Authors Answer 34 – Writing Software

Authors have to write, and how they write is usually on a computer these days.  Gone are the days of writing entire books with pen and paper or with typewriter (though some people still do these). There’s a lot of software out there for writing.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 34: What software do you recommend for writing books?

S. R. Carrillo

I don’t really use anything other than good old Microsoft Word and Adobe. All that fancy stuff – Calibre, Scrivener, (Scrivebre?) – just throws me off. The simpler the program, the more streamlined my thoughts can be when I’m trying to get everything down onto the page.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

There are so many options out there that, really, you just have to try a bunch of things out and see what works for you. One that I used to use was a free program called yWriter, and it worked for me for a time, but it didn’t have a whole lot of options for someone trying to turn a bunch of words into a manuscript. What I eventually ended up sticking with was Scrivener, when they finally released their Windows version. I have a definite love-hate relationship with it, but it’s more love than hate. The trick is that it can do so many things that you have to really sit down and play with it and figure out exactly what you want it to do. If you can manage that you can wind up with a beautifully organized workstation for your novel, set up exactly how you like it. And when everything is said and done, Scrivener has all the available options to turn your book into whatever kind of file you want. Using this software I was able to create both a print version and e-book version of “Nowhere to Hide” with only a minimal amount of bashing my head off the keyboard. 🙂

Paul B. Spence

A good word processing program like Microsoft Word? I use Excel for spreadsheets and databases of character and setting information. I use Adobe Illustrator for personal star maps. What more do you need?

Linda G. Hill

Up until last year I wrote on whatever I could get my hands on. I actually started NaNoWriMo in 2006 and my computer crapped out on me – I ended up writing all but the first chapter of 50,000 words in a notebook. (Yes, I counted every single word in my notebook to make sure I had 50K words.) After that, any word processing program would do, as long as I could see my word count. Most recently I was using Open Office, which is free to download. But then I downloaded Scrivener and I haven’t looked back. There’s nothing better out there that I know of for organizing a manuscript. Everything is there at a glance, which I love. I’d highly recommend it. The trial is free for 30 days – that’s thirty days, counted in hours, of actual use. So if you download it and forget about it for two months like I did, you haven’t lost the chance to try it out.

Jean Davis

MS Word. Use the software you know and don’t have to think about. I don’t need spiffy features, I need a software that disappears so I can focus on getting the words out of my head. I set up a template with standard submission ready formatting and write everything in that so when a story eventually edited, it’s ready to go.

H. Anthe Davis

I’ve never used anything fancy.  For years I just used the Write program (.wri).  Eventually I forced myself to upgrade to a proper word-processing program, and now I use LibreOffice Writer, and….that’s it.  I occasionally use spreadsheets to hold some information, but no specialized software.

Elizabeth Rhodes

I love Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die app.  When it comes to getting words on the page, that program will force you to crank them out.  For saving files, I’ve been using MS Word, but I’m lukewarm about the program at best and am open to new suggestions.

D. T. Nova

Either Microsoft Word or a cheaper alternative that works similarly. The difference between different versions of Word doesn’t matter because the more “advanced” features aren’t anything you need. I’ve been using TextMaker and the only disadvantage compared to Word that I’ve noticed is how many words aren’t in the spellchecker.

Caren Rich

I don’t use anything other than Word, so I can’t answer this.

Gregory S. Close

Word still works for shorter projects, but I prefer Scrivener for novels.  Scrivener lets me save all sorts of information within the project for easy reference, including character sketches, place descriptions, and links to online references and/or images.  It let me move chapters around for easy re-structuring, and then export all or part of the product to the file format of my choice.  In Siege of Daylight was about 244 thousand words, so I needed that freedom to drag and drop chapters in order to adjust the narrative flow on a whim and keep it or put it back the way it was.  Word couldn’t handle the abuse.  Scrivener took it stoically and then asked for more.

There are also templates included with Scrivener to help with appropriate set up – getting the Title Page, Copyright Page etc. all in the right place.

Eric Wood

I’ve only ever written short stories, haven’t tackled a whole book yet. I’ve only ever used Microsoft Word because that’s what’s been available and I’m familiar with it. It’s easy enough to delete, rearrange, highlight, and do what I need it do it. It’s simple… a lot like me!

Allen Tiffany

Besides Word, I don’t use any software for the writing, though I’m about to explore Scrinver. I am, though, a big fan of style checkers. I think they are hugely helpful when it comes to fine-tuning your prose. I’ve actually played with a number of them. Here is my quick summary:

HemingwayApp: Free, simple, powerful. Very effective at highlighting awkward or troublesome sentences. Light on diagnosing the issue, which is fine. Just reports that something is not working, so I know where to focus when I edit. Try it.

Ginger: Works in Word, but can be a bit onry at times because of various conflicts it has with Micorosoft. Helpful at spotting some grammar issues, but can often be incorrect. I do very much like the built in Text-To-Speech function. TTS is a powerful tool to help you “proof” your work. In fact, I wrote an entire blog on it.

ProWritingAid: Exhaustive “syle” analysis. Great tool. Works inside Word. Sophisticated and can be customized. Will provide a detailed analysis of your work: Adverbs, sentence length, pronoun use, repeated phrases, etc. The list is long. Very powerful tool. PWA provides so much feedback that it can be overwhelming. You have to learn what to respond to and what to ignore. But if you want a detailed review, this is it.

AutoCrit: Very similar to PWA, but a slicker interface. The downside? Does not work in Word, which kills it for me.

Jay Dee Archer

Up until last year, I was using Open Office to write. I didn’t have anything fancy at all. But that changed when my old computer’s hard drive started failing. I’ve since moved on to Microsoft Word, which is far more versatile, I think. I’ve looked into Scrivener, but until I decide to pay for it, I’m not getting it. Word is working for me for now.

