Writing Software

Since my husband, Fahim, is a programmer as well as a writer, he writes software for me. 🙂 I use the following:

PlotCraft – keeps track of all the story ideas you get. Free.

WriteTrack – submission tracking software.  Free.

Amanuensis – word processing with tree view structure for organizing scenes, chapters, notes, etc. Free.

Agents / Publishers List – an online database of agents & publishers.  Searchable, filterable, plus anyone can add agents/publishers and add comments to existing ones to update information.  Free.

Word Counters – progress bar you can put on your blog or website.  You can set the units to words, hours, scenes, chapters, etc.  Free.

Word macro – marks adverbs, frequently used words, passive verbs, clichés, trouble words as you input, and so on.  Free.

As for software the husband didn’t write…

There’s yWriter written by Simon Haynes, Australian programmer and science fiction author.  yWriter is so worth checking out – it’s logical and intuitive and easy to use, as well as also being free.  It’s an excellent piece of software that’s happily used by a lot of writers.  🙂  Free.

I tried out Liquid Story Binder and hated it.  There’s a fairly steep learning curve to it, it’s not at all intuitive, and the various building blocks don’t work together.  It’s kind of like having one Lego piece, one Mechanix piece, a child’s hammer, a Pyrex dish, and a Raggedy Andy doll.  All useful in their own way, but they don’t work together to create anything useful, yet they’re put into one program that claims it can do everything.  From where I sit, it’s a piece of software written by programmers who’ve never actually written anything themselves, other than code, who think they know what the writing process is like, but are actually quite clueless.  But I really really hate it.  🙂 Not free.

I also use Microsoft Word.  With all the scenes/chapters properly labelled with heading 1, heading 2, and so on, with document map turned on, it’s easy to find what I’m looking for.  But more than that, I tag-team edit with my husband, so we use Track Changes so we can see what the other person changed, then accept or reject.  We use Track Changes extensively – we’re also editors for a local geek & gadget magazine – so Track Changes gets a huge workout from us. Not free, of course. 🙂

And if you’re into collaborative writing at all and need to share documents, I’d suggest Microsoft Groove.  Create a workspace, invite participants, and everyone who’s a member of that workspace can access the documents on it.  When one person makes changes to the document, it’s updated in everyone else’s space, too.  We use this extensively and it works beautifully. Also not free.

If you want a full-feature word processing program, go with OpenOffice Writer.  It’s a pretty useable and decent piece of software.  Free.

Then there’s KeyNote which is much more than a word processing program.  It’s really a knowledge management tool with a treeview structure.  Doesn’t have live spell checking, though.  Worth checking out. Free. 

What works for one writer doesn’t work for every other writer, so it really is a case of figuring out what works for the writer in question. Try these and other programs out and see what you think.

Please, let me know of any other writing software you know about. And one of these days, I’ll do a full review of as many of them as I can. Not all on the same day, of course. 🙂

Collaborative Writing Tools

I did a lot of collaborative writing this past year with my husband, Fahim, including freelance writing work and editing for a magazine, and here are two of the tools we found exceptionally helpful.

Groove

We’ve used it since before Microsoft bought it out, but didn’t use it as extensively until this year. We created a shared workspace and, as a document needed reviewing or editing by the other person, we dumped it in there and the other person received it in their Groove space nearly instantaneously. Groove makes sharing files very very easy.

We also use it for editing the magazine – that shared space also includes magazine owners and layout / graphics guy. And again, it makes sharing files with multiple people very easy.

The only downside is that the computer that holds a file has to be on for the other computers to be able to retrieve it. Not a problem when it’s a small file, but can be problematic if it’s a 20 MB file or a group of files adding up to, say, 160 MB, as was the case of images I dumped in to the space to go along with a gaming article. Synchronizing files that large with the slow internet speeds we have here can take a day or three. But, it’s still better than emailing and clogging up the email servers and all the inherent problems associated with that, and it works with nary a hitch or glitch.

Microsoft Word with Track Changes

Honestly, we’re not Microsoft fanboys / fangirls, but we do recognize good tools that fit their purpose. Microsoft Word with Track Changes works very well for our purposes.

Whether Fahim writes the first draft of a document, and I then do the first editing round, and pass it back to him, and so on, or I start with the first draft and he edits first, track changes is a remarkably useful feature. With it enabled, I can edit his text – whether deleting whole swaths of redundant text, adding necessary commas, or using more clear language – and, when the draft is passed back to him, he can see exactly what I deleted, what I added, and, for that matter, what formatting I changed. I can leave notes asking for clarification or indicate that I didn’t understand something.

Then, he can accept or reject each change I made individually. He can make further revisions, still tracking what changes he made, and he can also leave notes. And so on and so forth.

With more than one person working on a document, this is a fantastic tool to track changes. While we’ve used it mostly for our freelance writing, it’s equally useful for editing rounds in short stories or novels.

Fahim has checked other writing software, and none, thus far, include tools to compare to track changes. With the way we work, this is one tool that we consider absolutely essential.

More Writing Tools

Fahim’s finished setting up his Writing Resources page, so it’s now much easier to see all of his writing-related software in one place. One lovely addition is his MicroSoft Word macro.

