Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why yWriter is essential to me

I haven't mentioned yWriter much on my blog. It's a tool, I use it, and that's that. Today I realised just how much I owe this software, after an incident with my work in progress.

The story so far: the draft of Hal Spacejock III is due in next Tuesday. Over the past week I've been scribbling on a printed version, turning the last five chapters into a mess of arrows, underlining and crossing out. I've inserted sentences describing new scenes, added comments explaining what the sentences are for, and then added notes explaining the comments explaining the sentences.

One page amongst 30 from the end of the book

So far so good... this is working. Now, some months back I generated a DOC file from my Hal 3 yWriter project because I thought I'd finished the structural stuff. Since then I've done two line editing drafts, which means the original project is outdated and unusable. So, today I tried to perform the edits in the word processor, and within half an hour I felt like I was up to my waist in quicksand and sinking fast. I couldn't get an overview of what I'd changed, what needed doing, what the structure looked like now that I'd moved scenes around, whether the chapters still ended on high points or hooks... nothing. I couldn't find the placemarkers for new scenes I had to write, or the comments I'd written telling me what they should contain. I couldn't link the narrative, quickly check that characters weren't in two places at once... I couldn't function, full stop.

Finally, in desperation, I cut the last five chapters from the DOC file and built a new yWriter project. I pasted the chapters into files, automatically split on the scene breaks (* * *) and applied scene descriptions and titles. Then I marked scenes as 'outline', 'draft', '1st edit' and so on. I felt myself relaxing as I did this, gradually hauling myself out of the Quicksand of Despair. By 1pm I was ready to write again, and by 4pm I'd knocked off two thousand words and knew exactly what I needed to do to finish the book off.

This isn't a commercial for yWriter (it's a free program anyway, and I really don't care if I'm the only person on the planet using it), but I don't understand how other writers can sit down with a big DOC file and come up with a coherent book. I'm an organised person with a decent attention span and a very good memory, but I'm in awe of anyone who can leap about in a huge file and make it work.

I realise Word and OO have outlining, but it's never worked for me. Last time I tried every line of dialogue was picked out as a heading, which defeats the purpose of an outline. And you can't drag and drop a scene, and editing comments is clunky, and... Well, they're not yWriter.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)


Anonymous said...

I'm having a similar problem. I switched to MS word because I like to be able to double space and underline, but now I'm converting all the files back to use in ywriter.

M@ said...

I love yWriter. I haven't yet finished the novel that I outlined in yWriter. I do have to go back and forth between Word and yWriter, but that's actually a pretty small price to pay for a good outlining tool.

Plus, for me, the conversion isn't such a big problem because I write the first draft longhand, so I can keep the outline and the draft separate until I'm ready to start actually editing.

Many thanks for making this tool available, Simon.

Anne Merril said...

I started to write in yWriter, but then found I needed to work in word. What can I say, I'm blind, I need BIG letters :P

That said, I found yWriter invlauable in the line-by-scene stage of my prep. It was great to be able to shuffle things around easily.

Simon Haynes said...

Re: fonts. You can choose the font in the yWriter editor window. I know style is selectable, and I'm pretty sure size is as well.

David Forbes said...

Wow, that sounds like so much extra work! I don't have any problem keeping things straight in Word. I don't ever have finished "scenes." Either the whole book is done or it's not. Some parts might need more additional work than others, but I mark those with "xxx" and then just use the search function to find them.

Maybe we should all start writing in longhand with knife-sharpened pencils....

Simon Haynes said...

I have five levels of 'need additional work', ranging from Outline to Final, and I use them all. I use placemarker scenes with a brief description of What Will Happen and mark them as Outline. When I write the scene I upgrade it to Draft. Next pass through it moves to 1st Edit, and when I'm completely happy with it I mark it 2nd Edit.
After I've complied with the editor's suggestions and proofed everything I upgrade the scene to Final.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to give yWriter I go again. I was confused last time I looked at it, but the program seems much easier to use now - probably because I read the help file this time :) I did a mock beginning to a novel this morning and everything went great. Thank you Simon for all your programs - I use Sonar and the e-book reader the most but have tried all of them.

Fahim said...

I know exactly what you mean Simon - I wrote my own editor, Amanuensis, which had a treeview outilner because I couldn't seem to work with outlines in Word :p Actually, I wrote Amanuensis for my wife but as I wrote Amanuensis, my own novel took shape and was finally done. For the final edit I switched back to Word since I need footnotes and Word had that and while I could have implemented it in Amanuensis, it would have ruined the look I'd become used to :p Now I'm planning the rest of my novels in MindManager which does give me a lot more freedom as far as structure and links go and it also converts over to Word (somewhat) easily. So I've shelved Amanuensis for the moment but like you, I might find that I just can't get along without it once I start writing :p

Unknown said...

I'm working on finalising a book I've been working on since, oh, 2004 or so. The reason it took so long was because I felt it wasn't working in third person, and wanted to rewrite it in 1st. (The protagnist is a psychopath who finds himself on the side of 'good' quite by accident. In 3rd person people weren't getting 'inside his head' and forgetting he isn't a nice or good person.) I felt like I was sinking, as you describe.

I installed yWriter yesterday, and I'm flying.

But I do miss the footnotes. Also, a way of visually keeping track of the timeline without lists of numbers would be nice. I have a condition simmilar to dyslexia, but for numbers. A tree of some sort in the main window would work much, much, better for me.