Changing Tools

I am doing it. I am finally doing it.

After writing for nearly 20 years or so using Microsoft Word, I’ve finally made the decision to fully abandon it as my primary tool. And although it hasn’t been as long a run, I am dropping my limited use of Google Drive too. Why? Well, Scrivener, duh.

Back in December, for Christmas actually, my wife purchased me Scrivener and then my sister-in-law got me the app for the program for my iPhone. Both were what I had wanted. I mean, I’ve heard so many damn good things about the program that it was calling my name. Writers who used it said that there was no other program that even came close. I believed them, and I wanted to find out for myself.

But in the nearly 4 months since getting both versions of the program, I’ve been resident to convert all the way. Having so many projects on Word or Google Docs (which I’ve wanted to abandon for some time now for multiple reasons), the act of converting them over to Scrivener was daunting. Not to mention, I was unsure of the ease of being able to work from the computer over to the app. Portability was something I was after. Google Docs is flawless here and by using OneDrive, Word is a worthy competitor. Other than them, however, I usually used a flash drive to carry my work from computer to computer. And though that’s worked for me for years, backups are a must as I am always at risk of losing the drive, and working on the phone as a supplemental tool was only good for those stories I kept on Google Drive.

Since getting my new programs, I opted to write novels and short stories on Scrivener, blog posts on Word, and then my poetry on Google (although I actually write my poetry by hand—I only save it to Google Drive for the final draft). For me, at least in the short term, it was a useful way to begin the transition, and it was all before I understood how I was going to manage my writing. Really, it was before I understood the full potential of the program. (Well… before I got over my apprehensions I should really say. Change is never easy, even while it is constant.)

As one could guess from this, I am writing a review of sorts, a review of 3 separate products for writers like me. So before I go any further, here’s a very quick rundown of those three products:

Google Drive

Technically this is more for Google Docs than Google Drive as a whole, but the two are tied together. Google Docs is the free-to-use word processor created by Google. Like most things Google, this is very user-friendly and the interface is not half-bad. Features aren’t too extensive compared to Word, which isn’t a bad thing. It does the job, and it does it well.

But also like all things Google, they access every last bit of it to extract data to use for their revenue. No, this doesn’t mean they own the rights to the work that is posted using Drive, but it does mean that their algorithms are never not looking through it. That has always had me worried. Besides YouTube, gMail, and maps (2 of them are the worst I can use), I like to limit what I use. In fact, I use DuckDuckGo for search too and Mozilla or Safari for my browser. I am digressing…

As for the doc apps, which I’ve used both Android and Apple versions of, they are easy to use and easy to write on. Given that it works off Google Drive, as long as you have an internet connection or have the docs available offline (there’s a setting for that), then you can move from computer to phone to tablet, and back to any of them without any issue. The writing interface is decent and not difficult to manage. The other nice thing is that it if there are multiple people working on a single document, one could share the document with multiple editors or viewers.

I used it for short stories, some blog writing, and other smaller writing projects for a while strictly because of the way it works so easily between the PC and my phone. Larger works, like novels, were a pain to operate with as the word counts/file size bogged the program down, slowing the response time. And without knowing much on any good navigation features (not to say their aren’t any), I found it lacking there. Even so, large files were too laggy making it cumbersome to write for those projects. That is a huge drawback.

If one treats it as a basic word processor for small projects, then no complaints, it works great for that. And given that it has the portability and sharing, it’s hard to beat. If you need more than that though, then it becomes lack-luster. And that’s what I need. I need something more robust.

Microsoft Word

Word has been the work-horse program for writers for a long, long time. It was the best choice long before Google came on board, if one didn’t write on a typewriter or word processor. In fact, on the PC, it was the obvious choice. Open Office, Libra, and other free software had existed to some degree, but Microsoft built Word very well; it was hard to justify using anything else.

There were a lot of great features in Word as well that I had used extensively over the years, eventually learning how to swiftly move through a document, be-it a novel or a short story or whatever, and change the formatting on multiple levels. For instance, the format styles listed on the top bar can be set however I like, then by setting each section as a style, if I wanted to change it later I can apply the changes to the whole document. It has made it useful in formatting my books for print and ebook without running into much of an issue. Even going from one format to another, such as Smashwords to Kindle, Word makes it easy to change the settings in one place, without having to go line by line.

Another great feature I use are the navigation links. Chapter headings or break headings can be styled as such giving them a link-ability using the navigation pane. Like I said above, I am not sure if Google Docs has this either, but even so, how clunky and laggy Google Docs gets with large files, it almost doesn’t matter. Even so, it is one of many areas that Word gets right.

Now I am going to avoid going through this feature by feature, as most people have had some experience with Word. I do have a few issues with it, however. First, my initial problem was portability. For a long time the only method I had was using the flash drive to move files around, this was all before Google even existed and probably shortly after. There were a few games in town that allowed one to save in the cloud, but I didn’t use them as they each had their own issues. Of course, now that is resolved with OneDrive. With Windows, OneDrive works just like it was a file system within the PC, almost impossible to notice that it is cloud-based. On top of that, they developed the apps for tablets and phones making it a more useful tool.

However… the other day I tried to use OneDrive and write using the Word app on my phone. Needless to say, I found it clunky, difficult, and disappointing. My hope was to use it as the alternative to Google Docs, to rid myself of 3 programs and get down to 2. That goal was a failed one. The portable features with OneDrive aren’t the problem here. It is the app. I just didn’t like it.

