15 July 2009

Five fantastic computer programs for writers

As you know, I also edit the relatively new and doing-very-well-thank-you, Websites for writers [Note: Site no longer active]. It’s what I’ve been calling an independent directory of online writing resources and it’s jam-packed with useful, well, websites for writers.

Probably my favouritest thing about it is the fact that almost all content so far has been user-generated. Writers have arrived at the site and took it upon themselves to recommend sites to other writers through the built-in submission form. And I love that.

What I didn’t really think about though, when I set the site up, was how great it would be for me to learn about all these new writing resources. As editor-in-chief (as I like to refer to myself), I get to see everything that goes on the site, and it’s been marvellous!

Hey, Mr Soft-ware

Over the last two months, Websites for writers has seen a number of submissions that have fallen under the ‘Tools’ category. For me, the most interesting of these are the various computer programs designed to make writers’ lives easier, from bespoke word processors to storyboarding software for scriptwriters.

It seems to me that this type of software is a fairly untapped source for writers. Like me, your techno-pencil case probably consists primarily of Microsoft Word, or if you’re down with the open-source crew, something like OpenOffice.

But maybe we’re missing a trick. Is there a program out there that’s ready and waiting to change the way you write forever? It’s possible, and some of the alternatives are certainly worth experimenting with.

Five of the best

The following list of programs is taken from submissions to Websites for writers. For the record, I’ve previously used just two of them, Final Draft and Storymill, and some of them are free, others you need to buy. The detail here is taken from promotional material and provided for your reference (ie not as direct recommendations!).

Final Draft

Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics, and stageplays. It combines powerful word processing with professional script formatting in one self-contained, easy-to-use package. There is no need to learn about script formatting rules – Final Draft automatically paginates and formats your script to industry standards as you write.

StoryMill – Mac OS X only

The latest release in Mariner Software’s long line of writing and creativity software. StoryMill introduces aspiring authors to multi-level writing methods of tracking characters, scenes, and locations, while professional writers will appreciate StoryMill’s time-saving ability to oversee and manage the full creative process with Smart Views.

For fiction writers, StoryMill provides features like word frequency counting, a cliche meter, and a progress meter to help you meet your daily writing goal.

Celtx

Celtx is the world’s first all-in-one media pre-production software. It has everything you need to take your story from concept to production. Celtx replaces ‘paper, pen & binder’ pre-production with a digital approach that’s more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share.

Celtx helps you pre-produce all types of media – film, video, documentary, theater, machinima, comics, advertising, video games, music video, radio, podcasts, videocasts, and however else you choose to tell your story.

Scrivener – Mac and Windows

Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.

yWriter – Windows only

[yWriter is] a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

Update 28 August 2009: I’ve just discovered this page which provides comprehensive information and makes my post almost entirely obsolete – you should check it out!

  • Dan Ramsden

    I use Scrivener regularly. It’s really good if you have lots of little chunks of writing and ideas that you have difficulty organising and keeping track of.

    It lets you store ideas on virtual index cards and then move them around noticeboards – I use it to arrange and plan chapters and see which ideas connect and flow together.

  • http://sherriesisk.com Sherrie Sisk

    Couple of things:

    1. Scrivener — which is awesome — is Mac only.

    2. Final Draft is just for screenwriters (TV or movies)

    Great list – thanks!

  • http://kjmackey.typepad.com KjM

    Scrivener – for writing of lengthy proportions. I use Pages on the Mac for writing of shorter proportions (flash, up to about 3K words or so).

    I am very pleased with both tools. Scrivener allows me to create scenes and chapters, and then rearrange them with ridiculous ease.

    I have Word on my Mac because Scrivener generates to it and because of all the “we accept attachments in Doc format…” text you see out there.

    I also own Movie Magic Screenwriter (http://www.screenplay.com/p-29-movie-magic-screenwriter-6.aspx) (PC version initially, now Mac). I haven’t used Final Draft, so I don’t know how compare, one to the other – but I know they compete. I don’t write screenplays, but was (and remain) interested in the format.

  • teef

    should be mentioned, Scrivener is Mac-only, “not compatible with Windows”. :(

  • http://writeforyourlife.net Iain Broome

    Thanks for the heads up teef, I somehow hadn’t noticed that one. I’ve amended the post accordingly.

  • http://writeforyourlife.net Iain Broome

    Thanks also Sherrie! Your comment slipped into the spam folder for some reason, but it’s been spotted and recovered as you can see!

