I am skeptical that any editing tool can help a writer become a better one. I've tried outliners, concept mappers, semantic editors, software that tracks characters and timelines... I have found no tools that didn't end up being a pointless distraction from actually writing.
I've concluded that simpler is better. For my own use I like plain old text editor, but since one does send and receive manuscripts for comments, an most of the people giving feedback use MS Word I work in OpenOffice and convert to and from ".doc" format.
What is *really* important is keeping backups of your work at various stages. That way you can say, "I'd like to get back the version of this scene I had last month." This is a common problem in software development. For my writing, I use a version control system called "bazaar". It's not necessarily my favorite for software development, but it's very simple and works cross platform (Mac/Windows/Linux). That makes it a good choice for writing.
With bazaar, I simply put my manuscript directory under source control, and continue to use the directory and files as usual. every time I've done a good day's work I "commit" the changes I've made, and bazaar squirrels away the difference between the current version and the last version in some hidden folders. Now no matter what changes I make in the future, the version I just committed will be recoverable.
The virtue of this is that I don't have to label backups and keep the physical backup forever to preserve the older work. I further simplify this by using an online backup service (I use UbuntuOne but you could use Apple's iDisk service). That backs up everything offsite automatically. If all the computers in my house are stolen, I'll have the manuscript and its entire history preserved and can be back in business within minutes of getting a new computer and installing the software.
The important thing about this is that it *simplifies* everything. I don't have racks of tapes or CDs with cryptic labels. I can back everything up on a single DVD and if I forget to do that it gets backed up offsite anyway. I don't change anything at all about how I work, except having to remember to open up the bazaar software every so often and push "commit".
A few times I've heard panicked writers say things like "my disk crashed and I've lost all my work for the last month." Even something as simple as a careless find/replace can mess up your manuscript in ways you might notice for some time, and then you've got to figure how to piece it together. This is a lot like doing the flying trapeze without a net. One of the big advantages source control has given to modern software developers is the freedom to be creative and daring, knowing they can undo anything that doesn't work.
I have used Treeline in the past, and thought it was useful. I'm not currently using it. Instead I'm using Scivener for the Mac, though a PC version came out recently that I have heard some folks speaking positively about. I like the interface and it's working well for me. I do tend then to port things through MS Word at some point in the process, but I don't trust Word as it tends to bloat docs with hidden codes and formatting and other scary business.
Offsite backup is KEY. Very important step. I really worry about folks I hear of who carry everything important on a USB key/thumb drive, not even a redundant copy of everything that's on a harddrive somewhere, but rather they save their ONLY copy onto a USB drive. Eek! Those things are tiny and go missing at the bottom of my purse for months on end. Scary! I copy out to an external hard drive, email myself files (using my server-storage email addresses so I have a copy in the sent folder on the outbound email and the received folder on the inbound) as well as use an offsite backup program (I use Mozy Home, very happy with them. Great customer service.)
I use Notepad to write, then copy/paste it to MS Word. That's all the technology I need. I don't want to waste time and energy by thinking how to use the programs.
Posts: 1271 | Registered: May 2007
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IDE: Integrated Development Environment. Usually heard in connection to programming. I'd never seen it applied to writing tools before, but why not?
I agree with MattLeo that the tools can't and won't make you a better writer. However, if a tool lets you organize your work more effectively (note I don't say "efficiently") then it's probably worth your while.
I've decided I need a timeline app because I have a great deal of "meanwhile, back at the planet" and timeframes that are critical to put everyone in the right place at the right time. It's a pain to outline and a tangle to keep in my head (especially to get it so the reader won't have to!) Would be easier if I had it charted.
Same reason I decided I needed a 3D starchart app -- so I'd get my distances and transit times right (and avoid confusing the hapless reader, jerked along for the ride). It's a big galaxy out there.
I do like the notion of version archives for writing -- I've had to revert a scene a few times and it's surely better to have the real thing rather than depending on memory or "did we make a backup last week? last month?? Where IS it???"
Until recently I did all my writing in that hoary favourite, WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, which works well and is distraction-free. But I ran into two problems with that:
The 25 line DOS screen. This chops up scenes and thoughts into visual chunks that are often too small, which causes editing artifacts. (In the early days of computers, you could often tell when a writer switched off the typewriter, as suddenly everything would happen in 25 line chunks.) Yeah, there are workarounds but they're hard on the aging eyes.
Import/export to/from HTML (I keep a private/passworded website for Wise Readers, and as a backup). Can be done from WPDOS but is bloody inconvenient.
And that, despite that RTF has its own issues (attribute nesting can get messed up and EAT your work; shades of Word!!) is why I wound up switching to RoughDraft. And oh, the lovely multi-file search function, how did I ever live without it??
quote:I am skeptical that any editing tool can help a writer become a better one. I've tried outliners, concept mappers, semantic editors, software that tracks characters and timelines...
I'm with Matt on this one. The other thing I'd add is that for me, trying to pidgeon-hole myself into someone else's (the programmer of the IDE) methodology doesn't work.
Outlining, world-building, plotting, character development; all these are part of the art of writing and for me the art is too personal to adapt myself to someone else's method. I have my own tools, techniques, worksheets, etc... for all these things and I develop them as I learn more about writing.
The only issue I see having is what Matt addresses with bazaar. Once my portfolio has grown I may need to get some sort of document versioning software. Currently I have scheduled backups using backup software so I can't lose more than a day's worth of writing.
IDEs is what the site Reziac linked to called them so I used the term, not one I usually hear though.
