Because I have page proofs and I cannot stand to look for any more errors at this time of night, I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about the tools of my trade.
I use a Macbook Pro as my main writing machine. This is not a religious stance; I have a PC (an Asus), on which I play games. I fully believe that a writer is more than the sum of his or her tools, and that each of us should work on whatever platform we find most comfortable.
This is my way of saying that if the comments descend into platform wars, I will moderate with the world’s heaviest hand, possibly because I have read it so many times and there is nothing new.
On the other hand, if anyone has suggestions for PC equivalents of the Mac only apps I list here, that would be great!
The first application I use — and the one I would not be without if you paid me — is Scrivener. It started life because Keith Blount was trying to write a novel, and he found none of the programs he tried up to the task of handling his process. He was not, before Scrivener, a programmer. I find his creation incredibly impressive because of this.
There are probably a thousand ways to use Scrivener; I’m not a power-user. Most of its features are features that don’t suit my writing process, so I don’t use them. The ability to break text into scenes, partial scenes, that follow a loose/tight outline doesn’t work for me; I know writers who love the program because it allows them to move whole scenes from one part of their novel to another with just a drag-and-drop. I know people who make really smart use of the filing card view as well, to denote which chapters are viewpoint chapters, or which chapters are heavy action and which are quieter. It’s not a view I use, but if you head to their web-site, you can see it in action.
I write sequentially, chapter-by-chapter, scene by scene. When I revise, depending on the book, I will sometimes break chapters into their component parts — but folder them so they’re contiguous when exported. I can tag those scenes in any way I like, and will often tag them for their structural components: things that are necessary, things that aren’t.
Only when I’ve finished a novel do I make use of the “export draft” feature, which exports the entire book as a single file, in whatever format I choose. It will change underlines to italics or vice versa, keep a running page count, and keep a wordcount if that’s necessary.
Scrivener 2.0 will also export to epub. This takes a bit of set-up and experimentation, but once it is set-up, it works like a charm, and produces compliant epubs. It will export to .pdf, .doc, .rtf and .txt as well.
At 45.00 U.S., it’s a bargain; it’s one of the few programs I own that I would pay old-school money for, if it came to that. There is a PC version of Scrivener in beta.
Microsoft Word wasn’t always a necessity, but as more and more publishers make use of track changes for line-edits and copy-edits, it’s become necessary for me. All of my Luna line-edits and copy-edits are now sent in .doc or .docx format. For that reason, I have MS Word 2011 for the Mac in my toolset. I found 2011 a good upgrade because it’s faster than the prior version for the Mac, and I find the layout of track changes clearer and easier to address.
I use it only for publisher-sent copy-edits, but those are necessary.
Flying Meat’s VoodooPad is a wiki app. I don’t have an on-line wiki – although with very little effort, I could, thanks to VoodooPad.
Why do I use it?
I keep track of the bits and pieces of information about my various worlds and the novels written in them. If I create a page for a character, every incidence of the character’s name will automatically link to that page. If I’m too lazy to do a find I just type the name in a random on-screen page and click it. I have my time-line, which is the longest single page, my gods, my visible magical effects, magic items, loose ends, characters, etc., stored in VoodooPad; it’s like a hyperlinked notebook.
You can make the pages look nice; since I’m not an .html wiz, I don’t. Except for the fonts. It’s a way of keeping the information I need in a form I can easily revise and add information to, without having a million smaller documents.
I don’t think there’s a PC version of VoodooPad, but I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t a similar application available for Windows.
I have the Oxford English Dictionary as my main dictionary. No, it wasn’t cheap — but I made humongous puppy dog eyes at everyone in my family at Christmas time. I really like the OED; it’s very comprehensive, and I find it fascinating to look at the first (known) use of various English words.
The port is not a pretty port. It confounds the operating system by ignoring most of the basic rules that otherwise govern application interfaces. The review I’ve linked I linked because it’s hysterically funny.
But to be perfectly fair, the PC port is equally horrible, and also ignores Windows paradigms. You don’t buy the OED because you expect it to be pretty, or well-behaved.
Although it doesn’t directly apply to writing, I use DevonThink as a general aggregator/database, as well. I clip web-pages, throw in .docs and .pdfs, and keep receipts. Again, I’m not a poweruser, and while mail can be archived in Devonthink, I don’t because I can’t stand the messy way it looks. Devonthink has a great search engine, as well, so all the bits and pieces of on-the-fly “that might be useful” web pages or emails that come my way get tossed into the in-box. It’s the equivalent of the shoe-box for the pre-computer age. There are very flexible ways of arranging the data: in folders, with tags, in separate databases with clones (business, writing, home).
Not everyone is going to love this, but it means I have things in one place instead of all over the drive. If you don’t want or need multiple databases, there are similar apps that people love: Yojimbo, by Barebones, has a really lovely interface, and it’s very intuitive; Notebook by Circus Ponies, which allows the same clipping and pasting of any information (they have better integration with the overall contextual menus than Devonthink), but contains it in a “Notebook”, a visual, literal scrapbook.
I tried them all, which is why I mention them — Devonthink is, imho, the ugliest. But it does a few things the others don’t.
I’m certain there must be PC equivalents.
I want to put in a plug for software that’s in beta at the moment, even if I’m not up and running at 100%: Aeon Timeline. Aeon Timeline is timeline software, yes — but it does a few things that are incredibly useful. Entities are defined as character, places, etc. When a character first appears in a time-line event, you can set the characters age at that time — and every time the character appears on the time line, his or her age will be noted. This is helpful when you’ve flubbed ages because you’re writing at 4:40 in the morning. You can set locations and characters and look at all events on the timeline that involve them, as well; you can have multiple characters marked for the same events. You can tag all entries and search on or show tagged entries.
If I did not have 11 books worth of time-line events, I’d be using this now, because it also allows you to define your own calendar year — with month names, day lengths, etc. So for those whose fantasy calendars don’t precisely match our own, it’s ideal. When I have time, I add more of the timeline on flat paper to the program; if I’d had this years ago, would have added events as they occurred, and I would have loved it like a crazy person.