Last month, I shared some of the trials and tribulations of trying to self-publish without Microsoft Word.
Yes. Gasp. Shock. Awe. I don’t own a personal copy of Microsoft Word. Except the version that’s on my Windows Phone, and I can tell you that if I’d had to write these eBooks with my thumbs, this would’ve been one short resolution.
So, anyway. Lots of people don’t have Microsoft Word. Heck, the lovely and talented Marian Allen writes on a Linux machine. So anyway, there are a lot of different tools you can use these days to compose your prose.
I’ve used Open Office with variable results. It’s got a lot of features. It also tended to crash a lot for me (but newer versions might work better). When it comes to just writing plain text, I absolutely adore Q10. It’s a lot like Write Room for Mac, but in addition to giving you a gloriously distraction-free writing environment, it makes the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter when you type. Which is awesome. And it’s free. Which is extra-awesome.
Since I am, in fact, a web nerd by profession, I’m partial to Google Docs. In fact, I did most of my drafting for the last three works I’ve finished in Gdocs. It seems like it has a nice balance of features and simplicity, and it exports to .rtf, .odf (for Open Office), and .docx (the latest Microsoft Word format).
What I don’t love about Gdocs? On longer pieces, the lag between you and Google’s servers can get frustrating, especially if you’re on a less-than-blazing-fast internet connection. Speaking of which, if you lose internet connection, you can’t work on your document. There’s also the problems I ran into in January. If you’re publishing to Smashwords, they take .doc files, not .docx format. Google Docs doesn’t export to that earlier format. Also, there were a few formatting features I needed to follow Smashwords’ recommendations for their “Meatgrinder” software that turns your document into different eBook formats. So I had to download it, put it in Open Office, make a few formatting tweaks, and then resave it as a .doc file. It was kind of a pain.
This last month, I switched to Zoho Docs, which is very similar to Google Docs. However, Zoho will let you work in Offline Mode (Google Docs used to support this, but doesn’t anymore). Zoho also let’s you export as a .doc file, and has the formatting and style options that Google Docs lacked for getting my draft Meatgrinder-ready. I was able to write my draft, edit it, format it and export it all from Zoho, and the output file went through the Meatgrinder with flying colors, as well as Amazon KDP’s eBook uploader.
Since I’ve been doing mostly smaller works, I’ve been outlining and doing character and story notes at the beginning of my draft, and just deleting those parts at the end. Yes, I outline short stories. After struggling with Big Teeth for six month and getting nowhere, and then knocking it out in a matter of weeks once I sat down and outlined the story, I’m sold on plotting/outlining.
Which leads me to the last set of tools. If you’re doing lengthy or complex works, which need outlines, character notes, setting notes and other organizational meta-writing, a plain text editor or word processor is probably not your best bet. I’ve been playing with (and really liking) Scrivener. It used to be Mac-only, but they’ve lifted the White Curtain and released it for PCs as well. At $40, it’s a really good bargain for a pretty powerful tool. Another option is yWriter, which is available for free.
We could probably have a lengthy discussion about Plotting/Outlining versus Pantsing/Discovery Writing, but this is long already, so we’ll save that for another day. Got a writing tool you love? Let me know in the comments.