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What's in your toolbox?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Jun 17, 2020.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The question of what software we use for writing comes up regularly. A recent thread on another forum has me thinking about the full suite of software I use, and how I don't always use the same tools across projects. I thought it might be interesting to hear from the community on this, and maybe the responses will give a better indication for newbies as to the range of considerations.

    The general questions would be these:
    1. What software do you use in research? Let's just assume web browser; I'm thinking more of note taking and organizing, but also any specialty research tools you might use. "Organizing" would include tools for tracking characters, photo organization, ... anything else you might think of.

    2. What software do you use for writing? This is the usual question.

    3. What software do you use for editing? Put more broadly, what do you use during the editing process, working with your editor (if you have one)?

    4. What software do you use for publishing? This would include formatting, but also stuff like submission tracking.

    5. Specialty software. Here I'm thinking of software for making maps or timelines, etc.

    6. And finally, what sort of projects? That is, do you write standalones or short works or multi-volume series? If you work in two or more areas, does the software suite vary?

    I'll post my own responses first.
     
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  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    OK, me first. I should state up front that I work in Windows. Macfolk will have a different suite.

    1. Note taking is a bit random--paper, word processing, text editor. I'm terribly inconsistent. But once the initial note is taken, everything winds up in Scrivener. I have a WorldReference project that holds all my worldbuilding stuff. How that is organized is better left to a separate discussion. Research specific to a particular book goes into the Scrivener project for that book. The crucial point here is that *everything* goes in just the one place (often novel-level notes get copied or summarized or expanded over in WorldReference). Because the key thing is that when I'm *searching* for something, I'm only searching in one place.

    2. I draft on paper. I have notebooks that hold writing, notes, something like a writing journal--everything goes in. Every few days, I type up what I have, which constitutes an initial editing pass. Anything that doesn't get typed is now officially Lost in the Mists of Time. Every notebook is dated. When full, into the box it goes. As for the software, that's Scrivener. I still use Word (well, LibreOffice). See below.

    3. I use LibreOffice for editing. Not that I want to, but every editor I've worked with wants a Word document. We compromise on RTF. It's because they use those embedded comments, and none of them will work with Scrivener. This is an issue for me because it means once a manuscript is off to the editor, it becomes divorced from the Scrivener source. I've tried updating the Scrivener version and it's just too much work. So, from editng forward, it's LibreOffice (Word). If I didn't hire an editor, I'd stay in Scrivener.

    4. Formatting is in LibreOffice right now. It's a pain, especially getting versions for epub, mobi, Amazon, rtf. Yuck. I'm looking at Scribe, though a cold shudder runs through me whenever I do. Steep learning curve. Desktop publishing (which is really what "formatting" is) cannot be taken lightly. For short story submissions, I use LibreCalc and set up a spreadsheet.

    5. I've tried Aeon Timeline, but haven't found it useful. I don't try to make my own maps; I hire a cartographer. I should say, however, that since I write alternate history fantasy, I have scads of maps for my own reference and research--I just use old historical atlases. It's only when I need a map for the book that I hire the cartographer. I guess I should mention that for a text editor it's Notepad++. For images I use GIMP, but I haven't really found a good way to organize the hundreds of images I've collected over the years. I wind up browsing a lot.

    6. I write standalone novels all set in the same world, so having a WorldReference is crucial. As I figure out new things about Altearth, those notes go into WorldReference. None of it is set in stone, though, until some piece finds its way into a published novel. This lets me do lots of retconning as needed, away from the public eye. I also have short stories. The latest I did in Scrivener, but the previous three were all in LibreOffice. I'm still not sure Scrivener is needed for a short story.

    Finally, I should state that I'm not entirely happy with Scrivener for Windows--the developer has been years-slow in making improvements. I looked at yWriter years ago. I took a look again recently and saw that *that* developer is very much on top of his product. I'm going to take a serious look at switching horses.
     
  3. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    1. We use the web for research and we buy a LOT of books. I'm an academic, Medieval Studies, who ran away from the Ivory Tower to join the circus, so lots and lots of books. We also use OneNote to keep all of our research and the story bible itself organized, so that no one has blue eyes in Chapter 3 and brown eyes in Chapter 27. We have roughly about 500 named series characters in development, so organization is key.

    2. The Microsoft Office Suite is critical. We do everything from the writing itself to book formatting with it and it's great! It also allows us to collaborate in real time.

    3. Word and our own brains. We don't outsource editing to anyone or anything else. There's too much that can go wrong. Enough goes wrong during the normal editing.

