Your Mattress is Free!!!

I like free stuff.

Who doesn’t?

As a guy who’s about to enter the life of the fulltime writer and, as a result, is abandoning a good chunk of steady income, I’m always on the look-out for things that save me money.  And free is certainly a way to do that.

When I tell some of my friends about the free stuff available to all of us, their immediate response is, yeah, well, you get what you pay for.

There seems to be this odd little bit of psychology going on out there that nothing of any quality is ever given away for free.  There’s either a catch, or the product sucks.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not true.  I use really great free products every day in my work as a writer.


The standard office suite that everyone and his brother uses is Microsoft Office.  If you go to Amazon, you can pick up a brand new copy of Office for only $309.49.  And, of course, since we’re writers and all of our editors use Word, we obviously have to plunk down that three hundred bones just to do our jobs.

Or do we?

Not if we use, we don’t. is a full office suite that is completely compatable with Microsoft Office.  I use it every day.  Because it’s open source software, it costs a big fat donut.

That’s right.  Zero.

You can find it here:, or, what I think is a better (and prettier) version, here:  It can be used in Windows, Mac OSX or Linux.

Yes, you can read and write Word documents and your editor will never know the difference.  But your pocketbook will…


When I was working on my second book, I was a day away from deadline when my computer decided to glitch out and I lost 30 pages of work.  Doesn’t seem like much, I know, but when you’re in a crunch, it’s devastating.  Believe me.

Worse yet, I discovered that this very same glitch had also erased those thirty pages from all of my backups.  I could go into a long story about why this happened, but I won’t bore you with it.  It was a case of computer glitch and user error (yes, believe it or not, I do make mistakes) — so let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, I was screwed.  I had to completely rewrite those thirty pages and I never did feel the rewrite was as good as the original.  Oh, well.

My backup routine in those days was a combination of saving to network drives, flash drives, and emailing myself a copy with google mail, where everything remains stored forever.

The problem with this system was that it meant that every time I finished working for the day (and several times during), I’d have to stop and do all my backups.  And because I’m a lazy SOB, I found this to be a pain in the ass.

Then I discovered Microsoft Live Sync.

Live sync allows you to save and syncronize documents to a private folder on the web, and between all of your computers.  I can go from laptop to desktop to netbook, whether a Mac or PC, and I’ll always have the latest copy of my book waiting for me.  And, I’ll also have that latest copy on my hard drive.  I no longer have to carry around a data stick everywhere I go.

And guess what?  Live Sync is free.

For those of you who don’t like or trust Microsoft for whatever reason, or you want double backup, there’s a similar service called Dropbox that essentially does the same thing.  And it’s free, too, up to 2 gigs worth of files.  After that you have to get the premium service.

And with Dropbox, you can even access your shared folder with your iPhone.

I could not live without this service.  Anything that allows me not to think about backups is, to my mind, a godsend.


In these days of websites and writers stuck doing a lot of our own publicity, many of us just can’t afford to pay the big bucks to special web designers and photoshop experts to dress up our websites and touch up our author photos.

(Come on, now, you know we all touch up those photos…)

Unfortunately, not all of us can afford a product like Photoshop, which is quite a few hundred dollars.

Well, actually, I take that back.  We can afford a product like Photoshop, called The Gimp.  Yes, I know, unfortunate name, but The Gimp is a Photoshop clone that does just about anything you could want when it comes to graphics and photo manipulation.

And, yes, it’s free.


Want to write a screenplay but don’t want to take another large chunk from your bank account for screenwriting software?  Check out Celtx, which is soooo much more than screenwriting software.  They actually call their product Integrated Media Pre-Production software and you can use it to plan your next movie as well as write it, and can post your drafts for your crew or collaborators.

The software is free.  The posting on their web server involves a monthly charge.  My advice?  Save your Celtx file to a Windows Live Sync folder and give your collaborator a key to the folder.

Or you could pay five bucks a month and use their service.  Seems reasonable to me.


I can’t vouch for this one because I’ve never used it, but yWriter is novel outlining software designed to make those of you inclined to organization to have an easier time of it:

Looks good to me.  And, yes, it’s free

You’re killing me, Larry!!!

And this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There are hundreds of free software applications out there and I’m sure some of you here have your favorites.

Anyone want to share?

Actually, all I really want to know is where I can get free beer.

13 thoughts on “Your Mattress is Free!!!

  1. Ben Sloan

    Great stuff! Open Office, Gimp, and Celtx are all favorites of mine.

    I’ll only add that I talk to my British friend for free all the time via Skype. It’s free computer to computer, but my friend got a Skype app on her mobile that lets me call it from my computerstill for free!from the US to the UK!

    King Kong aint got nothin on me, fellow writers. Precisely nothing.

  2. JD Rhoades

    I’ve tried OpenOffice, but it always warns me when I’m trying to save as a Word doc that "Some formatting may be lost." I’ve never noticed it actually occurring, but it makes me nervous. Anyone have any problems with this?

    Celtx looks really interesting. I’ll check it out.

    I downloaded GIMP once, but it looked like it was going to take forever to learn how to use (I’ve never used Photoshop).

  3. Jake Nantz

    Free Beer? Just get it from your refridgerator, that’s where I’ve been getting mine. Oh, you mean I wasn’t supposed to do that?

    By the way, what was that pinkish-brown stuff in the tinfoil? It gave me gas…

  4. Rob Gregory Browne

    Dusty, go into OpenOffice Writer and open Tools/Options/LoadSave/General and in the lower right corner change Always Save As to Microsoft Word XP.

    Then, when you go to save and you get that warning, check the box that says don’t warn me again.

    I’ve been saving my formatted documents as Word docs for years and have never had a single problem. They probably give that warning for legal reasons. JUST in case something bad happens.

  5. JT Ellison

    My favorite freebies are Freedom ( and Music Rescue (

    Freedom actually turns off your wireless so you can work without interruption. It’s absolutely brilliant.

    Music Rescue allows you to move your iTunes library from computer to computer and device to device. It also helps if you’ve lost your library. When my last laptop died, Music Rescue allowed me to access my library through my iPhone and deposit it on the new computer.

    Each of these apps ask for a donation to help continue development, but don’t charge a fee. They’re awesome.

    I also use Dropbox, but I pay for an upgraded Mozy account that allows me to save all of my music pictures and files off site.

    I just downloaded Gimp (there’s another one called PaintNet) I’m going to check Microsoft Live, see if it’s more seamless. Thanks for these, Rob!

  6. Ed Marrow

    I use YWriter and love it. Currently, I am using it to finish my first novel. I have never gotten beyond halfway before. It is great to break it down to manageable parts. It really helps to focus, otherwise I tend to drift.

  7. Eika

    I already used Open Office. is also a good tool for graphics, and ywriter is decent. Thanks for the back-up info, though (that’s been driving me crazy!).

  8. BCB

    Here I am trying to cut down on expense AND stuff and you point me to stuff that’s free. I am not happy about this, sir.

    Seriously, Skype is awesome. Try it if you haven’t. When my daughter was studying abroad in Argentina last fall we "skyped" each other often. And if you haven’t disabled the camera on your computer (it tried to take my picture, what did it think was going to happen?) you can also do video calls. Free.

  9. Rob Gregory Browne

    I actually have been using Skype for years. Brett and I did several podcasts using Skype and it sounds as if we’re both in the same room.

    I’ve also downloaded Skype for my iPhone, as well. Life is good.

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