A Letter to Our Cats

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Dear Anna and Elsa (our cats):

You are the best winter day blankets we have ever had. Your presence on our laps makes for warmth better than the thickest blanket, and your constant, deep purring brings about some sort of contentment we didn’t know existed prior to your furry place in our lives.

Somehow, despite all of our holiday travels, you two haven’t destroyed everything in the house. We can forgive the nutcracker you massacred and whose body, separated from its head, you scattered across the floor. The ornaments you have taken off the tree and, in some ritual we don’t understand, proceeded to shatter one by one in the precise spots we’re most likely to step on them.

If, though, we could make one recommendation: when commencing your cuddles, your head-smashes and chin-nips… perhaps choose an hour later than 2 A.M.? Like Six? Seven?


Your warm, exhausted cat parents.

Cool facts can ruin stories

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It’s the truth, darn it, and there’s no way getting around it.

Readers should be treated like people without security clearance – information on a need to know basis, only.

I’m working on this story that involves Aztecs and Mayans and all sorts of awesomeness about, well, Aztecs and Mayans. Unfortunately, for all the pages of random knowledge I’ve assembled in my quest to become acquainted enough with these civilizations to write a character living in them, I’ve yet to find facts that aren’t awesome. This sucks, because now I want to work all of the things into the story.

But that would make the story suck.

This is because, not being the writers of the story, most people won’t care that much about what the Mayans ate for breakfast, or how many prisoners an Aztec had to take captive to move up in rank. With tidbits like these, I’ve essentially got two choices, which apply to just about any “fact” that you want to drop into a story (and this includes world-building things, like spaceships and magic systems):

1. Massage the fact into the narrative

This is the most effective, but also the most difficult way of dealing with information that you want the readers to know but that isn’t plot or character-essential. To use the above example about breakfast, rather than dropping a line in a paragraph that the Mayans ate fruit for breakfast, you could instead include a scene set at breakfast. If you’ve already got a scene in mind that doesn’t have a set time, then make it happen in the morning. That way, your characters can discuss all the juicy conflicts while having their juicy, fact-based meal. Your readers will enjoy the authenticity without wondering why you’ve bothered to include these food descriptions.

Another way of doing this, depending on the fact in question, is to slot the fact in as a bridge for a particular plot element. Say, for example, that your hero needs to sneak inside the Mayan palace. Having the character come up with various breakfast foods and use the delivery of same as an excuse to get into the palace can work. Again, you’re imparting facts and color to the readers without throwing it out there for them.

2. Burn it

Is this a choice? Why yes, it is. If you can’t find a way to fit information into the narrative in a way that’s relevant… then perhaps it’s not relevant. If a given tidbit doesn’t help the reader learn about the characters or understand a particular scene, then you’re probably better off not touching on it. Readers aren’t generally reading fiction for facts (though working facts into the narrative is often fun for this reason – readers don’t always expect it). Don’t lambast them with pages and pages about how your world works, what various societies are like, or what the current toy fad is unless those things are critical to an understanding of the story.

But here’s something I also keep in mind, and that might help you too – when writing a draft, if you’ve got a cool fact that you want your characters to drop, put it in there. Move on. Don’t debate.

Then, when the editing pass comes around, you’ll spot that passage again. Or you won’t. If it seems out of place to you, if you’re asking “what does that have to do with anything?” or “I’m really bored right here”, then that’s a sign your story hasn’t earned or doesn’t need that particular nonfiction nugget.

By the way, did you know many Aztecs wore capes? How cool is that?

Why Wind pants are Great

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You might have seen the title of this post and wondered, rightly, if I’d lost my mind.

In truth, probably.

But that’s not what this is about. These words about wind pants, a glorious invention that deserves a place in your ward robe, especially if you work from home.

A disclaimer: This is not a post about wind pants fashion, if there is such a thing. I don’t know any particular wind pants brands, nor do I know about upcoming trends or features in the wind pants world. I’m simply a wind pants user, who happens to enjoy his wind pants for what they are.

So why? Why wind pants?

