Let’s Talk About Writing Software

Let's Talk About Writing Software

This post reminded me that I’ve been wanting to poll folks about writing software lately. I know everyone talks about the wonders of Scrivener and how it changed everything for them and such, but there are other programs out there as well. I’m wondering how well they work for people.

I know some still prefer homespun methods of keeping track of stuff like plot threads, character traits, settings details, etc. Sometimes having it all in one program does help those who need a little guidance in order to be organized. I’m still int he process of finding the best way for myself, so I’m definitely intrigued by what others are up to.

So, if you use writing software that provides a bit more functionality than a word processor, let me know what you use and why you like it. Also what you wish it could do but doesn’t, and wish it wouldn’t do but does. Or, if you’ve cobbled something together from several different programs, I’d love to hear about that, too.

What I’m not interested in hearing is variations on: “Real writers don’t need fancy writing programs, you should JUST WRITE.” Because, honestly, everyone is different. Some of us do better with extra tools. And I’m sure everyone agrees that no matter how good a writing program, it cannot write something for you. So if you feel the urge to whip that out, kindly talk about puppies and kittens, instead.

12 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Writing Software

  1. I don’t have Mac, so what I use is Writer’s Cafe, which might be the most similiar to Scrivener. http://www.writerscafe.co.uk/

    There are two parts of the program that I heavily use: Scrapbook and Storylines. Scrapbook uses “Scraps”, which can be text, pictures, websites, etc. you use to keep your research handy. I use it heavily for worldbuilding and keeping my notes in order. Storylines is like a computerized bulletin board–you can put your notes on cards and organize them however you want. It also keeps tabs of your characters’ names, wants, desires, etc.

    There are other parts to the program such as a journal, a tile word game to help you brainstorm, name generator. And the guy who wrote the program does excellent customer service. For $45, it’s totally worth it.

  2. I swear by My Writing Nook, which is an app that lets me write on my phone on the train, on my work computer in the lunch hour, and on my laptop when it’s working *and synchronises* seamlessly.

  3. I use WordPad on a Win7 PC, largely because Word just kept getting in my face. With WordPad, I can just write, and not have to worry about wrangling special characters or weird formatting or whatnot. I usually write without RTF italics or whatnot, and use either Markdown formatting or something similar so the conversion to HTML is easier, and so I can email myself the text of things and work on stuff on my iPad in SimpleNote or the included Notes app.

    Currently, what I like about my setup is that I can work on my stories anywhere I like– all I have to do is remember to put in asterisks or whatever, and I’m golden. And while it’s a very manual process moving my files around, I find that I like the control, and the fact that I can sub in different programs at every step without difficulty if I like. And since WordPad is light on memory, I can have five files open at once without a problem, and I can have three or so side by side since my screen is pretty big. I only ever need two open anyway for referencing and so forth, so I’m good there.

    One thing I don’t like is that I don’t get to use RTF formatting. The Markdown stuff is a crutch to reduce my conversion time; I have always just liked seeing my italic words in italics, and so forth. None of the writing programs I’ve looked at have clean RTF–> HTML conversion, or even RTF–>Markdown. The results always need cleaning up, and though it usually doesn’t take long, it’s that five or ten extra minutes of poking that kill my will to edit and post anything.

    This is also why stuff like Writemonkey doesn’t work for me– I can take or leave full screen as a feature (especially since it’s achievable if I hide all my windows and just call up that one WordPad one I need), and I just don’t like writing/reading/editing that’s not in standard dark-on-light. And while that is something I can fix, I haven’t really bothered so far since WordPad works fine for me.

    Now, the grain of salt in all this is that I am a dirty casual fanfic writer that dabbles in original fic. Currently I don’t have any big goals I am working on, and the big plotty fic I’m working on seems to be doing fine in folders. I’ve used Scrivener too– I missed it like hell when I switched back to Windows, but have muddled into a setup that works okay for me anyway.

  4. Doggone, Tempest. I thought you wanted to hear the story about that demo I wrote in pseudo-hex.

    But I’m going to go check out Scrivener right now. Does it do endings?

  5. I’ve looked at Scrivener and liked it but not enough to switch to Mac. I’ve poked a few of the PC ones and so far I think Liquid Story Binder is the prettiest, and Anthemion Writer’s Cafe is interesting enough for me to want to play with it some more.