  • bobby wilson

    Montage, also from Mariner, is far superior than Final Draft. As a long time FD screenwriter I made the switch about a year ago and have never looked back. It is Mac only and thus looks, feels, and operates like a Mac software, not a PC port.

    BW

  • http://www.tumblemoose.com Tumblemoose

    Iain,

    Perfect timing with this. I’ve been struggling with my fiction writing and part of the problem is a lack of story organization. I’ll check these out for sure and let you know how it ends up working.

    Cheers

    George

  • lara

    A friend created My Story Writer http://mywritingsoftware.com and asked me to try it out. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks – my free trial just ended so I committed to the purchase. If you’re interested, check it out. I’d love to know what other writers think – and will pass the feedback along to the creators.

  • http://writeforyourlife.net Iain Broome

    Thank you all for your comments. It seems some of you are already experimenting with alternatives to the better-known word processors and the like. It also seems like there are plenty more programs out there, so look out for a potential part two to this post in the future.

  • http://milliverstravels.com milliverstravels

    Hi Iain,

    You might know about this one already: Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software.

    It was 99 bucks when I got it, but it’s down to $49.99 so a bit more doable now.

    I’ve been using it for almost two years and I couldn’t live without it. I have found it to be well worth the money.

    You can see a video demo here:

    http://www.nuance.com/talk

    Cheers ~ Milli

    • Adam

      Hi,
      I use Dragon but find it to be a real pain because it frequently writes what I did not say and I spend a great deal of time correcting it. I have a Quad Phenom processor, 8 gigs of RAM and Dragon still runs slowl I am now having to replace my profile because it corrupted. I like Dragon because I can make it read back to me, and in theory, I would love it if it really were as fast as I can type. I just spend too much time with corrections.

  • http://heartofbalance.blogspot.com/ Tony Dougan

    Scrivener-yes very good but a bit like learning a musical instrument and, as noted mac only. On a PC I use Pagefour which is very similar to Srivener and is recommended. I know most people don’t rate it but I like the mac word processor prog-Pages.
    I’d also highly recommend Mindmanager mindmapping software which is great to write poems or reviews with. Also Novamind is great for mindmapping and screenwriting.
    Just a few ideas-I hope they help.

  • Grace

    Hi,
    One piece of software that i have absoloutely fallen in love with is “Life Journal for writers”.
    The website gives a free trial of Life journal and the different versions of Life journal such as, for writers, for christians, for staying sober etc, and you can buy the full version for around £25 uk pounds.
    The software is excellent! It indexes your work for you, you can assign categories to each entry and to parts of an entry, it has prompts and quotes for when your feeling uninspired and has personal productivity graphs.
    I completely reccomend this software to any writer, in any style of writing…. especially if organisation is something that you have trouble with.

  • http://www.alexisgrant.wordpress.com Alexis Grant

    What a great list… Oh, I need to try some of these out. Thanks!

  • Joan K

    I use “The Journal” whose developer is David Martin and has just rolled out version 5. Very reasonably priced, tremendous support, active community, plus David is responsive to users and their requests for added features.
    The other is Writer’s Blocks v. 3. It is visual, and functions a lot like digital index cards with a manuscript view. I have mind mappers but I need a more organized view. I’ve been waiting a few years for a version “4″ and have been told it is being developed.

  • http://www.inflatableink.com Matt

    If like me you’re a proud Linux user and are feeling a tad left out, you might want to check out the Writers’ Cafe application (http://www.writerscafe.co.uk/).

    It’s perhaps not the most slick looking package, but it provides a host of features for juggling scenes, managing resources, and templating manuscripts. It runs on Linux, Windows and MacOS, and it’s optimised to work with USB drives, and run well on netbooks.

    Personally, I’ve fallen back on using OpenOffice and my own directory structure, but I was impressed by the featureset here. Worth a look.

  • http://www.releaseyourwriting.com Helen Gallagher

    Not exclusively for fiction writers, Microsoft has a cool product called OneNote. (and, as a tech consultant, I don’t often say anything good about Microsoft products).

    OneNote is a free form structure with a ‘notebook’ for every major topic you wish to organize, such as personal writing, travel journals, your memoir, and article ideas. As your ideas grow, you can add sub-folders and create hyperlinks from one notebook to another, so you never have to go hunting through files and folders.

    Even the most disorganized writer can catalog all their work: ideas, drafts, character sketches, pitches, clips, research, guidelines, web pages, audio files, video clips.

    You may already have OneNote on your computer. It is a standard component of included in the Home and Student version of MS Office 2003 and 2007.

