Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Writers’ Software: and the verdict is? by Chris Longmuir


Authors Electric. The clue is in the name. We are a collective of writers who embrace technology and the electronic world. We are not a bunch of luddites who turn our backs on anything electronic. Nor are we the kind of people who would not give house room to a computer, who shudders at any mention of the internet, and who would never deign to read an electronic book on an ereader.

As the resident techno-geek who builds computers in her spare time, there is nothing I like better than exploring all kinds of software, although I will reserve my discussion today to writers’ software. Was that a collective groan I heard? It wouldn’t surprise me, because it became apparent from the comments on my last post, that not everyone is enamoured with writing software. In fact, the feeling is stronger than that, and the impression given is that you cannot be creative if you use said writing software. This was despite the fact that the post reviewed editing software, and editing is the process that comes into play after the creative work has been finished.

So, in consideration of the views expressed, I decided to have a look at all the writers’ software we use when writing our books. How “appalling” is it? And should we really “burn all writing software”. And I intend to be a hanging, or should I say burning, judge.

The fire is ready - bring on the software

I will divide the software into two sections – the specialist software that not everybody uses, and the basic software which we probably all use.

Specialist Writing Software

Top of the list is editing software and there are various editing programmes on the market. The one I reviewed in last month’s post was Autocrit, but you can also choose from Grammarly, ProWritingAid, SmartEdit, Hemingway and a host of others. The use of this type of software, which has the audacity to highlight various grammatical and writing issues in a completed manuscript, apparently interferes with creativity. I’m not entirely sure about the last part of that analysis of the software, because by the time I come to editing and revision I’ve switched from right brain thinking – the creative side – to left brain, the analytic side, so I reckon the objection is to the mechanical nature of the editing, or is all editing the issue. In which case do flesh and blood editors also interfere with the creative process. Here is a link to a review site for a selection of editing software.
http://thewritelife.com/automatic-editing-tools/  but last month’s verdict was unequivocal – so, let’s burn the editing software, although I’d hesitate to burn the flesh and blood variety.

Scrivener is another specialist writing software tool and many writers, even best-sellers, swear by it. This one is an organisational tool. It helps you structure and organise your manuscript and works like a word processer but with more bells and whistles. I’m inclined to like Scrivener, but organisation and structure are left brain activities, so going by the criteria set down it could be considered alien to the creativity process, and therefore, is eligible to be sentenced to burn.

The flames are increasing - software makes good fuel
What about speech recognition software? Dragon heads the field here, but again the process is automated, and it is mainly used by writers. So, although it is an excellent programme, it does come under the umbrella of writers’ software, therefore off to the furnace it goes.

Basic Writing Software

Few people would argue that Microsoft Word leads the field, although there are other software programmes available, such as, Open Office, Libre Office, Pages, and probably a lot more. Provided a writer does not write solely with a pen, pencil, or quill, they use a word processor of some sort. But, this is also writing software, so off to the fire it goes.

And, of course, all software requires an operating system or it simply won’t work so you could argue that operating systems are writing software as well. It doesn’t matter whether you use the Mac OS, Windows 7, 8, or 10, we are going to have to burn them as well.

Now, what are we left with? Yes, you’ve guessed it, an ornamental box full of wires, fans, circuit boards, and other electronic bits and bobs. It’s not much use for anything, and it is technology, after all, so into the recycling skip it goes, and we can now be happy we’ve got rid of every last bit of software and technology that fits the criteria of writers’ software.

Wot no software?

But, I’m not finished yet, because I want to look at creativity. Blame yourselves, you brought it up. As I recall, creativity is about a “human using their skills to create something, not a machine”, but that’s OK because we’ve got rid of the machine. But another comment suggested that the “very best writers don’t use common sense”. That may be a valid point while a writer is using his or her right brain during the creative process, but there comes a point after the completion of the first drafts when a writer needs to be more analytical during the revision and editing process, unless of course that writer does not believe in editing their work, in which case ignore what I’ve said.

Then there is the issue of craft. Writing is a mix of creativity and craft, and both are needed to hone the finished work. Even the artists who were quoted had to learn their craft before they produced their finest works. And artists also need to use both right brain and left brain before their masterpieces are complete. There are canvases to be prepared and stretched, boards to be treated with shellac, and brushes which require to be cleaned. Sable brushes cost a small fortune.


Likewise, the writer goes through a creativity phase when the writing flows. But the plotting, the structuring, and the synopsis are probably a mix of right brain and left brain activities, unless you are a stream of consciousness writer when it is pure creativity. And the editing and revision process is tackled once the creative process is complete.

I think it is also worth mentioning that creativity is not the sole province of writers and artists, software designers are equally creative, you only have to look at the computer games industry to realise that, so perhaps we shouldn’t disparage them. When we do that, it reminds me of various authors and publishers who frown on indie authors and self-publishers. We really don’t want to fall into that trap, do we?

