open access because there aren’t any open access journals in my area.), there will always be conversations that need to be had.
  • ResearchGate & I know a number of IR managers who consider these folks the competition. I don’t. Because if a faculty member is interested enough in people reading her work that she’s willing to post it on one of these sites, then she’s going to be interested in what I can do for her, too. But those of us working in scholarly communication need to be searching these sites for our faculty and use their participation as an opening salvo in a larger conversation about open access and author’s rights. They’re usually pretty receptive to the idea of “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold,” but I’m not trying to get them to leave. Visibility is visibility. Just let me do your copyright clearance for you, eh?
  • Working with Small Scholarly Societies: Library publishing programs, no matter how big or small, have a lot to offer the small scholarly society, but the initial conversations can be fraught. Especially once the idea of potentially changing the author agreement comes up. Copyright is a sticking point and I’ve heard variations of the concern that open access work is more prone to plagiarism. The answer, of course, is that plagiarists are bad guys and if they’re going to plagiarize something, they don’t care whether it’s open or closed access or the author of the article signed a non-exclusive license. They’re going to steal it anyway. 
  • Working with Journal Editors: We rely heavily on our faculty champions, our success stories to spread the good word, whether it’s to their colleagues within their schools or departments or to societies or associations they belong to or to the journals they edit. There was a wonderful session at LibPub that offered a model for creating a cross-disciplinary group of editors across campus. This is a unique constituency on campus that might not otherwise interact. Library sponsorship and leadership can engage in stealth (or not so stealth) discussion regarding the scholarly communication issues that keep us up at night. At my institution, we had a meal for journal editors and related stakeholders that was remarkably well-attended considering the epic ice and snow rendering the roads completely disgusting, which led to discussion that is currently shaping our library’s movement into publishing. I think the work we do with early-career faculty and graduate students also plays a major role in shaping the journal editors of today and tomorrow. 

Faculty Instruction Discussion

Attendance is tough. There are far too many demands on faculty time, and while my workshops and discussion sessions feel life-changing and vital to me, they’re just the tip of the iceberg of also-really-important programming going on daily at our campuses: diversity initiatives, #ItsOnUs rallies, student art exhibits, invited lectures, committee work, office hours. Especially at a teaching-focused institution like mine, if you’re not actively contributing toward improving the student learning environment (in its many-splendored glory), you’re wasting someone’s time.

Just like we have to link instruction for students to their point of need, so too do we need to reach out to faculty at the appropriate time. Whether it’s during the quiet time of summer when they’re working on research or syllabi and have a moment to consider a new proposition, or when they’ve reached out to you for another reason, or if you run into them in the coffee line, there is a time (and a season) for these discussions. We’ve got to pick our moments.

Society of Indiana Archivists Preconference & Friday Link Round-Up

My Day

Stairway leading to the second floor of the Indiana State Library. This work is licensed under  CC BY 4.0.

Stairway leading to the second floor of the Indiana State Library. This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

I had a marvelous time presenting the 2014 Preconference Workshop for the Society of Indiana Archivists at the Indiana State Library this afternoon with my dear friend and colleague Amanda Starkel, the Information Commons and eLearning Librarian at Butler University. The topic of our presentation was Wikipedia for Archivists and covered the basics of Wikipedia editing, licensing, and community standards for GLAM professionals. The LibGuide from which we presented can be found at Butler LibGuides and includes dozens of resources for the beginning information professional Wikipedian.

Friday Link Round-Up

Workshop preparation left me little time for keeping up with my favorite RSS feeds this week, so I spent a lovely and quiet Friday night catching up.






  • 400,000 Stars (via Boing Boing) - The story of the "women who worked as human computers at Harvard's observatory" from new-to-me podcast The Memory Palace. Looking forward to making my way through their archives! (Favorite podcast app for iOS, by the way, is Pocket Casts, a universal app well worth the $3.99 price tag, also available for Android)