When I first started writing creatively, I used pencils and yellow legal pads I “borrowed” from my dad’s briefcase. At some point, I graduated to using an old Smith-Corona typewriter that my dad had used when he was in the Navy. It was a beast of a machine. I think it was made from leftover battleship steel – the thing must have weighed twenty pounds. It was a manual, of course, and the keys were stacked like stairs. Oh, and the “e” key stuck every time I pressed it. Fun times.
But that’s how it was done thirty-plus years ago. Nowadays we have hundreds of word processing programs available to us, all with their own take on functionality and what the developers think writers need. There are free ones, cheap ones, and ridiculously expensive ones. So with all the possibilities, how do you decide on what to use?
Over the past decade I’ve tried a bunch of different word processing programs, most of which I’ve discarded or given away. What I’ve ended up with, at least for now, are three programs that I use depending on where I am with a project or what type of project I’m working. I know, it’s a bit OCD, but it works for me.
For first drafts of stories I go with FocusWriter. This is open source software and runs on Linux, Windows, and MacOS. In fact, if you’re feeling empowered, you can even download the source code and make your own tweaks to the program. I like FocusWriter because it offers a distraction-free interface. The toolbar and footer can be hidden, leaving you with just a blank page. I like that. Additionally, you can customize the writing environment with a few built-in themes. I usually use the black background with green text. It reminds me of a DOS screen and sets the mood for me when writing sci-fi or speculative fiction. It’s clean, it’s easy to use, and best of all…it’s free!
When I’m sitting down to write a podcast or video script, I generally use Pages, the Mac version of Word. It’s less complicated than Word…meaning, I don’t have as much trouble with formatting in Pages. In my experience, Word tends to think you want to do one thing when in fact you want to do something else…and I end up having to fight with it to get the formatting to look the way I want. With Pages, there’s less of a struggle. But honestly, the main reason I use Pages is because it’s free and I write on a MacBook Air. Why go out and buy Microsoft Office when I can simply use a similar program I don’t have to pay for? For what it’s worth, I’ve used Google Docs, but found it extremely limited.
My go-to program for the heavy lifting – working on my novel and compiling short stories – is Scrivener. This is a paid program, but it’s definitely worth it. Scrivener is the workhorse of word processing programs. It’s incredibly robust, which is great for working on large writing projects, but that also means there’s a learning curve. I’ve been using it for several years now and I think I’m still learning to take advantage of all the bells and whistles. Scrivener gives you the opportunity to outline with a cool index card feature. I used it to make notes for my chapters, then I could rearrange them as need be. There’s also the ability to create and store character sheets, research, images, and also compile and export for various formats.
And for the record, I’m not endorsing any of these programs. I often see writers posting online asking about what programs are best, so I thought I’d share some of the ones that I use. I’m sure it’s not exactly efficient for me to use three different programs. What can I say…it works for me and helps me to write. Of course, there are writers who still use pen and paper. I do, as well, but that’s just for journaling or scribbling notes when I don’t have access to my phone or laptop.
I’d like to think the use of word processors is sort of like a writing style. We find what works best for us and we stick with it, but before that we have to try a few different ones to see what’s comfortable, efficient, and best suits our needs.
If you have a program or programs that you use that are different from what’s mentioned above, feel free to share. Maybe I’ll find something new to spark my creativity.