Writing apps. They’re a thing.
The big one is Scrivener. It’s a program designed to help writers. People I know use it. It’s talked about a lot on writers’ groups I’m involved with.
A lot of people swear by it.
It helps you structure your novel, with templates. It helps you plot, keep track of research notes via “virtual index cards”, compare various revisions, monitor your daily wordcounts/output.
It will even generate character names for you.
Way back in my pre-actually-having-written-a-novel days, I kind of wished for something like this. It seemed a bit awkward to have to stop and look at my handwritten notes or physically arrange and rearrange those actual index cards. I thought it interrupted my train of thought.
I cannot, of course, speak to anyone’s experience but my own, but I have to say that I have never, in the end, been all that interested in Scrivener. I looked at it with interest when it first came out. I’ve looked at it since. I’ve read the online reviews and heard friends’ opinions, good and bad, and I have come to feel…underwhelmed, and I have some reasons for that.
The first is purely physical. The way that it sets up on the screen just feels crowded. My computer screen isn’t big enough to use all that in any way that would be comfortable.
Maybe if you have two monitors, or 20-year-old eyes that can read really teeny-tiny font sizes, you could feel comfortable with it – but I have old lady eyes and a laptop, and even flipping from my manuscript to the Google tab to find out how strong the wind needs to be to rip a mature oak tree out of the wet ground by its roots is problematic these days.
The second reason is that while authors frequently want some kind of magic bullet that will just get them through to “The End”, I’ve discovered that I am not that kind of novelist.
I’m not a “pantser” – I used to say I was, but this was me lying to myself, because inside my head, the books actually do get fairly well-structured before I start.
And I do need notes. I need reminders about researching those wind speeds and what plot questions have to be resolved, and whose motives are at play in a particular way at a particular time.
I use a notebook for that stuff, and yes, it does mean that if I want to refer back to any of that, I have to take my attention from the computer and onto the actual words I wrote in my undeniably messy handwriting.
But here’s the thing: I write the notes, but I only rarely need to look at them after that. It’s as if the act of writing by hand imprints things more fully on my mind, in a way, but it also seems to open weird interior doors in my brain, and find solutions that might not occur to me otherwise.
It’s as if the process of scribbling down “Why would she say she was demon spawn? Why that phrase?” does something to my writer-brain: it frees something, or solidifies it, or sends me racing down memory lane to find the analogy in my own life, so that when I look back to the screen, it’s just there, ready to be typed in.
And when I do stop to look back at some inscrutable note to self, or to regroup and rethink the sequential stuff, the removal of my eyes from the screen is not anywhere near as annoying as trying to find the right tab on my screen and sort through the truncated nomenclature to find the bit I think I need. The break away – even for only a minute – helps clarify things, instead of feeling like an unnecessary interruption.
And finally, at least for me, the uniformity of the Scrivener experience, the way that a single program will assume that each user is essentially thinking in the same kinds of patterns, seeing things and organizing information and making neural connections in the same way, has begun to feel wrong.
I am scared that the reason so many novels feel so similar – despite the outward trappings of new/different/twisted/morphed/reflected – is that the program is pushing us into a trough of “This is how fiction has to be”.
I’m scared that between the dictates of literary fashions of our times and the tyranny of the programming, we are being forced to believe that organized thinking can replace the wayward wandering of the mind.
And that would take all the fun out of it for me.