This is intended to be a comparative review for writers' software which looks at all the processes that may be involved in writing. Preferably a collaborative review incorporating suggestions, different perspectives and approaches. And other software;
So I regard this as an initial draft, which I will adapt and extend. I have designed a simple table which gives an overview of each piece of software; my original intention of going into much greater depth would have overwhelmed this thread, so I will do a mini-review for each program that seems interesting enough in this context. Having put in two tables, I think that just the tables overwhelm this post. I think that I will end up putting them all in their own 'mini-reviews' and just have a few overall conclusions & tables here, with links to those reviews.
The form of most programs for writing seems to be based on the same structure as Outliners & Notetakers
many of which transmogrified into PIMs before their near extinction.
Despite the existence of these programs, most, it seems, still use Word - maybe because using what you are used to avoids a learning curve. It's not unreasonable for writing words down, functions well for editing, and can publish in a number of formats. But it covers no earlier stage of the writing process. And a review of writers' tools needs to cover the whole process of writing from the original idea in the writer's mind to the publication in the hands of the reader.Stages
There are a number of stages shared by most types of writer.
- Research and Collection - A collection of external references, files, documents to be used when writing
- Own material - Potentially a range of things including ideas, observations, conversations overheard, nice phrases or wordings, incomplete compositions
- Brainstorming and development of ideas - mostly a process of possibilities that firm up into a plan; different to own material because it is focussed on the project
- Organisation - a detailed working up of the plan
- Writing - the central and key stage. If this fails, all fails.
- Revising and Editing - an iterative process that is likely to involve other people at some stages
- Publication - formatting into a final stage. Most likely a docx for a traditional publisher, a pdf for an academic work or a whole succession of different format for the independent.
For maximum use a review also needs to address the needs of all types of writers, not just Authors who might appear on a Literature syllabus (or the more modest writers resident in Grub Street). In fact, many people have to write as part of their work - students and academics, technical writers, bloggers, journalists and columnists, copywriters, novelists, playwrights, poets, lawyers, doctors, business people, politicians and speechwriters. So, in an effort to make the review fit for all needs, I will look at the software from the perspective of a reasonably comprehensive cross-section of the writing community (but not including mathematicians, programmers etc who use specialised editors).
Personal Styles and Work Practices
- A PhD student. I hope that this will cover the needs of students at all levels.
- A senior professor with an active research programme. Their needs are very different to those of a student because most papers are written in collaboraton with others and they may be working in a number of different fields and over a very long time. Also writes book chapters.
- A journalist with weekly columns and a blog.
- A news reporter.
- A writer of large scale, multi volume, huge world fantasy fiction. Publishes independently.
- A writer of literary fiction - books, plays and screenplays. With traditional publisher.
- A writer of travel books. Traditional publisher. Also does pieces for media whenever asked.
- A professional who writes reports/business cases for use within and without their organisation with frequent presentations. Similar for business people, lawyers, doctors etc.
Different writers also have different styles and work practices. Many successful are strongly attached both
to the details of their practice and the tools they use; they will have found that this helps then to 'get in the zone'. Just like sports people. The major difference is between planners and pantsers (who split into those who set off running until they reach an end, and those who set off running and then rest and look around before they continue), but there is also a difference between those who really prefer physical pen and paper and those who prefer digital, and the technologically adept versus those who like it kept simple. And then, those who write anywhere and everywhere and those only write in one place (and some writers work on one project at a time while others work on many).Writers' Problems
Then there are the various blocks or problems that many, but not all, writers face. Primary amongst these appears to be Not Being Able to Start Writing or Procrastination. The whole edifice of NaNoWriMo appears to have been built on this problem. Software has a variety of ways of trying to help writers tackle this ranging from a distraction free screen, to targets and reminders, and exhortationsInitial Observations
Many old programs that have been without updates for the best part of a decade still work as designed. I feel that this is some sort of tribute to both Microsoft and their original programming.
