Review of Write!

For the last few months I’ve been test-driving Write!—a word processing application that lives in the grey area between a text editor and a WYSIWYG word processor.*

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Why, you might ask, are we talking about another entry in the word processing universe?  And that’s a fair question.  Since you’re reading this online, I’d be shocked if you don’t already have a go-to program when you want to hammer out a few pages.

But every job has tools—carpenters have hammers and chisels, analysts have computers and spreadsheets, and writers have pens and paper and word processors.  And anyone who performs a job for any length of time can get a little particular about the tools they use—just listen to a chef grumble if you tell them to use knives that are not their own.  Writers are not immune to this pickiness.  Bring it up at a gathering of writers and you’re likely to hear a dozen different opinions on what word processor—or lack thereof—works best.  Personally, since Ami-Pro—of the 1990s—disappeared, I’ve been drifting aimlessly. But for many people—and I’m one of them—using the right tool, or at least the tool that’s right for you, can be a critical thing.

This review has taken me longer than I expected; and while part of that has to do with the way free time dries up when you buy a house, it also took me a while to figure out how I felt about Write!  Not because it’s difficult to use—on the contrary, you can be up and running, and comfortable in your surroundings in less than 5 minutes—but because it’s fundamentally different that other word processors I’ve used.

After using it for several months I’ve started thinking of it as the Goldilocks of the word processing spectrum.  If you’re a high-end user of the fully-functional WYSIWYG programs, especially if you need something with powerful layout tools, Write! just isn’t going to be for you.  Conversely, if you’re like me, and gravitate toward the ultra-simplistic, barely-more-evolved-than-Notepad choices, Write! may have enough features to distract.  But if you fall somewhere in the middle, Write! could be the program that offers just the right mix of features to enable your writing, while getting out of your way.

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Likewise, Write! sits in the Goldilocks price zone.  High-end packages like Word can cost quite a bit, and the free software generally just isn’t full-featured, or can be a bit buggy.  Write!, at $24.95 for a lifetime license, is inexpensive, and if it’s features are what you’re looking for, that’s not a lot to pay for a slick, well-programmed word processor.

At its core, it’s that dichotomy that made this review so difficult for me to wrap my mind around.  It took a long time to understand why there needed to be a middle-ground between the extremes.  The way I’ve worked for years is to open up PSPad, or the WordPress post-creation screen, and once the writing was done if I needed to make it look pretty, I’d copy/paste it into MS Word to do the heavy-lifting.  Write! won’t solve that problem—if you need to get a document presentation-ready to take to the printer you’ll still need something else to make it look professional.

Instead, Write! has included a suite of features that can help you with the technical work of pounding out the pages.  Instead of fancy fonts, and clip-art packages, Write! includes features focused on productivity—cloud storage, powerful cross-document search capability, quick publishing of documents to allow sharing and collaboration.  Focus Mode—where the paragraph you’re working on is highlighted and others are de-emphasized—is a feature I thought would bother me, but I found surprisingly helpful.

As with any program, it has it’s quirks, some of which may resonate with you and some won’t.  I don’t love the way the spell-checker works—I think it takes one too many clicks once a word has been identified, but a friend tried it and liked it better than what she was used to.

There are a lot of things to like about Write!, but there is one feature that I REALLY need that Write! just doesn’t do very well—Portability.  The main reason I’ve come to rely on Google Docs is that if I find myself with the time to write I can open the document on my home laptop, my work computer, my tablet, my phone, or any computer I borrow—all without installing extra software.  Write! has the ability to export documents to other formats (docx, pdf, txt, and a couple of others), but without a phone app, or web version, portability is limited.

So is Write! worth it?  That will depend on how you intend to use it.  It seems tailor-made for writing copy for online use, because the text it produces isn’t bogged down by formatting codes.  However, it doesn’t do everything as well as it does the basics, and if you use your processor to make flyers, brochures, or anything that needs graphics, visual elements and formatting, it’s probably not your first choice.  To me, it’s a solid program and it has it’s uses, but until I can edit documents on-the-go, I’m only going to use it when I’m home or toting my own laptop to the coffee shop.


*DISCLOSURE:  I received a free license for Write! in exchange for agreeing to evaluate it and share my thoughts.  Since that agreement my only contact with the Write! staff was to ask a few clarifying questions, and to let them know this review was scheduled for today.

 

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Recharging

A couple of months ago I reintroduced myself, after a long sabbatical hiatus vacation holiday break absence.  Since then I’ve been trying to work my way back into some semblance of a writing habit.  Based on the crowd I’m writing to, you all no doubt understand that this is not easy.  That’s OK, I didn’t expect it to be.  I’ve done this before–I’m sure we all have from time to time–so I expect this to be a long-haul kind of life change.