    Works on PC and Mac with Virtual PC.
    Helen Gallagher
    http://www.releaseyourwriting.com

  • http://awildernessofthought.blogspot.com/ L. L. Daugherty

    I know this is a bit late but thought I’d toss in my two cents.

    I was using Open Office until I had to format a manuscript for hard copy submission and spent a couple hours fighting with the header and footer formatting. I’ve also heard from others that when OOo docs are converted to RTF and then read in Word the formatting will not remain consistent (not a surprise for Micro$oft). I didn’t have a problem personally but these folks were getting rejections due to the problematic formatting issues. I gave in and went back to Word.

    For first drafts I use Write It Now, available for both PC and Mac. According to a friend who uses Scrivener they do similar things. Write It Now allows the user to create chapters, scenes in chapters, and rearrange scenes and chapters on screen easily. It will track characters, time lines, relationships etc. It also has a submission tracker. I’ve found it quite useful and worth the $59.95 price.

    http://www.ravensheadservices.com/

  • http://thesophie.tumblr.com thesophie

    Just downloaded Celtx, looks great!
    I’ll come back and let you know if/when I get bored/annoyed with it.

    I used to use final draft, but lost my copy in the death of a computer.

    Let’s see.

    • http://www.iainbroome.com Iain Broome

      @Sophie Please do, I’d be interested to know what you think…

  • PaulaSHx

    Fantastic advice. Many thanks.
    PaulaSHx

  • http://8-bitreality.com 8bitreality

    You know…that’s really respectable that you pointed out another website as having better content, instead of just copying their work and changing it enough to avoid a copyright suit.

    Big ups, to that, man!

    • http://writeforyourlife.net Iain Broome

      Well, when it’s glaringly obvious and very much true, that’s exactly what you should do, I reckon! Plus, that’s kind of the way the internet should work …

      • http://naijarookie.wordpress.com Tolu

        It is also kinda impressive that you’re still replying to comments two years later.
        Props.

        • http://writeforyourlife.net Iain Broome

          What can I say!

  • lizzy

    Finally, information that I need – re Scrivener, Pages, etc.
    buying new mac and was agonizing over which program best for
    writer. Thanks!

    • http://writeforyourlife.net Iain Broome

      No worries. Glad it was useful.

  • Anon

    As an update please note that Scrivener is currently in beta for windows and available free while it is still under development, but only usable until Nov 7, 2011. An official version of Scrivener for windows is set to be available for purchase around the end of Oct 2011. The Windows version will be behind the mac version though as far as features go. So far the windows version seems fantastic even without the scrivener 2.0 features.

  • Hendrixspirit

    I’m using scrivener at the moment, and probably i’m going to buy it (im on day 20 of the 30 days demo, and writing my first full lenght novel!)

    What i’m glad is scrivener now they have a beta version for windows (that’s because I use mac and windows all the time (macbook for writing+common things as watching movies, and a PC desktop that is my DAW for music production)

    I came into this page by looking something better/free/and compatible on both programs, seems Scrivener is the best :)

  • Sonja Crocker

    Write or Die is a great program. It is a program that forces you to write just to write. It helps relieve writer’s block. It is available as an app for the iPhone, iPad, or PC/Mac/Linux. It is also available as a web app. It has Kamikaze Mode where your writing will unwrite itself if you stop writing for more than a few seconds. It is available at http://www.writeordie.com. The web app is free. The computer app is $10.

  • http://2-b-read.blogspot.com Kait

    Scrivener is now compatable with windows

  • Angel

    I originally started writing in OpenOffice. After several thousand words i realized that after re-reading what i had wrote I was either repeating myself or going in a complete circle with scenes. To alleviate this problem I have tried a program called Storybook which is very similar to yWriter in it’s functionality. However, I found that, for myself personally, yWriter is a better program for organizing my work. Storybook has a window to the left of the screen that can get very frustrating at times because it takes up a good chunk of space. A few things that Storybook has going for it is that it has a feature where, if you have a “Spur-of-the-moment” idea, it has a “Flash of Inspiration” button which allows you to record the random idea in automatically saving it. Storybook also has a “book view” which shows you every chapter and scene you created. Storybook is also a free-to-use program just like yWriter. yWriter is a little more in-depth when it comes to creating scenes and characters, etc. yWriter feels more user friendly to me so thus far I have enjoyed working with the program.

    I am going to try Celtx and see how it compares to other writing software I have used. Perhaps I’ll use it collaboratively with the yWriter