Saturday, December 15, 2018

Reflections of a Writer: Softwares I've Used to Write a Novel

image from by bf5man

I’ve written four and a half novels in my time.  None of them published, but that‘s not the point of today’s post.  Today I want to talk about the different softwares I wrote with.

The first book was one document in Microsoft Word.  I was on an old school Windows 3.1, outdated even then (but ran well and was a perfect distraction free writing tool), and I transferred the novel to our updated computer for printing with a floppy disc.  All my technology nostalgia comes from writing.  Kept a hard copy of my book in a binder and I was the proudest 16yr old you’d ever met.

Microsoft Word was not an ideal writing platform.  It was hard for me to go back to specific parts in my book to edit.  My dyslexia/visual tracking issues are the stars of this gripe.  Going line by line, chapter by chapter, trying to match the hard copy with where ever I am in the electronic document was torture.  Sometimes I think I hate editing because it was so hard to scroll through this massive document, and not because the process is otherwise arduous.

Worse, a massive Microsoft document made it hard for me to copy paste portions to forums, journals, and emails.  I was sharing this first novel because it was the first in a series.  Sharing the work was time consuming.

There are no places in the same Word document to write notes, an outline, or research. Unable to keep all the work together in a single format, I had a separate binder with research, notes, outlines, and journalling regarding my process.   It was yet another syncing issue I had between the enormous wall of text on the computer and the pages in my binder.

 I write my storiesout of order, but Microsoft Word made piece mailing the work together tricky.  At first, I tried using page breaks to section off the story flow from scenes I wrote that needed in between chapters to connect, but this was lengthy and confusing.  I couldn’t scroll to the bottom of the document to return to where I “left off” writing.  Instead, I had to creep through each page, searching for all the breaks.  Frustrated, I reverted to paper and pen.  Here, I’d write chapters or scenes by hand and hold on to them until I’d got to the part in my story where I could copy them into the master document.

Next time I wrote a novel, I wrote each chapter as a separate document and kept it in a book folder.  This improved almost everything and I recommend another using a standard editor keep all the chapters as separate documents under a book title folder.  The single issue I ran into was that the folder is default organized by title or by last updated or whatever, and I wanted my files organized with the first chapter on top and all the other chapters in descending order.  Took me a good year to realize I could force the alphabetical order to do this if I labeled “1 chapter” “2 chapter”.  The sort is by numerical order.  Some difficulties arose because I write out of order and I don’t know what chapter I’m writing all the time.

It was inconvenient when every time I wanted to read from one chapter to the next; I had to open another document.  For a time, I would keep each chapter separate and have a “master copy” with the whole work, but it was too hard to keep both sets of documents synced.  Inevitably I would add edits to the master copy, not copy paste over to the separate chapter file, and then read the separate chapter file and make major changes over there.  Too much going on.

Next, I went to Nimble.  This seemed to solve all problems.  A single document that let me skip to specific chapters.  And bonus, areas for notes and outlining!  I’d long since given up hope on that.  But, I had a new problem: no spelling or grammar check.  Now I had to paste each chapter from the original document into LangaugeTool online.  LangaugeTool should have connected into Nimble, but my tech savvy husband and I could never make that work.  After LangaugeTool, I pasted the work into Grammarly.  Then I had to take the chapter and bring it back to Nimble.  And when the whole novel completed, I bring it all one chapter at a time to Word. @_@. The software said it would transfer over to Word, but I never made that element of it work and had to give up and copy paste by hand.

  On one side, it was lovely to write distraction free.  On the other side, my typing needs extreme help.  During the revisions, I felt like I was reading the work of a third grader.  It made me question whether I could be a writer.  I’d never questioned whether I was good enough to write and publish before then.  It was a dark time in my career where I faced the extent of my difficulties with the technicalities of writing.

From here, I moved on to Novel Factory.  I LOVE the structure and use Novel Factory for even short stories.  The format of Novel Factory pleases me more than Scrivener did.  Novel Factory has a basic spellcheck that keeps me from being overwhelmed by all my terrible spelling all at once. I still have to bring all my chapters over to the web editor on ProWritingAid, but I’m less overwhelmed.

Like Nimble, Novel Factory has space for character profiles and places in my fictional work, but it goes further and allows me to write out an entire story arc and attach pictures to characters/places.  Novel Factory also has space for multiple drafts of the same work, and I can compare two very different edits for some time without losing either.  There‘s also a place to track submissions within the software.

My main gripe is that the italics in Novel Factory do not carry over to Word, ProWritingAid, or Google Docs.  I have to run back through every copy and look for what I meant to italic.  *sigh* Nothing is hassle free for a writer.  At least it‘s simpler to adapt than handwritten manuscripts?

Talk to me!  What software do you use to write your stories?  What do you like about the software?  Is there anything you’d like to change regarding your current technique?

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