Writing technology

For years (and years and years) I was a Microsoft Word champion.  I love(d) that program fiercely.  In part, this is because I have always had it customized to within an inch of its life, from the pink pig and striped fish on my toolbar (acting as “Save As…” and “Select All” shortcuts, respectively) to the various customized speed-key commands I put in, to the blue-background-with-white-text part that I always install.  I like the speed of MSWord.  I like the as-you-go spell-checking.  I’ve worked with Word for long enough that all of its quirks are second nature — take for instance the backspace that it sometimes takes to clear the formatting — and all of its features are second nature.

That being said, it’s no longer my preferred writing program.  There’s this cool little app for Macs only called “Jer’s Novel Writer,” a bit of freeware (for the moment) that I first picked up in 2004 for my NaNoWriMo project.  It wasn’t so stable then, which was its biggest drawback, but it’s been upgraded and tested since then and is, now, an endlessly cool program.  It has few of Word’s really complex features – spell checking isn’t automatic — but it’s built in an entirely different way.  It’s built to be a program that gets out of your way and just lets you write.  No stops to correct something with a wavy line beneath it, no sprawling feature bars or tool sets or anything.  The format is simple: You can have one long document or you can break it into Parts, Sections, Chapters, and so on.  If you do that, it automatically outlines things as you go, and to switch from one part to another simply requires clicking on the section title in the right-hand “drawer” menu.

There are two other features that I adore.  On the left hand, there’s a margin in which you can click at any point to write yourself a note.  This has become invaluable for me.  Now, instead of leaving myself a complex bread-crumb trail of []’s, I just put a note to the side.  “Research X” or “would this happen?” or whatever.  And then I keep writing.  No break in the momentum.

The second feature, which is invaluable for long pieces, is the built in database.  Type a character’s name in the story, then highlight it and option-click it, and there it is: the option to put the name in the database.  The same can be done for details describing the character.  The database can be opened from the drawer, and each person, place, and thing can be tagged/categorized into groups.  They can also have images attached to them, which is a way-cool feature that I have yet to use well or fully.

I tend not to outline extensively before writing, and so the database, in combination with the outline, has worked out beautifully for me.  No more hunting around for the name of the third-grade teacher mentioned once in the first page; I just scan the database list in the drawer and review my notes.

So, I’m singing the praises of this thing, here, but I have one major, major gripe: it doesn’t have a Windows version!  This means that the stories I’ve started on it on my iBook can’t travel over to be worked on at the big computer.  This probably cuts down the amount of time I actually spend working on them.  They can be saved as .rtf files and even, now, Word documents, but I haven’t yet been able to re-import them with all formatting intact.  So that’s not so happy-making.

Anyway, that’s just kind of where I’m at with writing technology at the moment.  Anyone have some killer word-processing app they use on their own computer that they’d like to recommend?  Or just in general, writer types, what do you write in?  Word?  Word Perfect?  Notebook?  Stone tablet? 

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8 Responses to Writing technology

  1. next_bold_move says:

    I have been using Word, but you may have convinced me to change.

    Also, I use comp books for notes when I am out and about and using the computer isn’t convenient.

  2. kepkanation says:

    Sadly, you’d need a Mac to change to my program of choice.

    I can’t ever get comp books to lay down flat enough for me. Do you have a secret?

  3. next_bold_move says:

    Damn and blast!

    I just beat them into submission.

  4. tangleofthorns says:

    As part of my project to use as much free/open source software as possible on my new laptop, I recently came over from Word to OpenOffice (which is PC-only but I believe there’s a very similar variant for Macs)–very similar, very full-featured, I’m not nuts about the limitations of its wordcount feature but in all other ways, absolutely perfect, and worth it not to be as much a Microserf as I once was. Highly, highly recommended.

  5. therealjae says:

    I compose in Word, but I often wish I didn’t. Unlike you, I hate Word–I was a WordPerfect girl who switched to Word kicking and screaming when Corel decided not to put out a version for OSX. Thanks for reminding me about Jer’s Novel Writer, though; I’ll check it out.

    What do you use when you’re not writing fiction, if I may ask?


  6. kepkanation says:

    Ah, yes, I remember you weren’t a fan of Word from our days of trading .rtf files back and forth.

    Basically, for anything short-form (fiction or non), I still use Word or sometimes Notepad. I don’t like the Mac notepad-type app (Simpletext? Is it still called that?), but if I’m just trying to get something down, I’ll often fall back on Notepad in Windows.

  7. kepkanation says:

    Cool, I’ll have to check it out! I don’t mind so much being addicted to Micosoft products, because compatibility is often important to me, but I’m definitely looking for new programs to test out for their write-ability.

  8. tangleofthorns says:

    Open Office saves in practically every format ever, too, so it’s worth checking out for that reason.

    I’m also using freeware messaging, antivirus, web-browsing, image-editing and music programs. Dig me, I’m a hippie.

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