    A lot of people who use MS-Word aren’t aware of outline mode so I just want to mention that–it has a very good outline view that lets you drag things around quickly, and then you can flip back to normal view and write your scenes in. Normal text gets dragged along with its associated outline heading when you’re in outline view, so it’s useful for reorganizing stuff. However, there’s not a very smooth path for turning scenes-with-individual-titles into a flowing manuscript, because the titles are embedded in the text rather than being meta text as in most notecarding apps.

      1. Tobias actually originally sold me on scrivener. He blogged about it here:

        Beyond that article, I can’t speak to his motivations for using the program. For myself. I find it’s a good compromise between structure and an open format. A lot of writing software feels (to me) like it has a very specific and extremely rigid workflow. Scrivener is powerful without being opinionated.

        Here’s a bit of a laundry list of features I use:

        – The main UI lets you sort your scenes however you see fit. One long list. Hierarchies of folders and files. Files with subfiles, etc. I set up a folder for each chapter, then drop scenes inside.

        – You can edit multiple scenes as one document by selecting multiple scenes and choosing a menu option. Instant combined scene. When you’re done, the edits stay in their original scenes.

        – You can view two documents simultaneously. Which is FANTASTIC for comparing two versions of a scene, or for referencing a scene you wrote three weeks and four chapters ago. I use this feature constantly. What color was her hair? How many brothers did he say he had? What did I change between this version and the one I wrote on Tuesday? I love this feature.

        – The outline and corkboard buttons let you see your scenes as index cards, or as a linear outline. Then you can drag and drop to reorder your work. You can tell scrivener to auto-populate the outline/cards with the first paragraph of a scene, or jot down your own notes. A really good example of how powerful this can be is shown here:

        – The label and status system allows you to sort scenes at a glance by your own standards. I use labels to set character viewpoints, and status to set weather a scene is “done”, it’s all customizable. When I look at the outline. I know who’s seeing a given scene, and weather it’s finished, all right at a glance.

        – This feels a little silly, but honestly, it’s a killer feature of the app: You only have to click once to chose a scene to edit. A lot of those alternatives I mentioned earlier ~don’t~ do this. They require double-clicks, or open scenes in a new window or tab. Single click scene switching makes editing smooth and simple. It lets me keep the scenes separated without losing track of what text is in what scene.

        All of those are features I actually use. There’s quite a few more that I don’t normally touch, but the ones I’ve listed here are definitely why I’ve fallen in love with the program.

        If you have a Mac, I’d suggest trying the 30 day trial. If you hate it, you can easily export any work to a more common format. Scrivener’s native format is actually a ZIP file with RTF files inside, so it can’t actually lock your work into its program.

  6. I’m one of the people who swear Scrivener’s unholy oath. It really is as good as the ravings suggest, but I understand that the fervor can get annoying.

    A while ago, I went looking for scrivener alternatives that’d work on non-mac computers. I was never quite satisfied, but I did narrow down a few alternatives:

    – PageFour
    PageFour is recommended by Literature and Latte (the Scrivener people) as a windows alternative. It has some very nice features. I love the “overused phrase” search function, and it does the whole scrivener hierarchical-folders thing. I couldn’t get over some UI gripes, but it’s an excellent program.

    – Liquid Storybinder
    Liquid Storybinder is a very pretty program, it’s physically beautiful and brimming with tools. The developers are also very actively involved in the community, responding to user requests for new features, so it’s a bit like renting a your own coder.

    Despite all that, I have to admit, I hated the program. I found the UI way too cluttered and difficult to navigate. I got the sense that it’d be a powerful tool if I trained up on it, and I know some people swear by it. Your mileage may vary.

    – Y Writer
    Y Writer has the distinction of being one of the only cross-platform programs I’ve run across (Windows and Linux). It’s a homebrew program by Simon Haynes, who is himself an author. It has some similarities to PageFour and Scrivener (again with the hierarchical organization of scenes and chapters) along with some powerful scene and viewpoint tracking tools.

    yWriter is a lot more cluttered than Scrivener and PageFour, but the included tools are really nice for longform fiction. I didn’t like the UI, but I feel like I’ve not given yWriter enough time to win me over.

    That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I hope it’s useful.

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