Evaluating Writing Tools – The Verdict is In

 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been introduced to a host of software tailored to serve the writer of the new millennium. Some of the skills a writer absolutely had to have has now been completely taken over by software. The stubborn few who won’t let go of their pens can feel the pressure I am sure. Are you a bad speller? No problem.  Don’t know your who vs. whom? No problem. What next? A mind-reading drone that will ‘halt’ the nerves in your brain mid-sentence the minute there is a typo? As a grammar junkie this gets to me. Do we really need artificial intelligence to the extent that we forget what the art of language is about? Admittedly, no one wants that. What gives software the edge so that the others are forced to join in?

 

I think it is time to stop and evaluate what is out there and what most writers actually find useful.

 

When I first started using software for writing all I was looking for was a place where I could store my stuff digitally. The keyboard became my pen and the word processor my canvas. I started using this medium the minute I got my hands on a PC, which was around the same time I landed my first job. It was the novelty really. I would ask myself do I really need to use this? If you use all of the functionality of the MS Word, then you do need it. The first cool option was the formatting. The second was the ability to see your work printed on paper in various fonts. With that everyone was hooked. Then came the various options. So it was already more than just a way to store your work on a digital medium.

 

Consider the progression of the software world into the world of writing in English. What started with the simple spellcheck has now progressed into ‘grammar’checks, ‘adverbs’ check and more.  Starting from the broad the focus getting increasingly narrow – this trend is more than disturbing. Can it take eventually take over the editor’s job?  It is to be noted that if a writer so chooses he can use a basic word processor to get it to perform as narrow a task as he desires.  The disturbing part is the reluctant validation of the various tools that is coming from a growing online community that might soon only be thinking in 140 characters. In fact, I see validation from the likes of New York Times that recently came out with an article regaling an essay (and a book) written only in emoji. ( Read – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/fashion/emoji-have-won-the-battle-of-words.html?_r=0) .

 

Where did this latest trend start, I ask myself? Was it the Pulitzer nod for the Jennifer Eagan novel, “A Visit from the Goon Squad’? More than a few pages in there are just PowerPoint slides. I thought the tone and the sentiment indicated a cry for help, but I could be wrong. Perhaps it is a kind of New Age literature? The kind that is the result of your writer’s block being chiseled into the shape of another human being?

 

I think writers are gentle souls. I know I am. Their weapon is the pen. Is it possible that the ‘robot’ revolution having been kicked out of assembly lines of automobile companies is now finding its way into a place where the very mode of protestation itself is being hijacked?

 

Going back to the original intention of this article – evaluating what is out there, the feedback, from both established and aspiring writers, paints a real picture. I conducted a poll and the verdict is in. The various writer’s groups online on Facebook and Goodreads, seem to agree on their choice of writing software. MS Word is still the clear winner. It is heartening to note that no self-respecting author will opt to get software to do the writing for them; not yet anyway.  Another name thrown in a lot was ‘Google Docs’. The need to rely on any software is mostly born out of the need to produce documents of specific types – like the need to format a movie or TV script to accepted industry standards, or the need to generate outputs in specific file types to adhere to standards set by various eBook vendors. As such the main functionalities relied upon is the ‘formatting’ and the ‘conversion’.  Other useful features might be the ability to organize in various ways, sort and store, and compare.

 

Produced below is the results of the polls posted on Facebook and Goodreads.

 

FACEBOOK (Source: Closed Group ‘One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’, Mostly Authors of Novels)

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FACEBOOK (Source: Public group ‘The International Indie Author’, Mostly Authors of Novels)

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FACEBOOK (Source: Public Group ‘Scripts with Purpose and Meaning’, Screenwriters)

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GOODREADS (Source: Public Group ‘Connecting Readers and Writers’ , Mixed Bag)

poll-goodreads

 

 

Here is what some of the writers/authors had to say in general about their use of various software –

 “I cannot recommend Scrivener enough. I keep discovering new things with it. Last week I had to tackle eBook formatting for my first book and if it hadn’t been for Scrivener I’m sure I would be nursing a migraine attack this weekend. It made it very straight-forward even for not-so-tech-savvy people” –  Tam May, One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’ Group.

