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; Outliners & Notetakers
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
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)
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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.
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|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
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|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|yWriter 6
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|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|
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|Price||Windows or Linux|
(Optional registration - Gold)
(Optional registration - Silver)
both levels of registration are really donations
|Summary||yWriter is a clean, functional writing program with not an ounce of unnecessary fat or muscle. The developer is also an active novelist who uses the program - "yWriter already does everything I need, but people keep asking for new features ... yWriter is already good enough for a working novelist. After that, some of the features start to get a little ... exotic". Cross platform (Windows, Linux, Android, iOS). Text based; there's little to support writers who work visually.|
It covers the organisation and writing stages only; it will export into epub/kindle etc, but I think formatting is limited (though I've not tested it out yet); accommodates easy import, export, reimport. Many features to support organisation and feedback. Designed for novelists but language file is easily edited to allow repurposing.
Project based, with organisation into Chapters and Scenes with panels for characters, locations and items. Writing is in a pop out window.The scenes can be edited in an external RTF editor and analysed in an editing program.
|Research and Collection||na||.|
|Own Material||Would have to put it in separate 'chapter' or Project||.|
|Organisation||Chapters and Scenes. Storyboard with Story Lines tracking characters.||.|
|Writing||Pop out window. Text background can be set to dark with light text.||.|
|Revising and Editing||Many feedback features to aid revision. Has tags. Limited number of features for editing but can easily be edited in external edit program. Frequently used words and counts words ending ly etc etc||.|
|Publishing||Exports to rtf, HTML, LaTex,ebook and obfuscated NaNoWriMo||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Writing in pop out window||.|
|Anti-Procrastination Tools||Word count and target.|
Always shows number of words done today and main panel shows total in project and each chapter.
|Writers' Tools||Spell checker. Easy to track characters, locations and items through scenes. Ratings for scenes (eg Tension etc)||.|
|Online & Sharing||Android and iOS versions. Works with Dropbox and Google Drive.||.|
|Security||Can be password 'protected' - but RTFs can be read without needing that and no encryption.||.|
|Major Plus Points||Very functional. All features are useful.|
Can be used by pantsers or planners.
Active Google Discussion group
|Major Minus Points||No dark theme - I would have found it very hard to use if my vision was the same as last year.||.|
|Things That Could Be Improved||Would benefit from ability to do tables and images in editor||.|
|Glitches and Problems||None noticed||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Novelists||3, 5, 6, 7|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Frequent users of tables and images|
Anyone who needs research or brainstorming integrated. Could be used by everyone except 8 if they were happy with external brainstorming/creation and research tools
|1, 2, 4, 8|
- The Novel Factory
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|Price||Windows & OSX||$59.95|
|Summary||Project based, it is a pretty and intuitive, 2 pane system with a rigidly sequenced tree on the left. The tabs on the right mirror the tree: Overview Content (Front, Chapters, Back), Characters, Events, Locations, Props + Notes, Ideas, Charts, References and Submissions. Huge number of features. Very good Quick Start guide (40+ pages) and Manual (300+ pages). Support is responsive. |
Clearly it is a system designed for fiction (but would also be fine for biography or history). It does a lot of hand-holding for the using the program, for creation and for writing.
While it is possible to dive in and start writing, the benefits of the program need a lot of information to be entered on characters, locations etc etc. This can be done at the beginning (ideal for a procrastinating plotter), as the writing is done, or after a large chunk of writing. Only when a lot of information is entered can the charts for relationships, timelines etc be fully used.
The overhead is increased by things having to be done in a set way, which may not be the most efficient. Eg pictures have to be put into the character fields by selecting through a file explorer (and the images take a while to show in it); characters can't be added when working with the relationships chart (which could otherwise function as a form of brainstorming). I find it faster to paste from browsers or other programs. There are very few levels in the hierarchy (eg 1 level for characters; content is just chapters and scenes); couldn't imagine managing LOTR with this. And some limitations: no tables or images in the scene editor. Can be a lot of mouse activity switching between windows.
