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.