Do what works for you

Recently, I’ve seen a spate of requests on various social media posts and blog sites talking about what software writers use. Like the debate between Mac vs PC, the word processing wars can become more than a bit intense. If you toss in photo manipulation programs and conversion programs and, well, war can break out very easily. But here’s the thing. There is no right answer. Use what works for you and makes your life as a writer easier.

I know that sounds like a bit of a “duh!” answer, but it’s true. If you find yourself fighting to finish a project because you aren’t comfortable using a certain word processing program, why are you using it? Just because someone recommended it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Sure, try it. You might be surprised. But don’t keep punishing yourself if the program doesn’t work for you.

For example, word processors are a dime a dozen. You can pay for Word or Word Perfect. Or you can go the open source path with programs like LibreOffice or Google Docs. All have good points and bad. All will bring out writers who are adamant that they are the “one true program” while others will point at them and say they are the devil’ work. The question is: are you comfortable using them and do they do everything you want and need them to do?

For me, I use Word. Part of it s because that’s what I’m comfortable with. I’d prefer going back to WordPerfect (years and years ago, before it sold). But that’s not an option. So I go with Word. I do it for several reasons. The first is it is the program I know the best. That means I rarely have to stop and think about a shortcut, much less take time to look it up. The second is the review function. The last time I trolled through some of the alternatives, none of them had a review function as robust as Word’s. Then there’s the fact Word continues to be industry standard, pretty much no matter what the “industry” is. That means whether I’m working at writing or something else, whoever I’m sending docs to will more than likely be working in the same app.

But that doesn’t mean Word is the best. It’s a bloated program that inflicts a lot of extra code into documents I’d prefer not being there. Code that can on occasion do weird crap to e-books. But the fact I can just sit down and start writing without thinking about what I’m doing regarding formatting, etc., is a big plus in my book.

But I’m just one writer. I know others who swear by LibreOffice. Others say Google Docs is the only way to go. The name of the program doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. What does is putting butt in chair and writing–and finishing. 

Oh, and backing up your work because, no matter what program you lose, the rules of the universe include the one that at some time when you least expect it, your hard drive will fail and you will loose everything. So back up your work and then back up your back ups.

The same goes for your photo manipulation programs. I learned Photoshop years and years go. Even then, it was not an intuitive program, at least not for me. It was also amazingly expensive and that hasn’t changed. So when I discovered Gimp, I happily went with it. Why? Because it was open source and it was similar enough to Photoshop I didn’t have to learn everything all over.

Right now, I’m using Affinity Photo. It’s a paid program, but isn’t too very expensive. I like the interface and ease of use. For me, it is much more intuitive than Photoshop. But that doesn’t mean it is better than any of the other programs. It just means it is easier for me to use.

There are other programs you’ll find writers getting into arguments about. Scrivener is one. I own it. I play with it but I don’t do entire projects with it. Frankly, it is a program I jump over to when I need to kickstart the creative juices. Why? Because it does much the same for me as writing with pencil and paper. It makes me slow down and think about what I’m doing. 

Scrivener is one of those programs that has so many bells and whistles, it becomes overwhelming for a lot of writers. you can outline with it. You have a corkboard, you can set up separate tabs for every scene. You can have character sketches. And that’s just scraping the surface. Then there’s the fact it is still primarily a Mac program (or was the last time I compared the PC to the Mac versions). For me, it is too much. For others, it is their go-to program for all aspects of writing.

Conversion programs are another one where writers disagree. Some don’t use a conversion program at all. They either hire someone to convert their work into print and digital formats or they simply upload a DOC or DOCX file and let the storefront’s own software do the conversion. There’s nothing wrong with either as long as it works for you. But, for me, I like having more control and that means having to find the right program that works for me.

Back in the dark ages, conversion meant hand coding the manuscript into html. I do NOT miss those days. Today, you can choose between open source, freeware and paid software to do the job for you. But, before making your decision, you need to know what you want the program to do. The more bells and whistles you want in your converted manuscript (drop caps, fancy section breaks, etc.), the less likely it is you will find a free ware or even open source program that will fit the bill. That’s not to say those programs don’t exist. It simply means they are more difficult to find.

