What I’ve Written In

I was talking with a friend recently about word processors, which prompted me to think about which word processors I’ve used to write books. For the record, and for the curious, here’s what each of my novels have been written in, in order of their writing (not publication).

Agent to the Stars: Microsoft Works (the “basic” version of their office suite, which it no longer makes)

Old Man’s War: Microsoft Word

The Android’s Dream: Word

The Ghost Brigades: TextEdit

The Last Colony: Word

Zoe’s Tale: Word

Fuzzy Nation: Word

Redshirts: Begun on Google Docs, finished on Word

The Human Division: Started on WordPress, Finished on Google Docs, with one chapter written in Pages

Lock In: Word

For my non-fiction books, five (my three “Rough Guide” books, my two “Book of the Dumb” books) were written in Word, three (Coffee Shop, Hate Mail and Mallet) in WordPress because they were blog posts first and then pasted into Word for the final document, and one (24 Frames) in Google Docs, and then again pasted into Word for final compiling.

Metatropolis (which I edited) and The God Engines (novella) were also written in Word.

It’s not a terrible surprise to me that I end up using Word quite a lot. One, it’s been around in one form or another for 30 years, and its formats and feature set are the industry standard; everyone in publishing uses it. Two, as a consequence of one, I am used to it and therefore when I use a word processor that doesn’t look or act like it, I get discomfited — it messes with my chi, as it were. There are writers who are still using dead word processors on equally dying computers because they’re used to the formatting and don’t want to mess with their workflow — George RR Martin and Robert J. Sawyer are famously dedicated to the antediluvian processor WordStar, for example — and while my devotion to Word is nowhere near that strong, I understand the urge. When you find something that works, you don’t mess with it.

That said, I stray from the path when I have a reason. I wrote Ghost Brigades on TextEdit because at that particular moment I just wanted a very simple word processor, and the aesthetic of TextEdit appealed to me (I wrote Ghost Brigades using the Optima typeface, which looks great on a Mac and pretty much like hell on PC — don’t ask me why). Also I had a Mac at the time and didn’t want to spring for another copy of Word. For Redshirts, I was curious whether Google Docs are robust enough for novel-writing. At the time the answer was no, which is why I switched back to Word. With Human Division I originally started writing in WordPress because I wanted to be able to let my editor have immediate access to what I was doing — I was writing “episodes” and I wanted him to be able to get at them as they were individually completed. But it turned out WP wasn’t as good for that as Google Docs was, in part because it lacked editing tools useful for the publishing industry.

These days I’m reasonably impressed by Google Docs with the caveat that as I understand it there is a practical limit on the size of an individual document, and that size is smaller than that of most of my novels. For The Human Division that wasn’t a problem because I made each episode its own document, but for Lock In it was something I needed to consider, which is ultimately why I went back to Word. Another reason: Word now saves to SkyDrive, which I can access either with my desktop or laptop, so one advantage of Google Docs — accessing text from anywhere — is now replicated (well, sort of. My desktop and Win8 laptop both have Word on them, but my Chromebook needs to access the Web version of Word, which kinda sucks at the moment).

The next novel I write will be the sequel to Human Division, and I haven’t decided which processor I am going to use yet. I am inclined to write on Google Docs, as I did for its predecessor, but if I’m using my desktop, I can configure Word to display two pages side-by-side, and while might not seem like a big deal, in fact being able to see what I’ve just written without having to do a lot of scrolling turns out to be useful to my writing flow (it’s because, among other things, it helps me keep the flow of my dialogue consistent). I’ll decide the closer I get to the actual writing.

(Before anyone asks about Scrivener or [insert your other favorite processor here], rest assured I try almost all of them just to see if I will like them better than my defaults. So far, it continues to be Word in the lead, with Google Docs as the understudy. If find something else I like better, trust me, I will let you all know.)

77 Comments on “What I’ve Written In”

  1. Probably, although we haven’t made an absolute final determination with regard to format.

    With that said, this is not the thread to be talking about THD2 in any great detail.

  2. I am kind of squeeful that you wrote something in TextEdit. (I got a whole first draft in TextEdit, though I moved it to Word later.) Frequently, for me, it’s a case of “if I start the story in this program, moving it to another one before I have a first draft… Ow, ow, ow.” We’ll see if the one that’s being written on Pages for the iPad will survive this Text Editor Feng Shui feeling or not. (The one chapter I wrote on Page for the iPhone… It’s gonna have to move. I needed to get down something and the phone was handy, but the way the scrolling works would drive me batty before long.)

    I would be curious to know what aspects of Scrivener fell short for you — mostly out of selfish curiosity to see if they’re the same ones that make Scrivener a “I want to like it, but…” option for me.

