As writers, NaNoWriMo will soon be upon us, and inevitably software companies offer free trials and reduced software prices to us in the hope we will switch to using their software as our primary writing platform, and tell our friends about it as well.
These types of software help you organize your ideas, character sketches, plot outlines, and sometimes offer distraction free writing interfaces designed to keep you focused on creating. So how are these different from Word Processors like Word, Pages, or the OpenOffice equivalent?
This software are not a replacement for your Word Processor. Why? Well, if you have been following this series, you already know that programs lie Word, Pages, and OpenOffice offer powerful features that are unmatched in other programs. The majority of writer organization tools are just that: they help the writer stay organized. When it comes time to format for submission or publishing, you still need features offered by a Word processor, and you will need some of those advanced features to work with your editor and publisher. So why bother with these?
Research. Organization programs keep your research at your fingertips, so there is no need to keep several documents or especially those always distracting browser windows open. This also allows you to go “paperless” with your research and scene notes. Often these are contained on “digital” notecards easily accessed from a single program. No need for corkboard everywhere, or an overly cluttered desk.
Organization. These “cards” can be sorted by subject, title, and type, thus keeping them easy to find in the digital “piles” where you put them. Instead of minutes spent shuffling through them, often they can be accessed in seconds, giving you the potential to be more productive. Entire documents and otherwise organized scenes remain at your fingertips. No more searching your hard drive (or worse, your file cabinet) for them.
Continuity. You named that minor character Cindy in Chapter One, but now in Chapter Thirteen, she feels like a Mandy. She had blue eyes, but now they are brown. And what color was her hair anyway? Her eyes? You could flip back to Chapter One in your single word processing file, or if you have saved each chapter as a single file, you could open that file and look there. Or you may have created “Character Sketch” files. You could open that and look. Or even more old school, you created note cards. Where did you put them? Or you could click on the character sketch in your organization software, and look there. Seconds later, you have your answer, and you can keep writing without interrupting the flow, or with nagging questions in your mind distracting you from moving the plot forward.
Write out of order. Got a great idea for a scene? Suddenly know the ending? No need to open another document. Simply write it in a new scene in your organization software and save it for when you need it. No need to name the file cleverly, or even remember what you named it and where you stashed it. When you are done, go right back to where you were writing before your muse ran down a rabbit trail.
Sounds good right? It does. There are many programs out there, and many software designers willing to take your money. But some of them are better than others, and some will work well for you and not for others either. I have my favorite, and we’ll look at that one and the many others along the way.
We’ll evaluate them much the same as we have software already: affordability, learnability, but above all functionality: specifically what does it do for you, and does it do it in a way that helps rather than hinders your process.