22 December 2009

Apps I love: yWriter 5

I started writing fiction in earnest early this spring. All authors have their own medium of choice for the creative act of writing -- some longhand with fountain pen, some on legal pads, some dictating into a machine, some use a  good old typewriter, and of course, many on computer. The choice seems usually to be personal and quirky, not unlike a musician's choice of axe. I use the computer myself since that's what I'm most comfortable with and find it the quickest method to flow words from my brain to "paper". 

For umpteen years, or actually more like twenty-ump years, I've been writing with Microsoft Word as a tool for technical documents, reports, whitepapers, standards docs, etc. I started writing fiction using Word as well; it's fine for research, character creation, backstory, etc., but I found that it's not really the best tool for the actual act of writing novels. It's rather too generic and doesn't have any awareness of the building blocks of novels: chapters, characters, scenes, and so forth.

Then in the run-up to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, where I'm Derek Balsam), I learned about yWriter. In particular, I discovered yWriter 5 (older versions are still available, but I wanted the latest) from SpaceJock Software. It's FREE (as in beer) software written by a single developer who is also a published novelist. He wrote the tool that he wanted for writing novels.

It has a great philosophy behind it: it's free (though I did make a donation to its author), it's quick, it's light. Its interface is minimalist and uncluttered, and you can customize fonts and colors to suit your preferences. What it does is provide tools to organize scenes, chapters, characters, points of view, locations, and key items; for outlining, drafting, scheduling/tracking/repoting. and storyboarding.. It also has global and local search/replace and (very important!) word counting and usage statistics. A great set of features for writing stories.

What's almost more impressive are the features it doesn't have. It doesn't have an interface full of icons; it doesn't provide complex formatting, page layout, or publishing features. It doesn't check you grammar or try to reformat things as you type. In short, it doesn't try to be a word processor. If you want, you can import and export stories or chunks to and from your favorite such program, but yWriter itself concentrates on the craft of writing, not of printing and display.

Two other awesome features are its text-to-speech capability (it will read you story to you) and context-sensitive highlighting of characters, locations, and items -- this latter feature includes the ability to click any of these building blocks, which will bring up your own notes on each of them. Last, I'll just mention that the program has real auto-save -- it automatically saves your work so you can't accidentally quit without saving.

Thanks to yWriter, I was able to write the first 35,000 words of my first novel in just 30 days. It's a useful tool that does only what it needs to do and no more.