  3. John –
    Do you use any kind of template in Word, or just plain ol’ straightforward text, just as Word is when it opens? (I ask only out of simple and otherwise meaningless curiosity. I know there are Word templates out there for screenplay writing.)

  4. I use Scrivener for keeping related documents together in one place. Works well for that. (I mean, I write in it, but writing’s not *why* I use it.) I have projects for medical info, stuff to do, club paperwork (I’m sort of secretary), and stuff like that. I sometimes wonder how many people use it for other uses than writing novels or screenplays.

  5. Good lord, I wish you hadn’t me think about this; I’ve realized I’m some kind of fossil.

    First novel was written on a Royal manual typewriter. Ribbons & CorrecType & all. It was revised on a Lanier NoProblem standalone (basically a rebadged Wang), and my second novel was started on it and completed using WordStar on David Gerrold’s homebuilt Heathkit PC. Next four or five novels using WordStar on a KayPro. Then WordPerfect from sometime in the 90s till now.

    Pardon me, it’s time for my mush.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I used Google Docs for my Nano novel last year and found it awkward to work with as the words piled up, although still serviceable. Didn’t know there was a functional limit though.

  7. Cole:

    You did not read the last paragraph of the piece, apparently.

    Bob v.17.4.0:

    No special formatting. I indent a quarter inch for paragraphs and then go to town.


    Scrivener: I just don’t understand it, I think. I look at it and what my brain says is “I just want to type, man.”

    Steve Boyett:



  8. Thanks. That is interesting information and helps me as I try to transition from Word to Google Docs. I too am stuck in transition presently.

  9. Well, you WordPerfect was gas-powered, and we had to carve our PCs out of wood we grew ourselves. You kids today just chuck out words like they don’t mean anything to you. You stand on the shoulders of chiselers, I tell you.

  10. I used to use Word, but for the last two years I’ve used StoryBox – similar to Scrivener for PC but it’s been on the PC for longer. The change to StoryBox has been all positive. As I’m a pantster hybrid, StoryBox helps me do my plotting after the fact, and it stops me from waffling. Could never go back to Word. :)

  11. I started on the first version of WordStar; had one temp job where I had to use both that and MultiMate, depending on which doc I was working on. My favorite tech writer job went from … oh ghods, I’ve forgotten the name? finally, the trauma’s gone! — anyway, a standalone word processor that would only save files as a single page, which was purely hell if you had to add or delete chunks of text and repaginate. Then Word came along, and like John, I’ve got it in physical memory – these keystrokes do *this*, frex.

    (I learned to type on a 1934 Royal portable typewriter, which I still have, and remember the advent of correcting IBM Selectrics as a godsend.)

  12. I use a related piece of software – Microsoft OneNote. It’s much more “project management” software than just a word processor. (It allows you to collect related documents together in tabs). I started using it in law school to take notes and brief cases. Then I found that it works good for writing. I do a lot of research and idea-collecting, so I just throw what I find into a separate page, and it’s there with a click. Plus, if I’m doing editing and I need to cut a section, I can just put it into a separate page for reference. It also syncs with Skydrive. Only disadvantage is that it has no native word count feature.

  13. What you young’uns talkin’ about? I’m tryin’ to write here! [picks up chisel and hammer and returns to block of granite]

    I “came of age” using Word, but I gravitated toward OpenOffice during a period of extended economic tightening-of-belts, for one major reason: it’s free. I do like that it’s reasonably close to Word in terms of what I need it to do. There ARE big differences, but in my experience those involve more esoteric functions.

    Every six months or so I think, “Maybe I should give this Scrivener thing another look.” Then I do, get completely baffled by all the screenshots of huge amounts of crap on the screen, and go screaming back to OpenOffice.

  14. Google Docs can handle long documents now, with the caveat that the longer the document, the longer it takes it to load. I have a 100,000+ word document going right now. I started with AppleWorks, then Word, then OpenOffice and now Google Docs. If Emacs had a word processing mode I’d use that.

  15. Wow, the programs I’ve used for writing. Like @steveboyett, I started (at a pre-teen age, and I have BURNED ALL EVIDENCE) on a Royal manual typewriter… moved onto the IBM Selectric models… skipped the dedicated word processors for my own writing (though used most of them in my life as a secretary), but used WordStar and MultiMate and WordPerfect (oh, how I loved you before you turned to the Dark Side of Windows!) and, of course, Word. Until I started writing collaboratively, I was happy with Word. In fact, I’m still happy with Word for the most part.

    I’ve run into the size limit with Google Docs and it really ticks me off. But for collaborative writing, it’s probably the best thing going at the moment.

