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Author David Hewson on his latest software set up

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Posted by Lawrence Osborn
Dec 9, 2012 at 05:08 PM



What was the point you were trying to make? If there was one, it seems to have got lost in an incoherent rant!

I thought Hewson’s article was interesting, though he seems to be surprisingly uncritical of Word 2013 as an editing tool. I have read reviews of it that suggest that in some respects it is less suited to that role than older versions of Word.

Like Hewson, I now use Scrivener for Windows but I think it is only fair to put in a plug for yWriter, which has much of the same functionality and some useful extra functions (at least for writers of fiction) and, particularly important for impoverished writers, is freeware.



Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Dec 9, 2012 at 07:59 PM


@ Lawrence Osborn wrote:
>I thought Hewson’s article was interesting, though he seems to be
>surprisingly uncritical of Word 2013 as an editing tool. I have read
>reviews of it that suggest that in some respects it is less suited to
>that role than older versions of Word.

My first impression is that, like most programs that have gone from running as (local) software to (Software as a Service) webware, it is unlikely to satisfy users of its previous reincarnations.

@ Franz
> I sold my last Macintosh (a Mac Mini) a few weeks ago because I wanted to trial Curio 8
> but it wouldn’t run on OS X 10.6 and my Mini did not support 10.8 and I couldn’t find 10.7
> for a reasonable price. So: Goodbye to Mac (still love my iPad 2), hello Windows 7 (not 8).

This is one of those instances when the “it just works” motto takes on a whole new perspective…

> I find myself using the outliner pane in Word 2010 more and more - for the manuscripts
>my publishers want to be in DOCX and DOC. LibreOffice’s Navigator pane pales in contrast
> to Word - which is not easy to confess for me, though.

I only started using Word because just about every client I work with uses it. I bought 2010 only this summer, along with a cheap notebook to carry around. The navigation pane was a breath of fresh air. It’s quite remarkable how long it took Microsoft to get it right.

@ Foolness
I’m quite prolific in trying out software but not as prolific a writer. So I’ll take an advice or two from people like Hewson and James Fallows anytime. Such advice may be taken in principle and not in its specific application. “Choose the few tools you need, then focus on what matters most: the work in hand” does not necessarily mean “choose the particular tools I chose (for my job)”. And I can only speak for myself when I say that Thoreau’s “simplify, simplify” is something I need to keep in mind.


Posted by Foolness
Dec 10, 2012 at 01:41 AM


Lawrence it’s not complicated, it’s just that the subject can encompass blogs as Alexander’s advise affects many things from limited software criticism to making the novel writing apps stay the same to things like other free/cheap more efficient applications being ignored.

Also there’s two ways to approach a reply. One is to list many of the potential wrongs and the other is simply to write an offensive reply.

For example, though not an offensive reply, by positioning his reply as the sole monopoly of principles between the two of us: Alexander fails to take into account how it would ever be simple for those who don’t have a Mac or the money for OneNote to ever have a world where things are simpler for both the budding writer who has something to say, the writer who needs an editor, the writer who can benefit from ebook publishing, the writer who needs a competent novel writing software including one that is better/different than Scrivener but just as powerful.

In short, the version that wouldn’t sound like a rant would be a reply stating “How can you simplify when you have to be able to afford a Mac to even test one of the better products for novel helping?” - which deals with these sections of the article:

>Story development
>The collection of ideas, characters, locations, thematic threads and a narrative. Usually I will assemble >some of these before I start writing, and add and delete to them as the book develops.

>Going back over a manuscript produced in step two and trying to improve it.
>Scrivener is fantastic at the first. You can gather character and location notes, juggle scenes and chapters >in index cards and produce a fully-fledged notebook alongside your growing novel if you want. I know >people who use Scrivener for this alone.

...but it’s also offensive and doesn’t encompass how bad Alexander’s advise is.

Ywriter for example is not “simple” at revisions compared to Scrivener but how will that area ever enter into conversation when the advice givers’ version of simplify, simplify is not that but is merely “ignore it, ignore it”? How can one then go about and say that this person’s good intentions is wrong? Not just wrong, very very dangerous.

