Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 11 February 2016

Writing Software

Bibbling through my Twitter feed yesterday, I came across something extraordinary, so I thought I’d write about it.

Someone had retweeted something that I didn’t quite understand, so I went to the original conversation and ended up reading through lots of comments from lots of writers about tools, and in particular apps that they use when they're working.

I’ve talked about my writing process before. It involves sitting in front of a black screen with a white page on it, and writing. I happen to use Pages, because that’s what my Mac comes with. I choose fonts and layouts according to the genre I’m writing in, but I like the page to look the way it will look in its final incarnation, more-or-less. 

There are exceptions to this. If I’m writing in the first person, for example, I might choose a font to suit a character; that font is often Courier. If I’m writing fantasy, I often use a font with a serif, and for SF, sans serif. I never use line breaks for paragraphing, but always indent, and I always use page breaks for chapters. You get the idea.

I don’t use word processing packages, except for Final Draft, which I use when scripting in collaboration with the husband. I also don’t use software designed to help me to write. I don’t need help to write. I have a process that I’ve developed over time. When I write, I write. I use displacement activities, as I’m sure we all do, and sometimes I just sit and think. I also meet my deadlines. I just do.

I know that other writers do use software packages and apps to help them in various ways, and I know there are some good ones on the market. They use things that help them with practicalities like formatting. There are bits of software that calculate numbers of words and paragraphs, reading ages of the material a writer is producing, and even whether a writer might overuse a word or phrase. Some of this stuff is useful or reassuring to writers. That’s fine. I have no problem with any of it. I don’t use this kind of software, but I do understand why writers like to have it.

There are also apps that keep writers motivated.

I don’t suffer from writer’s block, or at least I never have yet. When it’s time to write, I sit down and I write. If something needs to be done then I do it. Sometimes, it’s tough. Sometimes, I struggle. I believe that’s true of anyone doing anything. Sometimes, it’s a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning.

I’m lucky. I have a job that I love. I’m extraordinarily lucky to share my life with someone who understands what I do. Sometimes, I think that’s the biggest difference between the husband and me, and other writers. We have each other; most writers are doing this alone.

Anyway, my point was that there is software and there are apps that are designed to keep a writer in his seat, writing. Of course, none of them guarantee the quality of the words.
The LA Times reviews Write or Die

Write or Die has been around for a while. The idea is that the writer sets a timeframe and word count. Then she chooses how severe the program will be. If she proceeds gently, the program will simply remind her to keep typing. In regular mode, the program will sound an alarm when the writer stops typing, until the keyboard is active again. In severe mode, however, the program will begin to delete what has already been typed if the writer doesn’t add more words.

Of course, any writer worth his salt will find cheats for the system, typing in nonsense, or adding buffer material to the end of a piece of work so that when deletion begins none of the good stuff is wasted. But who needs that kind of pressure? Well... It turns out that some people like the pressure.

Flowstate is the latest app of this kind, and it too offers timed writing sessions. Text is deleted automatically if a writer’s hands are still for more than seven seconds. SEVEN SECONDS!

It sounds like torture to me.

A lot of people think they can write, and a lot of people think they can be writers, and for some people it’s true. Some of us are writers. I wonder what it is about a person that prevents him from doing what he wants to do and what he is fit for. I wonder what it is about a person that makes him feel the need for this kind of punishment.

Writing was never meant to be easy. No creative pursuit is meant to be easy, but I simply don’t understand the addition of this kind of masochism. It seems miserable to me, and it seems wasteful. What of the words that are lost in this process? What if for half an hour of a forty minute session the words flow and are beautiful and then are lost because the writing ends there, and the final ten minutes are redundant?

Of course, I speak only for myself

I have often had conversations with the husband about carrots and sticks. Most of us need a little of each in our lives to work well and to thrive. Some people need more carrots and some more sticks. When it comes to nurturing and encouraging and getting the best out of people, some of us are better at it than others, and some of us are natural wielders of sticks and some better at offering carrots.

As a writer, I've been on the receiving end of my share of rejection, and perhaps that's why I tend to be a carrot person. I offer encouragement when it’s needed and I praise when a job is well-done. Others shout, believing that to be motivation, and then they nitpick when a job is finished.

If you’re a writer who needs a stick then by all means try Write or Die or Flowstate, because they might just help you to succeed. Who knows, this kind of punishment might even prepare you for the inevitable rejection to come.

I think I’ll stick to my black screen and my white page, and I’ll keep thinking pleasant thoughts and losing myself in the words.

We all have a process, and it might take a little time to work out what that process is, but whatever it is there’s always another weapon in the armoury, and if one of these apps becomes your weapon of choice, I'm not going to be the person that argues with that.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, reminds me of Seven minutes in Heaven, remember that, dark closet..?
    If I had to pick, which one would be easier, seven seconds to type or seven minutes as a thirteen year old boy in a dark closet with a girl...
    Tough one, although I feel slightly more challenged by the seven seconds instead of the time machine as, those are easy to come by.
    What if the seven seconds unlocked a totally different persona in us..?

    Great article Original Nik..!