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.)