Breaking or creating habits is generally a struggle.  First there’s the struggle just to keep the change in the forefront of your mind.  It’s hard to get in shape if you don’t remember to go to the gym until you’re getting ready for bed.  On this front I’ve been making myself use a bullet journal everyday–even weekends.  And at least 3 times each week (scheduled in my bullet journal) I must do some sort of creative writing.  I make myself do it in a particular journal, even if I intend to use it online.  And this is where the next step has been rearing it’s head.

My creative battery is very nearly dead.

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The occasional companion to Writer’s Block–at least for some of us–is Reader’s Block.  Much of the reason for my writing drought is because I let the rest of life suck up the time I used to set aside for writing.  My reading time was not immune from this same gluttonous beast.  I’m not saying I haven’t been reading over the last few years, but my intake of creative material has nearly dried up. Social media makes it easier than it used to be to keep up with science articles, and I read plenty of programming and technical articles for work, but my busy schedule has proven to be anathema to sitting down with a novel or a decent collection of shorts.

And creating something new is frightfully hard if the creative well is dry.

So while I continue to force myself to write–and so far the only way for me to keep up is to force myself–I’m going to try to focus some energy on recharging my battery.  Decades ago one of the authors that lit the fires of writing and wordplay within me was Terry Pratchett.  And in the last few months I’ve been working to complete my collection of Discworld novels.  So I’ve decided that’s where I’m going to start.

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I’ve recently started rereading The Colour of Magic, and when I finish that I’m moving on to the other 40 novels in the series.  I’m not structuring this too much.  I’ve no plan to read them one immediately after the other–I will mix in other books as my whims dictate.  Nor am I giving myself a deadline.  I’m trying to retrain myself to enjoy and absorb good writing and wild creativity–not hurry through a book that is a chore.

What books recharge your creative batteries?

Hello, Again

Hello.  My name is Dale. Or maybe I should say, Hello, again.

If you’re among our newer readers, you probably don’t know me.  And if you’re one of those readers who’s been with us a while, you’ll be forgiven if you’ve forgotten who I am.  Although I’m one of the founders of this site, I’ve all but disappeared over the last two years.

I’d like nothing more than to tell you that I haven’t been writing because of some grand event, like traveling the world, or that I’ve been so busy on some life-changing project at work that you’ll all be able to see on the news in the near future.  It would assuage my writer’s guilt greatly if I could point to a bout with cancer, or wax poetic about caring for a loved one who made a remarkable recovery.  But I can’t.

I’d like nothing more than to tell you that I have good reasons for my absence.  But all I have is excuses.  Or more accurately, one excuse.  It’s the same excuse I always have.

For the past two years I just didn’t feel like writing—and I didn’t force myself to do it.

I’ve never been good at making myself write–at least not when I lack the motivation to write.  If I have a story in my head, but lack the time, I can usually make myself sit down to take a few notes, and can often parlay that into a productive hour or two.  But in the last couple of years the ideas and the desire have been lacking.

I’d love to tell myself that I have reasons not to write.

I’ve been suffering from a form of chronic pain.  That’s a reason, right?  Well…I’ve known people with chronic pain who find a way.

What about my legitimate lack of time to write?  Hmmm…I seem to have found the time to watch TV and surf the web. So even though I haven’t had a lot of free time, it seems like I could have carved out an hour here and there.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

When it comes to not writing there are few reasons and there are many, many creative variations on the same, familiar excuse.

So what can I do?  The way I see it there are two choices.  I can give up and stop calling myself a writer (even with qualification) and give up my partial stake in this site I helped start.  Or I can stop accepting my own excuses, and make myself write.

In the past month I’ve started to make myself journal every day most days.  I’ve taken some notes on a couple of creative ideas that have been living in my head for far too long.  I’ve started to get my office into shape (this is a common stalling tactic, but in this case I’ve just bought a house and I can’t use my new office until it’s painted and unpacked).

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And I’ve started writing again.  For now it’s less creative stuff, like a few blog posts, and some technical writing.  But I’m using those to get back in the swing of putting thoughts on paper in a coherent way, so those muscles don’t cramp up as bad when I start to tackle something more creative and narrative.

So to sum up.  I’m Dale, and I have no excuses.

Gone But Not Forgotten

OldBooksAlmost everything that I wrote more than fifteen years ago no longer exists.  The box containing my old notebooks and any school assignments I’d deemed worth saving disappeared during a cross country move.  The world is probably a better place because of this.

