A Writer’s Review: Writing Software

One of the first questions other writers ask me is, “What do you use to write?” There are a lot of options and each of them own a myriad of pro’s and con’s. I think to some extent, it is as personal a choice as the design on the notebook we used before we went digital. I have been at the front of adopting new writing software to test it out with a single pursuit in mind: find something that closely relates to my once cherished notebook.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 5.42.57 PMMicrosoft Word
Some people may scoff at the first and most obvious choice. It’s what many of us originally learned to use with the computer and it’s the dominant software in education so MSWord has a major perk: you know it. You know how to spell check, how to word count, how to start a new page. It’s easy in this manner. It also has some fantastic editing features such as “track changes” that lets you make temporary changes or suggestions along with adding notes for later down the line.

While this might make it the first choice, it has some short comings for me as a writer. I work on a Mac and the font renders so poorly it might as well be writing on an Atari. There is no way to organize your thoughts within the document, it only offers a writing platform. Visuals are somewhat miserable to include if you want to have reference photos. It also has no instant back up, though this can be remedied with the Cloud or through Dropbox.

Overall, it gets the job done in the fastest manner possible with some cool editing abilities.

Google Docs
Google tries to make this as straight to the point as absolutely possible and doesn’t offer some of the more bloated features of MSWord. It looks good on all platforms and is integrated with so many mobile devices it’s almost always within reach. It also has collaborative abilities far superior to any other option I’ve encountered. I also love that it has a history feature, because sometimes I hastily kill a character and decide I need to undo my murderous rampage a week later.

I transferred all my writing to Google Docs because of having them in a digitally safe place that would always be accessible. However, I’ve had my Gmail hacked before, and that made me nervous. I also go to a Starbucks for writing and frequently, as the bandwidth is struggling to keep up, it will disconnect me mid sentence and I can lose up to a paragraph. Once I’m disconnected I just smile and stare off into space. I also got caught up trying to keep it organized. While you can upload images for reference, it started to feel as if things were being kept in a dozen locations.

Overall, great for the versatility of platforms and for backing up, but still not quite the organizational tool I wanted.

Storyist
I liked this software. It gave me some really fun features up front. I love the notecards, I like a cork board. I’m an artist by trade so this gave me some of the abilities I use in the physical world. I like that I could include photos into character profiles and write short character bios. What I didn’t like was focused specifically on the structure of the writing document. I didn’t like the writing portion, and while I used it for planning, if I can’t do the one thing I’m supposed to do as a writer, time to reevaluate. It is also Mac specific software, which kind of knocks out a large chunk of the population.

Scrivener
I scoffed at Scrivener for a while. I tried to pick it up at the start of NaNo and felt that it was another piece of overbearing bloated software that provided more distractions than benefits. It’s benefits are pretty numerous as I’m currently working on a multi book series right now. I am able to keep the entire book in one Scrivener file, and break it up by chapters and/or scenes. It allows me to write some notes for characters as well as plots and I can include photos into both. Having a couple hundred thousand words means I have plots I’m already a bit fuzzy on. It helps me organize by synopsis, key words, and by plot. As this book is being written over several years, it helps me keep track of what is going on. While I haven’t used it yet, I’ve seen good reviews on it flowing the book for Kindle (something self-publishers know can be a headache.)

Cons aren’t long, but the biggest one is that it takes some time to learn. The learning curve isn’t steep, but I know many NaNo writers pick it up for the first time at the start of NaNo and quickly freak out and switch back to another software. It also has the ability to be distracting because of the other “fun” things it can do. It also doesn’t have an easy back up system and I have it saving to my Dropbox folder to guarantee its safety.

Overall, it’s the right piece of software for me at this point. I’ll be spending some time going over its more simplistic features and explaining out what I find to be the most beneficial pieces of the program in a future post.


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