Friday, March 25, 2011

Software for Writing

These are some notes on three different writing packages I looked over a few months ago. What is writing software? Generally it’s a software tool that allows you to collect character notes, plot ideas, and other material pertinent to your book all in one place. Each package usually has a tool to arrange scenes how you like them, create outlines of your stories and novels and other tools useful to a writer. These are not full reviews, because I haven’t used every feature of every package.

The first package I looked at was WriteWay ( . This package has three versions, demo, standard and professional. The demo version is active for 30 days. Purchasing a standard or professional version allows you to register the software on two different computers. The standard and professional versions each add additional features.

This package has a fairly nice composition area for you to write on. The writing area is easy to maximize and has decent format options. WriteWay creates your manuscript separately from your composition. So you can write your story how you like but through in options menu create a manuscript with different formats. On the left side is an outline tree showing the acts and scenes of your book. There is also a scratch pad section for scenes that you’ve written, but aren’t sure where yet where they belong in the outline.

There are special character windows where you can create character notes and specify background, physical appearance, motivations, weaknesses, strengths and so on. WriteWay provides a default template to guide you on this process. You can also use a blank template if you like a more free form character creation or even create your own template.

WriteWay also has a research window where you can gather notes, links, access the internet through your favorite browser. It’s a useful place to keep research handy, though I confess I haven’t used it much. There is a storyboard section that I haven’t used much either.

I very much like WriteWay’s Future book ideas window. This has a collapsible tree and edit window where you can sketch out ideas for future books and organize them how you like. This window is available from all books you create, so you always have instant access to a universal notebook to keep track of your ideas. You can also use the window to track submissions or other tasks.

The second software package I’ve looked at is Anthemions Writer’s Café ( The demo version lacks some features of the commercial version, but has no time limit. Writer’s Café has many, many features. There’s a workspace for creating character notes and organizing scenes and plots. The composition space is less useful and rather small, with limited formatting options. I found it cramped. I think the feeling is you would write in a dedicated word processor software – indeed there is a link to OpenOffice Writer on the opening screen. Writer’s café also has a name generator, journal feature, and writer’s prompt to help you get some practice when you just don’t feel inspired.

The third package was Scrivener for Windows (Beta) version. My testing was done in November, and they were supposed to have a release version ready by now. Nope, checking the website, the Windows version is still in beta . There is an outline format to organize scenes, a character note utility, , Research section and storyboard utility. I found Scrivener has a certain elegant simplicity to it. You focus on writing with Scrivener, on generating content. Update: as of November 2011, Scrivener for Windows is available for sale.

In the end I picked WriteWay. I really like the Future Book Idea feature that allows me to gather ideas in a central location across all projects. Scrivener was a close second, but it lacked the Future Book Idea feature. The character notes didn’t feel quite as natural, also. Writer’s Café had a limited composition area, limited formatting, and the workspaces felt clumsy to me. The huge number of supposed ‘writing tools’ seemed to limit my actual writing as I tended to fiddle with them, rather than write. Your taste may differ from mine. All three of these packages have free downloads, so try them out for yourself.

Does a writer need a writing package? Of course not. You could do a lot of what these packages do with clever use of MS OneNote, or just Word and maybe an Excel spreadsheet to track the plot and keep character notes and such. Heck, Wendell Berry still writes in pencil, with his wife typing the manuscripts. And back in the 90’s there was a British woman who wrote her first novel longhand, then typed it on a manual typewriter. (The PC existed in the 90’s but they were expensive and she was a single mother.) She eventually got published and her first novel was very well received. So what really matters is getting words on the page. Stephen King recommends one thousand words a day or you’ll never get anywhere as a writer. So, pardon me while I go back to writing.

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