    4. I don't format and publish our books, that's my wife's job and she's asleep, but I do know we mostly use Word and the publishing tools that Amazon and Ingram Spark provide.

    5. Does Steam count? Seriously though, I think the only specialist we use is our cover designer. We love them.

    6. We are currently working on a long-sunning urban fantasy series and hoping to launch an epic fantasy trilogy later next year. After that we're developing a space opera. We don't anticipate changing up our routine too much for the later projects, but things change and we're open to it.
     
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  4. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    1. Notepad++ text documents are where most of my research and notes go now, though occasionally I use OpenOffice documents (if I need some special formatting—that's rare). Occasionally I create some graphics, such as family trees or maps, that I need in Corel Draw. All these in lots of well-organized folders. Or organized well enough I can usually find stuff.

    2. I write in OpenOffice and have for years. Well, now I'm also writing in LibreOffice, since that's what came installed on my Linux-running laptop where I do much of my drafting. The files are interchangeable so it's no big deal. I wrote by hand for a long time, in the pre-computer days, and then typed and edited that into a second draft, on a typewriter. I do not miss that process. And though it is not software, I have thesaurus, dictionary, and atlas within easy reach.

    3. For editing, I stick with OpenOffice, switching to my office desktop PC. I stick with the same font as drafting (Prestige) for the first couple edits but eventually change it to whatever will be used in the final product (and the last edit or two, and proofreading, are or on a PDF generated from OO).

    4. And again OpenOffice for formatting. Usually. The exception would be a graphics-heavy children's book, which I might lay out in Corel Draw. I have no problems with OO, and find it fairly easy to create a print-ready PDF with it. For ebooks, I send the text over to Calibre which is usually satisfactory.

    5. Specialty software would be the aforementioned Corel Draw. Timelines and such I generally create in Notepad++ or OO. I actually prefer to draw maps by hand, at least in part, when able. Any notes about submissions, releases, etc etc just go into text docs.

    6. I've written a bunch of stand-alones that turned into series! :) And some that might yet. Most (but not all) of my fantasies are set in the same world though with wide gaps, chronologically, between the various series.

    Now I do write non-fantasy novels too, mysteries and adventures and even 'women's fiction.' The process is exactly the same.
     
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  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    1. What software do you use in research?

    When I'm actively working on a story, I use Scrivener to organize. I can add links, photos etc. into my working project and have it be separate from the actual story text.

    When the story is just a small chunk of an idea and I'm fiddling with and brainstorming, I mostly use wikipad, a personal wiki, as a place to hold the developing idea. When it starts to become a full blown project, I transfer it over to Scrivener.



    2. What software do you use for writing? This is the usual question.

    Scrivener

    I used to use Word, Excel, Supernote Card, a note carding program, and yWriter. I would layout my story in broad strokes in Supernote Card. I would plan my plot threads in Excel. I would then write in Word, keeping each chapter as a separate document, and I would copy the text into yWriter chapter by chapter for organization and the ability to keep separate notes each chapter. But Scrivener does it all now.

    3. What software do you use for editing? Put more broadly, what do you use during the editing process, working with your editor (if you have one)?

    Scrivener for the working text.
    Style writer and sometimes word to help me identify grammar issues.

    4. What software do you use for publishing? This would include formatting, but also stuff like submission tracking.

    I use Sonar for submission tracking.

    5. Specialty software. Here I'm thinking of software for making maps or timelines, etc.

    I've tried various programs for timelines, but I didn't find any of them all that useful. I also tried a program call Tree Sheets as a way to organize the timing of my plot threads. But didn't find it all that useful in the long run. Tried it for one project. Only referred back to it sporadically.

    6. And finally, what sort of projects? That is, do you write standalones or short works or multi-volume series? If you work in two or more areas, does the software suite vary?

    I write stand-alones and short stories. The software suite stays pretty much the same.
     
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  6. Lynea

    Lynea Scribe

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    Several years ago, I purchased Scrivener. I agree that it's archaic compared to the technology of today, but it's where I lay down all of my novel ideas. It's been helpful in my world-building and character-building. It's also pretty well-suited for drafting out a manuscript. Lately, however, I've been using Word to polish up my first completed book. I like how it's more formattible for sharing and tracking comments/edits. Google docs has also been playing a big role in my life lately.