I like tabs. I thought browsers had demonstrated how most people like tabs. I think they are the easiest way to navigate open documents. I regard OneNote as the best example (Notebook tabs on the left, Section tabs above and a hierarchy of Page tabs on the right), but have been surprised at how many programs stick to folder/document hierarchies and don't use tabs at all.
I shall consider the software (Windows only) in three categories:-Specialist software for writersv3 beta of Scrivener (time limited) is freely downloadable from here
Atomic Scribbler (with SmartEdit add-on)
Click for Note
This is much changed from v1 and it does not feel appropriate to construct a formal review table when features are still being activated etc.
Usually I would feel happy to comment on the basis of a 4th beta, BUT. Scrivener always had a learning curve, but my impression is that it has become much bigger in v3 and the whole thing now feels rather unwieldy. I really like L&L and found v1 OK and have been using each beta as it came out, but, at this point, I'm not sure how usable I will find v3, though I expect it to be much smoother. I will be leaving it now until the final version is out and then trying again. I assume it all works more elegantly on the Mac, but currently does not feel anything like as intuitive as some equally complex Windows only programs. IMHO.
Click for Table
|Summary||Traditional three pane outliner (tree on left, document in centre, and other things in right panerl - notes etc). Document pane has tabs for recently opened documents and the main ribbon has buttons for Document, Fragments and Research. Documents and Fragments are saved as docx/rtf/txt files in project folder, so can be edited by other programs and the program runs on a sqlite database.|| |
|Research and Collection||Imports Word, RTF and Text files. 'Imported' PDFs, image files etc open in default program.||.|
|Own Material||Yes, in Fragments tree||.|
|Organisation||Only by using the tree||.|
|Writing||You can use a single view with only the document you are working on (and the tabs above). The ribbon can be minimised.||.|
|Revising and Editing||Uses the SmartEdit add-on. Fairly simple, counting adverbs, repeated phrases, checking sentence length etc. I didn't see readability calculations||.|
|Publishing||Exports as Word, RTF or Text document||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Can show just the main document view||.|
|Writers' Tools||Word count, daily word count||.|
|Online & Sharing||Once found, the documents can be edited by other programs. Otherwise none||.|
|Major Plus Points||Simple attractive interface|
Easy to understand
|Major Minus Points||Slower than I expected|
No mouse accessibility for some common functions (eg select all)
|Things That Could Be Improved||Access to more mouse buttons or right clicks||.|
|Glitches and Problems||na||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||A writer whose needs are simple and straightforward|
Says it is designed for fiction, but would suit any type of writing where the needs weren't too heavy or specific
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Anyone with more complex needs||1,2,6|WritewayPro
Click for Table
|Summary||Developed by a husband (programmer) and wife (novelist) team, Writer’s Cafe has many individual/idiosyncratic features mostly aimed at the development end of fiction writing. It is not intuitive and I had to read the manual to learn how to access many of them. Current version was launched in 2008 but there have been regular updates since then, the last in April 2017.|
It describes itself as a cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, Pi) “set of power tools for all fiction writers - to help fill the gap for freer, less structured story planning". In an interview in 2012, the novelist half of the developer team said “I tend to use it on an as and when I need it basis - I can plan out a whole novel with it, other times, it's is just a small sequence of events that I focus on”. “I don’t any other software on the planning/story development front.”
The features include StoryLines (index cards allocated to story lines, to ease plotting), Journal, Notebook, Pinboard, Scrapbook (which includes a simple mindmapping area).
Writer’s Cafe offers many features absent in other programs, but needs updating/rewriting with easier to access writing panes and improved formatting/export.
|Research and Collection||Can be done through cut and paste into Journal, Notebook, Pinboard or Scrapbook||.|
|Own Material||As above||.|
|Brainstorming||Yes - using Scrapbook Collage or Pinboard ||.|
|Writing||The content pane for the index cards has no limit||.|
|Revising and Editing||na||.|
|Publishing||Export as htm, txt, odt, htb or chm|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Content window can be full screen||.|
|Anti-Procrastination Tools||Has stopwatch/timer|
Many tools to help shift writers block, including writing exercises and a little game.
