Software to write by?

We’ve all heard of software designed to help us produce a fully-fledged book rather than just a document.  Scrivener is one of the best known;  it has tools to “manage the writing environment” rather than just write.

It seems there’s a new product on the market.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds promising.

For Michael Green, a US data scientist turned novelist, the need to use technology to simplify and streamline the writing process came when he was in the middle of writing his first book.

With 500 pages of a complex story written, he recalls that the process had become difficult to manage: “In the midst of editing, I got to the point where I started feeling like I had a lot of plots and characters.”

“I had all these documents on the deeper aspects of the world I was creating. I was worried about being able to keep track of it all. That’s when I switched into my more data science-minded approach to solving a complex problem with a lot of different pieces.”

The end result was that Mr Green created Lynit, a digital platform that helps authors visualise, plan and weave together the various elements – such as characters, plot arcs, themes and key events – that form a story.

The app is now in its beta stage, and is being tested by a number of writers. Currently free to use, users can draw and update intricate digital templates or story maps.

Mr Green says that many novelists begin their work with little more than a general idea of a plot or a particular character. With Lynit he says that the process of adding to this initial idea is simplified.

“As the author gets a new idea that they want to bring into the story, they are able to input it into a natural framework. They’re building a visualization.

“Piece by piece, they’re adding to the story. As new ideas come in, they change, maybe by creating new nodes [or interactions], new relationships.”

There’s more at the link, including a discussion of more technological help available to writers.

I’m not sure that I need software like that for my current output, although for longer, more complex books I’m sure it’ll be a Godsend.  I find it more than helpful enough just to have a browser open next to my word processor, with twenty to thirty tabs open at any one time, digging out information about this ship, or that item, or the weather, or space navigation, or an Elizabethan diet, or Otzi’s clothing, or… or so many things!

To most of our predecessors in the writing world, that sort of tool would be an unimaginable luxury, and would probably have increased their writing output manyfold.  Imagine Shakespeare writing pulps!

24 comments

  1. I have a rule of thumb about software, and it’s very simple. Never use any piece of software that stores my work on its server. Lynit breaks that rule… so you couldn’t pay me to even try it.

    1. Holly, that is my basic rule as well. It is my one big complaint with Atticus right now. Atticus is supposed to be an alternative to Vellum. It works on PC and Mac, a big plus since Vellum is Mac only. I’ve spent some time playing with it and it seems to combine the best of Scrivener with Vellum (although it is still in the beta phase, so there are elements not yet available). My complaint is that, while you can work in it off-line, you have to go online and connect to their servers to be able to export your work as epub or pdf. Until then, your work will be stored locally. I much prefer Vellum and Scrivener (although Scrivener has too many bells and whistles and they distract me) because it is all housed locally.

      1. Since I’m not about to buy a Mac (but pretty much any off-the-shelf Dell can be turned into a Hackintosh), I asked the Vellum people if it would run on a Hackintosh, and they said they didn’t see why not.

        As to software, same rule as Holly. My data stays home, it doesn’t roam the aether. Nor will I become dependent on software controlled elsewhere. I remember all too well the CDROM.COM debacle, and the many archives that were lost in the sudden shutdown.

        1. Unfortunately, this isn’t new with Google. A quick search shows there have been instances and a number of complaints about it going back at least 5 years. It is just one of the many reasons I use Google Docs very infrequently.

          1. Has Microsoft done the same with Office 365 / OneDrive? (At least with Office 365, you can install all the apps locally, which I do).

            I already avoid Google Docs, and my kids are starting to prefer MS Office outside of school (which uses Google). (I also have LibreOffice installed on the home computers, and use a mix of LO & MS Office myself)

            1. I do need to go over their terms of service, but OneDrive does let you set itself up so that it is a multi-computer sync system. Basically, you make updates to local copies which are synced to their cloud database when you are connected, and if you have never revisions on the cloud it will sync them to your computer.

              I actually use it for syncing saved games between computers. Still has possibilities for long distance tampering, but it’s not completely dependent on their servers.

            2. They have added on a spell check ish ‘feature’ in Word that apparently uses the cloud to check the document for issues.

              So, in theory, they have something that could be ‘easily’ modified to perform censorship.

              And there are signs of insanity from Microsoft. However, my vague impression is that Microsoft still retains some institutional fear of pissing off customers, such as by pushing out an update that screws up files without user approval or intervention.

              I’m also a little concerned that they might use their OS updates to do something nuts.

              I’m not going to say that it is going to be fine. I’m also not going to say that it is time to switch to Slackware and resign yourself to using vi or emacs.

            3. They have similar “What you put on our server is ours but you can still use it” language at least for theirnon-commercialversion. Which is why I put nothing creative on it.

          2. Sadly, if people read the Google EULA they’d notice that Google claims the right to do anything they want with anything you choose to store on their servers or send from a Gmail account. They don’t have to pay you, notify you, etc. Is the main reason I stopped using them for anything but as a junk email.

      2. Just here to say I agree. Besides, having read the link I’m unimpressed, for many different reasons, but mostly down to why re-invent the wheel. I could be wrong, I often am, but having someone build software for writing stories who hasn’t been able to use Scrivener or its equivalent, strikes me as odd.

        Colour me as a boring old fogey; get off my lawn.

        1. Eh, I find Scrivner limiting (especiallysince their outlines are indelibly locked to the scenes). My prefered tool was Liquid Story Binder. It was a tool box that you could use however you saw fit… I have yet to see the like. Unfortunately it is also abandon-ware. And very long in the tooth. I keep hoping someone will build something similar, but have thus far been disappointed.