For a long time, Word was the only game in town. Sure, there were alternatives, but I and many others were hard-pressed to even consider them. Or if we had tried the alternatives, we’d come back to Word. And why not? It is a fantastic program. And once I learned to manage it, how to operate the program properly, it made it my choice for a long time. Word is still great. It’s far better that Google Docs (even for the free version of Word) if you ignore the difference in how the iPhone apps operate. But I still wanted something better, after all, Word is a program for more than just writing. It’s for resumes, SOPs, newsletters, etc etc etc, and it is certainly useful for all those things and more. But it was more than I needed, yet not enough.

Scrivener

Enter Scrivener. Scrivener is a project-based writing program. That’s right: it’s all about the writing. As is posted on Literature & Latte, the designers of Scrivener: “We love writing. That’s why we’re here. Literature & Latte was born out of a desire for tools that embrace the creativity of all forms of composition.”

Now, what kind of writing is done matters little here. In all honesty, whether one wants to simply pound their fingers on a keyboard in one straight marathon to create a single sheet of writing (no matter the length), or if said writer wants a place to have all manners of their notes, research, outline, etc all along with the manuscript itself, this is the program. It can be a short story, a blog post, a journal, a news article, a epic fantasy novel, a screenplay, or a research paper, this program can and will handle it all.

Afraid for the longest time (the roughly 4 months I’ve had it) of how to operate the program, I didn’t dive too deep into the features at first. I dabbled in them, the character sketch for one, but I hadn’t truly immersed myself in what exactly this program was capable of. The one thing that struck me first though was the writing itself. It functioned flawlessly as a simple word processor. Although that wasn’t a bar that needed clearing… until I focused on the interface itself. Unlike the others, there’s an extra feature that blocks out everything else, meaning there is only the words on the page. The background (depending on the opacity you set) is either grayed out or fully blacked out. I typically use the full black-out. What do you know… a feature that has built-in distraction inhibiting. Move the mouse and it’ll pull up the word count of the section you are working on… wait, did I just mention section?

The second thing I saw was that the writing could be divided up into sections. Each section was cumulated in the manuscript, but behaved almost like a file in a directory. And like files, they could be sorted however way one pleases. In fact, while writing this little article, I divided the piece into 5 sections. One for the intro, one for the conclusion, and one each for the 3 programs. Within those, I was able to click and drag the sections into whatever order I wanted. I wrote each separately and independent of the others than organized them as I wanted. Think of that! No cut & paste! It’s a simple click-and-drag. And I’ve been experimenting more with that, writing scenes within chapters as separate sections, not numbering certain chapters I am unsure of where they fit, and even more. Think of the control that gives! Oh, there’s a scene that would fit better in a different chapter? If you have it divided already, simply move it to the new section. Done!

Then each section, folder, etc, has an area to write a synopsis. You know what that means? Built-in-outline. Because of how the sections can be made, it moves into a natural outlining feature that functions beautifully. Being the pantser I am, that has been a feature I am growing to love. See, I hate outlines, or rather, I hate making an outline first. Hell, I am not even good with outlining after. I am not good at the full planning that some other writers do. And even then, those freaks of planning capabilities can set up the outline and then write each section as they need to then! When each section is done, there’s another feature where you can label the section however you want, i.e. scene, chapter, etc, and identify the stage it is in, first draft, revised, etc.

Yet another great feature is the word count features. Scrivener tracks word count like no other program with an added ability to set word count goals for the project. This includes even daily goals! And it tracks them!

Best of all, where I am only now getting to explore, is the ability to put all the research, notes, and any other book matter into the program, like the Character sketches I mentioned above. Or settings. Or general research. There’s a ton of options that as I writer, however intimidated I have been by it, it makes me giddy.

Finally, what really put this one over the top for me and finally got me to be ready to say goodbye to the other 2, is the iPhone app. The writing interface on it outshines the other 2 without question. And by using Dropbox, I am starting to be able to utilize Scrivener in the same way Google Docs has been. Being that writing, reading, and editing on the phone has been so easy, I am looking forward to it. I mean, it was worth the added (in this case my sister-in-law’s) purchase.

***

As a writer and someone who has now tried many variants of the programs used, Scrivener is the one I cannot see living without now. It is worth the $49 it costs, and certainly that is a steal considering all the features that it gives. Sure, Word is great (free or paid versions) and Google Docs is free and versatile, but for the money, neither has the power as a writing tool. And for an additional $20 for the app, Scrivener takes it as the best tool available.

One of the many ideas that I have tried to instill on others and myself is to find a tool that works, a tool that gives the best help to do the job. In writing, I’ve struggled there. Even though Word was good, it wasn’t good enough. Then Google Docs came along. And even still, it was an issue trying to manage things across 2 programs and 2 file services. I wanted one tool to do the job. Fortunately it exists.

Getting back into the habit of writing should be much easier given the almost flawless ease of writing now that I’ve given up on trying to figure out how to make 2 or 3 programs work for me rather than focusing on one and one alone. There might be a learning curve, sure. That’s to be expected. Learning any new program takes time. Even after using it for over 20 years, I was still learning new features in Word. Granted, there wasn’t anything there that made me pause in this decision; I was using it more as an illustration as to the length of time it could take.

Now the only thing that I need to do is get all my writing for my current projects over to Scrivener. It’s going to take some time, but it will be absolutely worth it in the end.

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