Thursday, May 03, 2012

Free Software Puts the Fun Back in Writing.

At least it did for me: Last month, a novelist friend and customer told me about discovering OneNote, which is a little known addition to recent versions of Microsoft Office. By most accounts, OneNote is a fine little notetaking program. However, it does cost something--$80.00 if you buy it separately from Microsoft Office 10--and that sent me checking out cheaper alternatives. It did not take me long to find Ywriter, which has been getting good reviews and is, of all things, free.

While Ywriter5 (the latest version) is an alternative to OneNote, it is not a note-taking program. Rather, it is a writing program, designed more or less specifically for novelists. It solves the novelist's problem: keeping track of characters, locations, bios, notes, ideas, timelines, and the myriad details that are all the more complicated because they come from the ever-changing figment of the writer's imagination. With Ywriter5, you can stop in mid-chapter to add new details that won't be lost. You can create a list of major and minor characters as you go, adding the relevant characters to each chapter.

The software counts the words in each chapter and keeps a cumulative total, which supports my insistence that all authors--novelists included--set a target word count and not simply write until they drop. I keep finding little tools, including some real jewels, designed to help the writer not only finish but finish well. For example, it counts specific word usage, useful for identifying those overused words that writers ignore but that become a thousand sore thumbs in a poorly finished product.

To be fair, the program is not perfect. It has a learning curve, which could be a deal-breaker for the impatient or the electronically challenged. While the program looks good and makes visual sense, it is not functionally intuitive. I repeatedly found myself stuck somewhere, thinking I could add or edit information, only to find I had not found the key. Worse, there is little useful help within the system. I did get some help from YouTube files, of all places. In addition, I could not install Ywriter5 in Windows 7 XP Mode, which is my production machine, and had to settle for installing Ywriter4. On a hunch, I tried installing Ywriter5 directly onto Windows 7, and that worked. Now, I'm actually using Windows 7 for some real work. 

The flaws are aggravating, but they are relatively small and temporary. Each time I broke through a roadblock, my  satisfaction with this software grew--and so did my interest in writing my mystery. The Publishing Pro.

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