    I’ve been using Scrivener for about two months now. It keeps me a little more organized, everything I need (previous sections of the story, reference documents and photos, notes to myself, snippets of writing that may or may not ever get used, but NEED TO BE WRITTEN or my Muse gives me a migraine) are right there. I used it for my NaNoWriMo project this year, and I found it useful for keeping on track, and not veering off into areas that weren’t relevant. The formatting is basic, which is MOSTLY fine… but when I make notes to myself, I often used bullet lists, and those are, ah, not always pleasantly formatted. (I also use it to keep track of my “historical documents” from the text-based RPGs in which I participate… I’ve had less than stellar success in that endeavor.)

    I’m intrigued now about StoryBox. Thanks so much for that, @acflory. LOL But being a pantster myself, I’m going to give it a look and see if it’s more me-friendly than Scrivener.

  16. With that said, this is not the thread to be talking about THD2 in any great detail.

    I agree, this should be the thread to pester you about the long, long overdue ‘The High Castle’. Oh, I know what you’ll say.”I’m a working writer and have to pay my mortgage” and “There are contracts to observe”. Still if you can write it somewhere between 2014 and 2015 I would be very much obliged. No pressure. (Yes, Iiked ‘The Android’s Dream’.)

  17. Steveboyer:
    Wow, a former CP/M user! I remember writing a paper using an Epson portable computer with a 4-line display and WordStar in a ROM pack.

    I’ve been trying to wean myself off mouse-based word processing for a year but no luck so far.

  18. @Argon: I just searched images for the ctrl menu for WordStar. Heck, I’ll still take it over Word. It was meant for touch typists; I could fly on that thing. Word is meant for — well, I don’t know. People who weren’t good in a previous life, I guess.

    I’m seriously considering reconfiguring my WordPerfect keyboard for the WordStar commands (which I did in the early days of WordPerfect anyhow).

    I still swear by WordPerfect (in marked contrast to swearing *at* Word), though I’ll admit Corel has lost their way.

    Can we tell I made a living as a word-processing operator for far too long? Yes. Yes, we can.

  19. I first processed words using Palantir, Word Star, and Word Perfect (i.e. the best word processor ever) and then the powers that be decreed that we must us Word at work. Ack. Phoooy. I’m still bitter.

  20. While I can’t speak for the advent of the Selectric, I too learned to type on a manual (an Olympia portable produced sometime in the Sixties) and was likewise encouraged.

    I miss the physical nature of that tool… all the more because of the market I’m in. Instead of Word’s version tracking, my imprint’s using Git with an über-custom frontend.

    if you had told me thirty years ago (when I was given the aforementioned Olympia) that this would be the way of things, I’d’ve giggled credulously in the way that only a ten-year-old can.

  21. John: Do you use GoogleDocs on Chrome so you can turn on offline? I get frustrated by those moments when I can’t type because it’s trying to find the Internet in vain.

  22. For the final drafts of Words of Radiance, Brandon and I used Skydrive with Word so we could use what we were familiar with, yet work on the document at the same time. It was extremely handy and sped up our process by a huge amount (which was necessary, due to the deadlines).

    The Skydrive usage did create some stability issues. Two or three times a week Brandon’s Word 2013 would crash and it would say the document was locked, so he’d have to save a new version and tell me to transition over to that one. Brandon is also less than thrilled with Word 2013, but we couldn’t get 64-bit Word 2010 to work with SkyDrive correctly (the collaborative editing wouldn’t work at all). We need to do some more experiments before the next time it’s crunch time on a book.

  23. I should mention that I was using Word 2011 on the Mac, collaborating via SkyDrive, and it worked great (with occasional crashes, but never the locked-document problem Brandon had).

    Also, Brandon’s process relies extensively on Word’s Document Map sidebar. And I have the F13 through F15 keys bound to control the Tracked Changes editing—F13 to turn tracked changes on and off, F14 to accept a change, F15 to reject a change. Ctrl-PgUp to go to the previous change, ctrl-PgDn to go to the next change. I also have macros set up to change my Word username quickly so I can insert other people’s comments. Maybe other programs can handle tracked changes as robustly and simply as Word, but Word does it very well. (During Towers of Midnight editing one member of Team Jordan was using OpenOffice, and there was an error with his comments—it would turn the tracked changes on and off every time he typed a capital I. A very bizarre issue.)

