Software for Writing

I’ve experimented with just about every piece of writing software out there I could find. If I could get it free or cheap, odds are, I used it. RoughDraft, Page Four, yWriter, Liquid Story Binder XE, Text Box Writer, Write Monkey, Dark Room and JDark Room, Q10, Momentum Writer, Word, OpenOffice Writer, WordPerfect, and a plethora of others – I’ve used ‘em and have loved ‘em all.

But honestly, only Liquid Story Binder XE, yWriter and Page Four were software packages you could say were designed with writers in mind. They’re able to piece together a novel how ever you, the writer, want to work with them. yWriter has discreet scenes you can edit and move around, and LSBXE has undergone changes to make it scene-oriented too. It also includes story sequencing, mind mapping abilities, music to set the mood for you, and more. Page Four is a series of notebooks with pages, and while that’s pretty amazing to work with, it’s a little cumbersome if you like to plan and then write, like I do.

I’m not an outliner. I tried that and it promptly got in my way. I need a looser guide to writing, and that is where today’s awesome software package comes in:

Microsoft OneNote.

imageBefore I begin, I have to say OneNote is not free software. Most of the software I review here is either free or cheap. But MSON isn’t either. It comes as part of a few of Microsoft’s Office suite packages, but those are not inexpensive. I paid a whopping $23 for mine, including the back-up DVD. Horrors! (That was exactly half the cost of LSBXE, btw, because of a special agreement my company has with MS.)

That being said, that’s what bit torrents are for, but hey, you do what you want.

If you’re a writer, though, and you’re NOT using OneNote to manage your book and even get it done, you’re not being as efficient as you can.

Let’s be honest – if you’re a pantser (that is, you write by the seat of your pants – that is, you sit down and start typing and hope you stay on the initial story idea you had when you sat down to type a story), the idea of organization and putting things in their place and research and outlining and milestones and all that sounds just like hell. You’re not interested in going down that road, and that’s fine. This post, believe it or not, isn’t a rant against the pants-seat writing method. I’ve plenty of other posts for that, so I’ll let this one be for those who try to plan their novels – at least a little bit – and need a way to keep things in a single location rather than scattered all over their hard drive or on little scraps of paper in various notebooks or on napkins and gum wrappers.

OneNote is a virtual notebook. Initially designed to be a collaboration tool, it’s an extremely flexible way of taking notes, organizing thoughts, collecting information from various sources, and organizing it all into a neat little package called a notebook.

You can divide the notebook into different sections with tabs which go horizontally across the interface (on OneNote 2010, at least). Each section can then be divided into individual pages which run vertically down the side of the tab’s interface. This is similar to Page Four’s idea, but in my opinion, is superior in execution; PF doesn’t have the tabbed interface of ON.


As with all new MS products, ON shares a unified look and feel with it’s tabbed interface. (Even Live Writer has the ribbon now!) The software is incredibly intuitive and allows you to cut, paste, edit, and move pages and tabs around effortlessly.

The uses for this sort of thing for writers is almost endless. You can have a few different tabs running across the top – character dossiers or outlines, story lines, plot twists, locations and timelines, whatever you need. Each of those can be subdivided into individual pages so each character has their own page, or each location can have a complete description you can refer to if need be. You want pictures? No problem. Grab them from your favorite source and stuff them onto your page without any problem. You can link to different pages too.

So, let’s say you have a favorite writing tips article you like on your favorite writing blog, and you want to have it as a ready-reference in your ON notebook. You can link to it, and just click the link to launch the web page in your default browser.

Would you rather capture the page instead, just in case it moves or changes before you get back to it? This is sort of common with news sites and feeds. You can go to the page in question and copy and paste it as-is into your notebook. Voila! Page captured.

Research for fiction or non-fiction can all be compiled into the same notebook where the text is written. When you’re ready to polish the prose, just copy and paste into Word (or your favorite word processor, but YMMV on how well-received the MS data is from ON in other word processors).

imageAnd this is only the beginning. You can do screen captures from your computer and put them into ON; you can attach files to it, email the page, send it to Word through the File tab on ON instead of having to copy and paste, and so much more.

