I am listing this as a numbered title because it may eventually become an ongoing series. I haven’t quite decided yet. I’d like to take a moment to address the word processing programs that we use for our craft. I only have experience with Mac and Windows, so won’t be offering advice or options with regard to Linux systems.
Ah, yes. This thing is a clunky mess isn’t it? Even better, you get to pay a lot of money to use it if it isn’t already in your computer at the time of purchase. It bears the characteristic .doc that every editor seems to want. Why do they want it? Because it is the most universal I suppose. It certainly isn’t because it is ideal for the job they need to accomplish. Other people have said it better than I can, but the long and short is that you are often better off writing in another program and then just saving as a .doc file. As a bonus, Word seems plagued by its own clunky code so that files coming out of it often convert certain characters into a ? symbol in other systems. “ and ‘ are both the most common culprits. Either way, it makes your work look terrible and ameture.
This is a freeware Microsoft Office clone. It works in the same basic way and offers the same basic functionality. For years, this has been what I preferred to use over Word. Why? Well first of all it does everything Word does without the need to pay an arm and a leg. It is also great for opening and saving into a broad range of file types. I’ve noticed it seems to avoid the sluggishness that sometimes comes with Microsoft Word. Most likely this is because the core code isn’t as convoluted. As an added bonus, files coming from it rarely suffer the dreaded question mark of doom.
This one is great if you don’t want to work with a full PDF system, but still want to save something in PDF format. It is a tiny plugin that allows you to ‘print’ a file as a PDF. Doing so adds it to your saved files in exactly the manner it appeared in the document file. The only real downside is the lack of a functional index or table of contents on the free version. I have no real experience with the paid version, so can’t speak with authority there. If you want more functionality, some options include PDF Creator, PDFfill, PDFTK Builder, or (if you don’t mind the pricetag) Adobe.
Distraction-Free Writing Programs
For Mac users, there is WriteRoom and for Windows you have Dark Room. These two aren’t particularly impressive programs, but can be a godsend for some authors. Both are low frills programs that allow for distraction-free writing. I am not personally fond of WriteRoom, since the green on black gives my eyes trouble after a short time of using it, but some people favor it. The great advantage of these is that you have to focus on the writing, not on what may be in the background of your computer. Full-screen in other programs doesn’t expand the size of the page you are working on, so can end up just as distracting. These programs eliminate that issue fairly well.
This is the ultimate writing program, in my humble opinion. If you are an author, it has a lot going for it that can be a huge help to you. It is most well known for the cork board option it offers. This allows you several ways to set up quick notes of scenes and organize the story flow and outline in a dynamic manner. Cards can be stacked so that scenes fall within chapters or they can all just be lined up and moved about as needed. In the actual ‘chapters’ and ‘scenes’ themselves, you can jump about from point to point easily rather than scrolling up and down. When everything is done, the main folder can be printed as a single document rather than a number of smaller ones! It even lets you save in pdf, mobi, epub and doc formats if you wish.
As you write, it keeps track of all sorts of information in real time. Word counts, character counts, how far along you are for a set word goal per scene or chapter, you name it! It split screens in several ways, each offering a far better option than trying to do multiple documents in word or other programs. Research has its own folder that can be pulled from quickly and easily as needed and referenced constantly as you go. There is an outline section that lets you read all of your overview information easily and move things about (which also moves them in all other sections at the same time).
The program comes with templates that include all sorts of document styles, even screenwriting. Before you start a major edit, it can take a ‘snapshot’ so that you can easily go back to or review an older version of the work without fear of losing anything. Other functions include full screen, collections/folder systems, automatic backups of your work and even a name generator for when you need to quickly pull a name out of thin air for journalism or minor side characters.
Lest I sound like I am raving over Scrivener, I have to note that it is one of the few things on this list that isn’t freeware. It is a paid program, though not exceptionally costly. It also takes some getting used to as it is certainly different from the familiar word style of writing. They do offer a 30 day free trial and are kind enough at the end of that period to allow you the option to save the entire work of what you have in its files as some other form of document if you decide not to buy. I think the program is pretty useful to novelists and those who might need to do any longer books.
Know anything about some other tools useful to an author? Let me know in the comments. I can only speak for what I have worked with personally, but I might give them a look and possibly discuss them in the future. I am considering a follow-up to this entry regarding items such as a Dvorak keyboard. Regardless, I hope this has proven helpful to you in your writing endeavors.