 

I said Word (of) or Similar as I use Google Docs. Word has crashed on me too many times and Docs always saves my stuff. I convert to word when I’m done.” – Janae Keyes-Bockstal, One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’ Group.

 

Draft and revise in Scrivener, compile to MSWord, run grammar/spell check; and then off to my editor for the first round.” – Eric Thomson, One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’ Group.

 

Scripts in Movie Magic Screenwriter and novels in Word.” – Henry Sheppard, One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’ Group.

 

I need to clarify that I write in Word but use Scrivener as a placeholder for pictures for my characters, places, newspaper articles and notes.” – Kathryn Bax, Founder – One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’ Group.

 

Google Docs, Scrivener and random bits of paper.” – Lisa Swift, One Stop Fiction Authors’ Resource’ Group.

 

MS Word is my workhorse. I also own Scrivener, but I find it too much of a memory pig for the massive epic fantasy novels I write. I use Jutoh to convert my books into ebooks, which can also be used as a writing tool similar to Scrivener, but I tend to import my MSword document in. If you will be covering ebook conversion software at all, be sure to mention Jutoh as it’s one of the few that can convert Hindi scripts (with a few tweaks).” – Anna Erishkigal, The International Indie Author Group.

 

“Google docs, so I can access it anywhere, then word, then InDesign.” – Daniela Morescalchi, The International Indie Author Group.

 

Because I use Word, I also use Hemingway and Natural Reader.” – Goodreads Member.

 

I was just never a fan of Word. Then when I bought a mac air I asked around what the best software was for wiring (writing) on mac and the answer came back Scrivener. So I tried it and instantly loved it. Quite honestly Scrivener is complex as hell, with more features than you can shake a stick at. The nice thing is that you don’t need to know how to use them all to get a lot of use out of the program. I know there are differences between the windows vs and mac version, but I can’t tell you what they are as I’ve never tried the windows version.” – Goodreads Member.

 

 

There were some suggestions thrown in for other software, but it is clear that the functionality provided by these tools is ancillary to the art of writing and not a primary aid in itself. The reason this needs to be stated is to reiterate that not many actually vouched for software that is the very definition of a ‘grammar robot’. There are more than a few of those. While ‘none’ and ‘other’ were options, those polled mostly went with the other options available. Clearly people do find using software for writing somewhat useful.

 

Here is a closer look at the options from the polls. While the ins and outs of MS Word are common knowledge, the other two, Scrivener a leading contender, and Final Draft a favorite among authors of screenplays, warrant a thorough evaluation.  The population polled were more novelists than screenwriters.  Final Draft seems to be a distant third here, but elsewhere, where the population consisted mostly of people aspiring to sell movie scripts, final draft was a clear favorite. (See Facebook Poll above)

 

The table below compares Scrivener vs. Final Draft. The specs categorized under ‘Document Types/Templates’, ‘Cool Features’, “Export Formats’ & ‘Import Formats’, and ‘compilation options’ for anyone looking to invest in good non-interfering software for your various devices.

 

If all you need to do is read scripts the cheapest option is to get a Final Draft Reader. This iOS App is free. You can upload your script the normal way (to the cloud/oneDrive/google docs) and then access it through the App’s interface. The companion writer app sells for $9.99.

 

If you would rather use your computer, Final Draft version 9.0 sells for well over a hundred dollars ($169.00).  As the preferred script writing software by industry professionals this could be a solid investment if you are a serious contender or intend to be.  The main draw is the numerous preformatted templates. All types of script formats are ready and included with the full version.  With Scrivener you get a wider range of templates for all kinds of documents including academic research papers.  If you need to use Scrivener to type-up a particular type of script you may need to use its customizable options. At just $40 it is a lot cheaper than final draft. Both are available for the Mac OS as well as Windows.