          Right now I use Scrivner and Dabble. Mostly because Dabble has a plot board that isn’t scene linked, which means I can use it to sequence events within a scene or between books or any number of other things. It’s messy but it’s the best I’ve found.

          1. Scrivener has, for my taste, too many features, bells, and whistles, and if you try to use them, it’s a pain in the ass. I use it, however, because it has both outline cards (I swear, built just for me, because they read my mind) and the software allows me to make my own template. Which is bare, bare bones.

            I do my line-for-scene outline on the cards, put the cards into order, and then use my own template, which has damn near nothing in it but the font I like, Courier, in double-space with a five-space indent at each paragraph head.

            And when I’m done with the first draft, the revision, and the final edit, it transports beautifully to Vellum.

            1. Now, for full disclosure, I use the PC, not MAC version of Scrivener. The problem with Scrivener, for me, is that all the ‘bells and whistles’…aren’t. They’re just ways of looking at your text documents. There isn’t any actual storyboarding capacity. Each ‘card’ is a text document/Scene. You can’t look at a bunch of cards at the same time you’re looking at your scene. You can’t sequence events without creating scenes for them. People keep talking about Scrivener’s bells and whistles, when all it is is my old system of separate word docs in a single program with a few more formatting options and ways of looking at those text documents.

              I don’t plan. I’m a pantser. I miss the ability to have my sequence of events up at the same time as my character timeline at the same time as a character sheet. At the same time as my notes on the characters’ religion in the story. I miss the ability to write along, run into a snag, sort out the timing on a bunch of sequence cards (which don’t generate new scenes with each card) then get back to the writing without interrupting the flow for longer than I absolutely have to. The way scrivener does it I might as well be using a pile of text documents.

              This is why I keep looking at new software all the time, hoping something will let me pull this off again. Nothing ever has. It’s also why I use Scrivener for formatting and little else. It is very good at formatting and lets me port things smoothly over to Juttoh. For writing for me, it’s too frustrating. Because I SHOULD be able to do a bunch of things with it and can’t.

  2. The only software that would work for me would involve a Bluetooth brain implant that transfers my thoughts directly to a word processor. Let me know when you find one,

  3. I may have to try it, but most of the things that advertise this are designed for hard core planners. They are a poor fit for pantser. On the other hand if it’s flexible enough to do the “figure things out as you go” it might be a great help.

  4. I live off-grid, and my internet ‘system’ uses my phone as a hotspot or my weekly trip to the library. Using an app that is cloud-based or strictly server-based is not feasible. And like others on here, if I have to dedicate MY work to SOMEONE ELSES equipment,,, I have issues with that.
    Looking at the layout of this app, using a mind-map and some graphing programs and you have the same thing. Since I use a big empty wall for my mind-map,,,,,
    PASS,,,,,

  5. There are several interesting series I’ve read (and abandoned) where the author is good at painting this huge picture of a world with rich details and interesting plot threads, but then seems unable to track all of the loose threads or bring them to a conclusion in a final book. I think this kind of software would benefit those writers.

  6. Yeah, I’m not a cloud fan.

    My biggest issue is that I don’t have a consistent process for figuring things out. I can trace processes for smaller successes in non-fiction. Often, I spend a lot of time working things over mentally, and it feels like spinning my wheels to me. Sometimes my next step is scribbling stuff with pencil and paper, sometimes it is text files, and sometimes it is talking things over.

    I’ve tried a database, I’m not sure if it worked for me or not. I’ve tried mind mapping software, likewise.

    On some levels, project management software seems like it should work, on other levels, it seems like the MC’s workflow is the exact opposite of the workflow that project management software is intended to represent.

    It might be that I have a genuine need for a tool that let’s me change my mind latter about what relationship planning data A has to planning data B. It could be that I am too unpracticed at these skills to have a meaningful opinion.

  7. I just took a few minutes and went to the Lynit website. My first impression wasn’t positive. Not when there’s a banner across the top of the page telling everyone their email server is down and they can’t send verification emails. Okay, it happens, but when you’re a cloud-based app, it helps to let your clients and potential clients know when the server went down and how long you expect a fix to take.

    Then I started looking for more information about the app. No screenshots of the app in use. No description (at least not more than a passing one) of the various options you have with the app, etc. Even with the beta version to be offered for free, I want to have some idea about what I’m signing up for.

    Before signing up, I urge everyone to read the Terms of Service–I recommend this for every program or app. They are “interesting” and I’m not sure they would pass legal muster.

    1. Agreed. Although they do have a severability clause.

      The two pieces that I find objectionable are:

      We may suspend, disable, or delete your account (or any part thereof) if we determine that you have violated any provision of this Agreement or that your conduct or content would tend to damage our reputation and goodwill.

      Prohibited actions… (e) to harass, abuse, insult, harm, defame, slander, disparage, intimidate, or discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, age, national origin, or disability;

      Red flags! These boil down to “If we, or anyone we approve of, finds you to be insufficiently ‘woke,’ we will destroy you.”

      1. I’ll also note that I cannot find any work that is likely to be by this particular Michael Green on Amazon. Not a definite indicator that he has nothing published, but cause for caution, IMHO.

  8. The website.. feels more like a data harvesting tool than an actual writing one. Can’t use it or even look at it without logging in / signing up. Not to mention I’m a little suspicious of ‘data scientists’ actually knowing what problems writers need to solve without getting in the way.

    I have recently run across a tool that is free, open source, runs on linux, windows and mac, called novelWriter.
    https://novelwriter.io/
    What I like about it is the way it stores everything in text files (doesn’t lock you into using it), and it’s pretty easy to link things together with a simple @tag. Plus it’s all local, and free.

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