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Software for Authors

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Posted by Hugh
May 20, 2011 at 08:53 AM


Gary Carson wrote:
>Just out of curiosity, why does your son have to submit each chapter as a separate file?
>I’m a fiction writer myself with an agent and I’ve never heard of a requirement like
>this. The only reason I can think of for why they would want him to do this is if they were
>running his novel as a serial, chapter by chapter.
> >The standard novel manuscript is
>very basic and I’ve never had any problems with creating long (100,000+ words)
>manuscripts in Word 2003. Granted, Word is bloated and you don’t need ninety per cent
>of its features, but this is a non-issue. And the only time I’ve ever seen Word crash is
>with extremely complicated documents using master-documents and sub-documents
>and so on, none of which applies to writing fiction.
> >After screwing around with
>almost every kind of “novel-writing software” out there, I’ve decided that they’re
>completely unnecessary and more trouble than they’re worth. Writing novels
>involves creating lots of different files for research, outlines, etc., but I’ve
>never found that I have to have all of these files instantly available. If I have files I
>need to reference while I’m writing, I just print them out. Problem solved. And the
>novel-writing software I’ve seen (Scrivener for Windows, for example) almost
>always uses RTF format, which means you have to do a lot of reformatting when you’re
>finished. Why bother? Just write the thing in Word and be done with it. (The Scrivener
>for Windows Beta I tested has a “Standard Novel Template” you can use for exporting
>your copy to Word, but it doesn’t work. A flaw like this is so basic that I have to wonder
>what all these writers who have been giving the program rave reviews are actually
> >The best purchase I’ve ever made to increase my writing productivity
>wasn’t software at all, but hardware, namely a second monitor. You can put one draft
>(or an outline or whatever) up on one monitor for reference and work on the manuscript
>on the other. It works great. As for keeping my files organized, I just use Windows
>Explorer. I create a master folder for the book, then subfolders for research,
>outlines, etc. No problem at all. 

I agree with most of this, although I did experience the Word long-document issue several times with earlier versions. I can’t believe that Microsoft will have left this weakness in the code in more recent versions.

Fundamentally, writing really isn’t about the software. It seems unnecessary to say this, but many (not here!) seem to believe that it is. (I can sort of see how it can become so, just as, say, favourite fountain pens become touchstones.) And it certainly isn’t about the template. The fiction templates that are based on commonly required publishers’ criteria are just about some of the simplest special formats there are, and I’ve never quite understood why some debutante writers seem to think they’re so important. Rolling your own seems to me to be the best approach.

As regards Scrivener for Windows, I recommend waiting till it comes out of beta before making a final judgment. I think the templates it currently includes were just moved across from the Mac version, more or less as placeholders and signals of what was ultimately intended.

I can see the value of a second screen. My own favourite piece of hardware is at the other end of the scale: an Alphasmart Neo.