  24. I use Word for work (I’m an instructional designer) because it’s what my clients have & it allows them to make their revisions right in my files. Since I haven’t had a choice but to use it – and since the change to XML made the files less likely to get corrupted – I have it pretty well whipped into submission. A lot of my output is in tables, and Google Docs (or whatever it’s called this month) just isn’t good at that yet. Word really is a strong tool, and mostly predictable once you turn off all the automatic stuff the folks in Redmond think is “helpful.” I’m not a big fan of the latest Word version, though – I want the software to reside 100% on my own machine, not half there & half on the internet; if I wanted the latter, I would go with Google Docs. (If I’m wrong about Word 365, please forgive – that was my understanding when I looked into it.) IMO, the “cloud” is great for storage and free tools, but not for purchased software.

  25. Hey, at least you weren’t composing in BookMaster on VM/CMS! I had to write a user manual for one of my experimental tools on it, and a couple of technical papers.
    I got quite adept at it, and it certainly set me up for understanding how to build a webpage in HTML, but I don’t miss it *at all*.

  26. I remember using EasyWriter on the original IBM PC. It was written by John Draper, also known as telephone hacker Cap’n Crunch, and had the reputation of being the best word processor ever written in the Alameda County Jail. Given the quality of some word processors since then, I’m amazed that more of their writers haven’t been locked up.

  27. I wrote my first novel on a rented manual typewriter, while on unemployment insurance between jobs in my newspapering days. I graduated to IBM Selectrics when I was speechwriting, then in 1984 I bought a used Superbrain QDII (CP/M) with WordStar 3.something on a floppy.

    I learned all the necessary keyboard commands in a few days, and ever since I’ve been writing in WS. It does everything I need a word processor to do, and when it comes to dealing with blocks of text, it’s much more convenient to use keyboard commands than a mouse.

    I use WS’s own converter to change final texts to rtf files so I can email mss to Word users.

    But when I edit a ms for a publisher or another author, I have to use Word for the track-changes function. There’s always a period of seasoning while I adapt to Word’s clumsiness after the uninterrupted speed of WordStar.

  28. Interesting. For the novel I am writing I am using some combination of Google Docs and Word. I start in Google Docs as I write largely on my Android phone during my commute. This is largely possible because of the wonder that is SwiftKey, an amazingly accurate learning Keyboard that now knows all the oddities of language that I am employing. That and also at least one hour a day in loving embrace of Suburban Bus Lines. I then switch over to Word for final editing and formatting for publication. The Google Docs I keep small, only a chapter or so in a doc. On Word I have been compiling the chapters into a single document.

    Saving to skydrive may be the way to go soon.

  29. From Google’s site:
    Documents: 1,024,000 characters, regardless of the number of pages or font size. Uploaded document files that are converted to the Google documents format can’t be larger than 10 MB.

    So I guess that’s sort of kinda around 250,000 words. Ish.

    I think, though, the functional limit can be much smaller, depending on the device. I find on my chromebook, when a doc gets past 80 pages or so it can have an awful time keeping the cursor in sync. You click one place, and the cursor flashes 2 lines up. On my more powerful desktops, the same document works fine however. Really wish they’d fix that one.

  30. I used Wordstar from CP/M days until this century, when I switched to Linux. OpenOffice is useful for letters and heavily formatted documents, but l’ve never really got used to switching between keyboard and mouse (although a Thinkpad trackpoint makes it easier).

    So for entering a lot of text fast I just use vi – but fast is relative. There was a comment a while back from John which showed that he could produce finished text at three times the rate I can manage, presumably using Word. Once you’re past the stone slab and chisel stage technology isn’t really that significant.


  31. Used a number of different manual and then electric typewriters in school. Once in college, one of the first things I bought with $$ from first real job was a used, reconditioned IBM Selectrix. After I graduated, personal computers started to become available. My first computer was the Osbourne O-1 with Word Star. Ten pages max could be in memory. Dot matrix printers. Stayed with WS until I couldn’t get it with a new computer. Still love WS, especially using dot commands and the merge function to daisy chain chapters into one document when printing. I know you are supposed to be able to do that with Word, but never have figured out how. Never feel comfortable working with an entire book as a single document, I prefer to save each chapter singly. In offices I have worked at have used both Word Perfect and some word processing program … Peach tree word? Or something like that, was used by USAF during that time period because the company that made it was the lowest bidder to provide programs to the military. Have not tried any of the other word processors mentioned, mostly because I don’t like having to learn a new program. I use mostly Word 2007. I have Word 2012, but find it is harder for me to use than 2007. When I send docs online, I usually save them as PDF as most folks I work with have computers that can read PDF. Not good for them to do any editing. I have co-written some stuff, but those folks had programs that could read Word 2007 files.

    So you can count me as another old fogey. Get off my lawn!