It’s one of the most useful tools for writing I’ve ever found. And even if I didn’t have the Office Suite cheap like I do, I’d buy one which includes OneNote just for this purpose.

I can’t wait to further explore it.



7 thoughts on “Software for Writing

  1. I’ve used yWriter and liked it for the features included. The chapters can be reordered, the characters can be listed and notes can be written about each, there is plenty of room for back story that isn’t part of the actual story (story for the author to stay on track), locations and items incidental to the arc can be listed as well. It is a great piece of software for a writer to stay on track and get it down.

    yWriter was actually a little TOO good for me. I’m not a savvy enough writer to utilize all its features, I suppose. But what I did use, I liked, and FREE sure goes a LONG way toward “GREAT”, don’t it? 🙂 Still, OneNote’s about perfect for me and how I work, and isn’t all that expensive when you consider all things. 🙂

  2. Sounds good. Do you need the Office Suite for that program to work?

    Nope, sure don’t CV! You can download it all by its lonesome right here, and it’s only about $80 (which is less than I thought it’d be, considering all it can do).

  3. One Note is my baby. I have a notebook for each story with tabs for each topic, plot, characters, research links and other sources. It’s great, I love it, and it’s kept me well organized.

    Oh yeah, this thing’s da bomb. It’s awesome. It’s almost like it was designed for writing even though it wasn’t. 🙂

  4. That looks very cool–even if I am a pantser sort of gal. I start off that way, but once I’ve got a first rough draft, I need organization! And my novel are a bit interconnected, perhaps it could help me with that!

    It could indeed. You could even have a separate notebook just for the common locations, people, circumstances and items. You can collect the bits of each novel which touch upon the others so the connections are in the same location and you won’t forget them (how did that guy meet the killer again? — that sort of thing). It’s got endless possibilities.

    Well, not for the pocketbook today, but good to have an idea of the options. I see them, but don’t know anyone who’s used them.

    Sherri’s used yWriter. You can get a free trial version with 30 uses of Liquid Story Binder XE, too. And you might be able to get a demo of OneNote from the Microsoft site, but I didn’t check on that.

    Thanks for the info.

    I’m all about the info.

  5. I liked yWriter for organization, but it was too difficult for my pantsness to write with it till I was mostly done with the 1st draft. I LOVE OneNote. I use it for everything, collecting links, character sketches, setting research… Before I had Onenote, I used Evernote, which is the open-source version. It’s modeled after the old OneNote, though, so it doesn’t have anything like the ribbon. Still, it’s a good (and free) substitute.

    Can’t speak to the verisimilitude of EverNote, never having used it, but there were a few people saying it’s very good. And I found a guy who said a mind-mapping software actually came closest, if he had to pick an alternative to OneNote. In the end, there’s nothing like it, and for most writers, I’d venture to say this is $80 well spent.

  6. I use Page Four. I like the notebook layout; nice and easy to organise all the (increasingly large volume of) assorted stuff that I have going with it.

    I liked PF too. It’s the closest thing I found before I discovered OneNote to the way I like to work. And it had a zoom feature on the word processor to help my poor, aching eyes out as I age. But it DID have a few glitches with it (the text would spontaneously resize itself, among others). And, the pages weren’t as handy in layout as ON makes them. It’s really brilliant, and nothing is like it at all.

    On the downside I discovered a glitch when I try to add large pieces of text in between two other large sections of text. It starts eating words. This is going to be a problem when editing, so maybe I’ll try this One Note thing sometime soon. Thanks for the info.

    Yet another glitch! I know OneNote’s not cheap, but it IS worth the cost IMO. I look at those things as investments in my craft. Like owning a good typewriter used to be, back when you COULD own one. 🙂

Hey, what's up? Tell me whatcha think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s