Tools of the Trade 2024

10 minute read

One of the questions that comes up regularly in writing circles I’m in is “does anyone use XYZ for writing?” and the answer is almost always “yes”. At a certain point, people have a curiosity for what tools other people are using to write—or to do anything, really. Personally, I love querying people on their setups and tooling for their lives, from how they keep track of which Christmas gifts they’ve bought to how they manage their contacts or organize their kitchen drawers, and everything in between. And, of course, how they go about getting words on paper while writing. To that end, I would like to share the suite of tools I use for doing my writing, in case there’s someone out there whose curiosity needs sated on such things. Or, if people have questions about these tools, I tend to be very open to answering them!

A word of caution about tools, though. It definitely is the case that someone with higher-quality tools will produce better results than someone with lower-quality tools. However, tools are skill multipliers, not adders. Having a high-quality tool will not suddenly make you a good writer—it will simply take your skill and amplify it, so you can be more productive and write with higher quality. But it’s no substitute for putting in the work and increasing your writing skill in general.

That said, let’s get to it.



The big kahuna. This is what I do all of my fiction writing in these days. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years—Notepad, Word, Google Docs, Byword, Wordperfect, and more—and this is the best, bar none, for me. The ability to keep each scene in a different file, manage them all separately, and compile it all together in the end really works for my brain.

In terms of feature set, I’ve slowly been building out what I use, depending on the project. Some stories don’t need much, others need a lot more scaffolding. I am, however, a religious user of styles, which makes compilation so much easier to manage when I get there. I don’t really use things like the corkboard very much, but snapshots are helpful, and keywords and labels are really useful when I remember to use them.

It’s definitely a daunting piece of software when you first encounter it—especially the compilation pane!—but with slow, careful thought, and just growing your knowledge and skill, you can figure it out, too.

For things I post in Reddit, I do actually write in “markdown” at first, and then after I post I go back and convert to styles.

There are some other bonus things I like about using Scrivener in particular. For instance, it’s all RTF files under the hood, so if Scrivener ever just disappears, I still have everything in a mostly-usable format. Or at the least, I haven’t lost anything behind a binary file format, even if it’s a bit of a pain to fully recover. I also as someone who does not trust cloud services not to suddenly go bankrupt and delete all my data in the cloud really do appreciate that it’s all local files. Though in the future I’ll talk a little bit more about my backup strategy.

Scrivener is, without a doubt, the program that makes me absolutely the most productive as a writer. I can and have used other programs, but I just can’t do as good a job in them. Ten out of ten stars, I have paid for something like three licenses in fifteen years for various reasons just because I like the software so much.

At some point in the future, if there’s enough demand, I might put together a blog post just on how I have Scrivener configured.



While Scrivener is very good for writing, I have found it somewhat subpar when it comes to notes. This is for various reasons—middling table support, lack of true markdown handling, and so on—so I for a long time was on the lookout for something better just for notes.

And then I found Obsidian, and I haven’t gone back.

Having notes that you’re keeping alongside your writing is invaluable. It helps keep track of character details, world details, or just scribbling down ideas or plans or snatches of prose and dialogue while you’re out and about. I don’t know that I’d call it strictly necessary, I admit—but it sure beats having to search the manuscript for some detail you had before! And Obsidian does this job magnificently, especially with its ability to link to other notes wiki-style, making it so much easier to build lists or cross-references or even just see backlinks of how things are connected.

I do pay for Obsidian Sync, so I also have it on my phone, which is great when I’m out and about. And I also use Obsidian for personal, non-writing notes. In particular, I’m trying to build a daily note habit, and Obsidian handles that so much better.

In the past I’ve used OneNote primarily for note-taking—or just having some other Word document for it—and while OneNote is nifty with tables and freeform drawing and writing, it just feels heavyweight to me.

I also really like that Obsidian files are all markdown—that is, plaintext—so I’m not concerned if the company suddenly decides to make the software terrible, or disappears. Sure, I’d lose the linking ability, but all my text is still there and recoverable. That matters a lot to me.

Plus, one of the cool things I’ve fiddled with a little (but admittedly not a lot) is that you can easily take a vault of notes and publish it, so you can share your world notes and things with your readers that way, if you so desire.

This is the newest tool to enter my toolbelt, and now I cannot imagine my writing life without it.



“Alright Megan,” you might say. “You’re a writer. Why would you use a number-crunching app like Excel?”