I agree with everyone else though. The programs won't make you write better but they can come in handy. I have just been using a separate file for the names of characters, when I remember to make one. I didn't think of using a star chart, that could come in handy whenever I do a space SF again. One with the names of stars would be good too.
BTW I have been using an old word processor they don't make anymore. I decided the replacement processor cost too much and this one works fine. Even if it can slow down on my home computer and the memory for learning new words in the spell checker is used up. Of course with the cost, that was a couple of years ago so the cost might be down now.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited December 25, 2010).]
KayTi mentioned having back ups off site. Good idea, I know one Pro who lost most of his files, even the back ups in a house fire. That included his writing business files. There are a couple of good online sites that don't cost too much and, at least in some areas, there are storage places that cater to writers.
I have a bunch of floppies with back ups for my first two novels and the first half or so of my stories. Plus a few CDs and four flash drives. Each flash has more memory than the last one. The first one was one of the first ones made and it has very little memory. The fourth one I got for Nano sine my other two are pretty much filled with my stories but mostly some of my wife's craft site pics.
The second and third Flash was suppose by ones I could carry with me at all times...offsite don't you know.. But the cap for the second became too loose and just falls off if I dip it. On the third one the place made for a key chain broke. If I hadn't heard it drop I would have lost it. The flash drive works fine though.
There are two programs that have been helpful to me.
Scrivener for Windows (on beta now, but getting the new release for my b-day) chunks things into small underwhelming pieces that I can actually write. And it helps keep track of them for edting alter. Very versatile.
The second I haven't heard mentnioned here. It's Master Edit. Not an organizational, but an editing tool. You can look it up on youtube. If you put in a chunk of work you can search for weak words, repeating words and phrases, sentence length etc. It has been a great tool to help me see where I need to tighten things up. And yes, I too agree with the backup thing!
Scrivener, by the way, does the incremental backup that it sounds like bazaar does. Automatically as it saves files, you don't have to do much to change it.
I like Scrivener because I can keep things like a notes file, or a character list, together with the manuscript, but then when I want to look at the MS, I can compile it WITHOUT those other pieces so I'm only looking at the words that makeup the story.
Offsite backup is key, though, folks. If you're not going to put $ toward a program like Mozy that does the backups for you (or the other primary competitor which has a name that starts with a c that I'm totally blanking on right now...oh, and FYI Mozy costs about $5/month for basic home use) then at least commit to mailing a copy to yourself each day you've done significant work on your MS, using an email program like gmail that lets the email live on the server until you manually delete it. You can even set up filters on the email to just shunt that stuff off to their own folder so they don't clutter up your inbox, but please do at least that! We're so dependent on technology these days that sometimes we forget that technology fails. Remind me to tell you about the time my BACKUP HARD DRIVE FAILED! Eek. All pictures from when my son was teensy. Eek! I've been an off-site subscriber ever since! (and thankfully I'm big into the multiple-redundancies storage models...)
FYI, there are some free automated FTP backup software out there, so if you already have an internet service that provides you with some storage space, chances are you can set up an automated backup at no extra cost. Whenever I need something like that, I just go to www.downloads.com and I usually find what I'm looking for.
I've also set up one of my desktop PCs to run an FTP server so I can access my docs from anywhere.
[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited December 26, 2010).]
Mailing stories to yourself is a precarious backup solution. POP3 usually deletes the post from the server after you download it. Storage-type mail like GMail... well, let's just say neither privacy nor backups are high on their priority list. And mail spools are usually One Ginormous File, which is more prone to being corrupted. (In the olden days, it wasn't unusual to find part of someone else's email stuck to yours!)
Dedicated web hosting starts at a couple bucks a month and part of the deal usually is daily backups (for those unfamiliar with web hosting, this is so if their server dies, your uploaded data is soon replaced from backup -- I don't mean they do YOUR backups). For your end, there are tools that will do automatic incremental uploads, using the remote host as it would any backup medium. I haven't used these, I just periodically zip stuff up and upload it manually.
I've had hosting with 1&1 for 7 years as of this week. Been very happy with them (their tech support has Real Humans with Real Clues). I pay about $6/month for 150GB of space, and that's not their cheapest deal. For those interested: http://www.1and1.com/?k_id=6761404
I guess I'm too low-tech. All I've ever done to keep my stuff is just to print it out and keep it all in a fire proof safe. That's only for my good stuff.
Posts: 365 | Registered: Aug 2010
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quote Matt: "I am skeptical that any editing tool can help a writer become a better one. I've tried outliners, concept mappers, semantic editors, software that tracks characters and timelines..."
quote Osiris: "I'm with Matt on this one. The other thing I'd add is that for me, trying to pidgeon-hole myself into someone else's (the programmer of the IDE) methodology doesn't work.
"Outlining, world-building, plotting, character development; all these are part of the art of writing and for me the art is too personal to adapt myself to someone else's method. I have my own tools, techniques, worksheets, etc... for all these things and I develop them as I learn more about writing."
I am concerned with story, with the music in the words. This is something that such tools would not help with and might even muck up.
(And why you should also not listen too much to just any critquer ––especially not one, no matter how well-meaning, who would rewrite your words in their own voice and or style or understanding––or one with a lone or rogue opinion.)
It takes a fine and well-matched critique partner or editor––one who really gets "you" and how and what your story is saying––one who will to hear the voice of the writer who will serve a writer's editing the best.
[This message has been edited by lostdog (edited December 29, 2010).]