The pros and cons of writing a novel Google Docs

The last of “non-novel” writing programs that I’ve tried. I last used Google Docs for fiction writing for a while after college, when I attempted some collaboration work with folks. It did not last after those efforts ended.

General Impressions: 

Take your neighborhood bar. The one that you might wander to on a random evening for a drink and find, at random, some friends there to chat with. Or at least a friendly bartender who might know what you like to drink. Google Docs is that neighborhood bar. It’s not pretentious, it can provide what you need at a cheap cost, and, if you want to find some friends, it’s a great place. However, if you want truly high class, it’s not going to give you what you want. And you won’t want to go there every single day, all the time, for your writing needs.

Pros: 

  1. Free – Pretty much always free. Like the air you breathe and the stuff you steal, Google Docs is free for you and your friends. Unless you count the cost of internet, but you were paying that anyway, weren’t you?
  2. Minimalist – Easy to get into. Google Docs doesn’t offer all the features of Word, but, like a city driver that buys a Hummer, you weren’t going to use those features anyway. The interface is pleasingly mild and lets you get right to work. Super simple to click back into your document, too.
  3. Connected by the Cloud – For collaboration, Google Docs works really well. It’s up-to-the-second versioning helps you see exactly what your collaborators are (or are not) doing as they type it. No saving and emailing files, no messing up version control. Simply type and forget.

Cons

  1. Connected by the Cloud – Google Docs does allow offline modes, you’ll just want to set that up. If you forget to do so and you find yourself on an airplane, well, you’re outta luck (unless your flight has wifi and you want to pay for it). Always-online has a lot of benefits, but if you’re a mobile writer, then it can be frustrating to find your story locked behind the interweb gates.
  2. Few options for chapters and organizing long works – Bet you saw this coming. Like Word, Google Docs functions as a word processor but not as a novel-writing program. For longer works, you’ll have to put in some extra effort to organize your text. Making edits is going to require zipping about to various sections, and there’s no easy way to incorporate research and outlines. The comments functionality does work really well for leaving passive-aggressive notes to your fellow authors, though.
  3. Formatting options – Google Docs has a limited list of fonts and style options, so if Word can be too much, then Google Docs can sometimes be too little. As with Word, you’ll need to have another program to help you format your work and add in these parts. Can I recommend Vellum, if you have a Mac? Or, Vellum through Mac-in-Cloud if you don’t?

Final Thoughts:

Like Evernote/OneNote, Google Docs is great at getting you going with minimal cost. In fact, if you’re just starting out and want to see what writing a novel is like, I’d recommend Google Docs. Especially if you want to share it with friends, or work with one. Doubly so if you don’t have access to Word. For short fiction or articles, Google Docs matches Word’s general ease, though it suffers if you want to add some pizzaz to what you’re writing. You’ll need to develop a system for keeping notes and tracking research and such, though, because it’s difficult to do that inside a Google Docs file. All in all, you could do worse. But you could do better, too.

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