Thursday, June 19, 2008

Writers Resources #2 - Moving Beyond Word

All word processing programs are not created equal. At least, not when it comes to writing your novel, short story, or screenplay. The days when Microsoft Word and its handful of clones were the only options in town are long gone. Today, if you want to write the next great American novel your options are, if not endless, certainly quite varied.

So what? Why would you ever stray from the warm embrace and comforting familiarity of MS Word? The fact is, MS Word isn't exactly the friendliest program for writing a book. You basically have two options: save your novel as one humongous document and scroll FOREVER to find earlier sections, or save each chapter/scene as it's own document. The later might seem like common sense but you're still going to have to hunt for those scenes and if you want a word count ... prepare to break out the calculator and start adding up individual chapters. Not to mention if you do save the novel as separate chapters you'll have to cut and paste them all into a single document later when you're ready to submit your manuscript. Notes? Strictly on a document level. Find & Replace? A little TOO broad sometimes. Nice clean layout that is free from tons of distracting buttons everywhere? Errr not exactly. MS Word is most definitely not the be all and end all program from writers. Use it to format you novel before submission, but other than that, you can do a lot better.

Okay, okay, so if MS Word isn't the answer, what is? That depends. Are you on a Mac or a PC? Yep the old OS wars are alive and well in the wide world of novel writing programs. Whichever operating system you run, however, there are countless options for you to consider. Typical features of those programs include working on a project level with multiple documents in a single project, combined word counts, word count and page progress meter bars, advanced find and replace, manuscript-specific formatting options & templates, full-screen mode to cut down on distractions, notes panels on both a document and project level, outling tools, and many, many, many more.

For the last week I've been test driving a Mac program called Scrivener. I have to say, I am already a huge fan. The cost is negligible, $40, and you can try out the full program for 30 days free. Scrivener has almost all of the features I listed above as well as a lot more. You can keep media files such as movies, photos and audio in a notes folder associated with your project. Each document (chapter/scene for example) has an index card associated with it - a place to type a brief description. In the cork board view you can see those index cards and easily change their order, moving one scene in front of another and vice versa. It's quite powerful and easy to use. I highly recommend giving it a try if you're on a Mac. The only quibble I have with Scrivener so far is the fact that while individual documents in a project display word counts, there is no overall project word count available. Here's a good tour of the program and its features:

Scrivener is just one of many options, however. In fact, Scrivener's makers were nice enough to put together a fairly comprehensive list of those other options and even details on each program's various features. Rather handy, wouldn't you say? In the page linked to below, scroll down to view the sections titled "Writing Software for Mac OS X" and "Writing Software for Windows."

My challenge to you is to get out there and test drive an application or two. You just might find the writing software of your dreams, or something a little closer at the very least.


Mark Teppo said...

I'm a huge fan of Scrivener, and it has been a godsend in keeping all the notes about a project in one place.

It does tell you project word counts, by the way. The option moved in a recent rev, but if you find the Statistics menu item (it's under View, I think), there's an option for word counts. It'll tell you the entire project's count as well as for whatever documents you currently have highlighted in the binder.

Jenn Racek said...

Thanks for the tip Mark, I will definitely check that out! I'm excited to learn Scrivener has project word counts available. That was the one thing keeping me from being utterly enraptured with the program.