When I was a kid and writing stories in my room, the implements I used were as important as the words I wrote. Remember, this was back in the day of the typewriter, and despite having begged my parents for one every year for Christmas, I was stuck doing it longhand for quite a while.
I was always trying new pens and new notebooks, maybe thinking the perfect combination would result in me becoming a better writer, but I suspect it had as much to do with aesthetics than anything else. When a fellow student, who also fancied herself a writer, started using a quill and ink, I tried it, too. I never spilled it on the bed or carpet, but my writing hand was constantly marked with green or red ink (black was too ordinary). Yes, I was a weird kid. 😉
I eventually got that typewriter, but it lasted only as long as the ribbon, which quickly wore through from overuse. For those of you who don’t remember or never knew, an inked cloth ribbon on spools would run back and forth as you typed, and mine became so worn, it had holes in it. I was afraid to ask for a replacement, and my parents never offered to get one. This was back in the day when one had to drive to a store to buy things. I had no car, buses were nearly non-existent in the suburbs, and I had no idea where to buy new ribbon even if I’d managed to convince my folks to take me somewhere. I went back to pen and paper.
My first computer, way back in the early 90s, was a welcome relief. The first word processor was WordPerfect, which eventually became associated with the legal profession. We writers got Word, and oh how I love it. I’m currently using v2010, and I see no reason to upgrade to the latest release yet. I see they’re working on v2016. I probably won’t get that for a while, either. I really, really like v2010, and I’ve installed it on Windows systems up to 8.1 with no problem.
But Word wasn’t enough. Complex plots and lots of characters suggested I had to find a way to keep track of things as I created. I used the post-it system for a long time; they were all over my desk and around the edges of my big-ass CRT monitor. Remember those things? HUGE, but they offered lots of space to keep notes. When I changed to flat screen monitors, I lost a lot of note real estate, and it became harder than ever to keep track of those little slips of paper.
This system had become unwieldy. I couldn’t find what I was looking for half the time, which slowed me down, not to mention annoying me to the point where I didn’t write as much. So I started looking into programs specifically created to help writers write.
I began with Scrivener, the Big Mother monster program of them all. I downloaded the free trial and opened it. My mind short-circuited. Oh, this wasn’t good! My mind, I mean, not Scrivener.
The learning curve on this sucker is steep. I wanted something intuitive, something I could dive into within minutes and start using. Scrivener was not it. The thought of taking a day or two off to learn my way around was unattractive, so I put it aside and went back to the post-its for a while.
Next up: Liquid Story Binder. It’s like Scrivener in that it offers you tons of options and features, but it seemed more accessible to me. Still, by the time I finished entering all the notes and photos and whatnot, I felt like I’d already written the book, so why bother?
Nope! I needed something more simple. I tried Evernote. This is a free download, was instantly understood, and kept good track of characters, chapters, scenes, etc. I’ve been using it for a couple years now, and I have no complaints whatsoever. It even saves in the cloud so you can install it on more than one computer and access your notes everywhere.
You’d think that would be the end of it, right? But no! With my latest couple of WIPs, I realized I wanted the ability to view chapters/scenes as index cards and be able to drag and drop them to change their order. I wanted to see the structure of the book on a timeline, and the free version of Evernote didn’t offer that.
So I downloaded yWriter, which is also free. This software was created by a writer, so he is familiar with our needs. Also, it is continually being improved (though probably not as often as the programmer would like; he has a life, too). It offers a storyboarding feature I like, as this gives me a visual of what is happening in the book with any character at any time. Of course, this means you do have to fill in the date and time of each scene, but how hard can that be? The program also offers a nice visual of chapters and scenes, with description of each in a separate window. That I really like.
Note: I do not write in the program. You can, but I use Word. I like Word. But yWriter is helping me stay focused and organized. Since I am basically a pantser striving to get better at outlining in order to stay on track and maintain forward momentum, I use the program to summarize chapters and scenes a couple steps ahead of where I am. In other words, right now I’m starting chapter 3, and in yWriter, the outline, including scenes, is up to chapter 5. This gives me a clear direction to follow without blunting my creativity or stomping on those occasional wild flights of the unexpected writers love so much.
yWriter has one drawback so far: it does not save to a cloud so you can’t access it from any computer. It does let you choose the backup directory, but Dropbox didn’t show up on the list; that would have solved the access problem. 😦
Still, I generally write on one laptop only these days–the small portable one I can carry around with ease–so I don’t see it as a huge problem.
In summation: I like yWriter. I did have to install it twice to get it to function properly (no idea; perhaps it had to do with Windows 8.1 or a 64-bit OS), but it’s worked fine ever since. The program is user-friendly, lets me see exactly where I’m going, keeps me on track, gives me room to go off on a tangent (I simply revise or add that scene), gives me a visual storyboard to track my characters’ actions, and it’s FREE. It’s not as complex as Scrivener or Liquid Story Binder, nor is it as limiting as Evernote. It offers just the right amount of detail, as far as I’m concerned.
It gets my recommendation as a useful piece of software for authors. If you give it a try, let me know what you think.