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Writing tools

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Posted by Hugh Pile
Apr 4, 2007 at 07:40 PM


Steve Z

I’ve used IdeaMason 3, SuperNoteCard, Scrivener and Writer’s Blocks.

All of them are writing tools, of different kinds and comprehensiveness.

IMO it would be a mistake to try to use any of them for knowledge-management. Other than for short-form work they should be used in conjunction with a knowledge-management database such as Zoot, UR, MyInfo, or (on the Mac) DevonThink, and probably also a word-processor for final polishing.

I had a licence for Writer’s Blocks 3 and trialled SuperNoteCard. Neither is a complete writing or drafting tool; I wouldn’t use them for that purpose. They are essentially “outliners-plus”, and fit into the workflow as such with other tools. Both use cards as a visual metaphor for outlining, although they do it in slightly different ways. The real-world equivalent is of course the screenwriter’s index card deck and the corkboard; rows or columns of cards are top-line items, with their children subsumed as cards alongside or below them. 

I think Writer’s Block 3’s index cards can be transformed into an outline that will export to MS Word; I can’t remember whether SNC will do the same. WB3 is “of its time”; I don’t think it has been developed for a couple of years and its functions, capabilities and UI have been overtaken. SNC is more up-to-date and very Maccish in appearance (it is in fact cross-platform); decks can subsume other decks, and they can be “flattened” and colour-coded. SNC has been designed with the fiction and screenwriting markets in mind and has a number of bells and whistles to support this. Yet for some reason I personally cannot engage with it. Perhaps it’s the design, which comes across to me as pale and passive.

Both IdeaMason and Scrivener are ideal for drafting “long-form” documents, put together in a non-linear way. (For linear, soup-to-nuts writing, or short-form I think there’s still little to beat MS Word.) Both IM and Scrivener actually need Word or a similar word-processor for styling, despatching or printing.

IdeaMason IMO is the best pure writing tool under Windows. Its recent upgrade was a huge step forward. It’s particularly good for long and complex academic or non-fiction documents where citations are needed. It’s very satisfying to knock out a passage and slot it away in the IM materials dashboard, not knowing quite where it will fit into the final documment but confident that IM’s search and metadata facilities will enable it to be retrieved plus any comments whenever required. But IM is not ideal for fiction, and it costs.

Scrivener is IMO yet another step upward, especially for fiction, and definitely droolworthy. It is best summed up as a drafting tool. Its website gives an idea of the completeness of its functionality, the care of its developer and the enthusiasm of its users (who include a number of playwrights, screenwriters and published authors): http://www.literatureandlatte.com/ Some of these users also deploy it for academic writing and factual reports. It’s relatively cheap - if of course you already have a Macintosh.