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Q&A

Is there a need for better software for writers?

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Software developers don't ever work in text editors, instead they use IDEs (integrated development environments) full of code assistance tools, etc.

Why don't writers use similarly advanced writing environments full of writing assistance tools, text analysis, and functions for improving their productivity? Is that because there is no actual need for that or is it a product opportunity here?

Full disclosure:
I'm a software developer looking for opportunities across different fields and I also tried to write a book several times in the past. I always ended up realizing that I'm not good at writing, though it would be great if I could provide some value to good writers (unlike me) and help them be more productive.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/q/45035. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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4 answers

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No, I think there are lots of good writing tools to choose from. Also, as I think editing is as much a part of the act of writing, I've included two editing tools.

So, here are my favourite editing and writing tools after a career as a professional writer/editor:

Editing tools I'd recommend

Stylewriter is an excellent tool to check what rules you have broken for writing in plain English, grammar and more. As a successful contract digital writer/editor/technical writer, I used it for 15 years. Stylewriter It will give you a score and mark areas where it sees a problem. You can modify what it looks for. You can download a trial, and the guy running the company (Nick) was always responsive. Windows only. You can localise the version of English to UK, US and Australian etc.

I've also used a remarkably good, free online program to check the clarity of what I am writing, called the 'Hemingway app'. Fast and useful.

Writing tools I'd recommend

Scrivener is excellent, and my experience of it is that it's better for complex writing tasks. I've half written a book with it, and I found its best feature was to be able move chapters around easily (drag and drop folders in the tree structure). While I think Word is a superb tool, MS Word can't create chapters as easily then re-arrange them. (It uses sections.)

Other have mentioned MS Word. Most users use about 30% of what it can do. It just gets better, and the interface is a million miles ahead of what it once was.

Microsoft OneNote is a remarkable piece of software, which let's you blend a whole of lot of creative tasks such as writing, images, drawing with a stylus into a clever well organised interface. Worth a look and available for Mac and Windows. And its free. A superb thinking tool, almost a smart whiteboard on my screen.

Don't overlook apps. There are dozens of these available, including Google Docs, which is so good, one Melbourne university switched to it a few years ago.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/45072. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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I think a lot of writers miss out by not giving vim a try. In other questions people make lists of ideal features they'd like, such as linking scenes, better dictionary integration with various services, etc. The thing is: you can do all of that with vim given enough customization. Each of these could be plugins or even just functions in a .vimrc on github.

Not only do I use vim for day-to-day software development. I use vim pretty much exclusively when I write as well, and it is wonderful. Everyone who knows a bit of vim or is interested in learning should give it a shot. You can do so much. I generally write in the groff .ms format then have a keyboard shortcut that writes the buffer (the file) and re-compiles it to pdf, which takes a second or less. I then have the PDF open in Zathura which automatically refreshes it whenever changes are made. The groff ms format is nice because each sentence goes on its own line and then you can version the entire project in git and see the differences line by line and character by character if you're so inclined. Finally, I have several other files open and switchable:

  • An outline file open in a separate split so that I can switch between it and the actual document or refer to it while writing.
  • A dedicated file for each character and place of note where important details, background-info, ideas, and plot/development issues are recorded.

Just with vim's out-of-the-box settings with no customization, you can do cool things like:

Editing:

  • Type 3) to move three sentences forward
  • Type 5w to move the cursor forward 5 words
  • Type f" to move the cursor to the next quote on the line
  • Type cas to delete the entire sentence and start typing something new
  • Type cip to delete the paragraph under the cursor start typing a new one.
  • Type 2fzdaw to go to the 2nd z after the cursor and delete the whole word in which the z occurs.

Movement, useful copying/pasting with registers:

  • Create mark to section you're working on with ma and move back to that line at any time by typing 'a
  • Copy Character's name e.g. "John" into register j when cursor is in word John: "jyiw
  • Paste that character's name while typing: Ctrl-r j

(Just making these examples up off the top of my head).

Besides all this, vim also opens up a wide world of customization. For instance if I press \d then a new split is opened which has the dictionary and thesaurus entries for the word under the cursor. I have another shortcut to add it to a separate file of words I'd like to remember.

You could have a shortcut that will open up the list of character names for the project you're working on and another with a list of place names. Or you could make it so that if the cursor is over a certain character's name then a keyboard-shortcut will open their file of details. The possibilities are endless.

Of course all this has the potential to distract from actual writing.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/45091. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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I've written two (and a third) novels in Scrivener. It lets me keep everything I used to accumulate in (actual) file folders and note cards a click away: research, old versions, web links, photos, whatever my workflow requires.

I also use Grammarly & writersdiet.com as I'm writing to give me a different view of my work in progress. I don't let them dictate, but they often show me sentences I need to reconsider.

I wrote most of my first in Word before Scrivener existed. Not going back.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/45056. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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IDE-like tools exist for writers. Scrivener is a powerful general-purpose tool (also with questions here). Madcap Flare, aimed at technical writers, has good support for updating links, defining "snippets" (xinclude blocks, essentially), variables, conditionalization, advanced build options, and more. Arbortext Epic is another tool in that vein. There are XML editors like Oxygen and Notepad++ that you are probably already familiar with as a programmer. That's just a sampling.

Many writers prefer to just write and find that too much tooling gets in the way. Some of them use tools for planning separate from writing. Maybe fiction doesn't need to be refactored as often as code (though it does need to be refactored sometimes, and doing that in an editor using search is a pain). There are a lot of different kinds of writing and writers, and generalizations like "writers don't (or do) X" don't always stand up to scrutiny. Some do, some don't, some would if they didn't cost so much, and some do sometimes, depending on the task at hand.

(Psst. Some software developers still use emacs or vim...)

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