Fancy yourself a writer?
Don’t know where to start?
I get a lot of questions about how to write in this computer day-and-age, so I’m going to list some of the tools available to us. (Unless, of course, you prefer typewriter or pen-and-paper.)
This is the most basic kind of tool you need. The most common editors I’ve seen are:
- Microsoft Word, part of Microsoft Office (buy it here). A classic for Windows, Microsoft Word is a powerful document editor that’s well suited for writing books and other things. It does come with a hefty price tag though. There is an online version here as well, which might be better, but I haven’t used it.
- OpenOffice.org or one of its many flavours is a great free alternative office suite to Microsoft Office. You can get the original here or you can get LibreOffice (the flavour I prefer) here.
- Google Docs (click here) is a great online office suite, available for free with a Google account. If you have gmail, you already have an account. One of the major benefits of this suite is that your work is saved in the cloud, and is therefore available on any computer you access it from.
- Notepad. That’s right, plain old notepad. At the end of the day, we’re here to write, and to write, all you need is a simple white box that accepts the letters you type. You don’t actually need a fancy text editor until you’re ready to lay out a draft for publishing, so for a lot of the work a plain text editor like Notepad (or Textpad, or Scite, or Writeroom, or whatever) will do. You might want something that supports rich text editing though, on the off chance you need italics or non-standard Latin characters, like accented vowels.
Software geared to writers
Some software was created with writers in mind. Where most office suites are general purpose software that can do many things, these programs are instead focused on a writer’s needs.
Scrivener is a fantastic writer-focused program. It includes a rich text editor, but on top of that it has a butt load of organizational tools. It lets you storyboard, it has support for a “cork board” and “index cards” that help in outlining, and it let’s you break a story down however you want. Into chapters, into scenes, into whatever. It has integrated exporters which can then produce good looking documents (in Word, OpenOffice, PDF, and other formats) when you’re ready to publish.
It’s not free, but it doesn’t cost all that much, and runs on all Macs and PCs. Last time I checked it also comes with a fully featured thirty day trial, so there’s no reason not to at least give it a go.
I also like it because it’s fairly lightweight for all the features it gives you. It runs fine on my heavily outdated netbook where other office suites might lag.
Do not overlook the importance of backing up your work. I can’t stress that enough. In case the reason why isn’t obvious, just consider this scenario: you just finished your first draft of your amazing 100k word novel, a novel that is both insightful and a joy to read. Then, your computer dies. Maybe your house was hit by lightning, maybe the cat walked over the keyboard, or maybe you just spilled your beer. It happens. And now, your novel is dead too.
Unless you backed it up.
There’s several options:
- DropBox is the one I personally use. This thing is awesome! You install it on any computer (or all of them, if you have more than one) and it comes with a folder that connects to the cloud. Anything you put in that folder is automatically saved and is available to all your computers. It’s an easy way to share your work with yourself. You can also download your files from their website, and it saves several versions of them in case you accidentally saved over something you didn’t mean to (although I admit I haven’t used this feature, so I don’t know how good it is). You can sign up for free here. If you need more space (you get 2 GB for free) you can pay for a premium plan.
- Google Drive (here) is the Google alternative to Dropbox, and it’s basically integrated with Google Docs. If you write your works in Google Docs, you’re already backing them up to Google Drive.
- Microsoft offers its own online backup system called OneDrive (here). I haven’t used it myself, but it looks like it integrates with Windows well, so if you run a Windows box you might consider looking into it.
- There are many other alternatives to Dropbox. I haven’t tried them all, but maybe you’ll prefer one. SugarSync, Box, and others. Just Google “Dropbox alternatives” if you really want to explore them.
- Email. The oldest way of backing up files that even your grandmother can do. Simply email your drafts to yourself with a service like gmail, hotmail, or yahoo! mail, and they’ll be stored in your inbox for “ever”. If you don’t do anything else, please at least do this.
That’s my list for now. If you have any suggestions or programs you use, drop a comment.