Blogging’s been a bit light-on lately, I realise. Various personal affairs have demanded my attention, particularly with some travel coming up, including a visit to Anticipation, the 2009 WorldCon. If I have the time and stuff to report I’ll see if I can blog from the road, but for now by way of content I’ll reply to a question from Danny, who asked in the comments on the After Desh’ea post about writing software.
I’m aware that there are programs out there designed for writers with all sorts of flashy functions built in. They apparently promise to track characters, plot and display story arcs and subplots and I don’t know what else. Speaking for myself, that sort of thing has never really grabbed me – I tend to do most of my planning either in my head or in longhand, and when I’ve tried to use these sorts of tools I’ve always been conscious of them imposing someone else’s idea about story construction onto me.
The software I do use is pretty simple word-processing and organising gear, and free. Right now I’m typing this post on RoughDraft, a plain and simple word processor with a couple of useful things like an instant-backup function and a one-touch word count button. What I mainly like about it, though, is its very lack of flashy bells and whistles – it’s a small program, works in simple RTFs, gets my words onto the screen and onto printout and doesn’t trowel on fancy features I don’t use.
The other one I use is KeyNote. This is a bit fancier: it presents your work in Notes, which have trees inside them made of nodes, each of which is a document by itself but which can also have its own nodes hanging off it, which can have nodes hanging off them and so on. I like it for working on big things like novel manuscripts, because you can move text between nodes really easily, move nodes around in the tree, make new nodes and copy the old ones. A node can hold as much or as little text as it needs to: when I was writing Junktion I had each chapter in a node of its own, and hanging off that were nodes with my chapter notes and another for offcuts. If you wanted to you could make each scene in a chapter a different node and then shuffle them whenever you wanted to move a scene around. Then in different branches of the tree I had character bios, random notes on the plot, copies of correspondence with the editor, offcuts and false starts that still had useful text or ideas in them, and so on.
The cool part about it is that the nodes are so easily manipulable. I’ve mentioned how quick they are to move around, but also when it came time to do the second draft of the book all I did was copy the branch of the tree with all my first-draft chapters in it and reproduce it, and there was all the material ready for rewriting; my first-draft text was a single mouseclick on the tree away if I wanted to refer back to it. It’s also very quick and stable – I never had issues with it slowing down or getting flaky the way I’ve seen big files in other applications do, and this as I’ve said was with two complete novel drafts and sundry extras in it. The only downside with KeyNote is that it stores the files in its own format: to get something you can print or email you have to export your nodes to RTF files, which process is not as tidy as it could be. (It may be now, I think there have been some updates since I got my version.)
If you do want to try the more elaborate sorts of writing software, you might like to start with YWriter, by Australian programmer and novelist Simon Haynes. I admit I haven’t used my copy much, since I find that it wants me to be more mechanistic about my writing than I’m really happy with, but I’m fond of saying that there’s no right way to write, there’s only what’s right for each writer, so if it fits your working style then run with it and happy writing!
Being as how I’m due at the airport in six hours, that will have to be enough for now.