  32. GoogleDocs is getting there, but it’s still too limited and I find myself pasting into other programs for anything beyond the basics. I like Scrivener because I can rest assured my formatting will survive being opened in Linux, Windows or OS X (though I rarely use the latter these days). Microsoft Word is byzantine. It does less than Scrivener and requires you to go on a quest to find functions lost in the mists of time. The source code must look like module hell with all the features it’s swallowed up from programs not developed for it. It is, however, a functional alternative in much the same way as the DC Capital Beltway is technically a drivable road :(

  33. Thanks for saying you tried and discarded Scrivner – I had so many people tell me how fabulous it is I thought I must be a dud for not liking it.

  34. @steveboyett – you mean you didn’t have to walk uphill both ways to reach your new-fangled typing thingy? Easy days, dude, easy days!

  35. Pat Munson-Siter: PeachText. Followed by Enable which combined word processing and spreadsheets into a single program.

  36. @Sylvia McIvers

    It depends on what you want your word processor to do. Scrivener is great if you do all your own formatting and page layout yourself. If you have illustrations and hypertext to plug in, it’s a lot easier to manage and a lot less prone to breaking than Word, although you really want to use something like Scribus (my cheapskate preference) or Adobe’s InDesign if you’re preparing a finished publication. But John and most authors probably outsource everything after the writing to their publishing houses’ editors, illustrators and so forth, so desktop publishing would be overkill.

    All that said, you should use what works for you. What matters is accomplishing the task. There are some techie hipsters who are more proud of the tools they use than the work they do, which is putting the cart rather before the horse. Word satisfies a lot of end-users’ needs. I find it’s limitations and needless obfuscations frustrating, but that’s my personal experience. As a former software developer, I urge users to demand tools that facilitate their workflow, not just accept that their user experience is invalidated by popular opinion.

  37. I am migrating toward use of Pages, vice Word, simply because doing so lets me tinker with my stories on my iPads (full size and mini, the latter being my favorite for editing). I tried the use of Swiftkey on Android and loved it, but could not really find a suitable text editor (whereas iPad has tons, Editorial being especially good).

    Have tried Scrivener until blue in the face. Good concept for capturing ideas as well as actual writing. Sort of a combo of a OneNote and Word for Mac, I suppose. But it has far too many options, and I always wind up screwing up something and not being able to figure out why my default fonts changed to some crappy setting and yada yada yada. Besides, as far as capturing ideas, I prefer just jotting them on 3×5 cards or in a Field Notes notebook. The ideas (and the “perfect sentences”) generally occur to me when I am away from my computer, not when I am actually trying to write. For that matter, sometimes I prefer to just write out a chapter or two. My handwritten work is often better than my word-processed work, anyway.

    Ramble mode now off.

    John, how do you handle the ideas that pop into your head, along with the “perfect sentences?” Perhaps you are at the computer so often that you just go ahead and find a spot to put them into the story, but it never works out that way for me. Just curious about that.

    Thanks for the this article and, to all, thanks for the range of comments.

  38. I’m a dedicated WordPerfect user, like steveboyett. I find that it’s far, far more user-friendly than Word — for one thing, you can see all the formatting immediately, and it doesn’t format by paragraph with all the codes unseeably hidden in the paragraph symbol. Plus I’ve got my keyboard totally customized, which I’ve never figured out how to do in Word, even though I had to use Word at work (when I worked in an office) for several years at one point; and I’ve got about a zillion other shortcuts devised that increase my typing speed to about 150 wpm without actually having to type any faster. (Of course, I transcribe for a living, which makes that very helpful!)

    I can understand being used to something, however. Even though I used Word for several years, I just never got that feeling of comfort with it that I’ve had with WordPerfect. I’ve used every commercial version of WordPerfect out there, and the current one has commands that operate the same as Word, but as I said, formatting is far, far easier to both input and then to locate later when I want to change it. It’s a shame it’s not better known these days outside the legal industry, which has really become its niche market; I firmly believe that it’s a far superior program to Word in most respects.

    Good ol’ WordStar! I used that for a while back in the dark ages, with those great big 8″ floppies. Those were the days!

  39. Back when we were designing our books in-house, I became so used to PageMaker that I also used it as my default word processor.

    What may be amusing: when GRRM turned in one of his epic tomes, Bantam contacted me about how to convert his WordStar file into something useful. After publishing GRRM: a RRetrospective, a 500k word collection of George’s work, if I recall correctly, I was able to convert George’s latest 300k word novel for them in 15 minutes, and email the file back.


  40. As a librarian, I’ve had experiences with format as well as medium. I remember a group of reports that arrived on zip disks and when I’d gotten a reader they were in WordPerfect which MSWord reads. After I’d moved them into Word, I had to transfer them to PDF which we’re hoping will have a longer life.
    Don’t toss old drives.