The system for managing characters, events etc is actually pretty good (and options can usually be added), but the overall design means that it will be most effective with a limited cast and simple relationships. But, to be fair, this is what most fiction writers write.
|Research and Collection||Can add file or web links in notes||.|
|Own Material||Can be added as ideas or notes.||.|
|Brainstorming||Has idea, character and name generators! Prompts! |
The charts may be helpful.
|Organisation||Storyboard, Events Timelines, Relationship charts||.|
|Writing||Pop out window; colours can be set to suit.|
|Revising and Editing||Word count, word frequency, readability, |
Cliches, repeated words/phrases, padding
Export to EPub, PDF, Doc, HTML, RTF, txt
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Pop out windows;|
Quite a busy environment otherwise
|Anti-Procrastination Tools||Can set time & word targets||.|
|Writers' Tools||Word count, word count for section, version comparison|
Easy to track characters etc through scenes
|Online & Sharing||na||.|
|Major Plus Points||Easy learning curve. Manual.|
Lots of options for recording and developing plot details
|Major Minus Points||Doesn't feel fast; could be a good thing if it enforces adequate plotting.|
|Things That Could Be Improved||Dark theming is incomplete.|
More layers in the tree.
|Glitches and Problems||Occasional white panels when trying to work dark||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||New fiction writers. People who prefer guidance with IT. Compulsively detailed plotters. ||5, 6|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Most non-fiction writers.|
Writers who do short pieces.
Pantsers (unless they like to track detailed plotlines later)
|1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8|
WriteMonkey v3 (beta)
- Dramatica Pro
- Fade In
- Liquid Story Binder
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|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).doogiePIM
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|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
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|Summary||Review is for Professional version (has Evernote sync and Journal). |
RightNote is a database (in SQLite) that has the traditional hierarchy tree outline on the left with a pane on the right. The Editor is entirely adequate but has few extras for writers. There is a full screen mode, and the side panels can be hidden, but it takes a few clicks to operate. Has spreadsheet mode. Tabs for different open documents.
The program is really all about the outline and the ability to integrate with Evernote. It is particularly good at web or screen clips but less good at managing documents (can be imported into database but then viewed in external program; doogiePIM automatically offered OCR for PDF, RightNote doesn't do it except through Evernote) although it will import files and folders as links or attachments. Many tree tools including hoist, panel for folders/tags which make it much easier to manage a large database. Can send notes to other programs (OneNote, Ultra Recall in my case).
Easy to use initially, the many features present quite a steep learning curve.
It is perfectly easy to write in the editor, in a multilayer outline, and export in docx, HTML, rtf format etc, but no reason to choose to do so in this program unless you were using the information stored in the database.
Actively maintained and supported.
|Research and Collection||The program can import (or link) files, folders etc into the database and can also manage Evernote notes and clips. This makes it a very versatile PIM for working on web material and other documents.||.|
|Own Material||Can be save in separate Notebook or folder. Has a Journal option.||.|
|Organisation||Multiple outlining options||.|
|Writing||Word processor is good||.|
|Revising and Editing||Varied highlighting||.|
|Publishing||Export to webpage, docx, doc, RTF, txt, HTML||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Full screen mode||.|
|Writers' Tools||Word count and spell checker||.|
|Online & Sharing||Portable. Sync with Evernote||.|
|Security||Can encrypt (128-bit) database or selected notes||.|
|Major Plus Points||Evernote links|
|Major Minus Points||Limited tools for writers||.|
|Things That Could Be Improved||All symbols are not easy to identify in dark mode||.|
|Glitches and Problems||Error message once in virtually empty new database (program able to continue)||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Writers who use research, especially web research|
Could be a useful research supplement to programs lacking in this area.
|3, 4, 7|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Writers who want a program to support creative development.|
Writers who want a simple and straightforward program.
Researchers whose research needs are primarily oriented to books, journal articles and citations.
|1, 2, 5, 6, 8|Card based systems
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|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|
The underlying advantage of card based systems is that they encourage a bottom-up, write_what_you_are_thinking_about_at_the_time approach. This is how a lot of writers think, but the traditional top-down, hierarchical approach may discourage it (though all allow it, and the systems with card views make it easy to do too).Gingko
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Although Gingko describes itself as a sideways tree with the root on the left, with each note being able to branch up, down and right.
However, there are many ways in which it can be used, and these are really only limited by the export options which are a) for any note+its children or b) for any column.
This means that it can mimic the fiction writing systems above. Column 1 could be characters, 2 locations etc. Notes can be copied and pasted, so a template note can be set at the top of a column. The following columns can be the outline/chapters and then a series of scenes.
Alternatively, for a 'whodunit', the story root can be the final scene resolution and the branches to the right can be the various strands that lead to dead ends or that final resolution. Time would then go from right to left and the final sequence in the right hand column would reflect the order in which the scenes would appear in the book.
Or the columns could be fairly random with small sub-trees.
