Writing software

I wrote my first “book” in WordPerfect. Upon completion of what could in very loose terms be call a novel, I immediately deleted WordPerfect and buried the manuscript in a very deep hole in my back yard. I have since moved.

The second book was written in MSWord. It took twice as long to write (a whopping 10 days today) and weighed in at just over 103k. I realized a week later that what I had written was not so much a book as a random, wandering journey. I made changes both vast and sweeping to characters, plot lines, and settings alike. Nothing really made sense.

I needed to work on craft, I decided, but I also needed to figure out a way to organize my writing a little better. Iron out some of those twisting plots and morphing characters.

Fast forward a few years, and I sat down to work on my third serious story. Code of the Hunter.

I tried MS Word again. After about 10-20k, things started warping again. I just couldn’t keep things straight without the ability to quickly backtrack through the story and remind myself of things like character names and dangling threads.

I bought WriteItNow, which wasn’t bad, but I just never seemed to be able to actually write in it. The interface kept getting in my way.

I tried Liquid Story Binder, which… ok, honestly? Who needs all that stuff? There was so much irrelevant shit stuffed in every nook and cranny of that program that I didn’t even get past the first 10 minutes without wanting to punch someone. *delete*

I tried this little program called yWriter4. And it worked! I wrote my whole novel in it. The one time I had a glitch, I emailed the creator and he got back with me in 10 minutes with a solution. Fantabulous!

Then I made the mistake of upgrading to yWriter5. Great new features, and a very usable interface. Trouble with it was, it ate my project file. Oh, the text of my novel was recoverable. But the notes, the character lists, the scene descriptions that I had built painstakingly over the last two years… all gone! Turns out yWriter backs up the actual story in a hundred little ways to make sure you don’t lose all that work, but even the backups I created off-site using its internal system did nothing to protect the actual project file.

I laborously reconstructed what I could of it. Took me a full week to put it all back together (minus a lot of things that just weren’t recoverable) so I could continue with my revision. I was so close to the end of that book, I could taste it. Just a little more time, and I could reevaluate my usage of the software, see if something else worked better. Two weeks later… well, let’s say that the reconstruction was all in vain. Gone again.

So screw it, I said. I put my documents back in MS Word, but struggled with the same problems of no organization in a file of 100k words. I put each scene in its own file and hyperlinked each one into an Excel spreadsheet. Truth told, it was all painfully slow and complex, despite my expert status as an MS Office user. I got through a couple of revisions that way, but it wasn’t exactly a pleasurable experience.

A fellow writer recommended TreeDBNotes, a program not written for writers, but that seemed to serve all the same functions as yWriter (with the vast exception of not having easily obtainable word counts). I ported my novel over (in 4 days), and kept working. And for the last revision, it worked. The experience was as smooth as warm chocolate.

I had found my writing software home.

Or so I thought. Until I tried to draft a new novel there. Great for edits, but there was just too much distraction for drafting, not to mention that the formatting options and word count are still a pain in the you-know to use, one note at a time.

So it was back to MS Word. 7k into the book, I new that wasn’t going to work either.

I’m beginning to think I need to learn to program so I can make my own software. In the meantime, I think I’ll drag out that old copy of yWriter4, despite the fact that it’s no longer being updated or supported. Sometimes more features aren’t what’s important. Stability, the right interface, features that are easy to use, and something that works well with your process… these things all count when you’re working so intensely on something for years at a time.

I’m still looking for the perfect program for me. Something simple and not distracting. Something systematic but not rigid. Something STABLE. Something that doesn’t cost more than my last tuition bill.

What do you write with? And what would you change about it if you could?

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