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Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
May 19, 2011 at 07:08 PM


Hugh wrote:
>I’m sure there’s a simple division here between fiction and non-fiction writers.
>Fiction writers may be able to get away without using MS Word (although
>round-tripping documents with an editor without “Track Changes”  may be difficult).

I’m sure there are alternatives that allow one to focus more on the actual writing. Though I don’t write fiction, I’ve seen tools like PageFour http://www.softwareforwriting.com/ that can take Snapshot Copies of work in progress. And with disk capacity being cheap these days one can afford saving versions as separate files.

>Non-fiction writers are much more likely to need all the bells and whistles that Word
>can provide (or may even need to go as far as a desktop publisher such as InDesign).

I know academics that swear by Tex/Latex and can’t even imagine writing in a WYSIWYG environment.

A problem I see in Word is that anyone can use it, without having the slightest idea of what constitutes a good layout. I remember a professor I worked with, who produced an official report of brilliant content, laid out in Comic Sans MS font.


Posted by Gary Carson
May 19, 2011 at 11:57 PM


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 doing).

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.


Posted by critStock
May 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM


OMFG, who remembers Waterloo Script? We had to schlep down to the engineering campus to pick up the printouts, which came out of a laser printer the size of an SUV, which you could see in a separate glassed-in enclosure. The staff put them in ziploc bags and pushed them through a window. What a hoot!

Great topic. Thanks to JohnK for the link to Chapter by Chapter. It looks useful. I also want to plug (again) Edwin’s Writing Outliner for Word, which is very nice.

David (critStock)

JohnK wrote:

>And also like Steve, I’m also old enough to remember a very different way of
>working—while at college, I was given permission to use the college’s pre-PC
>“computer facilities” to write a paper. It was a dumb terminal, attached to a
>mainframe the size of a small house. All formatting was entered in code (as would
>become familiar in later years using DOS word processors). It was agony… 


Posted by Gary Carson
May 20, 2011 at 12:08 AM


I’m amazed at how many writers (primarily fiction writers) end up looking for minimalistic, “distraction free,” full-screen word processors like Dark Room or Zen (is that what it’s called?) and even do things like add “realistic typewriter sound effects” to re-create the typewriter experience. If that’s what they’re looking for, they should just go back to working on real typewriters. I’ve been doing this a lot myself lately, just to get away from all the distractions involved with working on a computer. I like manuals, but at the moment, I’m working on an old IBM Wheelwriter III, the best electric ever made, in my opinion. There are ZERO distractions with a typewriter. It can be quite a jolt to the system after working on a computer for years, let me tell you.


Posted by Cassius
May 20, 2011 at 12:28 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.
Both the nonfiction, semi-technical book my son wrote and the novel he is currently finishing were contracted for by the publishers.  They came to him.  They wanted each chapter as a separate file.  I don’t know why, but it might have been to speed the publishing process by allowing the editors to work as the manuscripts were being written.

A problem he has sometimes encountered is that editors change things they don’t understand and their changes are incorrect.  (By the way, rumor has it that some editing work is now being farmed out to India.)


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