Is it time to ditch Word?

Hi Writers,
I enjoyed this essay from Sunday’s New York Time’s magazine, about options beyond Microsoft Word for writers. It’s definitely worth reading this short, amusing essay: An Interface of One’s Own
by Virginia Heffernan.

Here’s an excerpt:
Our redeemer is Scrivener, the independently produced word-processing program of the aspiring novelist Keith Blount, a Londoner who taught himself code and graphic design and marketing, just to create a software that jibes with the way writers think. As its name makes plain, Scrivener takes our side; it roots for the writer and not for the final product — the stubborn Word. The happy, broad-minded, process-friendly Scrivener software encourages note-taking and outlining and restructuring and promises all the exhilaration of a productive desk: “a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and text editor all rolled into one.”

Ring, scrap and cork sound like fun, a Montessori playroom. But read on — and download the free trial — and being a Scrivener-empowered scrivener comes to seem like life’s greatest role. Scriveners, unlike Word-slaves, have florid psychologies, esoteric requirements and arcane desires. They’re artists. They’re historians. With needs. Scrivener is “aimed at writers of all kinds — novelists, journalists, academics, screenwriters, playwrights — who need to refer to various research documents and have access to different organizational tools whilst aiming to create a finished piece of text.”

That “whilst”! It alone makes me feel like writing.

Scrivener, then, is one of us, at home in the writer’s jumpy emotional and procedural universe. Consider its desktop icon. It greets you without Word’s back-slanted, subliterate “W” — speeding nervously to the finish line — but with an open-minded yin-yang adorned with quotation marks. Unlike so many twerpy little applications, the Scrivener icon eschews that ubiquitous Curaçao blue. Neither is it slightly rounded like some squishy teething toy. Instead, it shines and stands upright like a domino, which makes you think of a brisk “click” instead of a software “blurp.” It’s also black and white, like words on a page.

To create art, you need peace and quiet. Not only does Scrivener save like a maniac so you needn’t bother, you also get to drop the curtain on life’s prosaic demands with a feature that makes its users swoon: full screen. When you’re working on a Scrivener opus, you’re not surrounded by teetering stacks of Firefox windows showing old Google searches or Citibank reports of suspicious activity. Life’s daily cares slip into the shadows. What emerges instead is one pristine and welcoming scroll: Your clean and focused mind.

Microsoft Word is so ingrained in my work/ writing habits, it’s difficult to even consider switching. But reading this article really got me thinking about checking out Scrivener. Do any of you use Scrivener or are there alternative word processing programs you’d recommend trying? I’d love to hear from you.

Keep Writing,

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17 thoughts on “Is it time to ditch Word?

  1. Richard

    I tried a couple of writer-specific programs (New Novelist and Novel Writer Pro) and found that they didn’t perform as well as the combination of Word and Onenote. They were slow and clunky and the in-built word processor was woefully lacking. That said, from what I’ve seen on their site, Scrivener does look a little more sophisticated than these options (I can’t give it a test-drive as I’m on XP).

    I guess it’s wherever you feel the most comfortable. I like the feel Word 2007 and it’s more than enough for my needs.

  2. ken fisler

    Emacs is a free text processor and open source, so you and other folks can add whatever features computer code can do. Emacs has been around for at least twenty years, so there’s a ton of features and code to choose from and more coming out all the time. I’ve been using it for some fourteen years and I pretty much don’t have to think about anything but the words and sentences. However you write, even if you use pen and paper, it should be transparent… nothing between the words happening in the mind and the words showing up on screen/paper. Among other wildness, emacs can write to a file on a remote machine the same as if it were the local hard drive… in case you need a mind-blog connection.

    So, yeah, I ditched Word some time ago.

  3. Ruth

    I second WordPerfect. I have used it for over 20 years and have never found anything to compete with it. While Scrivener may specifically suit a writer’s needs on Mac, WP is all-over incomparable.

    As Shalryn listed, subdocuments, toolbars, formatting, and customizing are all A+ features. You put *anything* on the toolbars that you want there. Let me add Tables, Outlines, and Show Codes. Tables have nearly all the functions of full spreadsheets, but are slanted to the needs of text. Outlines are actually easy to learn and use – simple and intuitive. Reveal Codes allows you to find or delete a precise code. You can, for instance, search on each place where you advanced a line by .1 inch.

    Simple macros are easy to write. I keep a macro I created for turning my italics into HTML code and reversing that; available by clicking a button I put on my toolbar.

    You also have a full-screen option. Once you pretty well know the key codes rather than relying on clicking buttons with the mouse, you can have the luxury of the full screen along with the instant availability of the functions.

    I could go on at *much* greater length.

  4. Shalryn

    I have been using WordPerfect for about 15 years now, and I have yet to find a program that makes me want to abandon it. Its master/sub document functions are quick and easy to use, the toolbars are the most completely and easily customizable ones known to me, and formatting is a snap.

  5. Ritergal

    I switched cold turkey to OpenOffice on January 1, 2007, and have not looked back. Not only is it splendid on my PC, but my work transfers seamlessly to my Ubuntu powered laptop. Microsoft needs to be afraid. Very afraid.

  6. Tiffany

    Strangely, when it comes to my writing, I like Microsoft’s OneNote. New stationary somehow motivates me, and I love the drag-and-drop concepts it uses. It is set up with multiple "notebooks" and within the notebooks you can have pages and sub-pages. Plus – it syncs with my PDA for writing on the go.

  7. becky

    I found Scrivener after Merlin Mann (43 folders) recommended it. And I use it for many projects. I especially like being able to drag in various resources to keep them all together for a project. The only thing I don’t like at times is the export feature – I wind up having to do more formatting than I’d like to. But it’s still a gem.

  8. neil...

    Scrivener all the way for me, after chomping through many a self-proclaimed writer’s project management tool.
    The strongest point of Scrivener is its adaptability to YOUR needs rather than the application’s author forcing you to operate in a way they have determined. It is reliable and does not get in the way of writing, being very responsive to the kind of punishment my projects require.

  9. jason

    I use google docs – it’s online so I always have access to my work from any internet connected computer. I back up with word as well when I’m home but 1.5 years and no problems with the google online server.

  10. :Donna

    This ALL sounds great, and I was happy to see the affordable cost of Scrivener, but — PC here *sigh* The Liquid Story Binder sounds like it’s probably good. I’ll check it out to see if it’s for a PC 🙂
    : Donna

  11. Risto P

    I have Scrivener, and I love it. It’s a great tool for all kinds of writing, even for articles, because you can pile all your research, links, and interviews into Scrivener and don’t have to jump between windows and application.

    In the end, though, you need to export everything to Word. 🙂

  12. Mary

    I’ve been using Liquid Story Binder for a while now and although I have yet to explore all the features of the program, I quite like it.

    It is similar to Scrivener in that you can view multiple docs in one file, and can have images, research, music files, storyboards, timelines etc.

  13. Robbie Taylor

    For those of us in the Windows/Linux camp, we must forego Scrivener, alas.

    However, there are a huge number of alternatives for us. OpenOffice is the most powerful and probably best-known, but the tiny little program Q10 will provide a blast from the past for those nostalgic for full-screen word processing that cuts off all outside distractions. Both of those run in Windows.

    In Linux, I also like Kword, which is very powerful, although it has a few issues reading files saved in OpenOffice.

    I confess to some luddite tendencies about word processors – I still think fondly of PC-Write and the cool feature it had to fix your dyslexia – one key-combo flipped the two letters next to your cursor.

    I like to experiment with word processors, so I’ll keep trying them until I find the one that auto-writes my bestseller with minimal input from me…


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