843 words • 4~6 min read

Writing Software, Personal Preference, & Experimentation

You may recall I wrote about writing software last October in an attempt to get pumped for NaNoWrimo. I changed my opinion on yWriter about ten minutes after writing my post about software for writers, and I actually completed my NaNo 2011 draft with a combination of LibreOffice and yWriter. I enjoyed it.

Late last year a friend was generous enough to let us have her old MacBook, which I recently updated to 10.6. I actually like the Mac. It hurts me to say that outloud, but there are some good things happening there, and some things I dislike, but now I can do Mac-only things! Hooray!

With that in mind, I decided that it was time to give Scrivener another shake, since I was now on its native system. The Linux beta and I never quite got along — and it looks like the Linux beta never really went anywhere, sadly — but I continue to hear just absolutely great reviews from everyone I know who uses it. I’ve got a coupon code from NaNoWriMo, and it’s got a 30-day trial period.

I’m tackling a project that I wanted to apply more planning to, and for the first ten minutes I skimmed the tutorial project before getting a feel for what it does, how it functions, and the neat little things going on. You can audio and image files to the search section! Ooh, digital notecards! Corkboard! Handy little text editor! That note-taking thing when you hit cmd+shift+enter!

I spend about an hour and half putting some notes on the project into Scrivener, and getting some ideas, which lead to more ideas, and hey yeah — this works pretty well. I sit back and think, “Before you get any further into this, do you want to buy this program?”

At first I was very much in support of buying it. I could see writing a whole novel in this software — I could see recommending other people use it to put together their novel. It’s functional and fun to use. I wouldn’t pay the whole $45 for it, but at the discounted NaNoWriMo price, I was in. That may seem a little silly to anyone who buys software on a regular basis — in terms of software, $45 isn’t really all that much — but my philosophy toward software is very much, “If I can find a functional, free alternative, I’m not going to pay for it.” When I bought Write or Die two years ago, it was a big deal.

Except then I stopped and thought about it. If I purchase Scrivener, I’ve locked myself to the Mac for writing. While I like the Mac for writing — I like the keyboard, and I generally like the software available for it — I prize my ability to be able to switch computers at a moments notice. I prefer my desk for a number of things, while the Mac is where I disappear on the couch. If I leave the house, I’m more likely to bring along the netbook — and as it turns out, I forgot that I love writing fiction at the coffeehouse.

When I sat down and really looked at it, I said to Andy, “I would be paying a little over $20 to use this cool software, but I would have to do it on the Mac exclusively. Does that sound logical?”

He shrugged and said, “Sounds like Apple.”1

And I realized that while Scrivener is cool, and while it could add a lot of value to the novel writing process that I don’t always get from yWriter and a word processor alone, from the standpoint of interoperability it wasn’t going to be the right fit for me.

I’m still trying to find the right fit. I’ve got this new short project (just 20,000 words) and I’m thinking about giving Yarny a more thorough shake this time. It’s not as in-depth as Scrivener or yWriter, but it’s got the basic features I really need and nothing more. Maybe that’s what’s going to work for this project.

Then again, just this second I found a link to LitLift. I’m playing with that interface right now, because I’m still not totally certain what I’m dealing with here. Interesting. (Edit: I think it’s actually an outlining a plotting service, which might work well along with a Word processor, like FocusWriter or good-old-fashioned OpenOffice.)

Writing software: without it, authors would probably write about two more books per year.

1. We’re aware that Apple is not behind Scrivener, but there is something to the philosophy of developing for any operating system that you ought to create what you know. Not that I know. I couldn’t develop software if I wanted to.

  • Brad Marsh

    Ashley,I'm the creator of LitLift.com and I just wanted to say thanks for mentioning the site on your blog.  You are correct that LitLift is meant to be an organization and outlining tool and not so much of a word processor.If you check it out some more and have any thoughts on how to improve it, please let me know.My email is litlift at gmail.comThanks,Brad

  • Ashley

    No problem — it's a neat service! I actually like that it's not supposed to be a word processor, because I'm not much of a plotter, especially not when I have a blank slate in front of me. And the character generator is amazing. I generated three characters on a whim, and ended out my day with a plot.