And that would be a very good question. Some people use it for doing planning or tracking chapters written or their status or things like that, but no, I use Scrivener’s built-in tools for all that.

What I use Excel for is, in fact, math and other tracking.

In particular, I tend to use Excel a lot for world building. I can be a bit obsessive about getting numbers and worlds right, and Excel lets me do that in a really good and easy-to-digest format. Astronomical calculations, calendar management, weights and measures…I can get it all in one place, with math that updates as I play around with ideas and numbers.

I also use Excel to help track some various tasks and their status. While I’m not someone who submits a lot of work for traditional publication, I would also use Excel for that, tracking the things I’ve submitted, to where, other details, and how that went.

I also have an Excel file where I try to track the word count of everything I’ve written, and its status—completed, abandoned, in progress—and what it was written in, under which pen name, and things like that. It’s mostly for fun.

I’m not thrilled about it being an opaque, binary file format—but I’ve yet to encounter a plaintext spreadsheet. I also prefer local files to cloud-based apps, though the Microsoft 365 cloud tools are actually very reasonable—and I think might work with files in OneDrive, so you can have local copies as well. I do not use OneDrive, though, so I can’t speak to this as much.

It’s definitely a tool less for writing and more for the background things, but I’d struggle without it.

Aeon Timeline


Keeping timelines straight is hard, especially in complicated novels. Sometimes it’s nice to have a tool designed for that job, and that is what Aeon Timeline is for me. I only pull it out for the gnarly timelines—in particular, when I need to make sure character birthdates make sense, and to track how old various people are for certain events—but otherwise rely on other things for notes.

I also find it a little difficult to recommend anymore. In the past, it used a plaintext file format—which was a big point in its favor, to me—but now it’s an opaque binary format. As well, I really don’t like the design of Aeon Timeline 3, and find it harder to use for the things I want to do. I admittedly also haven’t used it much since those two things happened, because of the stories I’ve been writing and such.

But I still consider it a tool somewhere in my belt, and I still have a license I purchased. It’s possible once I pull it out to use it again for something more serious timeline-wise that I’ll warm up to it again.

Visual Studio Code


In the realm, again, of “supporting tools that don’t appear to be about writing” is Visual Studio Code, or VS Code as all the cool kids say. And this is where my coding background starts showing through a little more. See, I don’t use VS Code for writing per se1—I use it more for coding support and the like behind the scenes.

In particular, I tend to create little websites for my various stories for sharing with my alpha readers. It’s more convenient for a lot of people than ebooks are, and I get to have a bit of fun with colors and styling. It also comes in handy for setting up scripts for easily doing Obsidian exports, or managing other notes, or what have you. It’s just a solid coding tool for the code I do along the way.

That said, it’s not necessarily something I would recommend to other writers unless they also wanted to do code things. While I do know of some people who’ll use it for writing stories,2 I just don’t think it’s designed for that in the way other things are. But as a coder who does code things for her stories sometimes, it’s a useful tool.



TextMate is in an odd little place in my toolbelt. It used to be my general code editor, but VS Code has taken it over. Beyond that, back before I discovered Obsidian, I used TextMate as my general-purpose editor for lots of text files that were being used as notes. In particular, for my world building, I even had set up various scripts to build web pages and other things like that. Sometimes even little programs for things like orbital mechanics simulation.

These days, it’s pretty vestigial. But I have some older things I’m still working on that haven’t moved to Obsidian yet for various reasons, so it hangs around. And it’s useful as a secondary code-like text editor, just in case.


Well, there you have it! A slate of tools I use for my writing life! And I’ve given this a date of 2024, so it can be something of a snapshot—I’m curious to see how it evolves over the years.

I will note, there are some things I’ve left off of here, that I’ll talk about another time. In particular, I haven’t mentioned anything about backups, which is a super important topic that deserves its own post. As well, there are a couple of other services that I rely on a lot, but those feel less like tools and more like something else, so I decided to post about them later.

I do really hope this helps you in some way—either by seeing how someone else does it, or giving you ideas for new tools to try, or whatever. I look forward to reading your blog posts about the tools you use to write!

  1. Actually, this is not completely true. I use VS Code for writing my blog entries, because I have a useful extension for that, and my blogs are all static sites generated from Markdown. It’s not exactly amazing (I’m not thrilled with the spellcheck, for instance), but it works well for me. 

  2. And in fairness, VS Code has top-notch Markdown support, so if you’re writing in Markdown, it’s probably a solid choice.