Time for a short update on tools.
A writer can get lost in the myriad of word processing technology available today. While you really ought to be able to get by with a 99₵ spiral notebook and a ball-point pen, there’s no debate over the value of being able to write and revise electronically. We can romanticize leather-bound journals and old typewriters all we want – at the end of the day, we’re trying to punch out readable prose in an efficient manner, and word processing is the way to go.
There are countless solutions available. You can use whatever text editor comes free with your computer, and probably achieve 75% of the value you’d get from nearly any commercial alternative. The trick is to decide what you need, and how much you’re willing to spend.
I took a long, hard look at Scrivener. At about $40 for the Windows version (which they generously allow you to use on pretty much as many computers as you own) it’s packed with features that cater to novelists. You can organize your book, your scenes, your character sheets, your timelines, everything, all from within one easy-to-navigate project file. It’s a fantastic product.
But there’s no mobile version (yet). And when there is, it’ll probably be iOS first – and my phone/tablet are Androids. This was probably the biggest drawback for me. While most of my writing will be done at either my desktop or laptop (and I can keep my files synched with Dropbox on ANY device), I have invested in a very nice Bluetooth keyboard/case solution for my Nook tablet, and I’d like to at least have the option to write on it. Scrivener’s proprietary file format makes this almost impossible.
I also considered using Evernote. It’s free, it has built-in cloud synchronization, and it runs on anything. But I wasn’t convinced that the word processing itself was robust enough to tackle a full-length novel, and from what I’ve read about digital publishing, formatting is kind of a big deal – I wanted a solution that could throw around the weight of a book without breaking a sweat.
Ultimately, I decided to see if MS Word could get the job done. Now, I should be honest – Word 2013 will cost you about 80 bucks. It doesn’t cost me anything, due to the nature of my day job. This isn’t going to be true for everyone, and $80 is nothing to sneeze at. After all, I was too cheap to use Scrivener beyond the free trial.
Still, with MS Word, I was able to copy and paste the character sheets I had already made in Scrivener into a single document, and using the Styles and Table of Contents wizard, was able to organize them in a manner that makes them easy to sort, read, and navigate. I can write chapters in the same manner (or in separate documents), and sort and merge them as needed into the final novel. And I’ll be able to apply the correct formatting to the entire document all at once when I’m ready to publish.
Word is already installed on all of my PC’s, and there are Android apps that let me read and edit Word documents from those devices. I store all of my novel files on one Dropbox folder, and I have the whole project in my pocket wherever I go.
As an added bonus, I can also use Word to write blog posts – like this one – with the available blogging snap-ins the software comes with. Again, there are free alternatives to this. Microsoft Live Writer does the same thing at no cost.