  41. Have used Word and Quark to publish the 400-500 pages of manuals I used to do every year.
    I find that organization is my key. I was using FreeMind on a novel I was working on but the last computer I had died in the middle of things and in the process of finding a tall enough building to see if that would fix it, I lost every thing. Revenge is not always sweet.
    Looked into Scrivener and was not impressed so now Open Office is my choice. But I also find that I put chapters in their own files, I think out of habit.

  42. Another fossil here.

    WordStar 2.2 on CP/M
    WordStar 3.3 on PC-DOS (still works in the MS-DOS box in Windows XP)
    Microsoft Word for DOS 4.0 5.0 5.0B 5.5
    Microsoft Word for Macintosh 5.1+
    Microsoft Office 6.0 95 97 2003 2007 2010

    I’ve dabbled with WordPerfect 5.1 95. Tried to like Microsoft Works, but never could stand the near-Word look. Tons of notes in Windows WordPad/Write.

    And yes I have written stories in vi and emacs.

    This summer I wrote a 17,000 story in OfficeSuite Pro 7 on a Kindle Fire HD, before porting it over to Word 2003.

    However, I still use Word 95 for most of my writing.

    Get off my lawn, you young whippersnappers with your toolbar ribbons that think they’re so “smart”.

    Dr. Phil

  43. I started with … I don’t remember. Chisels and rocks? No, a manual typewriter, a Remington upright. Then I bought myself an Olympia portable. Then an Olympia electric. Then things I don’t remember and finally vi! vi + nroff. vi+TeX. vim+TeX. vim+LaTeX. Everything else, save as .txt, bash in vim.

    My wife thinks word processors peaked with WordPerfect 5.1 and wishes it would come back. It’s a rare day I don’t hear her swearing at Word.

  44. I may have skipped over this, but apparently I was the only person who wrote in “edit” mode in DOS. O_o Talk about the original blank screen! There was something really therapeutic about typing “edit X.txt” and then happily playing around in that black screen forever. (I saved on 3″ floppies because I found them easier to take care of than 5″ floppies.)

    I am one of those strange people who never could write in Word. I wrote in Notepad and Editpad instead. I just got a Mac, played with Scrivener, and fell in love with the index cards, though. Without an outline I am lost for anything longer than 5000 words. I tend to write in scene blocks, and so managing more than 20+ scenes overwhelms me without an outline. I managed 22k once with a co-writer who kept in mind what we should be working on and who kept me on track, but my solo projects have never gone above 10k if I do it in a single document. I am hoping the index card-that-expands-infinitely approach that Scrivener enables will let me change this.

  45. (I should explain that I don’t think “edit” mode is the ORIGINAL blank screen. It just was _for me_, and one of the reasons I love text editors as opposed to word processors.)

  46. Scrivener isn’t really trying to do anything special in the sense of typing words onto the page, other than coming with out of the box formatting defaults for manuscripts. It is actually entirely based around using a bog-standard RTF editor.

    What it’s doing is managing the manuscript as a project. It’s basic job is to prevent having a whole load of word files in a directory labeled ‘Chapter 2’ or such, and instead allowing you to organise it all down to the level of individual scenes. So you put collections of scenes into chapters, or however you want to organise the manuscript.

    Then if you decide you want to reorganise the ordering of some scenes within a chapter, or move some scenes into different chapter, or entirely split up one chapter into two new chapters while moving bits to other chapters… It’s all managed by drag and drop of the scenes to their new positions.

    If you write anything like me, you’ll do these things. And doing them inside a huge word document, or even a word document spread over several files for each chapter, is a pain.

    That’s the basic meat of Scrivener. It then comes with a whole load of other project management trimmings, such as being able to write a synopsis for each scene you want, then view that all in a synopsis view. Set entire manuscript, individual per-chapter and per-scene word count targets. Inline notes. Automatic backups, ability to integrate to things like dropbox. And so on.

    Then it also allows you to manage all the text by never having to delete anything just move it out of the manuscript, because it allows you entire control over what parts of the project end up being printed into the manuscript. The “Compile Manuscript” function allows you to create a manuscript to send out, knowing you’ve automatically removed all the inline comments and todo’s, replaced smart-quotes with flat ones. And of course Scrivener compiles the manuscript into practically any file format you might need.

    I do strongly encourage use of Scrivener for new creative writers, because it’s been designed specifically around a creative writing workflow.

  47. Scalzi, do you worry at all about security when saving documents to various clouds? Or is that not really a big deal for you?

    I don’t really know what one could do if one got hold of an early draft of your work. (Other than read it, duh!)

    Are concerns like that a function of how popular an author is? It’d obviously be more of an issue for a Rowling than for Joe or Jane Unpublishedwriter. And I know some authors put their work up for “alpha readers” behind very basic security.