The way it works and looks encourages people to write a section at the time it is in their mind, wherever it might fit in the overall structure of their work. Academic and business writers are used to doing this because the sections are usually fairly clearly defined and information and ideas will usually come in sections. Fictions writers less so, even though many will work through scenes in their mind well before they reach their place in the narrative, and indeed pivotal scenes are often imagined like this and intervening may simply be the (unimportant) journey from A to B. Rather like Mozart who apparently only wrote the arias, overture and other interesting bits, leaving others to fill in the rest; the same system as Renaissance artists: Gingko encourages this without unfortunately providing anyone to do the filling in.
|$12 per month |
|Summary||This review is of the desktop version which is still in development (I wouldn't use a web only program), but comments also apply to the web version. A note based tree system. All the notes are arranged in columns; each column is easily scrolled with the mouse wheel. A new file starts with a single card on the left which can develop a tree by going up, down or to the right|
and so on. Cards can be rearranged later including shifting to any column to the left.
Text based (JSON, MarkDown) with keyboard shortcuts for all commands.
|Research and Collection||na||.|
|Own Material||Put anywhere or in separate file||.|
|Organisation||Notes and sub-trees can be moved anywhere||.|
|Writing||Straightforward. Very fast for keyboard user to create extra cards||.|
|Revising and Editing||na||.|
|Publishing||Export trees or columns to docx, txt, JSON||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||None but impact of other notes is small. ||.|
|Online & Sharing||Has web version. Can move files between web and desktop.||.|
|Major Plus Points||Fast for keyboard only users.|
Non-intimidating interface makes it easy for people just to write what is in their mind anywhere.
|Major Minus Points||Somewhat irksome for mouse users.|
Writers need word count.
|Things That Could Be Improved||Control of column width.|
Ability to return a text full card to default small size.
Easy way to insert images.
Better mouse controls (right click menu).
|Glitches and Problems||na - still early in development||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Keyboard users.|
Worth trying for people with writers block
|Potentially 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||People who like to outline separately.|
People who work visually.
Anyone who wants all necessary features in one program.
Heavy mouse users.
|Potentially 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
- Googe Keep, Docs, Drive + PaperPile
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It may seem very odd to include NoteZilla, a sticky note utility, in a review of writers' tools.
BUT the program has many functions which make it very capable.
- Can be rolled up or down
- Be any colour
- Have many patterns
- Have one of a number of transparency levels
- Can be hidden or on top
- Have a very able RTF editor in which images and tables can be pasted (and the tables then work)
- Have spell checker, word and character count
- Be resized
- Be attached to desktop, a window or memoboard
- Contain file and/or folder links
- Have tags
- Be encrypted
And there is the Notes Browser, which can contain any number of memoboards arranged as a hierarchical outline, which makes it easy to manage a very large number of notes. And a group of selected notes can be exported as a single HTML or txt document. This suggests number of ways in which NoteZilla can be used as a tool for writing:-
- For writing directly into a note
- For brainstorming events/characters in the plot by rearranging the sequence and relationships on the screen
- Using separate memoboards for Characters, Locations etc it would be easy to have the relevant characters etc on screen when plotting or writing scenes
- Other notes can be used as file links for research
The different colours, ability to use images etc would make this a very visual way of working. The program can be used for brainstorming, research, organising as well as writing which gives the option of using it right through to the revising/editing stage or just for research, organising etc using another program for the writing.
Very mouse friendly, and the notes could be organised in a similar way to Gingko, except with more colour.
|Summary||Windows sicky note app with subscription to NoteZilla web + free apps for Android & iOS; portable version available.|
Very visual, very colourful. See above.
|Research and Collection||Can link to files and folders; can cut and past into notes||.|
|Own Material||Can set up memoboard for Notes, Ideas, Observations or Journal (all notes are dated)||.|
|Brainstorming||Notes can be coloured, tagged, have images and moved around the screen. Could have a display of relationships, or put characters in locations, and move them through events. ||.|
|Organisation||Easy to organise or reorganise||.|
|Writing||Easy to write in a note (which can be any size).||.|
|Revising and Editing||na||.|
|Publishing||Groups of notes can be exported as single document to HTML or txt||.|
|Anti-Distraction Tools||Notes not needed can be hidden or rolled up||.|
|Anti-Procrastination Tools||Notes can be set up as timed reminders||.|
|Writers' Tools||Word and character count, spell checker||.|
|Online & Sharing||Can send individual notes to a contact.|
There are Android, iOS and web versions.