The answer is that they’re all things to home office fashion. Wind pants are the Swiss Army Knife of clothing. They’re warm enough to withstand jaunts to the yard in the winter for such necessary activities as taking out the trash, dumping something in the compost, or doing a quick shovel so the driveway can be useable after a snowstorm. And yet, in the summer, they’re cool enough for mowing on a chill day or for a walk to the coffee shop.

You can work out in the things, either by going for a run or lifting weights. The wind pants don’t care – they’re multipurpose.

They’re cat resistant – meaning that, unlike denim or sewn fabrics, the claws have a harder time getting hold on the wind pants. They’re like kitty armor.

Because they’re perfectly fine for lounging, a fresh pair of wind pants makes for a great transition after the morning pajama routine. Then you’re all set for your eventual workout, after which you can change into the more appropriate evening tuxedo that we all wear to our home-cooked Hamburger Helper dinners.

So yeah. Those are my arguments. Wind pants are great. They’re not expensive. Nobody cares about wind pants fashion, so you won’t have to buy new pairs until you wear out your old ones.

They’re the best.

The Sleep Imperative

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You’ve doubtless seen, read, or had shouted at you dozens of articles, studies, and artistic renditions on the necessity of sleep. Going into that dream-filled or dream-less state is, the many “they” say, required for life. At least, for a life well-lived. And for a long time I’ve maintained a loose relationship with that idea.

Namely, from night to night the amount of sleep I’d manage would swing wildly. Sometimes 7 hours, sometimes 5. This, especially, came about in the traveling days when a delayed flight and an early presentation could mean arriving at the hotel at 1 AM and getting into the conference room, dressed and ready to present, at 7.

Guess what? With a couple of espresso shots, it wasn’t all that terrible. The eyes drooped, perhaps, and I certainly wasn’t going out that night, but I could swing the presentation and make a successful day out of it. Caffeine became a crutch, but a useful one that didn’t bother to judge how many trips I made to the coffee shop.

With writing, it doesn’t work the same way. I can’t, after four or five hours, even six, come up with words in quite the same way. It’s like the mind is stuck in mud – I can see where I want to go, but have to work so much harder to cover the same distance that, the day before, I could speed along. It’s simply more difficult (for me) to write creatively than it was to present, answer emails, or partake in meetings all day.

In the time I’ve been doing this, though, I’ve come up with a few tricks for getting through a day when I’m tired – and I should note that I’m not a napper unless I’m sick or so dead tired that nothing’s going to happen except lethargy.

1. Dictation

I’ve talked about dictation before, but it really shines on those days when I’m struggling to get the finger music going. If I’m zonking out, I’ll actually take the glasses off, lean back in the chair, and hold the mic close and just talk. The result is messier than normal typing, sure, but I find editing to be a faster process than writing from scratch anyway. As a result, my tired eyes don’t stare at a screen and I can get, if nothing else, the core of some scenes down. Then I’ll go back and butter them up on the next day. Just getting away from a blank page sometimes acts as that first step, and then I’m off and running, even if I’m still waking up.

Another way to do this is to walk around and talk into a recording device, like your phone, and transcribe. Moving around helps keep you awake, and I’ve found that I can come up with good ideas while on the move that I don’t while sitting down – I read once that there’s a theory around walking being healthy for the mind because, way back in the day, humans used to wander around most of the time, so our minds are used to working while on the go. I dunno. It works.

2. Change Tasks More Frequently

I’m not saying “multitask”, but rather attempt to swap what you’re working on every 20-30 minutes (like the Pomodoro method, for example). Unless you’re really into a scene or whatever it is you’re doing, I’ve found that swapping up activities is like blowing a bit of fresh air into the smoldering fire of your brain on low sleep. It can ignite some sparks, get you jazzed a bit. So what I’ll do is write a scene, then do something like wash the dishes, clean a room, or chase the cats around the house like an insane person as a way of giving the tired brain a break. Note there that I don’t say “switch from writing to another computer task” because I’m trying, here, to give my eyes a rest from the screen too. Ultimately, what tasks you want to switch between is your call, but give it a try.