Basic Specs Scrivener ( v2.8/..) Final Draft (v9 /v10)
Document Types/Templates Has various templates including one for poetry. Has numerous templates especially for TV and Movie Scripts.
–       Number of Categories Six including ‘Blank’ – Blank, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Script-Writing, Poetry & Lyrics and Miscellaneous Four main categories – Graphic Novels, Scripts, Text Documents & TV Templates
–       Customizable Yes Yes
–       Focus Broad Range of styles for various kinds of writing Broad range of styles for mainly one kind of writing – Writing the screenplay.
–       Script Writing TV and Film Clubbed under the main category Script-Writing. Has seven templates including two for Stage-Plays. Has several templates under the main category Scripts – a total of fourteen including one for outlining and one for stage plays. Additionally, it has five templates under the main category ‘TV Templates’
–       Novel Writing Yes, has options for Fiction and Fiction with parts & Short Stories. Yes, has the following options: Novel, Manuscript, Query letter & Outline under the main category ‘Text Documents’.
–       Poetry Yes. Has a template for poems. No
–       Graphic Novels No Yes, Four options.
–       Non-Fiction Yes, has templates for essays and research papers as well as general non-fiction. A total of seven options No
–       Miscellaneous A further category adds extra templates for Persuasive lectures and Recipe Collections. Has a plain text document option under than main category
Cool Features    
–        Page/Script Elements Has 7 preset elements. All elements are customizable – change behavior, fonts, styles and create keyboard shortcuts. Can create new elements. Has 13 preset elements. All elements are customizable – change behavior, fonts, styles and create keyboard shortcuts. Can create new elements that you can then apply to pre-set templates.
–       Read back/ assign voices to characters Read back only Yes
–       Compare Scripts Yes ( Snapshots) Script compare
–       Name Generator Yes Has a database of names
–       Revision Modes Color-coded revision modes Color-coded revision modes
–       Character Sketching Yes Yes
–       Audio Notes yes Yes
–       Set Project Targets yes  
–       Project Notes yes Yes
–       Settings Sketch Script Writing Tool Yes No
–       Set Metadata Toolbox Yes No Toolbox
–       Auto-Generate Synopsis/outline Yes Yes, generates Scene-wise synopsis/outline
–       Auto Complete List Create your own auto complete list SmartType and Macros
–       Snapshots Take snapshots of your work at any stage. No
–       Emoji List Yes Yes
Export Formats    
–       Word Yes No
–       Text Yes yes
–       PDF No yes
–       Rich Text Yes yes
–       ePub (iBooks) No no
–       Mobi (Kindle) No no
–       OPML Yes no
–       Final Draft Yes yes
–       Fountain Yes no
–       Other   HTML, Avid
Import Formats    
–       Word yes no
–       Text Yes, Plain text formatted Screenplay Yes. Plain text/ASCII is the only format supported
–       PDF yes no
–       Rich Text yes no
–       ePub no no
–       Mobi no no
–       fdx No no
–       Webpage yes no
–       ODT yes no
–       OPML yes no
–       Fountain yes no
–       Other types Image Files (TIF, JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP), Visual Formats (MOV,

MPG,WAV, MP3 etc), HTML, and .webarchive files

no
Compile\ As   This option isn’t available, see ‘Export’.
–       Webpage Yes –  HTML, Web Archive
–       Word Yes
–       Text Plain text, plain text screenplay
–       PDF yes
–       Rich Text  
–       ePub yes
–       Mobi yes
–       fdx yes
–       Other Presets including Paperbacks in PDF etc.
OS Versions    
–       Mac OS yes yes
–       Windows yes yes

In Summary, people who write novels prefer Scrivener over Final Draft, while screenwriters seem to prefer Final Draft (See Facebook Polled group ‘Scripts with Meaning and Purpose’). MS Word is still very popular and some swear by applications that are newer and have some cool features like conversion to ‘publish-ready’ formats. Names thrown in were ‘WriteWayPro’ and ‘Jutoh’. The list below is in no particular order and is in no way comprehensive.

 

  • Jutoh – Mainly a conversion tool, has a built in text editor. This is what comes in-between writing and publishing.
  • Movie Magic Screenwriter
  • WriteWayPro – Write Novels, Format, Export, Publish. Not available for the Mac OS.
  • Fountain – Screenwriting aid that allows you to create using your own text editor. Use this markup language following simple syntax to create format free documents that can be accessed from anywhere. See http://fountain.io/apps for a list of apps based on this Markup.
  • Celtx – Screenwriting Software
  • Fade In – Screenwriting Software
  • WriterDuet – Screenwriting Software

 

And then there is the option of picking up Emoji-speak.