Sync seems to work well
|Security||Individual notes are easily encrypted (using one master password)||.|
|Major Plus Points|| Very visual and flexible; good for creative development and providing information while writing.||.|
|Major Minus Points||Only OK for writing and not suitable for revising, editing and further||.|
|Things That Could Be Improved||Ability to manually choose sequence of notes for export|
Grouped export to include images and tables (though knowing they will be stripped out may have advantages in use)
|Glitches and Problems||Sometimes a small flicker on typing||.|
|Who Would It Suit?||Visually oriented users. Mouse users.||Potentially 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
|Who Would It Not Suit?||Keyboard oriented users (though there are keyboard shortcuts)||Potentially 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
[/list]Other Software.Publishing/Editing Tools
Other ToolsProvisonal interim conclusions
Given the hiatus, my initial pass through a wide range of programs has clearly stumbled to a halt. Over the next week or so, I will go through the programs that I have already used and allocate scores in the different categories. Over time (ie slowly) I will add more programs - in particular, a Word Processor group (though I may be slightly biased in that I dislike them all for outlining), Scrivener (once the new version is out), the Google & Paperpile system, and OneNote/Evernote.
My first, and major, conclusion is one I knew before I started which is that everyone should use the programs that they like best and are most comfortable using. Providing they meet current needs; hopefully the review indicates some needs that won't be met and alternatives to consider if that is the case.
I have some interim conclusions for my own use. I have a wide variety of currently active projects at different stages: well into double figures in number. With some changes of detail I have, at one time or another, past experience of all the types of work listed above, usually in conjunction with other roles. My visual issues mean that I need programs that can be adjusted to suit me. I like visual methods of organisation and editing and analysing text. I work on PCs, but also on Android, and iOS less often. I have always written happily enough on anything that has come to hand - PCs, mainframes, phones, tablets, scraps of paper, old fashioned typewriters &etc and have used a huge number of programs. I use a multi-monitor array (3 atm - all large - 2 always on) and when I am using sources or reminders, I prefer to have them visible. My experience is that the actual first draft writing stage is the least sensitive part of the process and the parts before and after that are the most. I generally prefer database type solutions to files and folders, although I see advantages to both.
My new favourite method of having the necessary information in front of me is to use NoteZilla. Partly because it is very visual and partly because everything is websynced and instantly accessible on any device. It does require some cutting and pasting as I prefer to have everything in a project database, the greater speed and flexibility in use more than compensates for the extra step. It can also be used as a very flexible corkboard for planning. Using this means that the core writing program does not need this functionality.
My favourite program for the writing stage is now WriteMonkey 3. I can easily get the colours to suit me, I can work on lots of bits at a time and it works well with really long documents. The text folding is a superb aid to in-process mulling which avoids all the scanning up and down (or across parts) that is usually needed. It is, for me, clearly the best program for some work, but I'm not sure whether its advantages make it worth using an extra program in most projects - although it would enable the use of other programs which have a deficient writing module. But Windows only, so mobile use would need cutting and pasting into something else.
Another program I like writing in is DoogiePIM. (which I'm using for this post). Immense flexibility for organising documents (I have this in a Journal folder). Many other features, but in reality it is just that I like it. The one concern I have about using it for major projects is that it is such a huge program with so many functions. that I worry about committing everything to it. With its predecessors, it has been going for a long time so it should all be OK, and I can use different databases anyway,, but still, I worry. It does very occasionally produce an error message; easy to deal with - just close and reopen.. but still. Again only Windows and requiring another program for mobile use; does have an integrated web browser which could obviate this need.
The other program that I am trying in personal use is yWriter. This is the program that I would recommend first to anyone looking for a program for writing. Multi-platform. Colours adjustable. Has the usual range of features & tools, writing pane is fine. But ... I like flexibility and tend to complexity; I want extra layers of notes and resources; I want to store snippets that I've parked.. so for some projects I would want a database as well. Designed for novel writing and using it to write a science book would be awkward. Would probably suit the majority of fiction writers very well and has the advantage of very low cost (nil - option for donations).
The one area where I have no sense of direction is in the central repository/database of all project related information. Contenders include RightNote, OneNote, DoogiePIM and Scrivener. Using files and folders is another option. I need to make an initial decision soon, because the project I'm trying in yWriter is already hitting its limits (my fault, I just want more classes of information than the majority of writers).
Further thoughts: I don't need anything from the web, so no advantage from OneNote or RightNote/Evernote and Scrivener isn't ready. DoogiePIM would do fine, but this seems an opportunity to try the files & folder approach, which I will do first.
As can be seen, these are personal interim and tentative conclusions. I am moving from option appraisal to longer term trials.
Tabs impact on user perception
Single Vs Multi use programs
Learning and unlearning curves and individual differences