3. Get some exercise

Yeah, working out when you’re tired might seem like the opposite of a plan. It might, in fact, seem like I’m just spouting nonsense (and I’m neither a doctor, nor a personal trainer, but a writer, so it’s likely that this is all pointless meandering). Still, a workout often does wonders for my attitude on a down day. Doesn’t mean I’m talking about loading up the bench press and shooting for a personal best, or doing a marathon just ’cause you didn’t get your full eight hours, but maybe you do some push-ups and situps for 30 minutes, or take a jog around the neighborhood. Get the blood flowing and all that. I’ll often make a point to walk to the nearby coffee shop, getting the ol’ 2-for-1 benefit of exercise and caffeine.

Lastly, of course, is making sure you get the amount of sleep you need the next night. One of the things Nicole have done, though we don’t always succeed at it, is understand the amount of time it takes us to get ready for bed, and adjust our “bed time” such that we’re generally falling asleep at the same time most nights. This did mean sacrificing some time that we’d normally spend watching a movie or playing a game, but the result is that we’re getting the sleep we need to be productive more days than not, which is the real benefit.

Also, sleep is quite nifty. If you haven’t tried it, you should!

The pros and cons of writing a novel with Scrivener

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The last post in this series, and it covers the program I’ve now used for at least three years, Literature and Latte’s Scrivener. It’s anecdotally the most prevalent “creative writing” program, though it’s general enough to be used for non-fiction and I’ve also written screenplays with it.

General Impressions:

There’s no getting around it – Scrivener isn’t pretty (especially on Windows). There are tons of buttons that aren’t clear on what they do, menu options hidden behind obscure drop-downs, and you could argue that having several tutorials as a prerequisite to a program is a sign that something’s wrong. But Scrivener is a sandbox. It rewards the work you put into it. With Scrivener, as with Word, you can create document templates. Unlike Word, however, your templates can encompass entire series with breakdowns for individual novels and multi-book arcs in a single document. There are many features, like Word, but most of the features are directly related to writing, and once you find your preferred method, all of the unused pieces fade to the background.

Unlike StoryShop, Scrivener is offline. You download and install it. This makes collaboration difficult (StoryShop may become the Go-to for that soon), but you can punch Scrivener up anywhere. I can dictate into it without a problem. It’s simple to organize and outline. World-building lacks StoryShop’s beauty, but makes up for it with speed. Characters and virtually everything else is pieced together through one blank page after another, allowing you to write up your own templates and use them over and over again to speed up your work. In short, Scrivener takes a lot to get going, but once you get there, it’s the most efficient way I’ve found to putting together a story.


  1. Does everything you need, aside from collaboration – If there’s a tool you want for writing a novel, you’ll find it here. Some of those pieces may take a bit to find at first, but once you put together Scrivener’s puzzle, it’s easy to put together the shell of a story and start filling it in.
  2. Splitscreen is wonderful – Remember when I said StoryShop has difficulty letting you reference things that you’ve done in other areas? Scrivener offers a brilliant split-screen mode that lets you look at, say, a character description in one pane and your current scene in another, ensuring you get that eye color just perfect.
  3. Cost – Scrivener isn’t free, but it’s not all that expensive. A one-time payment of $45 (per version – you’ll need to pay twice if you want Windows and Mac). I paid that price a few years back and haven’t lost another cent since.
  4. Fast – Scrivener is a low-intensity program to run. I find it starts up fast on my laptop, things shift quickly, and I rarely encounter any issues with it. Writing directly in the program is a breeze. I’m not hassled about subscriptions, online requirements, or broken formatting issues. Once you get it set up how you want, Scrivener works like a breeze.


