It Should be the Easy Part

What’s the hardest part of writing a story? The absolute most challenging part?

There are a lot of things that go into creating great fiction, but what’s the most difficult? Character development? Good dialog? Adequate but not overblown description?

You might be surprise to find out the hardest part for me. It’s probably the easiest for any other writer.

Whenever I sit down to write a story I have a decision I have to make before I ever get to the writing. And that decision might have to be made again later in the process, too. So I have to be careful about the choice I make, before I ever begin the writing.

That decision is, what software should I use to do the writing?

Goodness. That’s probably the last thing any other writer thinks about. They find a writing tool they love, like Scrivener, and stick with it through thick and thin. Or they think anything other than Word is silly; you’re going to have to produce a Word document at some point anyway. Everyone who might read or touch your manuscript will want it.

For me, I thought that tool would be WriteMonkey. It’s fast, lightweight, clean, and has that awesome navigator which builds itself based on markers you can drop in the document at any point. Those markers can be annotated or will use the first several words of the next line you type.

That’s awesome, but I’ve had problems with WriteMonkey dropping words from a document, or moving them around sort of randomly. It’s a bit…well, not buggy, exactly, but not rock-solid every time either. So while it has the look I like and helps my weak eyes, and it has that great navigation pane, it still makes me nervous.

Then there’s the argument that, at some point in the process, you’re going to need the manuscript to be a Word document. For an external editor. So beta readers can make comments on it. For uploading into aggregate sites like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. Somewhere along the line, you’re going to need to use a Word document. So there’s that.

Scrivener seems to be everyone’s first choice once they’ve tried the software; and it does have a great feature set, really. I can’t disparage the software, and it was my favorite too. Until…

See, the problem here is, I only scratched the surface of the capabilities. I don’t use half – heck, I don’t use a third – of Scrivener’s features. That thing’s a beast, completely capable of doing incredible things, including outputting a clean, correctly formatted epub file, and a .mobi file for Kindle too, using Amazon’s own KindleGen software. Just point Scrivener to the KindleGen folder and whammo! Kindle ebooks.

Scrivener also has a nifty, and recently improved, full-screen mode. You can write distraction free, and you can set both the height and the width of the text column, so you can stay focused. Determine how much of the rest of the screen to black out. Change the font and background color independent of the editor in window-mode. All sorts of great stuff. But…

You can’t hop around too far in the document. Because of those discreet little files Scrivener makes for you, you’re limited to working in the next group above. So let’s say you’ve neatly divided your manuscript into chapter folders and each one has three scene text files in it. You can full-screen write in that chapter, but you have to jump out of full-screen mode to move to a new chapter, or to another division unit. Not clean, not great. And it’s gonna break the focus you get with full-screen writing, so there’s sort of no point.

Scrivener has a lot of white screen burning my weak eyes if I don’t use it in full-screen mode, so I’m back to WriteMonkey again. Sadly. Because I love me some Scrivener.

Okay, WriteMonkey’s okay, as long as the words I put in the document stay in the document, where I put them in the document, and there’s no guarantee of that.

So here’s where I have a minor meltdown every time I start a writing session. I have to choose which software is going to make my writing time the most productive, the most enjoyable, and the most relaxing. And there’s nothing relaxing about that decision, at all.

So far, I’m sticking with WriteMonkey for these reasons:

  1. I can really get around with that navigation window; it puts the one in Word to shame, and what a shame that is, since Word could do that too if Microsoft wanted to
  2. I can more readily convert from WriteMonkey to Word than I can from Word to WriteMonkey.
  3. I can also import WriteMonkey’s file into Word and then into Scrivener if I want to forego the uploading of a .mobi file to Amazon. The other vendors also want a Word document if you’re not uploading something like an epub file.
  4. If I can keep the WriteMonkey file in one piece, I can import it directly into Scrivener, and Scrivener is smart enough to break the chapters on the Markdown header indicator (a pound symbol, “#”), so it’s pretty well ready to format into an ebook from there, not to mention a PDF for print-on-demand services.
  5. I can create a reverse outline more easily after the fact from WriteMonkey’s bookmarks jump list than from Word’s navigation pane. Period.

Here’s hoping.

Word isn’t out of the picture yet, either. Like I’ve indicated repeatedly, you will need a Word document at some point, and I’ll be migrating from WriteMonkey into a Word template of some kind. I don’t relish the idea of cut and paste chapter by chapter or scene by scene, but it may not be as bad as I think. Or I could just keep doing it as I go along.

The final issue is cycling. If I cycle back over and over and over again as I go along (and I do), the two documents are going to be out of sync in short order. For example, when I run spell check on the final document before sending it to beta readers, those corrections won’t be done in the other version. It’s better for me to migrate the final document, whatever it’s in, then copy it or import it or whatever.

Whew! All that confusion is making me tired. And I face it every time I want to write.

So, what about you? What’s your pen of choice?



7 thoughts on “It Should be the Easy Part

  1. I wish I could somehow merge the two for you so you wouldn’t have to struggle so!


    Aw, it’s okay, Love. I’ll figure it out. Or something. And it’s not like you didn’t try with your OneNote offer. LOL. LTY2!

  2. What? Words disappear? That is so weird. While using WriteMonkey, there have been a couple of times where I have accidentally clicked and dragged some highlighted text and it dragged that text away (I guess that’s a feature).

    Yeah, a “feature.” Go figure. It was weird; it just left out an entire paragraph. But I think I had something like you describe happen to my last manuscript; one of the beta readers was very confused (and I was too, frankly).

    If you want to leave your work in markdown and still use beta readers, you can check out

    I’ll check that out. It wasn’t so much I wanted the document in Markdown, it was that most beta readers won’t have anything that can read a markdown file. But everyone has something that can read a Word document. And I LOVE WriteMonkey’s navigation/bookmarking system; best I’ve seen, bar none.

    And my favorite is a Fisher Space Pen.

    Really? There a little rick for my blood. 🙂

  3. Also, everyone can read html, and writemonkey can export to that, too, assuming they don’t need to make notes in the file…

    That’s the point of beta readers though. HTML is out, for sure. And I just found out this morning Pandoc can export as Word files, so there’s that. Still hoops, but maybe fewer hoops.

  4. writemonkey has a export to word function that (If I remember right) basically makes a html file, but names it .doc. Word can open those and use them. With the next save word will save it in actual word format. Or maybe WM can automatically open word and push in the text. I don’t recall. Just play with the export accessible via right click and you’ll see.

    I’m headed that way as soon as I sit at the computer. I never checked WM’s export features. Nice! Thanks B!

  5. I use Windows WordPad. Very clean interface, creates a nice manuscript file – I can set font, space and indents, which is pretty much all I need. At the moment I do final formatting in Word or OpenOffice. I should go to InDesign for that really.

    I simply can’t afford InDesign. I hear good things about Sigil , though it’s strictly for epub, and Jutoh too. If you’re concerned about renting for $240 a year (you likely aren’t, but I am), you can check those out, Sean.

    It makes the most sense to just use Word, honestly. But I’m going to give Scrivener one more shot to see what sort of Word file it can output. If it works correctly the first time this time, I’ll probably write in WriteMonkey and import to Scrivener going forward. I’ve already paid for it, and I may as well use it. 🙂

  6. InDesign is overkill for formatting fiction anyway.

    I don’t know, it’s the industry standard for all publishing. I like the idea of being able to control the kearning and stuff, but I don’t like the tedium. I would think for ebooks using anything would work. But for print books, it’s harder to make them look good. Don’t you think? You’ve done print yourself, so you’d know.

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