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.


A Sea of To-Do Lists

ToDoListI keep my stickies opened at all times on my computer. It doesn’t matter what else I have going on or how many times I reboot (which is never) they’re always there. Hidden within each stickie is my todo list for a particular area of my house. Right now I’ve managed to whittle it down to “Writing,” “Home Repair,” and “Work.” Each grows faster than it shrinks.

At the start of the year, at the suggestion of a member of my writing group, I decided to make some goals for myself. Some are easily obtainable, some are stretch goals, and others are “only with the grace of God,” goals. I’ve managed to put a project into the “published” category, and now I’m waiting to break out the red pen and sign preorders of I.Am.Maine. That will mark the end of a very huge project that has stretched years.

My next project which I think is well within reach is finishing the sequel of Suburban Zombie High. The characters are currently being edited and the layout of their latest battlefield is being tweaked. Overall, the project is coming along nicely. I can see it being ready near the start of summer. With that project done, it’s time to move into the stretch goals, or as I like to refer to it, “The ToDo List I’m scared to Make.”

Stretch Goals: 
Revisit Children of Nostradamus, read Beta Reader Comments
Revise and Rewrite CoN
Prepare Query Letter
Start reaching out to Agents
Cry

I’ve given myself a huge bit of time to work on this goal. It’s the scariest and the most “real” of any of my goals. It requires me to put my faith in people other than my readers and I foresee a lot of ups and downs. Thankfully, I’m on track to have so much time, I think I can hope for either an agent at the end of the year, or the realization that the project will never move forward. Either way, the year is underway and progress is being made.

Now back to writing.


Proof Copy Drowning in Ink

screen

I just received my first proof copy of I.Am.Maine. The knock of the UPS man made me jump out of my seat. I was excited to touch the book I had been slaving over for months. As I tore away the wrapping paper, it was glorious. It was the culmination of hours spent writing, editing and adjusting words. It was the pinnacle of my dedication to my craft. It was written by “eremy Flagg?”

I have spent plenty of time editing this book. I have rewritten phrases, sentences and even entire chapters. I have learned more about the English language in the past few months than I think I care to understand. When I was done with this book, I let it rest so I could regroup and edit again. I can recite large portions of this book having read it so many times.

It’s still not perfect, and it never will be until I have the physical copy in my hand. As a writer, I know that reading in context can help bring about revelations about poor word choices. As a graphic designer, I know each font, picture and spacing can be critical in aiding your reader along in their journey. This end user mentality requires you have a product in your hand similar to your reader so you can experience this as they do. This requires a proof copy of your book.

The things I’ve noticed in print I didn’t on screen:

  1. Photos translating from color to black and white need to be experienced in the actual book. Even color to color needs to make sure the resolution turns out a photo you’re happy with. The screen will never properly predict these changes as they’re based on the physical printing process.
  2. Margins never look as good as they do on the screen. Make sure paragraph indents don’t indent too far and that the gutter is given much-needed attention. Respect the safe zone of your page, things too close to the edge can be trimmed. Remember the rule: Close enough is not good enough, make it look intentional.
  3. Fonts are always beautiful on screen, but are they legible on the page? Will they maintain the same crisp quality you love so much on your screen? (Garamond is our friend.)
    White type on a black background can be a hazardous pain in the butt. With the black ink ever so slightly bleeding into the white of the letter, it can be difficult to see. Some printers are better than others as are some fonts versus others.
  4. Unless you’ve become adept at calibrating your monitor, an inch doesn’t always measure an inch. Measurements on screen are relative, and often not a true representation. Once you open the physical copy, it’s obvious that not all of your measurements turned out quite the way you wanted.
  5. I have started pre-orders for my book, and I want to say I’m in a rush to have this product in the hands of my readers. The realization is, if I rush through this and put it into their hands today, it will not be the final product I want it to be. I will not be proud to have this book under my belt and done. Instead, I will take my time, read it through, make my notes, make adjustments and order a final proof copy (I hope final) and do one last round of checks.

As the self-published market is a flood of books written by anybody with a computer, it is importance to remember the goal set for in writing. Whatever that goal, whether it be fame or fortune, it requires the final product to be solid. Take a moment, make your readers happy, edit your physical copy.


Signed Edition of I.Am.Maine

It’s been quite a journey, but after years of working on the blog, visiting Maine to take photography, and conspiring with fellow writers, I.Am.Maine has a physical manifestation. I’m proud that a small blog had the opportunity to reach so many readers. Through I.Am.Maine I was able to connect with residents of small towns, both in and out of Maine. I told stories and was told stories. I got the chance to hide amongst the recesses of my mind and relive fond memories of my childhood.I’ve decided to do something a little different with I.Am.Maine. Many people had a hand in this project, and I wanted to offer a way to specialize the book. Because of this, I will be offering signed copies of I.Am.Maine until February 20th, 2015. Books will ship towards the end of February. After that the book will be available through Amazon. To purchase a signed edition of the book, use the Paypal link to the right.

For those who are interested in purchasing but do not have Paypal, leave your email in the comments and I will contact you with instructions.

Thank you again for this amazing experience.



 

 


Writing is a Team Effort

I will frequently discuss the importance of avoiding the literary vacuum. There is something great about having a team of people around you to rely on. In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to rely on beta-readers, my writing group, my artist and photographer and I’m sure the list will continue to grow. They’re invaluable in the process it takes to get a book from conception to creation. They’re also extremely important to your sanity. Tell your cover illustrator that you need a book cover design during the height of convention season and while she’s drowning in a sea of work and you’ll get snark. In an exchange I asked, “Could you do the cover? For tomorrow? Please?” I should have known that an illustrator would retaliate in only the most hilarious of manners.

On a happy note, she got the sentiment of my future cover just the way I want it.

Suburban Zombie High: The ReunionTo see more of Amanda Kahl’s work check out www.ageofnight.com.

 


%d bloggers like this: