The right tool for the job

I've been discussing writing tools on Twitter, so I'll expand on my comments here.

There's an old joke that goes, "If at first it doesn't fit, get a bigger hammer." The fact is, there are different tools for different tasks. Writing needs creativity, organization, critical thinking and cold-eyed editing. Each of these tasks are different enough that they deserve a different tool.

With that in mind, let me say that I wrote my first novel using WordPerfect. WordPerfect, for my younger readers, was quite popular back when CPUs were identified by numbers rather than names and disk drives were measured in megabytes rather than gigabytes or terabytes.

The gold standard, the Platonic ideal, the holy blessed mother of all word processors was (and remains) WordPerfect 5.1. Alas for these fallen and degraded times, those glittering, golden days of F11 to RevealCodes under DOS gave way to click, click, click under Windows 3.11. The faithful were driven out of the garden, and the way back to word processing perfection was forever blocked by a flaming sword icon.

My workplace made Word widespread, then dominant, then required. Like a pastor in a whorehouse, I was the only one to cling to the one true faith. I continued to use WordPerfect through multiple upgrades. I converted my .wpd files to .doc, and back-converted what people sent me.

Eventually, though, it was too much. Word broke my files, and too many people had no idea what a .wpd file was. The IT staff started to give me black looks, and my boss started to mutter. I closed the door on WordPerfect, and drank the Kool-Aid. The interoperability with all of my coworkers improved (except when they were using a different version of Word). I began to use Word for everything.

Except for my fiction.

My fiction didn't get sent to anyone else, it was just for my own amusement, so I could use what I liked. WordPerfect was my software of choice for my private documents and it worked wonderfully.

For a while.

I'd never done anything longer than about 8K before, so I was fine with organizing on the fly and editing on the screen. For fiction, I would copy and paste items to a blog I had and got a bit of positive feedback from folks who liked it. (the ones that didn't like it chose not to say so.) At that time, a friend challenged me to do National Novel Writing Month in 2006.

Sure, why not?

I signed up, and successfully wrote a really dreadful novel of 50K using WordPerfect 12. Flying along, running scene by scene and chapter by chapter, I wrote it partly at home, partly at work, partly on a Palm PDA with a portable keyboard. I stitched all the files together into one big document. Hurrah!

One big, slow, fat, impossible to edit document. Eventually, years later after I'd made the switch completely, I converted it to Word so as to be able to look at it from time to time. I keep thinking that I will revise it one day, but I'm starting to think it would be better to just start over with a new book and cannibalize this one for scenes.

This decision is driven partly by the difficulty in moving scenes around, and in getting some kind of an organizational sense of the layout of the story, keeping characters straight, measuring the pacing, etc. I would also get sidetracked by all of Word's formatting crap.

Nowadays, when I want to write, I use Q10, a freeware writing environment that is just text. There are some nice writing tools incorporated, like active word counts, timers, goals, etc., but mostly, it's just a place that shuts out the rest of the world.
Q10 is a simple but powerful text editor designed and built with writers in mind.

Q10 is freeware. That's right, you can download and use it at no cost.

Q10 is small, fast and keeps out of your way.

Press F1 inside Q10 to read the help card.

Q10 will clean your kitchen, walk your dog and make excellent coffee. Well, not really. But it's really good as a full-screen text editor.

Very nice for getting the words out of my head and onto the screen. As I think back on it, some of my best work on my novel was done on that portable keyboard linked to my Palm PDA. No internet, no e.mail, no solitare... nothing except the writing.

So, with Q10, I get words down in concrete form. However, I still need help in organizing it all. When does Patricia meet Kyle? Where did Mr. Topper's driver get the newspapers? Was that before or after the fight scene at the restaurant? How about the ex-pat Russian architect pretending to be a mobster - whatever happened to him after that scene in the airport?

I've been hunting around for something to help me with the organizational aspect of writing. I liked StorYBook, but it doesn't let you edit and compose in-screen. I'd like to be able to do that for files I import from Q10.

Enter what I think will work out well for me: yWriter5.
Organise your novel using a 'project'.
Add chapters to the project.
Add scenes, characters, items and locations.
Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress)
Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
Allows multiple scenes within chapters
Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
Multiple characters per scene.
Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
Re-order scenes within chapters.
Drag and drop of chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations.
Automatic chapter renumbering.

All very nice. It also lets you export the whole thing as a clean .rtf file when you're done with it. With a tool like this, I might even be able to sort out that NaNo effort.

So, what tools do you use? Do you split the tasks, or do it all in one package?

1 comment:

  1. I have used Scriv, Writeitnow, and Storybox. I prefer the latter two, and find both quite helpful, though I currently use Storybox almost primarily. Sometimes I use MS Word for single scenes, but I have to use something else to organize.


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