  1. It’s not automatically online – If you want to back-up your work or use it across multiple devices, you’ll need to leverage a service like Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive and make sure you’re saving your scrivener files to a synced folder. Otherwise, they’re toast if your computer gets stolen.
  2. Giant sandbox can be intimidating – there’s a lot in Scrivener. I’ve written 7 novels with it so far and I can say I probably use about 30% of its available options. Like Word, there’s probably too much here, but (unlike Word), most are directly pointed at writing and organization for your book. Things like flagging chapters and adjusting icons, to compiling various parts of the novel for things like excerpts aren’t things I use, but that plenty of people might. It’s a learning curve, one that Scrivener could make easier.
  3. Appearance – oddly, this is probably the biggest complaint I have about Scrivener; it’s just lifeless. There’s nothing about the program that inspires you. It’s like a yard with nothing in it. Sure, it’s a yard. There’s grass. You can play a game there. But no trees? No flowers? Nothing that makes you open it and go “yes, I’m excited to be here.” If you coupled Scrivener’s speed and offline access with StoryShop’s interface happiness, then, well, you’d have one compelling package.

Final Thoughts:

As I said above, Scrivener is what I’ve been using and what I still use. They just released a new Mac version, though as I primarily write on my Windows laptop, I’m still waiting. Over time, I’ve learned the parts of Scrivener I need to use, and it does what I want it to. I don’t have to think about it anymore to start writing, and I have a strong template that I use for getting novels going. I would say, in fact, that I use less of Scrivener now than I did at the start, having refined my process to just use the tools I need. And that’s the big plus of this program – you’ll find the tools you need, and then you won’t have to worry about anything else. You’ll just write, spitting out one story after another. I’d currently recommend Scrivener to any writer.

Though I’ll say this now – if StoryShop continues to improve enough to eventually justify that subscription, I won’t be disappointed to make the switch. If Scrivener learns from the competition and makes their program a more pleasing affair to play with, that’s cool too.

Lastly, there are plenty of tools out there for writers. Tons of programs that can be used in conjunction with each other or separately. What matters most is finding what works for you, though I’d throw in this bit: never stop looking for something better. There’s all sorts of cool things happening in this space, and locking yourself into a single way of doing things just because that’s what you’ve always done is a good way to miss out on a great new tool.

Happy writing, everyone!

The pros and cons of writing a novel with StoryShop

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And here we come to the first of the two fiction writing programs I’ve played with. Storyshop comes from a group of indie authors that, frustrated by a lack of programs they thought served novel writing well, hired software developers to make this. It’s early on in Storyshop’s life, and plenty of changes are expected, so I’m keeping an eye on this one to see how it evolves. As for experience, I worked with it quite a bit over the duration of a 7 day free trial, after which I decided not to subscribe, for reasons given below.

General Impressions:

Storyshop is the belle of this particular ball. It’s pretty. It’s colorful and dynamic. It greets you with a warm welcome that gets you excited to write. There are plenty of features here, and unlike Word, they’re all targeted to authors (particularly fiction). In my time with it, I didn’t see many useless things, though I saw plenty of tools that were only halfway there. Things like a relationship indicator for your characters (allowing you to identify siblings, parents, lovers, etc. and make a family tree of sorts) that would have been great, except it didn’t have an over-time element to it, which would be great for tracking how character relationships come and go over the course of one or more novels.

Also, because Storyshop effectively runs as a web program, even running on decent internet connections, had some slowdowns. Storyshop simply doesn’t flip between sections as quickly as OneNote or Scrivener. The writing tool can take longer to accept your text. I didn’t try dictating into it, so can’t comment on that, but I’d recommend dictating into Notepad or something and copy/pasting in. There’s also some clunkiness, like not being able to easily see a scene’s synopsis while writing in that particular scene.

But you can put in pictures for your characters, for your settings. You can interrelate everything to each other. You create “worlds” and then “stories” within those worlds – like creating a world of “Star Wars” and a story titled “A New Hope”. It’s a world-builder’s dream. It can also be a timesink, as you notice all those opportunities to find images for minor characters and settings. Ultimately, though, using Storyshop will give you a vivid base for outlining your stories. And then, when you want to start outlining, you can choose from a whole suite of starter templates, allowing you to shape your plot by emulating your favorite works.


  1. Fun interface – working in StoryShop is easy on the eyes. It has a delightful color scheme, and once you load up your world with pictures, it’s easy to visualize the settings for your novels.
  2. Best outlining/worldbuilding system – Storyshop makes it easy to create and store the pieces that make up your worlds. From characters to settings to tools, StoryShop gives you easy ways to describe them all and reference them.
  3. Easy to access online – because it’s a web app, you don’t have to install Storyshop on anything. Like Google Docs, it all lives online, so you can access from anywhere. No worries if your computer gets crushed by a random meteor.
  4. Receptive to feedback – Developers and owners interact frequently with the audience. This is an application in its early phases, and it’s clear the creators are invested in making it better.


