I talked a little last week about my writing gear. I wanted to get a bit more into detail regarding writing software, and some of the choices I’ve made in the past and present regarding this.
This is not quite what I started writing stuff on.
When I first got started with serious writing, it was likely in college. I went to the University of Iowa for my undergraduate studies. (Yes, it is the University of Iowa that has the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop that Hannah briefly attended in Girls. No, I sadly never got into the Workshop, which is quite competitive. I eventually decided on more of a journalism track. OK, enough of that before this turns into another Writer’s Biography piece.)
Anyway, I was probably the last college student in the USA to not have an email address, or I didn’t use it that much. Me and my future wife were exchanging actual letters, not emails and not much on the phone because this was back when long-distance calling was an actual service rather than a commodity that is virtually free now.
The point was, computers back then were a novel thing. I was strictly a pen/pencil and paper guy until I got to college. Not everyone had a desktop computer or – even fancier – a laptop. Computer labs were the big thing – our dorm had one with maybe a couple dozen late 1980’s model Macs for our use from 8 a.m to 12 a.m. or something like that.
As for me, whatever itch I used to have for my own typewriter disappeared the first time I fired up one of those Macs and got MacWrite working. I could format my documents, choose different fonts with a click of a mouse, and I think it even allowed me to spellcheck. I also loved the fact that, unlike with paper, it was easy and cost-effective to make however many copies of my writing that I wanted and store it in separate places. (With how often computers or external hard drives have died on me, this has been an invaluable tool.)
However, by the time I was an upperclassman at Iowa, MacWrite was on the way out and Windows 95 was about to dominate the computing universe. With that came Microsoft Word, the word processing program that I ended up using more or less exclusively for two decades.
I have enjoyed using MS Word. It basically fulfills all of the needs I have for a word processing program. You can alter it for paragraph formatting, you can keep track of your word count, and I loved it when it added the grammar feature. Anything an aspiring writer might have need of, MS Word could provide.
For a while, I had been hearing that Google was coming up with some online equivalents to the Microsoft Office Suite. I was a little nervous about relying on the Internet for access to my writings. It’s similar to the current arguments about streaming – do you really own something that you couldn’t immediately access and hold in your hand (albeit in a flash drive)?
It wasn’t until about six years ago, when I began to teach special education, that I began to experiment with Google Docs as a classroom teaching tool. They days when they carted a single computer around elementary school classrooms so everyone could get a chance to use it were long gone – ever since I began special education teaching students each have their own laptop or chromebook.
In using Google Docs, I was impressed with the ability to instantly save files, download files if needed, and everything that MS Word had done for me for years. As a teacher, I was also impressed with the ability for more than one user to access and edit a document. This wound up being an excellent way to help students revise, edit, and otherwise improve their writing. The main disadvantage, of course, is that it requires Internet access for you to get to your files.
As of right now, MS Word is still my primary writing tool. It’s worked well for the past couple decades, and I’ve not really seen a need to change. However, I am continuing to utilize Google Docs for my writing as well. It is especially helpful for helping to back up my files, and I occasionally find myself doing first drafts of my fiction on the system.
There are other electronic tools I have made use of over the years. I used to love the Alphasmart company. Their word processors were portable, not connected to the Internet, simple and so easy to use (simple on-off switch, save as you type, and the ability to download to conventional computers). I used to have an Alphasmart Neo in my possession for years, but it eventually died on me. It’s a shame the company has stopped production of them nearly a decade ago, but I am in the hunt for a used one.
I’ve used some other programs to help develop my writing, taking notes, collecting other media like images and other things. Microsoft OneNote has been helpful, but again, I prefer to use the version that I can save those files on my computer. Scrivener I have experimented with, and I like the “cork board” way that you can organize notes, but I never got into using it as a pure word processing program like some writers have. It just doesn’t have as natural of a feel of a word processor as MS Word or even Google Docs.
I have heard of another suite of planning software called Campfire Blaze. I may take a look at that and see if it might fit my needs, and there might be a review of that software in the future if I go for it.
That’s it for now; stay safe everyone and all the writers keep writing.