Careful readers of the InformationWeek blog know that I write science-fiction in my spare time, and inflict it on science-fiction magazine editors, who giggle merrily as they reject it. Recently, I've been playing around with various writing software, as a way of both enhancing my writing experience, and procrastinating from actual writing. I've been using software called Scrivener for the past couple of days, and I like it a lot.
Writing software is different from word-processing software. Word processors are optimized for business writing, with support for capabilities such as tables and embedded charts and spreadsheets. Writers don't really need those capabilities, we just need to string words together in order. Still, most of us use word processors anyway, because word processors are good at word-stringing.
Writing software provides capabilities designed to help writers, stripping out unnecessary formatting capabilities and adding tools for organizing scenes and chapters, and organizing research and keeping it together with the writing product.
Scrivener provides a two-pane interface, with a tree view for organizing chapters and scenes into an outline format. The outline actually has two trees: One, called "Draft," is for your writing, and the only data type you can keep there is formatted text. "Research" stores your research, and it can support text, video, images, PDF documents -- just about anything your Mac can read.
I'm using it to write a science-fiction novel. Each scene is a separate entry in the "Draft" column.
I'm using the Research tree in reverse. Instead of doing real-world research and building my novel on it, I'm using the Research tree to build a sort-of made-up encyclopedia of my fictional world: Every time I introduce a character, or describe a setting, I make a note of it in Research to help me keep track of what I'm doing.
The flashiest feature of Scrivener is the "corkboard." It looks like an actual corkboard, with index cards attached with push-pins. Each index card represents a scene, with a synopsis on the card, and you can move them around to rearrange scenes to your liking. The colors of the push-pins correspond to user-customizable labels such as "chapter" and "scene."
Scrivener is priced at $35, with a fully-functional, 30-day trial.
Other Mac writing software recommended to me by friends:
CopyWrite from Bartas Technology is similar to Scrivener but offers less functionality and seems to me to be cruder. It's priced at $25. A friend swears by it.
yWriter is free. It includes storyboarding, outlining, and progress reports to help you keep track of word counts and deadlines.
I don't plan to use Scrivener or other writing software for my article writing, blogging, and other Internet writing. For that, I'm happy to use any of a variety of simple text editors. I'm currently using the free TextWrangler from Bare Bones Software, and organize information in files and folders. I've been doing journalism for years now, I've got a system figured out for keeping track of what I'm doing.
(Via 43 Folders.)