It’s a tough dilemma but it’s an important dilemma to try explaining especially because Alexander think what he’s saying is not only with good principle but it also sounds like a good and succinct point for a reader to adopt. Only, it’s not. There are so many underrated novel writing software out there. There are so many overrated novel writing software out there. There are so many overrated novel writing software features out there too. In that scope alone, it’s bad advise but it doesn’t stop there. You still have to take into account the “help” provided in these software. Existing stable authors can treat the issue as less murky because they are already in the trenches but there are other dilemmas for those who “need” something “simple” are missing but not every software is providing.

For example, someone who simply wants to publish an e-book cannot easily get all novel writing software that does that.

Another example, someone who doesn’t need the templates of Scrivener can get away with using OneNote as a novel writing helper compared to Word but others who need (not just want) the Scrivener experience may or may not get that “ever” because authors like Alexander think their principle is in the right of simplify is in alignment with everyone. They fail to take into consideration how important and how skewered this “need” has been.

...and this is barely the tip of what’s wrong with the advise which is why my previous reply came off like a rant. The more important battle is the potential for the book market to change…for the better or for the worse. What authors ignore or don’t ignore, what they see as simplify and not simplify in this battle will be a huge influence to how future software adopt and how those software that try to adopt and try to improve more get better limelight over those that don’t.

Then there’s the ultimate “meta principle” of how it’s not just about book but of book quality. It’s the bottomline in many cases but, unlike outliners, many online novel writing software supporters play in the vague game of “It’s no Scrivener” or “All you need is a word processor that has space for your characters ” or “all these software needs to do is help you get a completed story out” and so any one looking for novel writing software today can’t even just ignore the rest or simplify. Not unless all they really needed is a word processor to type and there’s no signs things will be improving. Which is part of the problem because it’s not just a novel writing issue, it can also be a creative writing issue. There’s a group who just needs a word processor to write and write, there’s a group who has a system but their system may never translate into a novel writing software because of it’s stagnancy and blind worship of software names over software features and then there’s the successful authors who do sometimes share their advises but the participant have to be lucky enough to know them. All because both the software developers and the target audience have this false principle of what ignore the rest is really creating and what simplify really means.

Can it read less like a rant? Yes, but not until the principle matches up with the principle. Not until principle doesn’t get misguidedly accused of being a specific application post.

If I wanted to make it into a specific application post, I would have:
>omitted the publishing problem and focused solely on Scrivener’s features or OneNote features
>omitted the publishing features which in it’s most basic sense can fall to having features that instant exports the works to Kindle ready formats “to authors” anyway (and leave the non-authors on an island)
>omitted the issue about OneNote updating since in specific application, Alexander’s advise only needs the software to work and the users to make the software work (and only the principle can start addressing the morality behind those advises)

The current or past major online cultures doesn’t show they have this empathy for the effects of their “principle” though so I wrote it with the principle in mind and when you try to address the principle, the point is not going to be structured in the same way as a reply based on specific applications as it involves the culture realizing something they realize instead of being told what the point is. That’s the point of principles to begin with. It’s hard to change them but some principles are more dangerous than others without principled people realizing or be willing to consider it’s all around dangers.


Posted by Hugh
Dec 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM


A word about David Hewson. It goes almost without saying that he’s not a typical technology user. This isn’t to criticise his advice, nor to say that the news of his re-conversion to Windows isn’t significant.

I’ve followed and quite often applied his recommendations on hardware and software since before he was an author, when as a journalist he wrote about technology for the London Sunday Times. He has at his finger-tips a wealth of knowledge and also a willingness to experiment and invest that probably rivals those of the most Crimpy of us here. As he himself says in his blog, he’ll tell us in a year his final verdict on his current tools.

For me, the most interesting of his current recommendations is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 for annotating and editing pdfs - so much easier with long-form writing for the writer to be as close as possible to paper-free. The Galaxy Note 10.1 still remains (I think) the only pure iPad-style tablet with a digitiser under the screen, although Adonit are trying to achieve the same effect with the Jot Touch for the iPad, and I’ve heard that more (less expensive) tablets with digitisers (and probably Windows 8) will be launched in the New Year.

But for me, David Hewson’s most important words are the ones Alexander quotes above: effectively, focus on the ends - the work - not the means - i.e try to slay the Crimp dragon!


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Dec 10, 2012 at 03:35 PM


I must commend Mr. Foolness for demonstrating through the use of “evidence of the opposite” that simpler is, in deed, better. Bravo.


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