Not sure if these would actually help procrastinators.
|Online & Sharing||na||.|
|Major Plus Points||Creative development tools|
Tool separation means that story can be switched while still using same journal, notebook etc
|Major Minus Points||Very steep learning curve.|
Looks a bit old and tired
|Things That Could Be Improved||Writing pane, formatting and export options|
General updating to make it more intuitive and flow better
|Glitches and Problems||Many functions take too many clicks to implement||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Fiction writers including playwrights and screenwriters||3, 5, 6, 7|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Most people would find it too complex||1, 2, 4, 8|
Click for Table
|Price||Free since January 2017, due to retirement. Still requires registration. ||Free|
|Summary||A 3 window (Composition, Characters, Research) program for novelists; all windows have own tree and can be on screen together. Composition mode has Storyboard view. || .|
|Research and Collection|| Can browse internet and files. Saving internet pages would require right click (Evernote, OneNote etc), screen capture or cut and paste.||.|
|Own Material|| There's a section for future book ideas, but the structure of the program is built around a single novel so own material could simply be a section on the research tree.||.|
|Organisation|| The Storyboard is helpful. Cards have a number of categories (plot, conflict, dialogue etc) that can give a more visual summary of the storyline. Allows the structure to be built before the writing.||. |
|Writing|| Works OK, can be single pane.||.|
|Reviewing and Editing|| Can save snapshots & make notes about potential future revisions.|
Lists words & frequency in document
|Publishing|| Reasonable. Has some formatting & front/back pages, contents etc. Can export as RTF, PDF, HTML, doc, docx. There are draft, galley, manuscript and publish ready modes.||.|
|Anti-distraction Tools|| Can view just the page that is being worked on; main toolbar can be hidden.||.|
|Anti-procrastination Tools|| Shows % finished. Can see chart of work done each day.||.|
|Writers Tools|| Word and Character count||.|
|Online & Sharing|| Has own browser that can be used to navigate the internet, so saving into other programs or internet storage should be possible.||.|
|Security||Has some password protection.||.|
|Major Plus Points||Covers all the basics.|
Straightforward to use.
|Major Minus Points|| Still needs registration|
No longer being developed or supported (development appears to have stopped 2012)
|Points for Improvement||.||.|
|Glitches and Problems||Potential problems with installation (see comments below)|
Some websites cause a js problem that freezes program
|Who would it suit?|| Designed for novelists only. Would work for biographers, historians|| 5, 6|
|Who would it NOT suit?|| Anyone with more mixed needs.|| 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8|
WriteMonkey v3 (beta)
- The Novel Factory
- Dramatica Pro
- Fade In
- Liquid Story Binder
Click for Table
|Summary||A keyboard oriented text program for writers; does Markdown. Also versions for Linux & Mac. Possibly one of the best apps for the writing process. The version tested was the v3 Beta and so still a work in progress.||.|
|Research and Collection||na||.|
|Own Material||Easy to save snippets and other files||.|
|Writing||A pure text typing program with text folding, bookmarks and jumps||.|
|Revising and Editing||na||.|
|Publishing||A range of options for exporting text||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||A virtually empty whole screen mode|
An range of soundloops (beach, birds, fire etc) to reduce distractions from noise
|Anti-Procrastination Tools||Stamina bar, goals, word per minute||.|
|Writers' Tools||word count||.|
|Online & Sharing||na||.|
|Major Plus Points||Pure focus on text creation|
Good colour and dark themes
Can be virtually completely controlled from the keyboard
|Major Minus Points||Need to configure to suit personal use|
Currently need to edit settings files (but this may change in a later version of the beta)Keyboard orientation (works with mouse, but obviously aimed at keyboard users)
|Things That Could Be Improved||A ribbon (with toggle) would make program more accessible to new & mouse users without impacting function for anyone else. I appreciate that this does not fit with design philosophy||.|
|Glitches and Problems||na (it is a beta - coding not yet complete)||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Distractible keyboard-oriented writers who think purely in words||.|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Users who need visual cues|
Non technically minded users who wouldn't be comfortable editing a settings file
(most specialist tools are of this type, but there are many others with similar functionality that do not advertise themselves as aimed at writers).doogePIM
Click for Table
|Summary||This is a full multi-function PIM that has all the functions of a traditional outliner++++.|
Documents, Journal, Noteboard, Scratchpad, File Explorer, Task List, Browser, Email, Calendar, Planner, Spreadsheet, Vault.
