Sunday, 5 February 2012

How I write

I don't know whether to regard this as conclusive proof of my insanity or just a random comment in a sea of random comments, but for all of February I've been suffering from an epic crisis of confidence. This was to the point of sitting at the computer for hours on end and barely writing a word, having nightmares about writing when I go to bed and engaging in dangerous levels of procrastination rather than actually opening a story file. My muse had a couple of goes at kicking me into shape, but nothing worked until today.

Today was the day I sat down with a blank libreoffice document and a cranky muse and said 'okay, I'm ready to solve it. 2k later, I think I actually understand a few things about how I write and what I want from writing software.

My software of choice needs to do two things:
  1. act like a typewriter only with backspacing and insertion
  2. act like a stack of printed pages without actually having to do any printing

FocusWriter, which I used all through last year, is fine for the first thing, but fails miserably at the second. I didn't know that until December last year when I was writing a sequel, though. I was perfectly happy except for the minor irritation of not being able to easily flick back to an earlier scene to see what had happened. That was a really minor thing, though, because scrolling isn't that hard.

Then I started on the second book of my Seeker trilogy and suddenly the bits I wanted to refer back to were in a whole different document. Nifty writing software should be able to solve all these issues of working between two different but related stories, right? Absolutely. It just also creates about a thousand new little problems.

I persisted, though. Scrivener and I took about a week to settle into mutual hatred. The bright white interface of yWriter and Siana Blackwood's Year of the Migraine just weren't compatible. Liquid Story Binder came close, but according to my 2k of self-analysis today the way it breaks everything up was just too distracting. Give me a program that lets me have outlines and chapters and I start feeling like I need those things. I start to think my own techniques must be somehow inadequate, since they don't make use of the tools available in these pieces of software. Also, neither Scrivener or LSB have a quick and easy way to break a previously written document into sections. That means in spite of all the bells and whistles, they don't really give me requirement 2 on that nice short list earlier in the post.

So I've ditched all the fancy tools in favour of this:

For requirement 1, FocusWriter will once again be my typewriter. Requirement 2 - that easily-flicked-through stack of virtual manuscript pages - is going to be filled by yWriter for now. All I have to do is remember to write 'CHAPTER ONE' at the top of my draft (written in FocusWriter) and use either '* * *' or '#' as a scene divider and I can just get on with making up the story.

To the software I've rejected: It's not you, it's me. Really. You're wonderful and I'm sure you'll make plenty of other writers happy.

Or, to put that a less freaky way...

When I said I had two requirements for my writing software, I more or less meant I didn't want the software to do anything else other than those things. Apart from the obvious autosave and ability to accept keystrokes, I also like the fact that in FocusWriter I can make the screen be nice colours that suit my eyes. Plus, I can have a background image that suits what I'm writing. Not a necessary feature, but one I like.

I honestly don't care what else yWriter can do other than splitting a long file into scenes and letting me go through them. I've tried using it for writing and editing and it just wasn't for me. I don't like having a separate file for each scene when I'm writing. I have no idea why - refer to my remark at the top of the post about conclusive proof of my insanity.

So, that's my software. FocusWriter for writing and yWriter for reference checks. Okay, and LibreOffice Writer and Calc for making notes and tracking my wordcount. That's it, and I figure it's all I need.

Crisis of confidence over, I'm off to get back to writing.

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