Monday, February 23, 2009

Tool Guy wants to know: What writing software do you use?


After Clare's lovely dreamweaver post yesterday, I thought I'd slam us down to earth with some Tool-Guy talk (okay, so I'm a Tool Gal, but honestly. who bothers to check under the belt?).

In my own writing, up until now I have been a fan of a little program called ProsePro. It's cheap, it plugs into Word, and best of all, it auto-formats my chapter headings, page and chapter numbers so that I don't have to deal with them. ProsePro has few bells and whistles other than that, but I never cared.

But then in one of my Yahoo groups, someone happened to mention a program called Liquid Story Binder.

Oh. My. God.

I've been playing around with this new program, and I've discovered so many new bells and whistles that I've become a veritable one-woman marching band. Liquid Story Binder has got timelines. It's got planners. And outline makers. And...and things I haven't even discovered yet.

Yes folks, I'm in writing Nirvana.

But here's the thing. My new infatuation with Liquid Story Binder has given me a Hugh Hefner-type roving eye for other software programs that might be out there, waiting to help me plumb the depths of the next great American Thriller Bestseller.

So I'm wondering: What writing software do you use? What is the one feature in that software that you cannot--would not--live without?

30 comments:

  1. OMG Katherine - I'm such a moron I just use Word...so now you have me salivating over the prospect of (gulp) writing software - I know, I know, It's like I just emerged from the primeval goop...

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  2. yWriter5 is a tool for writers who wish to be well organized. And it is free. I find with tools, I spend too much time on the tool and not enough time on writing. My preference is to write in word and use the tool to edit, review, check the plot, create the synopsis and polish the project after the novel is finished.

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  3. I just use Word, and I do my outlines on Excel, with a separate tab for each chapter. Boring, huh?

    I might have to check out that other program. It sounds just like what my inner procrastinator needs!

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  4. Wow, just use Word here, and I've recently bought a corkboard and 'borrowed' a pack of index cards from school to do my outlining a la Alex Sokoloff. That voice that keeps bringing up ideas that keep me from writing is SCREAMING for me to try this new program now.

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  5. I've used MS Word for so long, it would be hard to change. Two features of Word that most people don't know about or use: an extremely powerful outliner once you learn how it works, and a feature called Master Document that allows you to keep separate chapter files but assemble your entire book with one mouse click to print, search & replace, see word count, and so many other functions.

    I think screenwriter's software is a good thing because the formatting is unique and can be cumbersome for first-timers. But for novelists, specialized writing software programs can turn into a distraction for the real job of just writing.

    I haven't used it, but I've heard good things about WhiteSmoke writing software.

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  6. I've used several (and for full reviews you can search through my posts for anything titled "In Search of the Perfect Plotting Tool"), but my two favorites are yWriter (http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html) and StorYBook (http://sourceforge.net/projects/storybook2/) At the moment yWriter is my current favorite, as it allows me to designate a scene as Action/Reaction and gives me a space to talk about the relevant GMC. There are also places for characters, locations, items (so you can remember WHERE you left the pipe wrench you used to murder Professor Plum), and notes. And there is an integrated basic word processor (though I haven't used this yet). There are a hundred ways to track things and reports you can print. And best of all, it is FREE (both of them are).

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  7. I'm logging on at 6 a.m. Pacific Time and so excited to see comments already here, and I didn't even have to mentionBrad Pitt's flying butt once! Clare, the reason i originally went searching for tools a few years ago was that I'd spent so much time struggling in Word, keeping page numbers tracked and chapter numbers organized. I figured I was losing precious hours, just keeping track of page counts. Bob, I'm going to check out yWriter5, thanks for mentioning it! I'm still on my trial version of Liquid Story Binder, so I can still flit off to something else, a la Hef. McKoala, the Koala is always more advanced than the dinosaur, no need to apologize! Joyce, once you have a system you like, it's hard to change, which is why I've stuck with ProsePro so long. But I'm in a serious flirtation mode now that I've discovered the auto-outlining feature. Previously I'd had all these messy, random pages that kept getting lost.

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  8. WhiteSmoke? That's a new one on me, Joe. I'll add it to my to-be-checked-out list before I plunk down money for software. By the way All, there's a great writing store for writers in Santa Monica, and they have an online presence:
    http://www.writersstore.com/

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  9. Ooh, Kait, love that word, FREE.
    I have so many tools to check out now, hooray!

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  10. I'm a Word guy, though I do some outlining with PowerPoint, because it's easy to move the slides around as I see in what order some scenes should come.

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  11. Wow, what a timely post.

    I have screenwriting software that not only assits with all the arcane tabs and spacing, but also allows me to take a scene and with a single click reduce it to a note card. The note cards can then be shuffled at will to rearrange a story. It's a terrific tool, but is slug line dependent (INT. GARRET. DAY). It's not practical for use on a novel.

    Do any of these software packages do that?

    Joe, you mentioned the Word outlining tool. Is that more than the standard outline macro that is built on the old high school research paper model?

    Kathryn (and others), when you complete the book using this software, will you be able to convert it to Word to email it to the publisher? If so, does the formatting stay intact?

    Anxiously awaiting the opportunity to play with a new toy.

    John

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  12. Wow, these are interesting things I'll have to check out. I love helpful information like this. And I don't even have to fly through a bamboo forest.

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  13. Maybe its time to put down my stylus and clay tables and speed up the process a bit. Writing in Sumerian Cuneiform has lost its luster for me anymore.