    I don't currently have a publisher, but I have English-degree friends who've been collaborating with me. I'm not at the point where I'm required to format for publishing...hopefully soon. I suppose I'm in the market for a concept artist and a cartographer. I have no drawing skills, so I can't make a beautiful fantasy portfolio myself. What I have been doing is compiling playlists for my books on YouTube. For people that are more musically inclined, I feel like it helps bring the world to life.

    Mostly, my writing has been focused on the same fantasy world with the same cast and timeline. Recently, I was inspired to branch out a little bit and write a fresh story in a viking-based world. I'd also like to do something with dragons in the near future, to try my hand at it.
     
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  7. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    An addendum. My notes, outline, synopsis, whatever for the novel I am working on will be in an OpenOffice/LibreOffice file that I have open simultaneously with the actual novel text file, side by side on my screen. I will be going back and forth between the two, making notes on things I need to do in the text, cutting and pasting pre-written bits, and so on. If there is a timeline for the action of the novel itself, it will be there.
     
  8. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    I did all my research in person. I carry a notepad everywhere. I have a trunk full of notebooks and journals detailing everything from blacksmithing to BASE jumping. (Someday I'll write a book that's a collection of vignettes about all my research.)

    MS Word is my workhorse, super old-school. I still mourn WordPerfect. I also go through a lot of yellow legal pads (I recently discovered landscape-oriented yellow legal pads, which changed my life). I keep 10-12 Pentel Energel 1.0mm gel pens in a holder on my desk. My everyday pen is an all-steel Zebra F-701 hacked to take a 0.7mm gel insert.

    I hire out my editing. I don't do my own edits. In fact, I barely edit at all; I write each draft from scratch all the way through until I have one that's ready to go to structural editing. I don't own Grammarly, or any third-party editing software. I even turn my auto spelling and grammar check off. As a fantasy author and conlanger, I don't have time to update every little red line, and the green ones are usually wrong.

    For paper and ink formatting, I paid a typesetter for my Word templates for paperback and hardcover. For ebook formatting, I use Sigil and a freebie conversion tool that shows the book in multiple formats on different readers.

    I build my maps with Campaign Cartographer and GIMP, although my WIP may have a GIS map. I don't do my own ads, banners, whatever; I have no eye for it. I hire a graphic designer who does my ads and also my covers. My website is from a professional template pack with a couple of mods. I use WordPress for my web design.

    Physically, I use a 30" curved monitor and a Das Keyboard 4 with Blue switches and blank keycaps, hooked up to an ASUS Zenbook, which is one of the niftiest little pieces of hardware I've ever owned. My desk is a family heirloom, a carved cherrywood pedestal desk made in France in the late 1700's, stolen by the Nazis in 1937 and used as the German Consulate Desk in Venice during WWII before being recovered and shipped to us in the States after the war. It deserves its own book. It has a hidden pop-out drawer that was probably originally for a knife or pistol, which might currently hold a snub-nosed .44 mag; I'll neither confirm nor deny. Point being, you sit at this desk and think of where it's been and all it's seen and you get dizzy. It's definitely one of my creative tools.

    Lagavulin 16 Scotch and Romeo & Julieta cigars.

    I write multi-volume series. I recently shelved the third book in an epic fantasy series to knock out the first book of a new series that won't let me not write it.
     
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  9. Lynea

    Lynea Scribe

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    Speaking of writing software, are there any community reviews on Chapterly? It seems like something a novice writer would use, but it might be what I'm looking for. Thoughts?
     
  10. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

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    Coloured pens and paper.
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    Pages (my editor too) but some proofreaders insist on Word, so I use the Mac export to Word function for them.
    I use Vellum for formatting (ebooks, paperbacks, and hardbacks)
    Pen and paper for maps and timelines.
    All of the above but mostly series. The software/method is the same. I can do everything I need in Pages, apart from formatting, for which I use Vellum. Vellum is designed for Mac, but can work with Mac in the Cloud. I tried Scrivener but didn't see the need to complicate my life so I dropped it.
     
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  11. All my notes on research, worldbuilding, characters, plotting and revision go into OneNote. It gives me a decent way to organize the notes and makes it easy to find everything back. A project gets its own OneNote notebook (or whatever they call those). Added bonus is that it's cloud based, which means I have no worries about backups and I can use it everywhere. So if I have a good idea while on the road I can make a quick note on my phone. Or if I'm at work, I can add a note on my work laptop.

    All writing is done in Word, which is automatically stored in the cloud (again for back-up and multi-device access). Same goes for editing. Each draft gets its own version, with notes added etc.