  1. Relatively expensive – Storyshop requires an online subscription. $8.25 per month if you pay for the whole year in advance. Compared to the “free” of Google Docs/OneNote or the one-time purchase for Scrivener, you’re quickly going to be paying more for the privilege of using the program. Still, it’s a couple of coffees a month. If Storyshop is what works for you, then this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.
  2. Can be cumbersome – Where other programs in this series have been noted as lite, Storyshop throws a lot at you. Its design encourages a lot of world-building, which is great if you enjoy doing that. If, however, you’re more into writing a narrative and letting the setting flow, you might lose a lot of time building all the little pieces. And then there’s the issue that a lot of pieces don’t quite fit together as easily as they should. You can, though, see a beautiful future in the clumsy present.
  3. Online only, at least as of November 2017 – This is the big one for me. Several times during the 7 day period I wanted to jump into my StoryShop story and jot down a few things. Its whole structure, in fact, makes StoryShop great for utilizing those five or ten minute chunks of the day to get a little writing down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t somewhere with internet I could use (or internet good enough to get me into the program). On an airplane, in a park, or a coffee shop that doesn’t allow guest wifi? You can’t write with this. You can’t access it to review. This is why I didn’t sign up for StoryShop – if I could have, like Google Docs, an offline version that I could sync, this would be my prime tool.

Final Thoughts:

As noted in the final con above, I think StoryShop is off to a great start. It’s more fun to use than any other writing program I’ve tried. Its use of colors and images that you can choose gives the whole experience of writing with it a life that other programs don’t have. It makes you excited to jump into the world that you’ve built. Until you try to jump in and realize you can’t, because you’re not online. Or you start trying to write and StoryShop struggles to keep up with your typing. Or you want to reference an element you created without leaving behind the scene you’re writing.

I think you owe it to yourself to take a look at StoryShop’s free trial version. Click around. Play with setting up a world. If you like it, and you’re consistently writing with an internet connection, it’s probably the best program for you. StoryShop is going to grow, its features will improve, and in time it may well be the clear frontrunner for fiction writing software. Right now, though, I spend too much time traveling or in places without reliable internet, which makes StoryShop a non-starter for me. I’ll keep a pulse on it, though, and I hope that one day it grows into the promise shown by this early effort.


The pros and cons of writing a novel Google Docs

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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.


  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.


  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.

The pros and cons of writing a novel with Evernote and OneNote

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Continuing this week’s look at tools to write books, here’s what I think of trying to use Evernote and OneNote to write novels. I tried both of these a few years back, and while I don’t use either today (having substituted other things for their functions), so there’s a chance major revisions have outdated my impressions, so feel free to let me know if I’m hilariously wrong here.

General Impressions: 

Both Evernote and OneNote, like Word, are not designed for writing novels. They are, however, designed to take the thoughts out of your head and get them into a more “permanent” digital paper. With even fewer barriers to jotting down your ideas than Word, both Evernote and OneNote give you some of, if not the, fastest ways to get going on your story. That both allow you to group your various “notes” and order them means you can structure a book without too much trouble. Both also allow easy synchronization between multiple devices, like your phones and multiple laptops, so if you have a sudden burst of inspiration and you’re nowhere near your home computer, you can still jot it down.

However, since these aren’t long-form writing tools, you’re going to run into problems with things like formatting, organization, and exporting the finished product. As with Word, longer chapters can get messy in these programs, which prompted me to create numerous “notes within notes” and hierarchies to preserve chapters, character details, and settings or research. While it’s satisfying, in some ways, to fill all this stuff out, your story can quickly become a mess of notes that need a lot of tending to. Again, as with Word, a lot of this is going to come down to familiarity – can you make both of these work? Sure, but you’re going to have to get your strategy in place before you get too far along or your novel will end up a maze of folders, pages, references, and globs of text that can’t be easily sent out to a formatting program.


