Over the course of time I’ve employed a wide variety of tools to write. First; yellow legal pads and pencils. Then pens and, once I had stacks of folders overflowing with loose sheets of paper, spiral bound notebooks. Then I got fancy and became an ‘artiste’ and spent a bunch of money on some beautiful leather bound notebooks to contain my scibbles. Bad idea. No seriously, it almost killed my writing. I became so worried about writing something worthy of a leather binding that I didn’t write anything at all!
Now I have shifted to almost completely digital and have found new tools that I want to share with others. Here are two that I have been most helpful in the past six months.
The first is called FocusWriter; a word processing program available for Windows, Mac, and Linux (I think), that turns your computer screen into an empty page of paper begging to be filled with words. It even blocks out that pesky multi-tasking start menu. You can adjust the color of the ‘paper’ and your text to anything you want, though I use gray paper and black letters (like newsprint) as that is reportedly the easiest on your eyes. Focus Writer also allows you to set, and track, a daily word count goal, as well as a host of other cool options but the biggest benefit to me is the blank page. It puts me ‘in the zone, man.’ And in case I get to ‘in the zone’, the program has a built in alarm clock that you can set to go off and remind you to return to reality. Neat, huh?
The second tool takes the exact opposite approach of Focus Writer. Instead of reducing distractions, yWriter5 gives you a huge number of options and boxes and buttons to break down and organize your story by chapter, scene, and verse! There are slots for character rosters, locations, items, etc. Basically, if you can think it up, yWriter can organize it.
It’s incredibly intimidating. The first time I booted it up to give it a whirl, I looked around a bit, my brain exploded, and I closed it down and went back to Focus Writer. But then… (there’s always one of those, isn’t there?) I needed to re-write a short story. By re-write I mean the last half needed to be chopped and written again because I had copped out and used a stale cliche ending that left even my most devoted reader (my wife) annoyed. It’s a good story, I mean a really good story, and it deserves better than that. But I was dreading wading through the 8k odd words of text to try and figure out where to start and where to stop and what to keep and what to not. Enter yWriter5.
Thanks to the anal-retentive amount of OCD-ness yWriter is capable of, it makes the perfect tool to break down your story and view it (i.e. work on it) as an entire story in little bitty chunks. I typically don’t like that approach. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and I’m proud of it (and it makes writing seem less like work). However, in this instance, by breaking everything down and letting that barbarian horde of organization prompt questions about my scenes, my characters, and everything else, I achieved something I thought was remarkable. I didn’t ‘fix’ my story. I recovered the original story I was writing before I copped out on it with a lousy ending.
That seems pretty cool to me too. Oh, and the best part, they’re both free.