  48. When I started with my office (as a prosecutor) back in 1984, “word processing” was pretty much writing things out in Longhand 1.0 and giving it to my secretary, who would type it out on an IBM Selectric. Some documents for court were generated on something IBM had called a “Magcard Writer”, which kept breaking down. Except for the Selectrics, we were pretty much interchangeable with my counterparts in the 19th Century.

    I managed to convince our office manager to invest in one of the original IBM PCs and it had a pretty primitive processor (I think it was EasyWriter, as someone said earlier). After switching to Sperry PC clones running on Novel Network version 1.0 (anyone remember the “Fire Phasers” command? Or the Snark Hunt game?) we ran the gamut of work processors. I remember SAM, Xywrite and WordStar, printing out of a daisywheel printer and later on dot matrix (for which I’m sure I have hearing loss). Our county switched over to WordPerfect for a few years, which I greatly enjoyed until this last year when forced to switch over to Word 2010. I’ve still got some sam.doc stuff that just keeps working somehow over the years. Just got a new system and, because my eldest is taking classes using Word, I upgraded to Word 2013. Looks sorta kinda like what I’m using in the office, but at least older documents (like my father’s transcribed 1943 and 1944 war diaries) are still usable. Just waiting until my 58-year old brain decides that enough is enough and wants to run back screaming into typewriters.

  49. I started on electric typewriters and whatever came with the PC Jr. I don’t remember many of the word processing programs I used until a job I had used WordPerfect which was my favorite for many years.

    @htom I’m with your wife WordPerfect 5.1 rocked & made it so easy to figure out why formatting was screwed up when cleaning up other people’s work.

    I had to use and write manuals for a number of word processing programs using MS word and at the end of 14 months I was sending “instructions” to Microsoft support on how their program worked to create books/manuals with multiple documents and interactive table of contents and indexes. At the time these were buggy features & support was amazed that we were regularly creating 500-700 page manuals with up to 10 documents in them. Since that job I’ve been a MS Word user – every job I had used MS Office & it’s what I’ve had on my home machines.

    But when working with my authors & their small press or my friends who format manuscripts for others I think back fondly on WordPerfect 5.1 and how much easier it would be to find the problems Smashwords meatgrinder is having with the manuscripts.

  50. What a *fun* thread, with all the old warhorses chiming in. ‘o)

    [and @David: it’s ‘it’s’ not ‘its’, ‘its’ being the possessive. i know, it’s hard…. ‘o) ]

  51. I’ve written thousands of pages of commercial proposals, technical documents, specifications, and analysis. Frankly, regardless of how one feels about Windows or Microsoft, there is no office automation suite that comes remotely close to what MSOffice provides. I know most of the readership here is focused on word processing, but when you add in things like complex spreadsheets and database connectivity, the integration of the whole package is unbeatable.

    I also have a stack of rejections from Asimov’s and Analog, all of which were penned on Office. I love each and every one. :)

  52. [and @David: it’s ‘it’s’ not ‘its’, ‘its’ being the possessive. i know, it’s hard…. ‘o) ]

    Double dammit. Sigh.

  53. What? No love for latex or troff? 8-)

    My first articles were written using those (rather painful) editors, with the actual writing being done in vi. What can I say? My co-authors were somewhat set in their ways (one of them still used ed).

  54. Wordperfect – [cue dramatic and prolonged shuddering]

    I was severely and permanently traumatized by DOS Wordperfect and never, ever bought that product again.

    Keyboard overlays that would have given the NSA hiccups in their complexity and do you remember ‘reveal codes’ or whatever it was called? To format, you had to add a code at the beginning of the change to indicate whether the following section would be bold, indent, italics, or whatever and then you had to add a code at the end of the changed section to turn the formatting off. Forget this and your document was screwed. You could not tell what the document looked like on the monitor so printing was necessary to check that formatting and page layout was what you expected and then back to ‘reveal codes’ to track down where the misplaced formatting code had gotten to.

    I spent more time tracking down formatting misses than I was typing so after a month of this, I pulled the plug on my DOS computer and never started it again. It was an electric computer that saw me into college; a college that was just installing a computer lab equipped with Macintosh computers and Microsoft Word. Damn, the angels sang.

    I spent way too much time on Windows 3.0, 3.1 and 95 to ever forgive Bill Gates for his operating systems but Word for Windows and MS Office? Great programs, IMHO.

  55. Dr. Phil writes:

    And yes I have written stories in vi and emacs.

    How did you turn them in? Did you turn them in on paper? Did you use a text formatting tool like Scribe or TeX?

