Software Reviews

It’s not news that there’s a phenomenal number and variety of writing software out there at the moment, at every price point and with any number of bells and whistles offering all the procrastination a busy writer could need. With that range of choice (a quick Google brings back over 4 million results, and the front page is mostly ranked lists), it’s very hard to know where to start, and harder yet to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. I’ve been in my groove for a decade, so I’ve decided to venture out of it and add to the collection of articles about the collection of writing software.

What I use:

My groove is well worn. I’ve been using WriteWay for anything chaptered ever since I picked it up as part of a NaNoWriMo promotion. The WayBack machine tells me this was probably 2011, although I could be convinced that it was even 2010, so it’s fair to call me a creature of habit. WriteWay does exactly what I need from it, partly because it’s shaped my writing habits along the way, but I’ll admit that it doesn’t do everything I could wish for. I partner it with AirTable for planning and Word for editing. AirTable is the new addition to the party, picked up within the last 6 months; previously I was an Excel devotee, and I still like it as a planning tool.

I’ve written 7 stories over 20,000 words long using WriteWay and Word that I’ve shared on Archive Of Our Own, not to mention my undergraduate dissertation and even more stories that are still sitting in a digital drawer somewhere. It’s a system that works very well for me.

What I’m looking for:

Word processor:

First and foremost, I need my writing software to be a good, solid word processor. I need:

  • Adjustable font – I like writing in sans serif fonts, and I need to be able to adjust the font size so that it’s legible at different focal lengths and on my mobile. A night mode or adjustable colour schemes is another popular feature that I don’t use much but will be checking for, and I’ll also be looking out for dyslexia friendly fonts, or the ability to install new fonts.
  • Focus mode – Not something I use often, but this is a popular feature I’ll be looking out for. Focus mode allows you to move to full screen of just your writing to remove all distractions.
  • Visible scene/chapter notes – I rely on this heavily because I’m a hardcore planner. I want to be able to see my notes for the chapter and/or scene (preferably both!) whilst I’m working on it, so I can add in any specific references and not need to dive back into my research folders mid-flow.
  • Scrap work space – I want to be able to take what I’ve just written and dump it somewhere for later review. During NaNo, particularly, I’ll go off on a tangent describing a setting or digging into a character’s backstory that I need to process into my notes for later, but in the middle of a session I just need to be able to drag it out of the main project and drop it into a scrapbook or dump section.
  • Optional spell checker – Preferably a toggle that I can switch off for sprints and back on for slower sessions, or one I can run at the end of a section to clean up. Checking as I go makes me edit as I go.

Organisation

  • Acts, chapters and scenes – Whether you use the three act arc or not (I don’t), being able to break the story down into sections and move them around as required is really helpful. Ideally these need to be easy to add and remove, and require minimum manual work. If I take a chapter out, I don’t want to have to rename all the subsequent chapters myself.
  • Notes section – I want to be able to store all my research in the same project file as my prose. I won’t, but I want to be able to. Being able to create templates for different types of notes is a very nice to have, as is being able to link them together, for example to identify the home of a specific character.
  • A timeline – Who doesn’t love a timeline? Not me. I actually use them as an essential stage of my planning process, so having it in the document is perfect. Ideally it should be variable from fixed dates to relative ones, and from horizontal to vertical.
  • Colour coding – For those who are visual organisers, being able to colour code scenes according to their completion status, what purpose they serve in the story, which POV they use or which timeline they’re in, or notes according to what type of information they contain, is all useful. And if you’ve colour coded a load of cards, you need to be able to change the colour of all those cards in one go as well as change a single card.

Other

  • Easy formatting and export to multiple formats – We all have our preference for writing format, which rarely matches submission formats. Being able to set up the export format ahead of time and include all the additional details required is a very, very nice to have, even if it’s only exporting to DOCX for editing and processing in Word.
  • Change tracking or line comment abilities – Very handy for editing, especially if a beta reader is helping and commenting. Makes the difference between editing in the same software or exporting it.
  • Goal and project tracking – I am a bit of a numbers geek, and take part in a lot of deadlined projects. Ideally, I want to be able to see the total wordcount, the daily wordcount, and the words needed per day to meet my target. Sprint tracking and habit tracking also very helpful.
  • Cloud storage – Not essential with Google Drive and OneDrive both backing up my work constantly, but after losing work in a Google Drive sync error I prefer to have it.

Ratings:

Conveniently, my criteria fall into 3 groups of 5 (once I split the first organisation point into both presence and ease of use), so each section will get a rating out of 5 and the average of the 3 will be the overall rating for each software. The sheet I’m using is here and I’ll link the individual scoresheet for each tool as I go.

First up is going to be WriteWay, my old faithful. Should be along at the weekend if not before.