Here are some of the programs you’ll find writers using for conversion purposes. Paid programs include Adobe’s InDesign, still considered industry standard for print set up. Expensive, not all that intuitive and (big strike against it in my book) Adobe. The learning curve for this program can be daunting if your mind doesn’t work that way.

Vellum. This is a Mac-only conversion program that a number of indie authors, including me, use. It is a paid program and, as noted above, Mac only. But it is intuitive, at least to me, easy to use and quick. From start to finish, is takes less than half an hour to set up a project, input all the information (title, author, etc.), import your DOCX file, tell it what stores you want it to convert to, whether you want a print conversion as well (and what size, etc) and hit convert. Is it perfect? No. But no program is, imo.

Another program authors are using right now is Atticus. It’s the new kid on the block. Cross-platform, which makes it more competitive than Vellum, it runs into some of the same problems Scrivener has. In my opinion, it tries to do too much. It is sold as a word processor. It is an organizer. It is an outliner. It is a conversion tool. It s also not as intuitive as I’d like. But, customer service, the few times I’ve had to use it is very good and that goes a long way.

On the free end of things, you have programs like Calibre and Sigil. Now, Calibre wasn’t meant to be a conversion program. It is a library management system for your e-books. But, it can be used to convert to most major formats. Unlike the paid programs, it doesn’t have many bells and whistles as the paid programs. 

As for Sigil, I haven’t used it for years. For a long time, it was my go-to for editing after conversion. But it did require a working knowledge of html to use it to its full extent. But, with that knowledge–or the willingness to look up the coding you might need–it allowed me to make post-conversion edits.

And these are just a few of the programs available out there. I’ve used them all. They work. But they aren’t perfect and what works for me might not work for someone else.

In other words, you can find whatever you want out there for whatever your price point might be. None of the programs do everything. It’s up to you to find the one–or three–that work best for you. 

Don’t let anyone tell you you have to us this or that program. The only time that is acceptable is if you are working with a traditional publisher or agent and they require a program (usually Word) for its edit function. Even then, that doesn’t mean you have to write in it. It only means you have to use it when doing edits on the level where they are involved.

Now go forth and write. 

And let me know what programs you’re using and why.

Now for the obligatory promotion.

Destiny from Ashes (Honor & Duty 8) — now available

Colonel Ashlyn Shaw is on a collision course with an enemy determined to destroy her and all she holds dear. Honor demands she not turn away from the upcoming battle. Duty requires her to do whatever is necessary to protect her command and her home system. The Corps and her family stand with her, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to finally bring this war to an end.

But when the enemy turns out to be closer than she thinks, how will Ashlyn react? Will this finally be what breaks her or will it see the might of the Fuerconese Marine Corps raining death and destruction down on all who would stand against Fuercon and her enemies?

Honor and duty. Corps and family. These are the hills upon which Ash and every Marine in her command will live and possibly die as they fight to protect Fuercon and her allies.


Designation: Frejya (Augment Wars 1) — September 20, 2022

I was five when they came for my brother. I was thirteen when they came for me. At twenty, they sent me to war, an AI embedded in my brain to make sure I didn’t remember my past or question my orders. Not that they told me that part.

And that was their mistake. They might have enhanced me, trained me, but they didn’t break me and, with Menhit in my head, I am about to become their worst nightmare. . .if they don’t kill me first.

The Ter’anzils have invaded and enslaved innumerable star systems over the centuries. Have they finally met their match in one of their own creations?

20 thoughts on “Do what works for you

  1. If you use programs for the day job,be aware that overwriting your reflexes might not be worth it.

    1. This is why I stick with Word and only reluctantly use LibreOffice when I have to. Word and LaTex are the standard, are used at Day Job, and are the default. Word/Office is so bloated I keep waiting for it to burst, but I know it. LibreOffice is close, but just different enough that it feels off-kilter when it’s not. YMMV.

