The Creative Spark—Six Tools for Writing Essays, Novels, and Plans

The Creative Spark—Six Tools for Writing Essays, Novels, and Plans

If you’re overwhelmed by a project or a paper, then these six tools will prime you for success.  Recommended by Shelley Hitz, author of How to Write a Book From Outline to Finish Line: 10 Simple Ways to Outline Your Nonfiction Book they should reduce procrastination, increase productivity, bolster clarity, and add to higher grades.

Shelley Hitz recommends these six tools for planning a nonfiction book, but they work magic for essays, theses, and most anything plannable—even business plans, marketing plans, fitness plans, or plans to hike the Ganges.

Tool #1: Whiteboard

Shelley Hitz (2015) says, “I recommend you use your whiteboard as a place for capturing all your ideas in a brain dump” (24%).

She continues, “After you have a working outline on the whiteboard, you can then take it and put it into whatever word processing or writing software you are using” (Hitz, 2015, 24%).

I once bought a giant whiteboard and nailed it to my wall. I used it to mind map ideas and to brainstorm. At the time, I wanted to design a course, so I had my course topics all listed on the whiteboard, complete with sub topics.  Sadly, I never made that course.

But you can do so much for your grades by using whiteboards: map out essay ideas, jot down reminders and due dates, scribble out facts that may appear on exams.

You can even make preliminary outlines for your essays by using whiteboards. And an eraser and marker are the only other tools you’ll need.  Whiteboard your way to academic ease.

Tool #2: Mind map

If you want to fast-track your plans, then mind maps are your best pals.  According to Shelley Hitz (2015), “There are tools you can use to create a mind map outline of your book. On my computer, I use the free software, FreeMind” (29%). You might want to try that one.

I recommend you download a mind mapping app for Android: Mindomo. It’ll help you mind map the structure of your essays. But I recently used Mindomo for a different purpose: to plan how to start my business. Prior to the mind map app, I had been stuck on how to start my business, worried about costs. Yet, once I mind mapped, I quickly drew up a fast, low-cost plan.

Tool #3: Sticky notes

“First, take a giant sticky note and put it on the wall” (33%), says Shelley Hitz (2015).

She then explains, “Second, do a brain dump using your smaller sticky notes of everything you can think of that should be included in your book topic.  Don’t edit your thoughts, but simply write down everything that comes to mind and put each idea on a separate sticky note. Then, you can organize your sticky notes into chapters.  Find the topics that you think should be chapter titles and organize them into a logical order” (Hitz, 2015, 35%).

Just make sure you take a photo of your sticky notes in case they stop sticking. You can comb through a book and copy quotes and bibliography citations onto the sticky notes. You could put headers in a different color of sticky note, and sub headers in yet another color. You can easily move them around, but be cautious of those sticky notes becoming unglued.

If you’re a visual learner, color coded sticky notes may make your day.

Tool #4: Index cards

Take your cue from index cards.

“If you don’t have sticky notes, you can also use index cards for this strategy” (36%), says Shelley Hitz (2015).

You could buy a special box for your cue cards, along with unlabeled tabbed dividers. That way, you can easily organize your cue cards into topics. I found this system especially useful when collecting citations for a thesis.

I placed the quote on the front side of the cue card, and I placed the bibliographic reference on the backside. I then placed the cue card in the appropriate tabbed topic. Staples (or Amazon) offer cue cards, cue card boxes, and blank tabbed cue cards. Just make sure you get them all in the same size.

This index card system sails you through the first draft.

Tool #5: Evernote

Ever love making Evernotes?

Shelley Hitz (2015) says, “I found [Evernote] is not only for to-do lists, but something I can use to do so many other things. One of the things you can use Evernote for is outlining a book. It is very versatile in that Evernote syncs to all of my devices. It syncs to my computer, my iPhone, and my iPad” (38%).

Evernote offers some impressive templates. I found two in particular that I love: one for writing a three-act story structure and another for making a marketing plan. I use the free version of the Evernote app.

Evernote allows you to record academic lectures, too, although you’ll need to get permission from your professor. Evernote also offers day planners and note-taking systems. And it’s free—if you use it on only one device. But, if you record audio or want to switch between mobile and desktop, you’ll need to upgrade.

And, yes, Evernote’s templates look amazing.

Tool #6: Scrivener

Scrivener is a digital scribbler on steroids.

Shelley Hitz (2015) says, “Scrivener is a tool a lot of novelists use, but it can also be used for nonfiction books” (44%).

She continues, “Keep your chapters as folders, and when you have finished the brain dump, start organizing them into logical order. With Scrivener, reorganizing your work is easily done by dragging and dropping the notes on the corkboard screen” (Hitz, 2015, 44%).

Scrivener is similar to Microsoft Word, but jacked up. It’s great for writing scripts, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, but less terrific for making your documents pretty. For an introduction on how Scrivener works, check out this video. Scrivener’s biggest downside is that it requires a learning curve. But, once you master it, game on!

So, you’ve now got tools to fulfil your academic dreams. And if one of these tools nails you higher grades, then I’ve fulfilled my own dream, too.

Hitz, Shelley. (2015). How to Write a Book From Outline to Finish Line 10 Simple Ways to Outline Your Nonfiction Book. [Kindle Unlimited]. Retrieved from