Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Writers’ Software ~ Is It Necessary?

Every writer’s needs, as they dance the dizzy path of creation, are different—except, of course, those writers who copy their work habits from other writers :-)

Sure, there must be many groups of writers who have similar routines and one of them is Writers Who Use Special Software.

I like to choose free software—basically ’cause I’m poor.

I use WriteMonkey for quick note taking and may use it for rough drafting on my next book. It’s been called “Zen” software because of its minimalistic, distraction-free design. (Windows only)

I use TomBoy Notes for projects that need inter-note linking and strong searchability. (Linux, Unix, Windows, and Mac OS X)

I’m checking out, again, a more versatile piece of software—something for novels and other multi-structured books–called yWriter. (Windows and Gnu/Linux)

yWriter is the work of Simon Haynes, novelist and programmer. Here are a few of his words about his software:

“I really struggled with my first novel because I wrote slabs of text into a big word processor file and I just couldn’t make sense of the whole thing at once. No real overview, no easy jumping from scene to scene, nothing.

“Next I tried saving each chapter to an individual file, with descriptive filenames, but moving scenes between files was a nuisance and I still couldn’t get an overview of the whole thing (or easily search for one word amongst 32 files).

“My last attempt to use Word involved saving every scene as an individual file – e.g. Chapter 01 Scene 01 – Hal Spacejock Gets a Job.doc. That was fantastic until I decided to move one scene three chapters ahead, and had to manually rename all the files. Then I decided to put it back again! I could never remember which of the 200+ files contained a note I was looking for either.

“As a programmer I’m used to dealing with projects broken into source files and modules, and I never lose track of my code. I decided to apply the same working method to my novels … and yWriter was the result.

“I realise Word, OpenOffice and other modern word processors have outlining features, but they don’t have snapshot backups to sequential files like yWriter does. Roll back scenes to where they were half an hour ago, or re-read a version from four months ago – yWriter stores them all, automatically.”

Here’s a link to Simon Haynes books on Amazon.

I also use Jarte (Windows only) for my ever-growing collection of .rtf files that contain others’ writing.

And, when I need all the formatting I can get, I take files produced in those other programs and put them into LibreOffice. (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X) I can also pop out .pdf files with this.

Do you use writing software?

Do you know an author who does?

Have you heard any glowing reports about particular types of software?

Have you heard any horror stories about particular types of software?
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9 responses to “Writers’ Software ~ Is It Necessary?

  1. Catana October 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    I’ve used Scrivener for several years, after trying just about every Mac program out there, free and paid. I’ve never found a program that’s easier to learn and that offers a ton of useful features. Plus, the features you don’t want to use are never in the way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s *the* perfect writing sofware. There must be *some* reason why so many programs are copying it.


  2. Jane Watson October 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I use Scrivener. You can get a copy by participating in Nanowrimo and getting it for half price:) or befriending someone who is doing Nanowrimo who doesn’t want it:) Like a lot of writers I used to be overwhelmed by the sheer organisational nightmare of trying to deal with the minutiae of a novel while coping with its overall larger structure. Scrivener solves that. When I am planning out ideas I use Inspiration or Novamind to mindmap or I use iThoughts on the iPad. For more extensive notetaking with a visual interface I use Tinderbox. I don’t like software that encourages you to think that they have a formula which, if you apply it, will get the novel written for you. Sadly folks it is still the writer themselves who has to do the actual work! However I have found that these applications do help me make my way through the organisational forest of words. Scrivener is at, a great bunch of people – even if you don’t buy it, check out their forum – and Nanowrimo kicks off in November at The Office of Light and Letters at :) and, if you are in the virtual world at Book Island Library on Second Life:


    • Alexander M Zoltai October 8, 2011 at 12:47 am

      Ah !! Jane, my friend who has a Mac :-)

      Alas, again, even at half-price, I can’t afford Scrivener. I’d love to see someone compare Scrivener and yWriter, though

      I went searching Tinderbox and, yes, two reasons I can’t try it—money and Mac

      Well, back to the necessary shifting-work–going from the common social networks to more time in Second Life–so I can find more folks who might like and share my book so I might be able to buy a Mac and some of the software you use Whoot !!


  3. Ellen October 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

    I’ve played around with yWriter. I liked it. It does make organizing a story, plotlines, characters, etc. very easy. It even has a way to track important concrete items (i.e. the silver candlestick or magical sword) and settings. I’ve never used Scrivener (like you I have no money to spare). It’s not hard to use, the website offers video tutorials and free, well free just can’t be beat! :) You just have to make sure your computer has the required software to cope with it (the .net framework, I think its called) but that wasn’t too hard for me to download.

    I’ve also played around with the free version of evernote & Tree Note light. Both were easy to use, though Evernote is a little “flashier” for free software than Tree Note.


  4. Alexander M Zoltai October 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Well, Ellen

    Glad to hear someone else likes yWriter. I was putting chapter headings and my first notes for my next book into it last night :-)

    I’ve used EverNote and I think your description is apt–flashy

    Never used TreeNote but have used TreePad :-)


  5. EMohrhoff October 9, 2011 at 2:56 am

    TreePad. Argh! That’s what I meant! It’s been a while since I played with that program and I guess I got Note stuck in my head from mentioning Evernote. :) I did try looking it up but I didn’t have my laptop with me at work last night so I ran from memory which is not always perfect. Ah well.


  6. Pingback: Writing Software or Writing Apps ~~ Or, Both? | Notes from An Alien

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