    Other "specialty" software I use is Excel for tracking my daily word-count. Tracking that and setting myself a goal helps me write (almost) daily and lets me push on even if I don't feel like it.

    Still looking for good map-making software.
     
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  12. Vicki27

    Vicki27 Minstrel

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    All my notes, drawings, maps, characters and plots are hand written in notebooks. Then I research what I need to on google and write more copious notes. Once I am satisfied I have sufficient information all writing is done in word and I have different folders with current work, backstory, research, character arcs etc and then I just save each draft version so I can track my changes.

    For editing I just proof read through whatever I have written and then make notes and go back and change things, saving each changed version.

    I don't have a publisher and I am not yet at the point where I require one. I'm veering towards the traditional route of books just because I love them, but I will consider e-books once I am ready.

    Timeline is written out by hand and then I use powerpoint to make it look neat and pretty :)

    I looked at programmes for drawing maps but in the end decided I could do it quicker by hand with coloured pens and then I am hoping I can get one of my artistic friends to do an illustration if I'm ever lucky enough to get a publisher interested.

    I have written short stories in the past (nothing published) but I am now working on an epic fantasy (multi volumes). I don't think I could work on more than one thing at a time. I would love to write an old fashioned western and a whodunnit but that's for another day.
     
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  13. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    Pretty much nothing.

    Word and the internet.

    I write pretty slowly and edit obsessively (within word) as I go.

    Works for me.
     
  14. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    I have word and OpenOffice for writing, a whole bunch of notebooks and loose papers for notes, recently got CampfirePro to compile and organise my worldbuilding stuff. Haven't really got far enough in any project yet to require publishing tools.

    Besides my current main focus on a fantasy story, I also write short stories that are a mix of supernatural mystery and lovecraftian horror. Use the same tools for both.
     
  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Was writing with MS Word until it self destructed a month or so ago. Way, way back, I used 'EZ Writer.' Recently discovered my computer has something called 'MS Works' on it which comes with a word processor, so I'll probably use that for a while. In the meantime it's plain old Word Pad (rtf)

    Editing...used to run everything through Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid. Then I gained a bit more confidence and relied on Word to catch the more obvious stuff. Publication time...I'll go hunting editors.

    Organization is basically a bunch of files, mostly ideas and concepts, augmented by stuff dredged from the net. For the tales proper, novel length stories have a '0' file that is a combination of character list and outline (aka list of mental movie clips.) Novella length stories will have the character list either before or after the tale proper, and maybe a rudimentary outline.

    Research is one part internet and another part experience, sometimes my own, sometimes other people. I envision situations and then ask myself 'how would i react to this?' 'what would it feel like?' 'is this a feasible solution?'

    Maps? I use 'Paint.' Worked out a few tricks.
     
  16. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    I use Google Docs for writing. I write using the Chrome Browser with the Google Docs Offline extension, so I can cut the internet when I write. My Chrome browser is solely used for writing. The ability to be able to also write my novel on my phone too adds a lot to my word count. I consider changing to something less surveillance-heavy than Google, though.

    When I feel for a change in environment, I write on my Olivetti Lexikon 82, or I use my home-coded program Authors Passage

    For Ebook creation, I use Sigil.

    For visual artwork I use Krita

    To expand my vocabulary I use my program ProseThief on various works. I also use a .pdf download of An American dictionary of the English language
     
  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    ThinkerXThinkerX - EZWriter! But I've got you beat. I cut my teeth on WordStar and PerfectWriter. No fair invoking the Selectric!
     
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  18. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Before EZ Writer I used old fashioned typewriters - one of them an old manual beast that left unevenly colored letters on the page. I think I still have a few pages from a barely started SF novel and one or two other tales written with an electric typewriter - one of the ones with a memory. Thought that was marvelous back in the day.

    I believe many of the old line pulp novels were short by present day standards precisely because they were laboriously typed out - one typo or added sentence meant redoing an entire page or more.
     
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  19. Vicki27

    Vicki27 Minstrel

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    I edit obsessively as well, but it does make for slow writing. I have been given lots of helpful tips on how to stop obsessing quite so much and I'm finding it does make the writing go quicker. I can pass them on if you feel you are going too slowly :)
     
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  20. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    That's very kind of you Vicki, but I don't feel I'm too slow. I'm comfortable with my system honed over 25 years and while it takes me a while to finish a book I'm happy enough with the product.

    It's the compromise I have to make when I'm still working full time to support my writing habit.
     
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