A few things do survive—certain papers or stories that for one reason or another were transcribed to computer and managed to survive the steady upgrade of computers over the years.  When I read these few survivors I cringe.

It’s not that my writing was bad, it was just….  It was unpolished, adjective-heavy, repetitive, sparse on meaningful description, and plot laden.  It was young.

But—and this is important—it was full of ideas, and it was full of excitement.

As an adult, I’m better at taking a random idea—i.e., a writing prompt—and with time and patience working that into something useful.  I’m better at revising a raw rough draft and molding it into something polished.  But what I’m missing now, what those early books were full of, were ideas that sprung completely from my own head—ideas that I was passionate about developing.

Sure, some of those ideas have hung around.  The ones I spent more time trying to tame were repeated enough that they are at least partially committed to memory.  But when I think back to the ideas I lost, I find myself wishing that I was able to revisit some of the crazier ideas with the honed skills I have now.

Do you still have the stories, notebooks or ideas you came up with in your past?  How far back?  Do you find them helpful, or do they just make you cringe?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments—or pop over to the Today’s Author Forum and talk about it with other writers.

Dirty Little Reading Secret

aceRL9ggiAs bibliophiles, we’re often held to a higher standard when it comes to the novels we spend our time reading. Friends often assume that because I’m well read, and because I write, that I not only have good taste when it comes to the books I read, but also that I exercise that taste with every single book I read.

But the fact is, that like everyone else I like to unwind. Sometimes I like a book that isn’t challenging, has no deep meaning, no mysterious plot twists or characters that challenge my preconceptions.

But…I may not always carry that book quite as openly as most of the books I read.

So, tell me…what is your Dirty Little Reading Secret?

For me, I have an affinity for Star Wars novels. Specifically, the straight-to-paperback, starfighter-pilot-oriented series that have come out in recent years. The characters are one-dimensional, the plots are templates and the bad guys never quite die off. For me it’s the reading equivalent of television wrestling.

So…am I alone?

Storms and Drought

Weather and writing. More generally, weather and creativity. They are inextricably linked together through metaphor.

Throwing out ideas is a Brainstorm.

Ideas come in a flood—or sometimes a torrent.

Ideas come out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning.

Weather seems a particularly apt analogy for creativity. They both seem out of our control—random even. While weather forecasting has given us more lead time to react to weather, we still have no actions to control the air and water around us. When ideas come we are similarly expected—and we’re generally happy—to simply weather the storm.

While there are tips and tricks to keep the creative stream flowing—write every day at the same time, use handwriting in a journal to warm up, etc—we have all been struck down by writers’ block from time to time.

There’s weather for that, too.

Ideas dry up.

A chronic lack of ideas is a drought—or somewhat less frequently, a depression.

If you’re stuck in a rut and can’t get out, you’re in the doldrums¹.

While not universal, the tendency to relate our creativity to natural phenomenon is certainly widespread—cutting across several languages, and not limited to the cultures that spread out from Europe.

This close metaphorical tie has an interesting side effect. With weather there is no shortage of terms for describing when weather goes wrong, yet there’s a dearth of terms for nice things like a pleasant, sunny day, with a short rain shower for good measure. Similarly, there are few elegant ways to describe the condition of having just the right balance between new ideas and the time to explore those ideas.

This is all scene setting for the situation I’ve found myself in. While I’m not swimming in free time, I do have some. But when I sit down to write, I find myself tilling the dry, crumbly ground for even the hint of an idea.

 


 

¹ Doldrums refers to those parts of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans affected by a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The doldrums are noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks (paraphrased from Wikipedia).

Is There Power in Boredom?

ScreenShot7796When was the last time you were bored? Truly bored. Not a time when you wish you were doing something more interesting, but where your mind was almost completely unoccupied.

I’ll bet it’s a lot less common than it used to be. Especially if you have a smartphone.

And that might just be a problem. Some new research, suggests that boredom may be a critical component to creativity.

Looking back through my own life, there is certainly some anecdotal evidence to support the theory. The most creative places for me have always included the shower and driving alone in the car–places practically synonymous with boredom. And as I’ve gotten older, taken on more responsibility, and technology has become more ubiquitous, boredom is more and more rare.

If I’m in line waiting for the next cashier, I’m as likely to check my email as I am to let my mind wander. And that wandering mind is important in being a writer. Not only does it help you come up with ideas, plot and dialogue. But people watching and unconsciously soaking in the environment around you is critical in making your world and writing more real.

So…what to do?

1. Follow the link above and you can find out how to participate in the Bored and Brilliant challenge, taking place during the first week of February. All you’ll do is keep track of the time you spend on your phone over the course of that week. The data is going into a larger study about boredom and creativity.