There is a Tabs/History ribbon (L/R) for open pages, a section ribbon next to it and a tree to the left of the document pane. The document pane can be used in a separate window, and a number of separate windows can be open at once.
Portable, regular updates, responsive developer
|Research and Collection||Has file explorer & screen capture|
PDF and document text and images can be inserted into documents, journal or noteboard
|Own Material||Can be saved in Journal||.|
|Brainstorming||Notes on noteboard can be freely moved, coloured and linking lines can be inserted||.|
|Organisation||Tree & outline|
|Writing||Outline tree with full function word processor|
Also Journal, Noteboard & planner
|Revising and Editing||Can insert textbox comments in documents and colour selected text using colour bar|
Readability stats: Lexical density, Gunning-Fog, Flesch-Kincaid, Reading Ease
|Publishing||Limited to exporting documents on at a time (txt, rtf, docx) but developer has promised multiple documents very soon||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Document pane can be in separate window with ribbons turned off||.|
|Anti-Procrastination Tools||Chimes (visual and auditory) can be set to strike every 15 minutes||.|
|Writers' Tools||Word, character and zentence count|
|Online & Sharing||Android client is in works|
Browser can be used to cut/paste/export to web
|Security||Database can be encrypted|
Also has file or folder encryption or zipping
|Major Plus Points||Very functional Document Editor|
Very flexible planning with Noteboard
Hyperlinks between items in different sections
|Major Minus Points||Multiple document export needs to be implemented||.|
|Things That Could Be Improved||.||.|
|Glitches and Problems||reported bugs tend to be squished quickly||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Could be ideal for writer who publishes independently (including website & blog, conventions, accounts etc) and would prefer to manage all tehir writing related activity within one program.||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Playwrights/Screenwriters - no formatting|
Anyone who would be overwhelmed by the number of functions available; I don't find it a problem as I find it easy to ignore what I don't use
Click for Table
|Summary||A very simple, text only, non-hierarchical note system (with tags)|
Code is Open Source since 2016
|Research and Collection|| Would have to cut and paste|
|Own Material|| Observations and snippets could be noted anywhere|| .|
|Brainstorming|| na|| .|
|Organisation|| na|| .|
|Writing|| Yes, simple and distraction free|| .|
|Reviewing and Editing|| na|| .|
|Publishing|| No formatting possible|| .|
|Anti-distraction Tools|| Very simple interface|| .|
|Anti-procrastination Tools|| na|| .|
|Writers Tools|| Word and Character count|| .|
|Online & Sharing|| Automatic sync. Hosted on Google Cloud|| .|
|Security|| Encrypted in transit but not on servers. No encryption available for individual notes|| .|
|Major Plus Points||Excellent dark theme|
Multi platfrom (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, web)
Automatic synchronisation. Collaboration possible.
|Major Minus Points|| I've no idea how they make money|
|Points for Improvement|| .|| .|
|Glitches and Problems|| .|| .|
|Who would it suit?|| Anyone who wants a quick and easy way to make text notes anywhere, accessible from all devices. Could add that capability to a Windows only program|| 1,3, 4, 6, 7|
|Who would it NOT suit?|| Anyone who wants to keep their notes local and secure|| 2, 5, 8|
- Googe Keep, Docs, Drive + PaperPile
Tabs impact on user perception
Single Vs Multi use programs
Learning and unlearning curves and individual differences