Programs for Writers: Which One’s Right for You?

When I was in grade school and learning how to write, the implements used were just as important to me as the story I produced. I tried a variety of pens and papers and would have used a quill if I’d been able to lay hands on one. Color of ink was important, too. I went through a red phase that I’m sure drove everyone nuts.

I’m grown up now but guess what? I’m still particular about the tools I use when I’m writing. Although I own a desktop with a large monitor, I generally only use it for my photography. Writing is done on the laptop, because I can set it up on the couch or in bed.

But there are lots of other things writers can take advantage of to make their storytelling easier. There are very cool programs that will assist us in staying organized by keeping track of character descriptions and tidbits we invent on the spur of the moment, things we have to remember from chapter to chapter, book to book, so our creations remain consistent. He shouldn’t have a limp in part one and then be leaping hurdles in part three. If his hair is blond on page ten and brown on page forty-four, there’d better be a good reason for the change noted somewhere. 

I write in Word, because nearly all manuscripts start there and it’s a universally accepted format. I like the program, I’m used to it, and my familiarity with it makes it easy to pay attention to the writing as opposed to the settings that make the text look so pretty.

I’m a seat of the pants writer. While I usually have a solid overview of the action, I make up the details as I go along. This necessitates I remember things like hair and eye color, peculiar character traits, weird plot twists, etc. Because there’s only so much room in my head, I tend to forget some stuff if I don’t write it down. I’ve tried various methods to help me track these things, to greater or lesser success.

1. Scratch pads and a pen. You’d think this would work, but I tend to start new scratch pads all over the apartment–a few notes here, another couple there–and eventually I have to gather them all up and fasten them together with a binder clip. They’re searchable but it takes time.

2. Stickies, a free note program for the computer. This works pretty well, as they are right in front of my face and I can look at pertinent notes while I write. The only problem is running out of space, which is imminent; my desktop is covered with the things.

3. Scrivener and Liquid Binder. I tried the free trial of Scrivener and bought LB. Both are deep programs offering extensive help in setting up characters, story lines, blah blah blah. A lot of writers swear by one or the other. AJ uses LB and likes it. I found myself wasting time trying to figure out the damn features instead of writing. Eventually, I stopped playing with it.

4.  Evernote. Read about this program at SmutWriters.com. Another freebie, it offers a computer note program that’s quite a few steps up from my antiquated scratch pad and pen system, but it’s not as complex as Scrivener or LB. I’ve been using it this afternoon, and so far, I like it. It organizes information into easily accessible “notebooks” via notes. What can you save? Text, obviously, but also you can click and drag photos into a note. The program also allows you to save sounds, and here’s a big plus for someone like me who researches online as I write: it offers a handy little clipping feature. Installing it adds an icon to your browser menu. When you highlight something on a web page, click the elephant head icon and it is moved into Evernote as a new note, placed in any notebook you like. You can save a page, photos, even just the URL. As I do a lot of research when I write, I know I’m gonna be using this feature a lot.

This program also saves everything to the cloud, so you can access your information from many different devices (computer, phone, iPad, etc.) The free version allows you to upload 60 MB a month. If I’m still using it in a month, I’ll buy it.

I suspect I’ll end up using a combination of Stickies and Evernote. Both are easy to understand and I was up and running quickly, which is important. I’d rather spend my time writing than learning how to make a program work for me.

Do you have favorite programs that help you write? Let me know in comments. I love hearing about these things, and I swear, if I’m in a store that offers quills for sale, I’m gonna buy one.

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About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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8 Responses to Programs for Writers: Which One’s Right for You?

  1. AJ Rose says:

    My quill tat is about as close as I’ll ever get to buying one.

    • I can’t remember the last time I saw quills anywhere, but I’m sure they can be purchased. However, that requires bottles of ink, and already I’m imagining stained fingers and splatters of color across the paper… Maybe writing with a quill is best left to the imagination.

  2. After using Evernote less than a day, I’m sold. It’s great being able to quickly and easily jot things down as I write. The program is open in the background and I simply alt-tab to it, create a quick note, and alt-tab back to Word and my story. I’m gonna recommend it to those who might find Scrivener and Liquid Binder more program than they need.

    And the web clipping tool is outstanding. 🙂

  3. for some reason, this makes me want to pull out my blown glass pen & inks and write letters…

    • 🙂 I know, right? There’s something very satisfying about writing with a valued pen.

      • I have never actually used them, honestly — between the kids and the critters and my own generalized klutziness, I feel like there’s too much potential for disaster there. But at the same time, I’ve been trying to make more of an effort this year to make use of my beautiful-but-useful things (great-grandma’s china, odd little tea-for-one sets, stuff like that), just because it makes me happy to.

  4. diannegray says:

    I’m only just learning to write on my phone – something I swore I would never do! But it’s just so handy 😉

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