2. Let yourself be bored, not just for a day, but as a reasonable part of your routine, and see if it has any affect on your creative soul.

Tiny Bursts of Inspiration

As the kickoff of NaNoWriMo approaches, it’s a good idea to get warmed up. The same way you’d warm up your leg muscles before running, you need to make sure your creative muscles are ready for the task.

Toward that end, I thought it might be helpful to point out the tiny writing prompts that we share on our Facebook Page. Maybe you aren’t aware of them–and judging by the statistics, you aren’t. 5 days each week we post a prompt that’s designed to give you the spark for a very short burst of creative writing.

Most days you could respond to the prompt in 5 minutes or less, but there’s no reason you can’t stretch it into a longer bout of writing. These prompts have been going on for a while–there’s more than 450 already–and they’ll keep going up 5 days a week (no Tuesdays or Fridays, because on those days we put up prompts on this blog) through this year’s NaNoWriMo and beyond.

Here are a few examples of the Micro Writing Prompts. Check our Facebook Page for hundreds more.

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Looking for Balance

BalanceI’m not sure I’ve ever heard NaNoWriMo (in the running for the clumsiest acronym ever) spoken aloud. But each year from October 1 through December 7 (or so) it’s nearly impossible to be part of the online writing community without wading, hip-deep, into the NaNo fray.

Will you or won’t you? Does it work, or is it just a gimmick?

I’m a bit of a NaNo moderate. I see the appeal, and I see the usefulness, but I’ve never felt it’s the right tool for me. I’ve never been able to focus on word counts as a way of motivation. Rather, I’m the type to play around with different sparks of inspiration, accepting the fact that some days I’ll write 11 words and some days I’ll write 11,000. I’ve done NaNo 3 times, officially, and won all 3 (unless you don’t count the time where I did 4 small projects to make up my 50k. And I’ve done smaller scale NaNo once or twice–where I set a smaller goal, and don’t officially participate.

I’ve never used much of what I’ve written, but the Decembers that have followed my NaNos have been very productive. But then, that’s what Nano’s about…finding what works for you to get yourself writing.

This year, I’ve not yet decided if I’ll participate at all. I have a rather big event happening on NaNoWriMo Eve, and while I won’t say what that event is, I’ll be travelling for the first 9 days of NaNo on a vacation that traditionally comes right after this event. Combine that with the normal November holidays, and I’ll lose half the month. So 50k, is nothing more than a dream.

And to any of you, looking at your crowded November calendar, who say, There is just no way

That’s OK!

Personally I’ve never heard or felt any peer pressure to join NaNo, but I’ve always felt self-pressure. Like I’m selling out my writing dreams if I don’t do it. Even as I write this post I feel like I’m making excuses.

Trust me–down that path, madness lies.

So I bargain with myself. When I return from vacation, I will try to write 25k through November. But I will not sign up, and I will not obsessively check my word counts.

I also won’t beat myself up for not joining. And if I miss my goal, I won’t beat myself up over that, either.

No NaNoWriMo is OK.

There’s always December.

Characters Who Push Back

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to conclude that most writers, generally think of characters as dynamic beings. While I won’t itemize past posts you won’t have trouble finding opinions on this very blog about how certain characters are easily led, while others are uncooperative. And advice abounds about interviewing characters to challenge them in order to get at their inner core. Few authors seem to have complaints with their scenes or plots not cooperating, but it’s a common feeling that particular characters are just plain uncooperative.

I find this concept fascinating. On some level I know that it’s a sign that you have created a good character. Only well-formed characters are rounded enough to develop their own personality…their own energy…their own will.

Put them in the right situation and the scene will zip along, because you don’t have to worry about making them act the way you want them to. Instead, they take on a life of their own and all you have to do is chronicle what they’re doing. But put these characters in a situation they wouldn’t allow themselves in, or try to get them to act in a way they wouldn’t and they will fight with all their non-corporeal strength.

Being in this dilemma, also says something good about you–the writer. Think back–maybe a few months–maybe many years–and there was a time where your characters blithely did your bidding. They never fought back or threw up roadblocks. But now, the reader in you has stepped up and started checking your work before it’s even done. The reader inside you is saying, No, that’s not good enough. You can do better.

If you’ve a character of this quality, it’s likely that you’ve connected with her on some level. If you are lucky or skilled enough to create a character with this kind of spark—with a life of their own—you do whatever you can to keep them intact and honest. Scenes, plots, descriptions and whatnot are a whole lot easier to come by than a compelling character.