I know this title is a bit clickbaity. But that’s ok, you’ll understand where I’m going with this soon enough. I’m releasing my 200th episode of Author Stories (subscribe already!) this week, and I’ve been in a reflective mood lately. I don’t share many personal thoughts about writing, mostly because I haven’t felt like I could speak from a position of authority. I’ve said many times that the reason I started the podcast was so that I could become a better writer. “Surround yourself with the best people you know” the adage goes. And so it is true. Here’s a little something I’ve learned about myself and about the craft.
I have an affinity for tools, writer’s tool specifically. I collect them like the star of an episode of Hoarders. Even thought I have everything I need, there’s always that one other thing that will give me the edge, or will unlock that extra little bit of potential. But one more is never enough.
Here’s the reality. Writers write. It doesn’t matter if it’s cuneiform in clay tablets, longhand on legal pads, quills on payment, dictated in Dragon, or in the latest bells and whistles word processor, writers write. If you become more enamored with the vehicle than the journey, something is wrong.
I’ve used Scrivener for a couple of years, off and on. I initially found the binder on the left hand beneficial in that it would allow me to create a working outline of sorts and help me to organize my story while tricking myself into thinking that I was not actually outlining. That is great. It has helped me as a writer to understand the structure of the thing I am writing and it brings out the best in the story. As a writer I believe you should find a way to document the road map of the story so that you don’t just wander blindly into the writing. I’m still not a very detailed outliner, I leave lots of room for the story and mostly for the characters to evolve as it goes. But there’s nothing wrong or uncreative about being prepared.
Scrivener helped me to do this, but at the cost of time and frustration. I use a desktop PC, a laptop, and an iPad to write. I would sync writing projects using Dropbox and it worked pretty good between PC and iPad. Until it didn’t. I started getting weird artifacts or pieces of the project missing after syncing. No big deal, make sure you’re saving a giving it enough time to propagate before opening on another device. But it’s never worked exactly right.
I’ve also worked with several editors that complain about “knowing which authors use Scrivener” because there are always formatting issues with the rendered text. The compile feature has a lot of potential, but I’ve never had an instance where I could compile a document without having to go into Word and clean it up. Extra work.
So here’s the deal. If you’re going to be a serious writer, you have to remove distractions and unnecessary work. I don’t care how pretty the interface is, if it causes frustration and extra work, throw it out the window.
You know what is nearly universal in publishing? Microsoft Word. Yeah, it’s not the most elegant. It’s not the most cutting edge interface. But the things I appreciate are that it is standard and ubiquitous. Nearly everyone has a copy of MS Office, and the mobile apps are really nice. Add a cloud service like OneDrive or Dropbox and documents sync seamlessly. I can edit a document on my laptop in my dining room, open it out in my office on my big production desktop, then continue on my iPad and the document is there, and the interface is always the same. Heck I can even log into my MS account from anyone’s PC and work with the web version of Word.
I find that familiarity breeds productivity.
Editing doesn’t require me to port my work to another program, and when I send it to an editor, there’s not cleaning up after me before they can get to work and Track Changes is a god-send.
I reset my iPad to factory settings and only installed Word, OneDrive and Spotify. No social media apps, no games, no nonsense. I have several PCs, a phone, and an Xbox for all that. The external keyboard adapter (aka “camera adapter from Apple) allows me to connect my big, heavy, very clicks mechanical keyboard, or I can connect my ultra-light, very portable Bluetooth keyboard and have it with me and ready whenever and where ever I like. This setup has proven invaluable and I find myself tinkering with settings and tools much less and instead, just writing.
So yeah, I’m using Word exclusively, and I think I’m better for it. I still like to experiment with new tools, and I think there are places for them for specific scenarios, and I would never tell you what you should do, that’s up to you. But it’s never a bad idea to get back to basics. Sometimes a claw hammer and screwdriver are all you need.