A fountain pen is still the weapon of choice used by many writing greats (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami and Isobelle Carmody to name a few) however, as any member of my writers’ group can tell you, even with the benefit of being typed and spell checked, my first drafts are still mostly incomprehensible.
To be clear, neither the fanciest software nor the prettiest pen will write your story for you but the discovery of purpose-built writing software was an absolute revelation for me and certainly changed the way I compose long form projects for the better.
Why use writing software?
I’m a plotter not a pantser. Reedys has a great article from Amanda Wills regarding the difference but suffice to say, I start by planning out the story first and then I write it. It’s a bit like building a jigsaw puzzle by doing the borders (chapter framework) and then adding in the individual pieces (scenes).
The main benefit of writing software for me is being able to easily pick up chapters and scenes and move them around. I imagine even for pantsers being able to just write knowing you can easily change the order of events (when characters don’t behave, or time-frames shift, or the flow is simply not working), must be beneficial.
Also, keeping ideas, research, images, character back stories and plot notes in the one place makes my life so much easier. If you’re building a series and something needs to happen in a later book, it’s handy to have several ‘projects’ sitting open in the file, so those great ideas don’t get lost along the way.
Nowadays publishers and agents generally only accept electronic copies anyway, so a program that helps you export your work into a range of formats is incredibly helpful. Also, if you are self publishing, some go direct into Kindle format.
BUT WHATEVER YOU DO – BACK UP YOUR WORK!!!!
All the time, every time you write. Nobody wants to see your crying over your keyboard. I’ve done it and it’s not a pretty sight.
What type of program?
A quick poll of my writer friends had Scrivener as the most popular program of choice. It does everything I mentioned above and more. There are plenty courses available, notably a two-hour online course from the Australian Writer’s Centre but frankly most people just dive in.
For scriptwriters Final Draft also got a notable mention, however Scrivener also exports into this format (or so I’m told).
I use WriteWay Professional Edition which is slightly less exciting than Scrivener but it works for me.
When I was looking around this comparison table was a handy little resource to help compare the options available.
Most programs offer a free trial but honestly, once you’ve gone to the trouble of exporting your copy into the program who could be bothered switching?
Word is still great
I still export into Microsoft Word once the manuscript is ready for a full edit. It seems easier to double check the formatting and Word picks up far more spelling and grammar errors than the program I use.
Work smart and hard
Whether you choose a pen or a keyboard, the important thing is to write!
As Stephen King said, ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.’