I’ve also used Excel to keep track of data for my world. Lots of stats for each country. But I like keeping things very organised for worldbuilding.

How about you?

If you write, what software do you use? Let us know in the comments below.

32 thoughts on “Authors Answer 34 – Writing Software”

  1. I use Word. And I use it like a typewriter. I plan with paper and pen. When I run a final editing pass I always print it out and read it with pen in hand, then transfer any changes to the file. These switch of medium are very important because the tools usually frame how people write and even what they see in the writing.

    1. I didn’t even mention planning. I have a notebook with a lot of my notes. I’ve outlined Journey to Ariadne in a notebook with brief character profiles, and I even write parts of the story in it when I’m away from my computer and inspiration hits me.

  2. I use Word. For me, the “bells and whistles” of more elaborate programs just get in the way. I like being able to have italics and justified margins, but I don’t need a program that reprimands me every time I type a word with more than 2 syllables.

    Way back in the distant Long Ago (the early 1990s), I did use a program that reprimanded me every time I used “big words.” It rated the reading level of everything, and for whatever reason, it felt science fiction written at a 10th-grade level was unacceptable. Also, it believed “Iapetus” is not a real word, and I could never convince it otherwise. (Customizable spell check: one of the greatest inventions EVER for writers. Now if Microsoft Word would just allow us to REMOVE words from our lists, too…)

    1. I’m sure I’m not the only writer to have added a few names that I did make up to my checker. Not just to avoid annoyance, but so that it would tell me if I spelled them inconsistently.

    2. I added so many words to MS Word many years ago while I was writing short stories that I don’t even have anymore.

      I didn’t know there was a program that checked reading level.

      1. The program I was using a LONG time ago (1993, to be precise) was called ProWrite Plus — I think. There may be a current version of it, or something similar. I don’t know; I’ve never looked. It measured reading level along with word counts and such. (It even analyzed/found fault with word choices, which I found annoying. This is the same program that complained at me for referring to Earth in one story as “the home of humankind” instead of “the home of mankind” and then turned around and complained at me for referring to a trio of adult male characters as “men” — that’s sexist, apparently, the way saying “mankind” when discussing humans as a whole isn’t. *rolls eyes*)

  3. Outlines start in my notebook. Then get moved to an excel file.
    Writing happens in Word.
    I track my word counts and time in excel.
    Editing happens in Scriv (love it for ease & organization). Scriv also houses ALL my story info including the excel file for the outline.
    Motivation I use
    Proofing I upload to my Kindle for TTS. I also print out hard copies. Full circle to be back to print 🙂

    I’m still trying out what I like best. This seems to be the standard for me so far though.

  4. Reblogged this on The War of Memory Project and commented:
    While I have tons and tons of character images, maps, info files etc that I refer to when I’m writing, I don’t feel the need to link them up to my writing program. If they’re not going to be in the final document, I don’t need to work with them like that. So a simple writing program works best for me.

  5. I primarily use Scrivener when I’m writing on my computer, though I don’t utilize most of the features. I love the full screen mode where I can use my own background (currently a picture of the ocean from back home), and I also like the ability to move things around easily. I’ve been thinking about doing a little bit of research to see what the program is actually capable of, but I don’t really feel like I need a whole lot of other bells and whistles.

    I also bought Scapple a few years back, to use for brainstorming, but I haven’t opened it much since the first month or so. It’s well suited for my messy creative process, but I find that the size of my laptop screen is a bit limiting. I think I’m actually better off with a pen and a big sheet of paper.

  6. I run open office on my desktop, but, because I am traveling, I need cloud access from my chromebook. I copied most of my poems into google docs and am really happy that I did. I’m especially happy that it will format easily to different types of files. Different publishers ask for different formats, so it’s great to be able to reliably give them what they request. I’ve had trouble with open office in this regard.

    I have also set up a google sheet to keep track of submissions.

      1. I haven’t used a Windows system for years and didn’t have Word available, although even when I did have a Windows system I used Lotus Smartsuite. I don’t know how google docs would be for a long manuscript, but I am really appreciating it for poems, especially the cloud backup and easy access from a variety of devices.

        1. The cloud system is pretty useful. I don’t really use it, other than the fact that many of the ebooks I have are saved on cloud servers.

          1. I admit that I am just starting to use cloud services. I still like having back-ups to my hard drive, but there is a certain peace of mind of knowing that changes save automatically to the cloud so if my drive crashes, I don’t have to worry about having missed something between back-ups.

            1. The only thing I worry about the cloud is that it has been hacked in the past. Your data is out there on a server somewhere. But useful if secure.

            2. It’s true about the hacking and I have thought about it, but it is pretty unlikely that someone is going to abscond with my poetry. Unless they want to get a lot of rejection notices. 😉

  7. I found out today (from an author whose manuscript I’m proofreading/line editing) that Scrivener ‘defaults to Courier font because it assumes you’ll be submitting the manuscript.’ *sigh* I don’t care if it’s possible to choose a different font instead. If the DEFAULT is a font that looks ugly, is difficult to read (italics don’t show up well in Courier) and ISN’T USED as the standard for manuscripts anymore… One more reason for me to stick with plain ol’ Microsoft Word.

    1. Yes, because we all read using an old computer from the early 1980s. I had no idea Courier was the standard setting. Why’d they choose that?

      1. Do you mean, Why did the programmers for Scrivener choose that font as the default? I suspect it’s because once upon a time, Courier made it easier to ESTIMATE word count based on average words per page, averaged out from several sample pages, because all letters in that font take up the same amount of space. (It may not actually be the default. I haven’t ever tried Scrivener myself, so I only heard about this from someone else, and he could be mistaken.)

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