Don't use Word

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If you're writing a letter to your aunt, sure, use Word. If your employer or school insists you work with Word, then you'd probably better do what they say - although you could try suggesting they try something leaner, smarter and more collaborative, like Google Docs.

But if you're writing something longer than a basic letter, whether it's a short story, or a novella, or a novel (or a serialised novel, right?) then it's time to get serious. Word is easy to use until you ask too much of it, at which point it rapidly falls to pieces.

Hopefully its stability has improved since I last used it to write a 100,000+ word novel, but that's not the main reason to switch. Regardless of what you think of Word's qualities, it's simply not intended to be used for structurally complex projects, because a Word document exists primarily as a single, unbroken flow of text.

My number one tip to other writers would be: use Scrivener.

Scrivener isn't free: it's about $40, depending on the specific version. If you're serious about your writing it's absolutely a worthwhile investment, which in the long run will save you time and help to improve your work - especially structurally. Trust me, it'll earn its keep.

The point where you realise that Word isn't quite right for the job is when you finish your first draft and switch over to editing mode. The big problem with standard word processors is that all you have is a giant wall o' text, with an infinitely long scrollbar. It's difficult to visualise it and hold the shape of it in your head. Jumping to a specific section can be tricky, becoming harder the longer your story. Even when it's your own work, it's not a simple task to remember the specifics location of a passage in a 100,000 word text. If you decide to make structural changes to the narrative down the line - adding, removing or moving chapters around - it turns into a nightmare of copying and pasting.

Scrivener takes a fundamentally different approach to presenting and organising your work. The text can be easily broken down into parts and chapters (even individual scenes, if you're so inclined), which can be instantly jumped to or examined in an overview. Inserting additional chapters or swapping the order is a simple drag and drop prospect. You can put placeholders in for future chapters and get a good handle on the shape and pace of your book even before you've written it. It gives a kind of physicality to the work, as if you have a stack of paper in front of you to thumb through and re-order, while retaining the benefits of working digitally.

Chapters can contain notes, footnotes and other metadata to help you find and arrange. There's a separate area within your project to store your research, notes and outlines. Everything can be kept together. You can split the screen in half and have notes on one side while you write in the other. It's a highly customisable writing environment - I tend to go full screen to minimise distractions, other than my session's word target (another built-in feature).

I probably only use about 30% of Scrivener's features, but even that's enough to make it worthwhile. If you're used to the likes of Word it can seem a little intimidating at first - make sure you check out the tutorials and scan the manual, and don't worry about trying to learn the entire thing in one go. You'll discover features when they're needed.

Once you're done, Scrivener can easily output a professional ebook, PDF or Word document. If you're publishing ebooks via the likes of Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords you'll find that Scrivener makes the production process super easy.

I wrote A Day of Faces using Scrivener and it was an invaluable ally as I explored serialisation for the first time. I was able to stay organised, plan ahead and keep track of progress all within a single application. It actively helped to reduce the stress of writing a very public serial.

In short: it makes everything easier.

There's a free trial, so at least give it a whirl.

What's your favourite writing tool? Maybe you even prefer to write by hand?

Next up: The write/life balance

If this guide helps your writing, you can buy me a coffee here: http://ko-fi.com/simonkjones  

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