      I also write longhand on paper with an ultra fine point pen. That makes me focus on action and characters, because filling in setting and sensory details takes so long. I go back and add those when I enter the piece into the word processor. Whatever works for you.

  2. Let’s see. For day to day scribbling, it’s wordpad and google docs. I can use word if I need to, but most of the time, wordpad does what I need. Oh, and dragon naturally speaking since I’m not supposed to type. Yes, I’m one of those who overdid the keyboarding and ended up learning a different approach. Does that help?

    1. Which version of Dragon do you have? I have 11, but, I just can’t seem to get myself to use it. I have “embarrassment” over it. (I don’t like talking on the phone or on video either! or being in front of or behind a camera…odd stuff). Did it take you a long time to get used to it?

      1. I thought I was the only one who did that…

        There’s an add-on module for DCS that lets you use Windows Voice recognition for all of the radio and crew communications (I.e. If you’re on the ground and you need the career chief to connect the ground air supply and the group generator, instead of going through the F12 menu, you just push the radio button and say “Chief, connect ground air. Chief, ground power on.”)

        It still takes me like three tries to get started, whenever I’m getting back into it. The weirdest thing.

  3. I’ve been having decent success with a little program called Jarte. It’s basically wordpad with tabs and a spell check engine, and saves in rtf.

    Oddly enough I’ve discovered the automatic spellcheck highlights are distracting when trying to write, so I’ll end up writing the first draft and initial re-write in Jarte.

    But after that I will convert it into a Word document for sending out for edits. Tracked changes and notes are just so fundamentally useful for that, it’s hard to argue with using it.

    Side note I have discovered you can combine documents with tracked changes in Word by turning off tracked changes without accepting or rejecting them, and copy everything into a new document with tracked changes turned off, and it will retain all the notes and tracked changes in the new document.

    I’d been doing my short stories in separate files, but it had gotten to be so many that my editor was having trouble keeping track of them. That let me combine all of the short stories into one single document without losing all of the change dialog we’d been having.

  4. I’m ok with MS Word – again, like you I have been using it for so long that the various exotic functions are second nature. I know all the tricks and shortcuts to embellish and format a manuscript, including generating a TOC, index and footnotes. Ages ago, my original publishing partner loved WordPerfect for doing layout for publishing, and it seemed that later iterations of MS word incorporated many of the same WordPerfect functions. I talked once to an IT guy about this, and he said that basically, Microsoft hired away the techs who had built WordPerfect … and they built the same functions into MS.

  5. “There are nine and sixty ways
    Of constructing tribal lays,
    And every single one of them is Right!”

    1. I do like OneDrive. I’ve got my stories set up in it and automatically syncing to both my laptops, my desk top and my phone. Just need to check to make sure the laptops have downloaded the latest version, though.

      You can also use symbolic links to use it to save game files too.

  6. All good advice – the best tool is what works for you. In my case it’s one or another form of Unix/Linux, Emacs, Pandoc and Calibre. Just to get that out there – be as weird as you want as long as the words get down on the “paper” the way you want them!

  7. >>. matter what program you LOSE, the rules of the universe include the one that …<< (emphasis added)

    Thanks! I needed a laugh this morning.

  8. A lot of noodling and brainstorming goes on in dead tree format (fancy moleskines with clicker pens stuck into the elastic, a mixture of ergonomics, plus a desire to make use of and NOT lose the spendy moleskine notebooks). I can’t longhand fast enough to draft on paper; even my keyboard skills are just barely able to keep up with my brain at full gibbering speed, so Word tends to be the first draft program of choice. A lot of informal worldbuilding goes on during wiki-walks and random internet searches. Scrivener exists to corral the writing once drafted and the worldbuilding once formalized…and to output to Word for beta reading/editing by family members.

  9. Addendum: I appreciate the rundown of options for converting documents into ebook format. I have not tried that yet, so didn’t know what the real options are.