  1. Efficiency – Both OneNote and Evernote have simple interfaces that let you get going quickly. There aren’t as many frills as Word, nor document templates to fiddle with.
  2. Connected Anywhere – OneNote and Evernote sync easily over mobile/online, allowing you to check in on your work from multiple computers and/or your phone. Word and other programs, through things like DropBox or Microsoft’s own OneDrive also allow this, but the synching isn’t quite as effortless.
  3. Full of useful features – Neither of these programs is difficult to get a handle on, and both have numerous interconnected features that can help you stick to your preferred style of writing. They both support smart pens and notebooks that let you transcribe in stuff you write by hand automatically. You can scribble ideas with a Surface pen into OneNote. Evernote allows easy clipping of web pages with extensions so you can grab that Wikipedia article that’s perfect for your next chapter.
  4. Cost – Both Evernote and OneNote have free tiers, which will likely be enough for what you’re looking to do with it. Evernote’s Plus version is only $34 a year as well, so you’re not out too much if you want a slew of extras.


  1. Not really word processors – Neither Evernote nor OneNote are true word processors, meaning they will have difficulties formatting lots of text on the page. It’ll be hard for you to tell when your pages break, or to visualize new chapters.
  2. Document export is difficult – You might think that you only need to put together a novel once, but you’re going to be going back to your completed works all the time. Whether that’s to update things like front and back matter (with lists of published books), fix mistakes, or change blurbs at the front and back, you’ll want your files in good condition. OneNote and Evernote are going to make it a pain for you to make these changes.
  3. Lots of manual lifting for you – While OneNote and Evernote offer plenty of ways to organize your work, it’s going to be on you to do it effectively. You’ll need to set up the notebooks, arrange the documents, and make your places to store your research and plot. All those minutes dragging things around, creating new folder structures and so on is time you could spend writing.

Final Thoughts: 

Both of these programs are, in my opinion, better used alongside your actual word processor (if you want to use them at all). The messiness created when you have so many “notes” eventually grows to make the process of writing a novel untenable, or at least difficult, in much the same way as a lengthy Word document becomes hard to sift through. On the other hand, if you’d like to experiment, these are free to try. I’d caution about using these permanently for budget reasons, though, as you’ll have to invest in people or programs (like Vellum) to do a lot of formatting work for you. And to get your notes into those programs is going to take a lot of copy/pasting, or tricky exports.

The pros and cons of writing a novel with Microsoft Word

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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.

General Impressions:

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.

The Best Part of Vegas – Red Rock Canyon

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In early November, I spent a few days at a writing conference in Las Vegas (which I’ll write about at some point, probably). Because my flight home, due to prices and whatnot, didn’t depart till late Monday afternoon and the conference closed on Sunday, I had a lot of time to wander around. Casinos, even the nice ones, get old and after spending days around them I wanted something different. Red Rock, not far outside Vegas, offers a distinctly non-glitzy experience. It’s a back-to-nature park that, with a scenic drive and plenty of trails across all length spectrums, holds no barriers for anyone sick of neon lights.

On the day I went, the weather was pleasantly cool – low 70s and windy – and while there were people around, I didn’t feel crowded. Benches abounded at trail heads and overlooks, giving plenty of opportunities to take out the journal and do some scribbling underneath the tall rock faces. The breeze runs through your hair and there’s not a single blare of a horn, no music bouncing around or calls for this or that special. It’s a moment of peace in a town dedicated to anything but.

You’ll see plenty of cacti. Valleys cut through majestic and odd stone. Rock art carved on those same stones. And, unlike some larger parks, the whole experience can be as long or short as you want it to be. Getting through the scenic drive with a stop or two from the strip should only take a couple of hours. Plenty of time to get some fresh air before heading back to the tables. It certainly made the long flights back home easier.

So next time you find yourself in Vegas, if you have a car or access to one, consider taking the jaunt out west. Go on a hike for a few hours. Cure that hangover with something other than more alcohol.

Who knows, you might even see a bighorn sheep.