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Tools Shape Writing... So I Use Many

Use the best tool for the job.

It's a simple saying, and one many writers ignore.

Paper and pencil, while often my preferred tools for writing, have not been the best tools for writing for at least a century. Typewriters are better, if you are concerned with speed and legibility. Typewriters with correction tape gave us another reason to prefer the mechanical to graphite sticks and wood pulp.

I remember my sense of awe when I saw the earliest word processors. These were typewriters with memory, and sometimes a disk drive. Not quite computers, but certainly something more than a manual typewriter, I wanted one… but never owned one. Instead, I upgraded from a blue Smith Corona manual typewriter to a brown Brother electric.

Even after receiving an early home computer, a Commodore VIC-20, the typewriter was the best device for writing quickly.

My first real computer, a Tandy 1000, included a simple suite called DeskMate. I used the text editor to write stories, saving them to 5.25-inch floppies. I later bought AlphaWorks (which became LotusWorks) and used that suite for many tasks. I also tried WordStar, but found XyWrite better — and you can still buy Nota Bene 10, which is based on XyWrite. Finally, moving up to WordPerfect 4 changed everything, including how I write.

WordPerfect was fast and easy to use. For a week or two, you needed the little cheat sheet template that came in the box, but once you memorized the function keys, anything was possible.

How did my writing change? With WP for DOS, I wrote in chunks that were easy to move about and revise.

I've always created an outline, and then moved back and forth throughout a work to ensure some continuity of thought. With paper, I use legal pads, starting new ideas on new pages. Shuffling yellow pages of paper is okay, but tedious with a longer work.

WP let me indulge in the over-writing I do so easily, too.

Using page breaks and my own notations, I could organize an online, over-write each section, and then reorganize a story or paper endlessly. And write I did. I still have documents I wrote in high school and college, having migrated them from DOS to Windows, and then to my Apple systems.

I can't explain how much WordPerfect changed my writing habits. I upgraded from 4.x to 5.x, and to the 6.x version. I always preferred WP for DOS, too, not the Windows version. I did have a copy of WP 3.x for the Mac, and was saddened by the loss of WordPerfect for other platforms as Microsoft came to dominate… everything.

Yet, for all my love of WP, I have always used a mix of tools for writing.

On DOS, I did use Microsoft Word, and it wasn't a bad program. I also used a number of specialized text editors. But, my final manuscripts were always WordPerfect files, through college and well into the mid-1990s.

Today, my "chunk" writing is supported by a long list of tools, including:

  • OmniOutliner Pro for planning;
  • Scrivener for writing drafts of stage and screen scripts;
  • Final Draft for final formatting of screenplays; and
  • Microsoft Word for stage plays and other manuscripts.

I also use Apple's Pages, Movie Magic Screenwriter 6, Dramatica Story Expert 5, Contour, and few other writing tools.

Outlining in Word? Get serious! You can't outline in Word like you can in OmniOutliner. There's no comparison. None.

Scrivener for final manuscripts? Sorry, I absolutely prefer to write all drafts in Scrivener, but no editor or director accepts Scrivener projects as final output. Yes, Scrinener can export Word, ePub, PDF, and Final Draft documents, but those always need a few little tweaks before sending them along to colleagues.

I don't write drafts in Final Draft or Word because I can reorganize a document much faster in Scrivener. There's some aspects of Scrivener I dislike (too many options buried in too many confusing menus), but it's perfect for moving an outline to a manuscript and then moving chunks around.

Writers, let's be honest: when moving things was difficult, and when revision meant hours of retyping a text, we settled for "good enough" at times. Today, there's no excuse not to revise and improve a manuscript.

I've been asked why I don't live in Final Draft or Screenwriter, which could do much of what I do in Scrivener. The screenwriting applications lack the easy folder and binder metaphor I like in Scrivener. Moving things in Scrivener feels natural to me. Plus, Scrivener holds all my notes and random chucks of text nicely, while not including those chunks in the final export to Word or Final Draft.

While I still miss WordPerfect, and I do still use paper and pencil for a lot of my writing, using the best tools for various stages of the writing process helps me produce better scripts.

We often become trapped in one tool, unwilling to learn others or to experiment. I still try new tools and seek out better ways to compose my words. I encourage other writers to the same. What works for me might not work for you.
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