    I imagine that most fiction editors would rather not open an email and find a story laden with Scribe markup commands. In the days of paper submissions one’s choice of tools would make little difference when the submission was a stack of paper.

    Michael Eochaidh writes:

    At least you’re not one of those filthy emacs users.

    I use EMACS as a text editor for coding. It works well for that. I’ve never learned vi but clearly those who have can make it work very well. To do serious text formatting, you need to use some sort of markup language. I have a coworker who wrote his PhD thesis using various flavors of vi. It didn’t matter what editor he used, the final product was produced by LaTeX. I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that theses with lots of equations are still being generated this way.

    Easy to learn and easy to use are frequently different things. I also remember that switching my mother from DOS Word Perfect to GUI-based software was far more difficult than I imagined. It turned out not to be so intuitive for her, and it was far harder for her to write down the keystrokes required to perform certain operations.

    We use Word at work. Since we don’t usually print, and documents get updated by several people, it is unfortunately practical to require that files be saved in Word format. We write documents with lots of hierarchical paragraph number with tables and figures. I find that Word is often not very good at that. In the old days we used Frame Maker and it was much easier maintain documents with particular formatting standards than it is with Word. I miss Frame Maker.

    I’ve used:
    Scripsit (TRS-80), WordStar, a WordStar-derived program that I’ve forgotten, WordPerfect DOS versions, WordPerfect windows versions, Borland Sprint, Frame Maker, and Word.

    I find it interesting that relatively few old warhorse WordProcessors have been mentioned in this thread. I remember seeing EasyWriter, WordStar, WordPerfect (I assume mostly DOS versions), and XY Write, though surely there were a couple of others. In the era of WordStar and WordPerfect, everyone and his dog offered word processing software for sale, but you wouldn’t know it from this thread. Where is the fan club for Buttonware’s PC-Write, one the programs that made shareware a thing?

  56. I go back and forth between Office 2010 and \LaTeX. As a community college math professor, formatting mathematics figures greatly in my choice of word processing/typesetting. My coworkers use Word, so anything I share so it can be edited is in Word. For my own purposes, I use \LaTeX as the formatting is more predictable.

    LibreOffice and Google Docs work well with equations in their word processing applications. However, they fall short with handling mathematics in their presentation software. It is hard to get any mathematical symbols in to the middle of sentence, like this \displaystyle \zeta(s) = \sum_{n=1}^{\infty} \frac{1}{n^s}. You can do it in \LaTeX with beamer, and PowerPoint 2010 introduced the feature. If Google Docs picked up the ability to add in-line math to the presentations, I’d use that instead.

  57. On Scrivener, I only love it for one thing: when I can’t find my throughline after scribbling out of order. For actual drafting, Word hands down. I love Word because it works well and stays out of my way. At least, it does except for the ribbon. Whoever invented that created a horrible monster.

  58. htom – I was just playing with LaTeX Lab. It saves LaTeX code as a Google Doc and compiles it online. The output formats are PDF, PS, and DVI. It didn’t work very well with the beamer presentation that I uploaded. The equations looked great, but the alignment is really bad. I’m guessing that it assumes letter size paper.

    The one thing I’m going to play with, now that the semester is over, is TeX4ht. It outputs to OpenDocument format (ODT). Hopefully, it can output to ODP format as well.

  59. One software platform I have not seen mentioned anywhere in this thread was my favorite – Bank Street Writer. It may have only existed on the Apple II series, but was one of the first real user-centered designs.

  60. is there writer software that helps manage outlines and editing? I would think that if you have a book that is several hundred pages long it would require a lot of editing and re-reading to ensure consistency. This is even harder for authors who write series. This isn’t directly specifically to John. Just a general question.

    How do you guys keep track of your plots and your notes for long books? I would think a tool that allows you to keep notes and then link back to chapters and pages/lines in those chapters could be very useful.

    Note Im a programmer so I think about these things from an engineering perspective and that may not work for writing.

  61. guessingo,
    Try FreeMind or Scrivener. Both are for organizing your thoughts. FreeMind can take a little getting used to as it is wide open, meaning you can layout and control how the information appears/is connected. Scrivener is at least aimed at writers, with it’s index card idea. I like the openness of FreeMind myself and it can be used for all kinds of organization.

  62. Myself, I began with typewriters – Royal, Olympia, Smith-Corona (the 2220 cartridge-ribbon portable electric was a marvel of its day) and still find PC-Write the easiest way to get my thoughts from brain to screen (then cut and paste the results into Open Office). Problem is that document size in DosBox is limited to 40K or so.

    Hoping that oneovdezedaze someone will write a program (Windows, Linux, Mac… operating system matters not to me, just the programs that I _work_ with) that works like Bob Wallace’s masterpiece.

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