Writer’s improvement hell – Tools #2 (The word processor)

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A couple few blogs ago I complained about operating systems and computers. The conclusion being that there is no one solution. Anything you pick to work on is going to give you a headache of one sort or another. Apparently, word processors are the same. At face values anything will work, and indeed as far as simply using your word processor as a tool to get your story down, that is totally true. However, once you’re done writing your story, you get to a point where it has to be shared. That, it would seem, is where the problems start. Of course, if you’re like me and work in a thoroughly multi-computer / platform environment, things get dicey.

So what are some of the options?

MS Word is generally regarded as the gold standard of word processing, it does a lot and it does do it pretty well. It’s highly portable, has a lot of features, and if you’ve spent any time working in an office, odds on, you’re already familiar with it. What’s my problem with it then? First off, it’s expensive, in the neighborhood of $100 by itself, and if you go with Office 365, you’ll be paying that every year. I seriously doubt I’ll ever sell $100 worth of book to even make that worthwhile. The second problem for me is that there is no Ubuntu Linux version of Word (yes I could use a windows emulator like Wine, but it’s a pain). Mac does have a version, but it’s not as reliable as the Windows version. In short, cost and portability make this a tough one for me.

Although I’ve never used it, Word Perfect is still an option. However, coming it at over $200 for a license, cost is most definitely an issue. Again, this one isn’t available on Ubuntu, but it is available for Mac. Might as well go with Word, just for cost alone.

Scrivener is another good option, it’s relatively inexpensive, in the neighborhood of $50. As far as word processing goes it’s bare bones, but it hits the high-points for the needs of very many writers. There are some other major bonuses here, it allows compilation of your novel into a format appropriate for distribution. It also provides excellent document management and organizational tools that allow for notes to be tacked on all over the thing. For drafting or even final construction, this really an excellent option. There is an Ubuntu version, but it’s missing a few essential pieces, the key being spell-checker. The real problem, however, is that you have to be extremely good with scrivener to make it work for others. I recently distributed copies of my manuscript to folks for a beta read, and every single one of them had one problem or another – the point here being, you CAN get all the bugs out of scrivener when you compile, but it’s not as easy as just pressing a button.

If you have a Mac, you’ve got Pages. As far as word processors go, it’s not awesome. It doesn’t suck, but it’s not as feature loaded like Word. The other problem is the very limited scope of document support. It only handles a few document formats. Again, if you’re dealing with multiple platforms (or sharing your work for any reason), this really becomes unworkable.

In the realm of free, you have Google Docs, which you can store on Google Drive. I’ve only used it a bit, but it gets good reviews. While this set of tools supports multiple document formats, you’re stuck managing all of your documents out on the web. There are major benefits here with respect to multi-platform systems, but it does shut down portability a bit. You’ve really got to have Wi-Fi access. Other issues I have here involve to trying to construct a 100,000 word document and then transferring that into a format which could be used to construct a book. I cant say anything with particular authority, but but I suspect this would pose something of a challenge.

Also in the realm of free are OpenOffice and LibreOffice. I’m going to lump these because they both use the .odt format, and generally have the same set of features. These are flexible, support a number of document formats, and can be used in Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are some oddities with formatting and available fonts, but I think most of this might be limited to LibreOffice, in all they’re fairly minor considering the product is overall pretty good and also free. I think the main problem remains that conversion and portability seem to be problematic.

I don’t know that I can say I know what the point of that rant was. I’d say any one of these options works as well as any, again if you can get it MS Word is probably the best tool, especially if you’re working on a single platform. Barring that, how do you choose? – I have no idea. I use LibreOffice as my primary word processor because that’s what Ubuntu comes with. It works fine and it’s free – no complaints. However, now that I’ve discovered Scrivener and started working with it, I’m moving all of my projects over there. This is largely because of the other tools it has relating to making notes and various compile options. Once I figure it out, I expect my problems with portability and conversion should be resolved.

The truth is though that anything really will work, so it’s all up to preferences. Just like computer, anything you choose will have it’s own special problems.

Now that I’m done ranting about word processors, are there any remaining problems? Yes. Stay tuned.


photo credit: IMG_0561 via photopin (license)

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6 thoughts on “Writer’s improvement hell – Tools #2 (The word processor)

  1. Nico Smit says:

    I’m using Google Docs/Drive to write my novel. Finding that at around 50,000 words it really becomes very slow, struggles to load and jump between places. I really like the idea of writing in the cloud and knowing everything is always backed up though… where I live (in South Africa), everything get’s stolen all the time, so nothing is really safe on a device or two in your house. The cloud gives me that ease of mind.

    Does Microsoft word get slow after 50,000 words?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In my experience MS word does fine with a normal manuscript, at least up to 100,000words. I do know It starts to have problems with documents containing lots of graphics pretty quick, but it seems to do fine with text -just a little slow to load. That said, I keep each chapter in a separate file to make revisions easier to manage so I don’t experience too many problems in any case.
      I use mega.nz for cloud storage, it’s free for up to 50gb, and it auto syncs certain folders. I like it better than Dropbox and it’s extremely encrypted, as in don’t ever lose your password. the word .docx format does weird stuff in that service. No data integrity issues, it just keeps multiple historical copies.

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  2. I have security concerns about storing documents “in the cloud” and prefer to save on a local drive.

    I much prefer WordPerfect to Word. Partly because Word assumes you don’t know what you’re doing and keeps offering helpful tips that… aren’t. Partly because WordPerfect is more transparent in its layout options.

    I would never have my backbone word processor on a subscription or as a download, either. I watch for sales and buy the discs so I’ll have backup if worst comes to worst.

    However, I am waiting semi-eagerly for Windows 10 so I can at least learn to navigate in that system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t actually tried Word Perfect, to be honest, I wasn’t even aware it was still around until I started doing a tiny bit of research on this post. I’d like to try it, but there’s no support for Linux (which is what my laptop runs on)
      I just started the download for windows 10 on our windows computer, which we don’t use much anymore because windows 8 was a fight.
      I pretty much reject Word 365 for the same reasons you’ve got. I just don’t trust subscription services for software. It’s one of the reasons I use LibreOffice.
      The cloud gives me the willies too, but I also worry about the loss of data – it’s a major conundrum for me. I landed with the mega service because it uses 128bit encryption, and is set up so that even the provider doesn’t have access to your data. I mostly use it for backups and sharing across home computers. I thought about using a home storage device for backups, but most of them have limited platform compatibility, which is a huge drawback for me. In any case, I still haven’t figured this one out for me.

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  3. […] This rant will be a lot shorter than the other two in the set. If you’ve read tools #1 and tools #2, you’ll know my writing setup consists of an Ubuntu Linux laptop and a MacMini desktop that I […]

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  4. Onion says:

    “MS Word is generally regarded as the gold standard of word processing, it does a lot and it does do it pretty well.”

    “Gold standard” my ass! It does do a lot of things, but it doesn’t do more than a few of them particularly well. I am not even sure that I would consider it to be a good word processor.

    Having said that, I am not sure what word processor I would consider to be the gold standard. I have more experience with MS Word than anything else. But, when I was using Corel’s WordPerfect during my first two years in college I considered it to be a vastly superior product.

    Liked by 1 person

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