Long story short, this macro can be used to find “adverbs, passive words, overly used words and cliches/misused words, and then highlights them in different colours. You can customize the word lists which are checked (or excluded in the case of adverbs) and the colours used to highlight for each category by editing the variables at the top of the script”.

If you have problems or questions about any of his software, go to his forums and post under the correct software section.

Spacejock Software is also worth looking at. Simon Haynes, the author of the software and the Hal Spacejock books (which are also entertaining books), has written yWriter (up to version 4), an incredibly useful novelist’s writing tool. I’ve used versions 2 and 3 (reviewed them for a magazine), and I liked both very much. Considering that he’s a programmer who’s also a writer, and it becomes a lot easier to see why the software works for other writers.

Simon also has other software, like Sonar, a manuscript tracking program, BookDB for tracking your library of books, and a whole lot more. His software is worth checking out, especially at his prices – free.

Writing Tools

Fahim’s been working on updating some of his writing-related software (all free) and tools (also all free). So, check ’em out if they sound like they’d be useful for you.

WriteTrack

A submission-tracking program – it helps you track your manuscript submissions, whether they’re submitted to a newspaper, magazine, agent, or publisher.

PlotCraft

A program to help you track your various plot, character, and world ideas, and whatever other types of ideas you have kicking around your brain. Fully customizable and completely useful.

Word Counters

Word counter graphs (although they can use other units, like scenes, chapters, hours, or whatever else you’d find useful) that you can post on your own website.

Agents / Publishers List

A database Fahim started when he was searching for agents and publishers for his novel. At this point, it’s populated mostly with agents and publishers who deal with science fiction, but anyone (who’s registered at the site, of course) can add additional agents and publishers. Registered users can also add comments to correct or update information for existing agents & publishers.

DNote – Beta

A database program similar to KeyNote or TreeDBNotes (but without the slimy bait & switch payment tactics TreeDBNotes uses) that stores your information in a tree / node structure. Immensely useful for storing all sorts of data. Can also be used for flash cards & word prompts.

Amanuensis

A word processing program designed specifically for story writers. Keep your chapters & scenes in a tree structure, keep notes on each chapter & scene, keep notes on your characters, locations, and more.

And of course, there’s…

Blog

A desktop application for writing up your blog entries and then posting to your blog, even if it’s using a WordPress or MovableType or other blogging platform on your domain. Also provides you with a backup of your blog entries on your local machine – handy in the event of a server failure.

If you have any problems with the software (bugs and whatnot) or have any feature suggestions, visit Fahim’s forum and post in the relevant section.

Planning Time

I’ve been re-thinking my plan of attack and have come up with something that I think will work. Of course, this starts with a conversation Fahim and I had a month or so back.

The short version – at least, as far as how I remember it – is that we could work more closely as a writing team and pool our resources and our strengths as writers, especially since we complement each other as writers so much.

Doing freelance writing, our multiple editing rounds have worked well – we notice different things. He’s better at the overall picture, for example, but I’m better at the detail. It tends to work out well for us to do things this way. Plus, with Groove, it becomes a lot easier – dump the document into the shared workspace, and he can grab it when he feels like it. When he makes revisions, it shows up at my end. It’s a rather handy tool for collaboration work like this.

To that end, we’ve discussed a complete change to the beginning of my Basement of the Universe novel (yes, I got my title back. :D) to bring it more in line with other novels / stories we’ve got in mind / are in planning / have been at least partially written set in this particular universe.

To that end, I deleted 10,000 or so words in the novel. Painful? Well, yes, but no. They were weak. They needed improvement. The new beginning is stronger, more interesting, more fun. And the old beginning isn’t entirely deleted – I’ve got it languishing in a zipped backups archive, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice for Bloopers, Bleepers, and Outtakes.

Now it’s on to rewriting the beginning, adding in missing detail in more than a few places, then passing it on to Fahim for editing, who, I think, will give it much more than just a “you could improve this here” and more of a “oh, I think we should change this scene entirely” as he chops and adds whatever seems appropriate to him. Frankly, I hope he does take more of a writing-partner approach to it rather than straight editor. I think it will be stronger.

Of course, we’ll likely end up passing it back and forth for editing several to many times. We’re getting good at that – we’ve developed a system that seems to work for us. Granted, we’ve used it for freelance writing, not fiction, but the theory should hold. 🙂

That’s novel one.

Novel two, in my mind, is to finish writing Children of the Dome. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and got bogged down by stupid details like distances. Well, in this book, I have to be fairly precise over travel time, distances, and the like for anal retentiveness sake and to make sure I keep the details clean. This particular book demands it. The reader will likely not notice, but it’s better to make sure the details are in place. It just makes for a better read, in my opinion.

Then pass that on to Fahim as well.

Novel three, in my mind, would be Shards. I’m pretty sure. Which I would like to do for NaNoWriMo. It’s fantasy, not science fiction, so a bit of a departure for me, but that’s also the point. Do something a little different. See what happens. Does it work? Does it stink? Is it fun?

I hope it’ll be fun.

Problem is, I don’t have it entirely planned yet – need to flesh out the plot points, so of course, I need Fahim’s help on that. 😀 Oh, he’s ever so handy. 😀

And that’s what I’ve got in the immediate future.

Websites

And here’s for some surfing fun… Useful sites I’ve encountered recently…