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  14. John, I can email the file I've created using ProsePro to the editor, and it retains the formatting. Haven't gotten to the actual writing stage yet with Liquid Story Binder!

    Here by the way is a snippet from a cross-post on my page over at Crimespace, by John Dishon:

    "If you want more programs to check out, try these:

    Q10 (full screen text editing, bare bones but good for cutting down on distraction, plus has word count and you can set writing goals)

    WriteMonkey (basically like Q10)

    Rough Draft (akin to yWriter)

    An article about Rough Draft: http://becoming-a-writer-seriously.com/wordpress/2007/02/07/alternative-word-processor-rough-draft/

    yWriter

    Liquid Story Binder (Another great thing about LSB is that you can install it on a USB drive and take it with you and run the program on any computer from the USB drive)

    SuperNotecard (Use virtual notecards to organize your novel)

    OpenOffice.org (alternative to Microsoft Office)

    AbiWord (Word processor alternative to Word)

    Celtx (More geared towards screenwriting, but you can use it for other things as well.) Comment by John Dishon 3 hours ago"

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  15. Basil, I never want to put in the up-front time to learn a new tool. But since I just finished one project, I figured now's the perfect time.

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  16. The outline function in Word is deceptive in its simplicity. And yes, John, it’s basically what appears to be the old high school model. The power of Word outliner is its flexibility. I use it as a stream-of-conscience tool to outline a character, chapter or a book. Step one is view a new blank document in outline mode and start typing basic block info—a couple of important words or phrases, maybe a sentence. Every time you hit Enter, the outliner creates another top level entry. Hitting enter followed by tab creates a second level entry. Keep typing associated ideas. Enter plus tab on any level creates a sub level. You can go as deep as you want. At any time you can highlight a single entry or entire group and use your arrows to move up or down in importance. If you’re working with chapters, you can rearrange their order in seconds. The entries can be as short or as long as you want.

    Once you get used to the way it works, you’ll be using it for everything from a letter to an entire manuscript.

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  17. Joe - I had no idea Word could do that. I do everythign manually (What a Luddite I am!) Kathryn, I'll be waiting to hear what you think about each of the software options. After I've finished the third Ursula book (which I need to do asap so Word will be the one I will be using) I have a YA book planned which might be the perfect opportunity to use some software. I want the low down on which is best:)! And Basil, I often feel as though I'm trying to fly through Bamboo forests when I'm writing...holding on to my cup of tea and umbrella of course. It just feels that difficult sometimes!

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  18. It took me forever to understand how to use it. I recently just downloaded yWrite. I think that's it. I've been putting chapters on it, and it's pretty cool. But I haven't written anything fresh on it yet.

    I want something that will read my book to me. That way it will find the things that I miss in edits. :)

    Any help?

    Now to read the rest of the comments. :)

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  19. Okay, Joe, I want to know about this Master Doc! How does that work?

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  20. And this is why I should read comments first. :)
    Thanks for the fyi Joe.
    Thanks Kathryn! Love the post.

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  21. Sarah, there are many tutorials on Word Master Document online. Just Google the topic and you'll get a bunch. But basically, you create a "place holder" document that links to, for instance, all your chapters. At any given time, you can "open" the master document which automatically assembles your book as a single virtual document in which you can do "find and replace", word count, print, and many more functions. This eliminates having to build a big, bulky single document. It's handy, fast, and convenient. I started using Master Doc about 15 years ago and would not write a book without it.

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  22. Funny, I used to teach MS Word, but for some reason didn't think to use the Master Doc feature.

    Very good stuff though.

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  23. I love Liquid Story Binder. It's nice to have everything in one place. And I got my copy free through Give Away of the Day. I'm told they rotate through their giveaways so it should come back around soon.

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  24. I don't know anything but Word. I have 08 and write books on one document, I'll try the outlining thingie, Joe.

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  25. If you use a Mac I seriously you suggest trying out Scrivener - an incredible tool for writing, outlining and research and cheap too. You can find some articles about it and a 15 per cent discount coupon on my website www.davidhewson.com. The problem with Word for me is it tries to convince you a book is one long slab of text when in truth most are mosaics of separate scenes, themes and ideas, all of them very difficult to manage and control in a single 100k word file.

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  26. Computers and programs used to come with manuals, and now they assume you know everything. I know nothing except how to make a new document page and format it. I have the latest Word 08 and have no idea what it can do, or should do. These other programs may be great, but I don't know how they work. I'm sure David's program is great. Maybe they all are. I tried to use the outline according to Joe's instructions and I quickly became befuddled. I may go back to legal pads.

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  27. I sympathize with you, John! I often have to go out and buy a How-to manual for a piece of software.
    Right now I'm stumbling through the Help in Liquid Story Binder, learning one thing at a time. I figure I'll slowly get the hang of it. I'm only willing to do this kind of learning curve at the very beginning of a project, when I'm just beginnning to pull together the threads of the story, as well.

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  28. I sympathize with you, John! I often have to go out and buy a How-to manual for a piece of software.
    Right now I'm stumbling through the Help in Liquid Story Binder, learning one thing at a time. I figure I'll slowly get the hang of it. I'm only willing to do this kind of learning curve at the very beginning of a project, when I'm just beginnning to pull together the threads of the story, as well.

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  29. Also for Mac users ... CopyWrite.

    Sometimes less is more. CopyWrite dispenses with all formatting and allows you to write without the distraction of breaks, fonts etc, but still allows for story and character development sections.

    After the creative process is complete on CopyWrite, then I slide it into a Word file and add all those annoying bells and whistles ...

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