I had a small crisis of decision over software last night.
If you know anything about me, I have two powerful weaknesses with computers: Software, and keyboards. Well, I’ve broken my keyboard addiction (whether because I finally got a good, mechanical keyboard or because I just flat bought every doggone keyboard under $120 you can get is open to debate), but software still sends me into a tizzy.
WriteMonkey, as I’ve noted in the past, is a brilliant, lightweight, fast, and functional full-screen, distraction-free writing program. It generates text files, plain ol’ .txt files, but also uses Markdown for its markup capability. So it can do things like headers, and allows you to produce an amazing outline sort of thing, similar to Word’s Navigation Pane, but better.
It’s better, in my estimation, because when you place the bookmark in WriteMonkey, the bookmark can either be labeled by typing text on the same line, or if you leave the line blank, it grabs the first several words from the next line you type. So I get a prompt to help me remember what the scene is about if I put one of those markers before every scene. And I do.
The problem with WriteMonkey, however, is it won’t spell check on the fly, and it can’t do some of the powerful editing tricks Word can. There’s a reason Word is the de facto standard for editing and document creation, and it’s not an accident. All the BS about feature bloat is just smoke and bluster, because in the end, the odds are strong you’re going to need a Word document for uploading your file to pretty much anywhere.
So Word provides the most universal, and easiest churn-engine, frankly, of any software. Simple interface. Easy to use. But doesn’t have the navigational ease of WriteMonkey, which is essential when writing into the dark. I have to be able to jump around, go back and forth, and there might be times when I have to cycle back through my words in bigger chunks than the last scene. To move around easily, the navigation of Word is a bit clumsy.
Word’s navigation pane is dependent on header styles. You can drill down as deep as you want to show as many levels of heading as you want. But you have to have a heading style to use. So I have two choices – I can either get the ease of navigation in WriteMonkey, or get the power and ease of Word. Pick one, not both.
Scrivener? Well, as much as I love Scrivener, and it does as good a job as I’ve ever seen with marrying the two powerhouses above (it has a full-screen editing mode you can use to write distraction free, and it has an outline feature that makes navigation a snap, and it has a corkboard with index cards you can use for summary views of your scenes/chapters/acts/whatever.
And Scrivener has the added benefit of allowing you to do the outline in reverse. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem?
Well, the issue is, Scrivener keeps everything in little discreet files you define. You can have each one be a chapter, scene, sequence, or act, but you’re doing it wrong if you have your entire manuscript in one long text unit in Scrivener. But navigating between those discreet units means leaving the distraction-free environment and locating the one you want, then going backward through the same process to resume writing.
How do you spell that process? In my language, it’s P-I-T-A.
So, for writing into the dark, there’s a few disadvantages to Scrivener. And yes, it can produce a Word document, but the last time I did that with Scrivener, the person opening the document couldn’t make any review comments on it. So, it’s either write in Scrivener, export to Word, open in Word, do a File > Save As to Word again, and then send it off, or just do it in Word.
And now we’re back to WriteMonkey’s issues. I can’t send out a text file for people to beta read. They simply can’t make comments or insert changes, and if they do, I can’t see them or track them. So Word’s Track Changes feature shines like the sun here.
So back to my two leading candidates, WriteMonkey and Word.
For a couple of these sessions, I copied from one program into the other. But I don’t want to keep that up. And in the end, Word’s ease of writing and editing may just win the day. After all, this is why I reverse outline in the first place – so I can easily find what I’ve written and navigate backward through the manuscript without having to think much about it.
So, I wrote in WriteMonkey last night, because it’s easier on my eyes, and it’s fast and small. But when I think about it, I get a little uneasy about letting the Word document fall off. I’m going to have to send it to people when I finish it, and it can’t go in a text file. Can’t.
Well, there’s a feature in Word that lets me change the page color to a dark background, and I can hide the Ribbon if I want to get more out of my way. But I don’t get to control the text column width or height, I don’t get the distraction-free environment no matter how much I fool around with the UI, and I can’t have that nifty navigation set up unless I’m willing to do something weird with heading styles and copy and paste. UGH.
How to choose? My wife elegantly asked, “Which is more important to your writing, the navigation or the editing power?” And of course I had no answer, which is why I asked for her input in the first place. In the end, I settled on WriteMonkey, but as I recall, getting that document ready for Word so I could send it to beta readers was a hassle and time-consuming.
I’m going to really have to think about this. My eyes are generally weak and I really need the more gentle WriteMonkey appearance to keep them going when writing, especially after a long day of work where I stare at computers all day long, or during a long writing session (or series of sessions).
But Word’s ability to catch and fix common spelling errors, the power of its formatting capability, the ease of document creation, and the universally accepted format can’t be ignored.
Scrivener? Well, doggone it. I love Scrivener, but at this point, I don’t know if it’s of much use to me. I don’t use a third of the features. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and there’s no formal instruction I can find to really sink your teeth into it. Until the Word document it can generate is a real, live Word document, I can’t see going back to Scrivener for a while. At least until I next need to outline a book. Cycling is easier to do in Word or WriteMonkey, too. So there’s that.
Well, unfortunately I’m no closer to a decision after this than I was before I wrote it. If you’ve got some insights, let me know.
See ya next time.