Friday, June 25, 2010

Writer Tools

I am something of a technology junkie. I not sure why exactly. All I can say is that at the subconscious level, I'm equating using a computer with playing a video game. In fact that's probably why I  use the machine so much; it's nothing more to me than a giant video game. The fact that I can do real work with it is secondary.

That, however, has not stopped me from looking for new tools because I firmly believe in using the right tool for the right job. I would never try to mow my lawn with a pair of scissors and I don't think anyone should try to write a novel with Notepad (or TextEdit for you Macintosh users). And I tried a variety of applications to see what makes the most sense for me.

To that end, I wrote a draft of my first novel in FrameMaker many years ago. Who those familiar with the application, FrameMaker was the tool of choice among technical communication specialists for creating computer manuals, once upon a time. I chose it because it was the first application with the concept of a book. Chapters were part of the book and page numbers and styles were maintained using the book file. I like this approach; it was a natural one for me.

However, FrameMaker is hard to learn, not that this stopped me. Another problem with the application is no one in the publishing industry uses it, a fact I failed to consider initially.

So when I wrote my second draft I choose Word mainly because everyone uses Word or RTF files or text files and Word can handle these formats. I've learned Word inside and outside; I've fought with its quirks and shortcomings and lamented when versions of RTF became incompatible.

And yet I still looked for better tools. I purchased a copy of Indesign because I thought I should have a page layout program. I like to use InDesign for laying out text but the problem here is that no one in the publishing industry deals with InDesign files so using it complicates the workflow process.

These days there are other tools especially for writers too. The one a friend recommended is called Scrivener. I use it for novels because I can all the information for the book in one place. The plot notes, character descriptions, and anything else I need. Plus it exports to Kindle and ePub so I can go directly to the output formats I need.

I still use Word, mostly for short stories. One of its best features is text-to-speech which allows you to playback the text you've written. I use this when I'm tired and my eyes aren't catching my typos. My ear always does. More importantly, I end up writing for my ear as well as my eye, a trick I learned in college during my poetry and playwriting days.

If you want to use Word too and find it hard to grasp, I suggest taking a course at a community college or even the local library to help you learn how to use this application.

To learn Scrivener, use their tutorials and online help.

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