One for the writers – and cat lovers

Warning – this blog contains photos of cats. No, you haven’t strayed onto some YouTube advert…

I’ve been laid up in bed for the last four days with some random winter bug that beat me this year, despite the copious amounts of Lemsip I managed to down. I decamped to the attic (aka my office aka the food storage area) to keep my germs to myself, which also had the advantage of being able to have the window open for some fresh air without everyone else complaining about the cold. I had the advantage of a warm duvet and a body that seemed to be struggling to regulate its temperature downwards. And I slept a lot. You would think you would come out of that feeling better than before, wouldn’t you? But it will pass. And it might explain my sluggish run the week before.

Right, sob story over.

Let’s talk about technology for a minute. Last week I wrote about my new mini photography project – one camera, one lens, one type of film, one year. Still waiting for the film to arrive… but it’s hardly life or death. It’s fair to say I have a few cameras of different types. Fully manual to fully automatic, very large and very small, analogue and digital. And my phone. And of course no camera that’s sitting at home while you’re out and about is going to give you a good photo that day. Sometimes, just having something in your pocket is all you need. These pictures were taken on my phone because I didn’t have another (dedicated) camera with me:

Out for a run in Berlin at 5am (seriously. There was a story. But when else do you get to see this without a single tourist in the way?). I had my phone in my pocket in case I got lost (I was running, not navigating). It’s a bit squint  – I was on about mile 11 at this point! – but I haven’t got round to sorting that yet.

Brandenburger-Tor

And this is my favourite which I would have missed without having my phone with me:

Street-photo-1

And the cat photos (the cats actually live in different countries, two of them were tiny kittens and just needed to have their photo taken).

Cat-1

Cat-2

Amazing what you can do with a phone these days.

And when it comes to writing, I’ve yet to find how technology can help you write better. It might make books about writing more accessible (the US has a lot more which are now available elsewhere and probably wouldn’t have been ten years ago), there are more than enough tips about writing out there all over the internet. Some of them are even helpful. But none of it is ever a substitute for actually writing. There is a difference between writing by hand – cue list of famous writers who always wrote with a pencil, or a certain type of pen, watch sales of said objects rise – and on a typewriter and on a computer. My first book (that sounds good, as if there were lots more of them… give me time!) was written on that ancient laptop I showcased a few months ago, using WordPerfect (let’s discuss the benefits ten years later of using software that everyone else still uses…). It was great at the time. My current laptop weighs about half as much, is probably a thousand times faster and has more memory hidden under one of the keys than the old one had on its massive hard drive. But in the end, writing is one word at a time, again and again and again. And then editing it again and again and again.

But there are things which can make the process of one word at a time and later editing a lot easier. Word or one of its free or less expensive alternatives is great for some things. My experience is that it’s not great for long documents. Like books. It does the job, but it’s not really designed for that job.

Enter the answer – Scrivener. I’m not sure how exactly I came across it, but it will have been through a review I found from a search for ‘best writing software’ or something. Their website has a great title – ‘Literature and Latte’ – which appealed from the word go as a bit quirky and a bit ‘getting it’. And it comes with a proper free trial and isn’t expensive if you do want to buy it. And it’s simply brilliant. Here’s why:

  • It can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be
  • It allows you to chunk up your very long text into smaller, discrete sections, which you can then move around at will. That will be chapters, then. Or blog posts.
  • It saves everything automatically, and keeps copies of previous versions of the text somewhere in the background.
  • You can use it almost like an old-fashioned typewriter, blacking out everything else except the text you are working on at that point, no menus, no options, no distractions. And it scrolls up so that the line you are typing at that time is in the middle of the screen. Simple and brilliant. I have it in this mode all the time. All you have is a blank sheet of paper in front of you with your words on it. This is what it looks like – it’s the entire screen:

Screen-Shot-2015-02-02-at-12.10

  • You know all those bookmarks you have in your web browser, the ones you know you should have categorised? All that research material you printed out and is now somewhere in that pile on the floor, or the desk, or did you file it in your cabinet? I am not very organised, I accept this. And Scrivener does it for me. It stores research material like nothing you have ever seen before. Web pages (not just links, it pulls in the page), character profiles, random scraps of thoughts, lines, words, whatever you want. So everything I have come across that I think might be useful, all saved with the actual text in the research section. For me, it’s almost worth it for that alone:

Screen-Shot-2015-02-02-at-12.12

And, for me so far, that’s it. All I need at the moment, but everything I’ve needed. It does a lot, lot more if you need it to. I’m happy with the simplicity right now.

When I finally get to the editing stage, it will be so much easier, each chapter will be separate, can be moved around or simply wiped from existence. There are few that are already destined for oblivion, but no editing is taking place until I get to the end. Is Scrivener helping me to write better? No, I don’t think so. Is it making the process of writing easier? Definitely. And is it saving me from spending a lot of time doing things which are important but distract from actually writing? Most certainly. I can’t imagine ever using Word again for anything other than opening documents which other people send me. Scrivener does everything a writer needs much better. Oh, that will be because it was designed for writers. Funny that.

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