Right, I’m off now to see what I can rescue from the fire, so I’ll leave you with your pad of paper, pens, pencils, and quills, and I expect to see you all on the best-seller list very soon, because there is nothing left to get in the way of your creativity.



* * *
I’m afraid this tongue in cheek post was my swan song as I am bowing out from Authors Electric for the time being. The balancing act has become impossible to maintain and something had to go. Unfortunately it is Authors Electric. In the meantime, all power to your quills, and I wish you all, every success in the future.

Chris Longmuir, a traditionally published author as well as an indie, is a major award winning novelist who has six books in publication and a seventh about to be born. She is a self-confessed techno-geek who builds computers and plays with software in her spare time.



Chris Longmuir




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14 comments:

Sandra Horn said...

Oh no!

Rosalie Warren said...

Sorry you are leaving, Chris. I wish you well in everything you do. Loved your tongue-in-cheek consignment of all software to the flames. As for the creativity issue, I know I'm arriving late for the debate but I'd like to make two brief points. Firstly, as an editor of others' work as well as my own, I believe a fair bit of creativity is needed to engage fully with another person's work and be in a position to edit. Certainly not just 'left-brain' type stuff. The brain works best when both sides are cooperating in harmony, I understand. Secondly,I used to work in AI and believe it is possible that one day artificial systems may be capable of creating work, including novels, of real value (which is not to put down human creativity in any way at all).

Tara Lyons said...

Really sorry to see you go, Chris. Thank you for leaving us with this bit about aoftware... I'm on the basics, but I'll have a look at stepping it up.

Bill Kirton said...

Sorry to lose you, Chris, but I know we'll keep in touch. I think it was you who converted me to Scrivener and the way it's helped me structure and refine the almost-finished-bar-rewriting-the-ending WIP is priceless. Same with Dragon. I could never 'write' creatively with it but, for getting handwritten and other notes quickly into a file, it's invaluable.

Wendy Jones said...

I love all sorts of software and anything computer related. I love all the software programmes you mention with the exception of Scrivener. I'm not saying I don't love it. I'm saying I haven't used it. You and your outstanding posts will be missed Chris. All the very best with your books

Chris Longmuir said...

Thanks, everybody, I'm sad to be leaving but I'm in such a hectic phase at the moment I'm in danger of losing the plot altogether, and that wouldn't be good. However, I'm seeing the end goal in sight for my new novel, Devil's Porridge, it's back from the editors and I'm inputting all the changes. The cover is almost ready, and I reckon I could have the ebook up by the beginning of August. However, planning for the Society of Authors in Scotland conference next year is starting to fill all the corners of my already full agenda. I'm on the committee so I can't escape it. If any of you are members of the Society of Authors it would be great to meet up with you at the conference. The dates for your diary are 22-24 September 1917.

Umberto Tosi said...

I loved this cheeky software send up! Actually, mulling over past experiences, writing software probably is no more loopy and arbitrary than some of the less-than-ideal meatware editors I've known. Sorry to see you leave our merry band. Best of luck in all your endeavors and I hope to see you on these pages as much as your time allows in future. Thanks.

Jan Needle said...

isn't their some software to stop you losing the plot altogether? perhaps you could write some!

seriously though - sorry to see you go. try and come back soon.

AliB said...

Hah - well said Chris - where would be be without our software, or rather when will software ever replace our creative talents?
We'll miss you here but it sounds like you have plenty to keep you occupied.
Ali x

Lydia Bennet said...

Good to see you kicking ass Chris, and I know how many AE bods you've helped with computer and techie appeals for help on a regular basis. Will keep in touch of course x

Tara Lyons said...

It sounds like you have a lot on, and that's not a bad thing :) I wish you all the best with it, and hopefully will still "chat" with you on various book clubs. Oh... And how do you become a member of the Society of Authors? Good luck with the conference!

Chris Longmuir said...

I have sent you a message on Facebook, Tara, with the eligibility criteria. Judging from the success of your book my guess would be that you would be eligible.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Sorry to see you go too, Chris, although I departed first. But I come back to read and comment all the time. Like Rosalie, I think editing is a creative process as well. I was involved in a discussion about this only last night - the fact that the very best editors never tell you what to do, but simply ask questions (sometimes a lot of questions!) that help you to make the work better - but on you, the writer's own terms. Not telling you what to do, but asking you why you've done this, this and this. Sometimes the answer is 'because it's right' and sometimes you think 'I don't know. I'm not sure either. Perhaps I should do it differently!' But either way, you're not having anything imposed on you. I'm not sure any software can do that yet. Maybe some day ...Good luck with the new book, Chris.

Katherine Roberts said...

Sorry you are leaving Chris! Loved the software post... Scrivener seems fairly good for academic writing, but no software is ever going to untangle the Gordian Knot of half-written fiction in my head.