Things Writers Need: Drafting Software

In this inaugural post of my Things Writers Need series, I want to take a look at the big daddy.  No sense doing a thing if you’re not going to take on the biggest parts of that thing, right?  So, I want to start with something every writer needs to make friends with:  The Word Processor.

I’m sure some out there will disagree with me, but I’m sorry, if you’re not writing on a computer at this point, you’re just being silly.   Now, before you jump down my beak and strangle me from inside, rest easy, I don’t think all writing needs to be done on a computer.  There is a time and place for writing with whatever’s to hand, and even in the best of situations, your computer or laptop doesn’t fall into that category.  That said, you can’t hope to punch out the word count you can get with a word processor using pen and paper.  A typewriter might come close, but seriously… who uses typewriters any more?  Honestly?  Are you just trying to make a statement?  “Oh, I’m so retro, technologeee ain’t for meeee!”  If you have a typewriter in your house or apartment or storage shed and it’s being used as anything other than a paperweight, you’re doing it wrong.  Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with typewriters.  At the time they were marvels of engineering, and many of them are positively bubbling over with delightfully adorable designs and sleek features.  They’re great to look at.  But if you’re using one to do any amount of actual Writing, you’re being pretentious.  Get with the times.

Whoo, that was a detour.  Back to word processors.  To my mind, they’re the only way to get the day-in, day-out, nose-to-the-grindstone, banging-your-head-against-the-desk writing done.  And there are dozens.  Today, specifically, I want to talk about the word processor you use for DRAFTING, for spewing the unformed, stumbling, wobbly-kneed words onto the page for the first time.
Let me also interject the disclaimer that I’m not a Mac guy.  See my note on typewriters and pretentiousness.  So whatever fancy-schmancy software you Slackintosh users use is not within my purview.
The question is, what software are you going to use to create your masterpiece(s)?  I’ve tried several in my short tenure — Word, GoogleDocs, NotePad, Evernote — but for me the ones that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest are the simple, minimalist text editors like WriteMonkey or q10.  So far, I’m a big fan of WriteMonkey, and I think it’s worth a try from anybody who’s overwhelmed by Word or underwhelmed by NotePad and looking for an alternative.  I should again note here that I’m speaking strictly about drafting, that stage where you lock yourself in a room with your work and try to coax it onto the page through whatever means necessary.
Why a text editor over a full-blown word processor?  Well, Word and Docs and the like are loaded with features — cool features! — that I feel are totally unnecessary and therefore distracting to the drafting process.  You don’t need fancy formatting.  You don’t need title pages.  Clip Art, tables, even spelling and grammar checkers (for all that they’re worth… a topic for another day) are just so much noise.  You’re not creating a flyer for your sharknadoey garage band’s gig at Manny’s Ribs ‘n Rock.  All that matters in the draft are the words; you can fix formatting and page breaks and margins and columns and all that later.  Now, lovers of Word and its copycats might rightly point out that you can simply ignore that stuff.  Too true, I would say.  However, I know myself, and I know I’m the distractable type.  I therefore know that when my mind starts to wander, suddenly it seems very very urgent that I adjust my font or the line spacing or the page view or the colors or… you get the idea.   And that’s in Word.   Text editors don’t even let you see that stuff.  Some of it’s there, but it’s all hidden, out of sight and out of mind. If your mind starts to wander, there is nothing on the screen to distract it; all you see are the words.
Then, there’s portability and universality.  Word and the like absolutely suck sheep face in this regard; your copy of Word is tethered with airline cable and welded steel to your computer.  If you feel like working on your project without your computer (maybe not the likeliest of scenarios for some of us, but for others, it certainly happens), you are boned.  There’s also that highly proprietary default format.  Sure, some other programs can open .docs, but not all can, and the format tends to go all wibbly-wobbly outside of Word (again, distractions are anathema in this stage).  Sure, you can save as .rtf or .txt, but Word doesn’t particularly want you to, and doing so is a little bit like driving your restored ’68 Mustang (that’s a stupidly valuable car, right? I don’t “cars” so I don’t know) to the grocery store.  Sure, you can do it, but that ain’t what the thing was designed for.  GoogleDocs is somewhat better in this regard as you don’t need a proprietary program; all you have to do is load the webpage.  But there’s the rub: you still need an internet connection to use it, and again, while it’s not particularly likely, there have been times where I’ve wanted to work and couldn’t because my technology was limited.
WriteMonkey doesn’t run into those roadblocks.  WriteMonkey is a stripped-down Soviet tank.  It laughs at those potholes.  I particularly like WriteMonkey because it loads stupid fast and fits on a thumb drive, so it doesn’t even have to be installed on your computer — just slap it on your keyring and use it at work, at home, on vacation… whatever.  As long as you have a computer in front of you, you can use your portable copy of WriteMonkey.  It only saves in .txt format, so if for some reason you need to open your project in some other program, there’s no worry that it won’t open or that your work will be garbled when you do open it.  WriteMonkey also has some nifty features like built-in white noise, progress monitoring, and quick and easy keyboard shortcuts to make the writing life better (seriously, being able to type a note to myself and search for notes without taking my hand off the keyboard is like learning that I didn’t have to live my life walking on all fours).  Okay, okay, I KNOW.  You can probably do the same things in Word.  But Word has so many freaking features I could never be arsed to figure out how to do all that stuff.  I’m going to cite the distractions problem again.
Finally, and I say this with the straightest of faces, WriteMonkey is FREE.  Word is not.  There’s a free Word knock-off in LibreOffice, but the goal of that program is to, well, be a workable substitute for Word.  It’s a livable substitute if you don’t feel like shelling out the mortgage payment that Word costs, but it therefore falls into the same traps that Word falls into.  WriteMonkey knows what it is and does a damn good job of being exactly that: a no-frills, highly-portable, distraction-free writing experience.
I’m sure there are other programs out there that do what WriteMonkey does, but for my money (LOL IT WAS FREE) it’s done everything I wanted it to do and more.  Perhaps most importantly, it got me through the first draft of my first novel and I wasn’t sick of using it by the end.  Whatever program you’re using, you’re going to be joined to it at the hip, so make sure it’s a good one — don’t just use whatever because you didn’t feel like taking the time to pick out a good one.  Just, seriously, put the typewriters down.
Am I wrong?  Did I leave something out?  Let me know.

9 thoughts on “Things Writers Need: Drafting Software

  1. I personally like MS Word. I type fast and it can be set up so it isn’t too much of a distraction. Besides that, MS Word is what I’ve used for too long to admit, so it seems part of my writing. Besides that the point on my quill got dull by throwing it at the wall when I get frustrated.


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