Monday, June 16, 2014

What Writing Tools and Software Do You Use?



I’ve written all of my novels using Microsoft Word. Before and during my writing I do extensive research on the Internet and print out articles and keep them in file folders. Occasionally I like to get away from the confines of my computer and desk. So, instead of heading out with a laptop, I print out my work-in-progress drafts and bring them and my research to a café. While sipping on a green tea matcha latte and trying to avoid purchasing that oversized chocolate chip cookie in the display case with my name on it, I’ll make corrections and notes on my drafts, brainstorm further, re-read articles, ponder and daydream. It’s important for my writing well being to sometimes get away from my home office and computer screen, my working-from-home husband and my demanding Siamese cat.

But lately I’ve been feeling stuck with a revision of a finished novel as well as the beginnings of two novels-in-progress (yes, I am a Gemini). Colleagues and students alike have been raving about Scrivener for years now and the questions come to mind, “What am I missing out on?” and “Is there something I could do differently with the help of tools that will enhance my creativity in ways I haven’t considered?”

It’s not that I haven’t tried a few programs before. But I’m famous for downloading them and then letting them rot on my desktop, saying I don’t have time to learn them and I’ll get to it once I start my next novel. Or I simply use them once, throw my hands up in the air and then forget all about them.

I finally did recently purchase and download Scrivener (very reasonably priced) as well as the Scrivener for Dummies book. Fellow writers told me that I may not need the book—that the online documentation was quite well done, but trust me, I do usually need how-to books as well. I’ve only just begun to explore Scrivener and I find that it seems best for help with becoming better organized and having research all in one place (though not easy to print out, which I guess isn’t the point). It also has a virtual corkboard and index cards for storyboarding, which was fun to play around with, but I couldn’t seem to print that out either or copy and paste the text and take it to the café unless I wanted to print it on actual Avery 3x5 cards.

Organization is not usually a challenge for me. I guess I’m looking also for help with plotting and brainstorming—something that will help me get the ball rolling. I know how to do this intellectually, but I feel that it’s good to have a jump-start and a way to bounce ideas around that will stimulate my creativity. There are other software packages designed with this in mind (The Marshall Plan, Dramatica, etc.) but I have heard these are difficult to learn and perhaps more complex than they need to be. So I guess it’s good to know up front what you want in a writing software and how it is actually meant to help.

Researching on the Internet I see that some writers like to use a variety of tools instead of one dedicated software package. There’s Pro Writing Aid, which is a writing improvement and editing software; Visual Thesaurus; and Evernote, which you can use for clipping scene ideas, notes, photos, etc. And there are many more.

I also see that Scrivener has a way to set a draft and session “target”—a total word count goal that plugs into a deadline. I think this could be useful, if I do indeed end up using Scrivener but it’s also something I could easily set up for myself.

So, girlfriends, what software and tools do you use, if any? Do you utilize any kind of plotting or story development software? What works for you? What doesn’t? And if you do use and like Scrivener, what are the features that you find the most helpful?





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9 comments:

  1. Great post and so timely, since I feel like I'm hearing more and more buzz about Scrivener. I write solely on Word but I'm curious if a writing program would be of use to me. I can totally see downloading it and then being anxious about taking the plunge! Curious to see what others say.
    -Dana

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    1. Dana, glad this is timely for you. And it's easy to do a trial of Scrivener if you want to check it out before committing. I'm looking forward to see what others have to say too.

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  2. Check out BLOCKBUSTER! It's the software designed by story guru John Truby and forces you to really explore your story elements and characters and allows you to work with scene order and each scene separately as well as check out examples of other stories. Most of the examples are screenplays, but it's designed for all stories - novels and plays included. You can explore it at www.truby.com or google Truby's Blockbuster. It really helped doing major revisions and also helps when just thinking about an idea or starting a whole new book.

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    1. Leslie, this sounds like what I had in mind. Thanks for the info!

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  3. Wendy, a writer client of mine has complained that Scrivener does not have the same Comments and Track Changes functions as Word. I use Pages on my mac because I have to, and have to go through Export to Word . I plan to continue with Pages and have just downloaded Evernote for writing and life organization.

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    1. Thanks, Jane! That's a good point about Scrivener and Comments and Track Changes. I used Pages back in the day and never had problems exporting to Word. Eventually I got Microsoft Office for the Mac. I'm intrigued about Evernote and will probably give it a try.

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  4. Hi Wendy, you know I'm a fan of Scrivener because I can easily see what is covered in each chapter and move things around. I recall that there is an export to print function that I used early on. I don't remember exactly because here's the deal--I had to export my work to Word once I started working with an editor. Sadly, in order to keep my formatting, I had to copy and paste each chapter into Word. This is a drag, especially because I have many chapters. Now that I'm working on a new novel, I will go back to Scriveners and, probably, repeat the process of copying and pasting.

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    1. Thanks for the info, Eileen. That really sounds like a pain. You would think that they would design an easier way to interface with Word.

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