    1. Jutoh is another one out there (what I use). I use it and it’s less pricy than Atticus is. Less slick, but also less pricy.

  10. I use officeLibre currently, as the Word I have is 2003. I have Atticus now, and am learning to convert from Libre to Atticus, don’t write in it, yet. I have/had Scribus, and Ywrite and WordPerfect back in the day, and some other things – and nothing else really works for me, I think it goes back to the familiar as has been said. Just learning Atticus, but have figured out a few things, and the videos are YouTube are really helpful. I haven’t been able to get Calibre to convert books correctly, but that’s probably me. I sometimes use Kindle Create for the ebook conversion, but since they “integrated” Kid’s Create into it, it doesn’t work well for the kid’s books, as they slanted it for comics.

    I looked at BookBrush, and have the free membership, but, it doesn’t do anything that I can’t already do. I’ve looked at Canva, but again, doesn’t do anything that I can’t already to.

    Had PS for a little while and have an old version (CS2) that I got for free that I can poke at. Same with GIMP, I can poke at it. I have learned just enough InDesign (came with the CS2) to be able to format my children’s picture books I’ve been doing, but use PD Howler for everything else. I do use Daz, Poser, a bit of Blender and about 20 other bits and pieces of programs for art, but again PD Howler (dogwaffle back then) I’ve been using forever, I think it was my third digital art program after MS paint, and PhotoStyler (bought up by Adobe).

    The only problem I have run into is when someone wants the PS layers stack and I have to tell them, I don’t do that. I guess I should figure out how to layer a few things after I finish in Howler, so that they have that stack they want. or not. In the end for book covers, they only need a good Hi-Res jpg, and I provide that.

  11. After much complaining from my husband about junk code, I weaned off writing in notepad with a separate document for every chapter, and started using Jutoh.
    A Perfect Day, it was beautiful and worked great and converted with ease.
    Between Two Graves, it borked something so hard he’s likely going to have to go back to the .txt file, because it’s generating a TOC that only recognizes Chapter 1 and the Epilogue, and no other chapters in between. Even when the chapter headings are put in the compiled Word file, it’s trying to tread them like subheadings instead of chapter headings.

    …He wants me to change programs. I’m torn between trying to figure out what I did wrong because I’ve just finally gotten comfortable writing in Jutoh instead of notepad, or trying to find something else and struggling through One. More. Bloody. Sodding. Learning. Curve.

    I will not write in Microsoft Word or Open Office. Far, far too many year of using them for formal reports and only formal reports. I open them up, and my brain goes, “this is not for fiction. Stuff it.” And nothing comes out. I know it irritates my love. I can’t fix it, and trying to make myself write fiction in those programs is like telling myself that if I’d quit limping along on my cane and just do a full sprinting run to the next terminal, I can catch my flight.

  12. I use Word for all the editing I do for folks simply for the Track Changes function. It documents every change I make and allows for a full comparison from the original.
    During the time I was partnered with an author we used Calibre to convert from Word into .mobi and .epub e-book formats for uploading to Amazon, Apple, B&N, and so on. Can be a bit quirky, but it always turned out salable copy.

  13. I have spent many years fighting with a sub-optimal setup because my favorite writing program is iffy on Linux some distros it’s fine, others (Mint) it’s a brick.
    When everything is working properly, I compose in yWriter, then export an RTF to LibreOffice (which actually talks to Word fairly well – just don’t use page styles if you need to save for Word.) That’s where I edit and format for paperback. Ebook conversion happens in Jutoh (not free, but cheap, and necessary because Amazon doesn’t like ODT). Images I use GIMP almost exclusively. Sometimes I’ll fiddle with vector images in Inkscape, but not usually.
    Scrivener for Linux is old, but free because it never came out of beta. I can use it, but… eh. FocusWriter is okay for a full-screen editor, but I like having the individual scene files like you get in yWriter or Scrivener. And then, sometimes I need to scribble by hand.

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