The Best Writing Software For Books, and Blogging
When I was younger, book writing software was rare. I wrote everything by hand. Well, sometimes I used a computer if it was something I wanted to keep. Even the best writing software at the time was really iffy, too. Three colors, a pain to edit. But rarely in 2016 do I hand-write my fiction stories. Not at length, anyway. Sometimes there’s a need to write a note to serve as a reminder, or an outline. I do outline on paper most of the time. But to me, my writing work is digital, backed up three times. To do that, I have a group of writing applications that keep me sane.
Scrivener: Writing Software for Longer Works of Fiction
This software is the core of almost everything I write. It feels like “novel software”. Every book, every short story, exists in Scrivener.
I start with a collection of folders (in Scrivener) which serve as the points of my outline. Inside each folder, I keep a series of documents for each sub-section. That way there’s no effort involved if I need to move things around later.
When my friends in writing group were critiquing my work, that was more useful than I expected.
As I near the end of the book I’m writing, I can export the entire thing as a well-formatted PDF, eBook, or whatever. Before I get to the end of the work, I can export single chapters or sections so that my friends and family can poke holes.
I don’t use a lot of the fancy features that come with Scrivener. In my process it’s more as a collection, compilation, and note-writing solution. That targeting and word-count feature is important when NaNoWriMo comes around.
Who am I kidding? I’m the biggest NaNo slacker.
Ulysses: The Champion of Blog Posts
When I’m writing blog posts, Ulysses is the only app I open. Usually.
I keep everything in various folders on my computer, and then I tell Ulysses where to find them. The minimal interface stays out of my way. I can just write.
When I’m done it gives me a nice, neat markdown file that I could copy into my site. I don’t use the markdown syntax like I ought, usually I just copy the text wholesale.
On one site, I have a few other people who write with me. The perk to using Ulysses is that we can share a Dropbox folder and keep everything sane. Ulysses doesn’t fight anything or anyone. Since it’s just reading markdown files on the disk it’s quick. Even with Dropbox trying to sync I don’t run into conflicts with the Ulysses files. Unless there’s a lot of writing by other people and I’m offline for awhile (working).
Hemingway App: The Opinionated Editor
When I’m out, or when I need to edit, Hemingway App is what I use.
Let’s say I work for hours on a piece of my story in Scrivener or Ulysses. When I’m at a point where the work feels strong-enough, I copy it and drop it into Hemingway.
And then I weep.
Hemingway is like having an over-particular writing coach take a hi-lighter to your work. The most common thing it helps me fix is reading difficulty. If I write a run-on sentence, Hemingway changes the color to yellow or red. Sometimes I use words that could be simpler. Hemingway smacks me for that, too. It also tells me how many adverbs are appropriate for what I’ve written. And, it knows when I’ve used passive voice. There’s even an estimated reading level for my work. Those things have helped me strengthen what I write more times than I care to admit.
I don’t use any of the formatting options in Hemingway though. I just keep the text plain and format it later.
WordPress: The Publisher Without Rejection Letters
Every site I build runs on WordPress. That’s perhaps the most painful thing I’ve written in a long time.
I started as a web designer and developer almost ten years ago. WordPress was around for most of that time, but it had some serious issues. It was sluggish, often without an obvious reason. Hackers love it. People misuse it.
But things changed for me in 2015 when I found out that there was a plugin called WordPress JSON API. I’m going to spare you the details of this, because this is about writing not development, but it’s huge. That plugin allows me to publish my WordPress site and then use the data elsewhere.
For awhile I was abstracting that away. I’ll save you the details here, but I could write on one domain or on my computer, and then you’d read it on Elerien.com. It was pretty slick, but in the end I wanted to do some things right in WordPress and I didn’t want to re-create the wheel.
There is still some merit to that approach, the most noteworthy is the ability to use your content in an app. That’s huge.
CHSL Cards: Breaking Through Writer’s Block
This is a bit of shameless promotion, but it’s also honest.
Sometimes I need to think things through but my own brain gets in the way. You know, typical writer’s block stuff. What I tend to do to get past that is throw random things at my characters or plot to see what happens. When I explained that process, it seemed to help a few friends. So with the help of my friend Dave, we sat down and made it into an app.
When I hit a wall in my own work, I open CHSL Cards and draw a card. It makes me think about the scene in a different way.
I won’t belabor this point, because it’s bound to feel self-promotional. But it’s free, and we built it to do this one thing for writers. (Read How CHSL Could Help Beat Writer’s Block for more on that.)
Dropbox: The Data Librarian and Part-time Lifeguard
Dropbox holds a lot of my data. Never financial data or sensitive information. But if it’s otherwise important, it’s there.
I mentioned it above in the section about Ulysses. Yes, it’s great for getting my work over to friends, or even working on projects with other people. But there’s an extra feature of Dropbox that’s even more of a life-saver.
If you have a Dropbox Pro account ($9.99 a month or so), Dropbox keeps copies of your stuff. So, let’s say you remove a paragraph and save your document. You close down your computer, and you throw that computer in the pool.
Don’t do that.
But if you did, you could retrieve your work on your replacement computer. When things synchronize on your new computer, you’ll see your most recent changes. But if you changed your mind about that paragraph you removed before the pool, you can recover it again. It’s magical.
You should always have your work in three locations. Your computer is a good place to start, and Dropbox is a great choice for a second because it’s not in your house. I’d still recommend a good external hard drive. Because even with Dropbox, mistakes can happen. (Be careful with whom you share your documents. Some people delete or change things they ought not touch.)
If you have paranoid leanings like I do, your bank has a safety deposit box up for grabs. That’s a great option to hold your external backups.
Simplicity Is The Key
That’s how I write everything. None of them are fancy or even as expensive as the Word Suite. (Scrivener and Ulysses come the closest.) Each of them does a single job well. None of them impose too much structure, which helps me stay flexible and deliver what I need.
Now, quit reading this and go write something!