So this week I’m going to take a look at the various programs and such that I’ve tried for writing, and explicitly from the perspective of someone looking to write a novel or longer work (not necessarily fiction) with a given tool. Each one will be organized as a general impressions paragraph followed by a list of pros and cons.
The quintessential word processor for Windows users (while I haven’t really used Pages, for Mac, I’m guessing many of these comments will apply to both), MS Word is likely the main form of electronic writing, outside of email. Load up the program and you have loads of templates to choose from, and all kinds of formatting tools and tricks, fonts, and a kitchen-sink array of options for how you want to put your work together. For a five-paragraph essay, or a ten page lesson plan, Word is the way to go. For a work of fiction, however, Microsoft’s generalized approach gives you an unwieldy tool to craft a novel.
First and foremost, it’s difficult to organize things by chapters. There’s no “cork board” view like Scrivener, or birds-eye option like Storyshop that can give you a scene-by-scene summary. Chapter titles themselves usually aren’t enough to convey what happens in a scene. This only becomes more of a problem as the work gets longer and longer – it’s simply too hard to find a given point if you want to edit or adjust something, like the fact that your character happens to have a flaming sword in chapter four, but you missed the part where someone gave it to him in chapter two. Scrolling through all those pages is a nightmare.
All of those extra options quickly become useless, too, as many e-readers and print editions are going to struggle with any sort of fanciful formatting. Thus you’re left with a bulky program that’s not suited to constructing long narratives. On the other hand, experience counts for a lot. If you’re a Word whiz, you can likely tweak the program to suit your style, and if you’re already investing in an Office subscription, then there’s no need to buy additional software. Especially if you’ve also got a Mac (or want to pay people) to do your formatting for you.
1. Familiarity – you probably know how to use Word already, so it’s going to be easy to start getting words on the page.
2. Cost – if you’re already buying Microsoft’s Office subscription, then Word is probably already good to go for you.
3. Low barrier to getting started – Word is great at getting you in front of a blank page to just start typing. Pop it open, pick a blank document, and go.
1. Poor organization options – as your novel gets longer, it’s going to be harder and harder to keep your story straight in Word. Every change becomes a slog to find the right part of the document to adjust.
2. Little help with outlining – Unlike some of the other options, Word doesn’t have spaces to detail characters, plot beats, and other items. It’s not designed for novelists, and it shows.
3. Tons of extra stuff – Word’s many frills are largely useless when putting together novels and longer works. Clip art, messy table functions, and all of those ways to stylize your headers all cause problems with E-readers, phones, and other places your readers might want to view your work.
Final Thoughts: If you’ve already got Word and want to practice your creative chops, go for it. You’ll still be able to type out a story, and there are plenty of authors that continue typing away here. I’d definitely recommend exploring other options first, though, and see if they mesh better with your style, because I think you’ll Microsoft’s one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t quite fit for us.