Application of the Week – yWriter (#amwriting @spacejock)

We’re all looking for that application that makes our lives easier, helps us do what we need to do without getting in the way with irritating little popups, wizards, and “helpful” suggestions.  “It looks like you’re writing a novel!  Would you like some help with that?”  Yes, Clippy, it would be most helpful if you’d just bugger off and never come back!yWriter, for me, is that application.  It does exactly what I need, doesn’t get in the way, gives me very useful feedback and runs on both of my computers – the Windows box at work and the Linux box at home.

yWriter is the brainchild of the author and programmer Simon Haynes.  You can find him and his work over at http://www.spacejock.com.  As an author himself, the good Mister Haynes knew what he needed when writing his Hal Spacejock novels and couldn’t find it available off the shelf.  So he wrote it.  Now 5 versions down the line, this wonderful tool is just one of many on his (virtual) shelf and it is incredibly useful.

Let’s take a spin through the features.When you open the software you’re presented with a brief splash screen.  If it’s the first time you’ve run yWriter, you’ll be given the option to run through the “New Project Wizard”.  This is the first and only time you’ll be prompted to run a wizard, after that they’re entirely optional.  This just sets up your first project, puts it in the folder of your choice, things like that.  I’d recommend you install Dropbox if you haven’t yet, set your projects up inside a Dropbox-synchronised folder and then you’ve got automatic off-site backups that you can access from anywhere in the world.

yWriter Main Screen

The main interface.  Pick a project, any project.  Down the left you’ll have your chapters, in the middle the scenes in those chapters, at the bottom the notes on the scenes/chapters.  Simple.  And this brings us to the key organisational gem of this software – the Scene.  Instead of writing your novel as one huge slab of text (as you might if you’re using Word without Master and Sub- Documents), you break it down into easy-to-manage scenes.  This is fantastic for turning the task of writing, say, 50,000 words in a month (*cough* http://www.nanowrimo.org *cough*) into the far simpler task of writing 50 scenes, each around a thousand words long.  Scenes exist within Chapters, Chapters within Sections, Sections within a Project.  Simple.  Everything is movable – re-order chapters, re-order sections, move scenes around, whatever you need to do!  Each scene keeps a running total of how many words it’s got, chapters add those up, projects give you a grand total of how many words they contain.  The software also keeps a track of how many words you’ve written in a day – when you start editing, this number quickly goes into the negative and that can be a little depressing.

As you can see, you can keep track of characters (major and minor), locations, items, notes on the scene, goals (and conflicts and outcomes)…  So far I’ve just scratched the surface of what this software can do but each time I find something new, it’s something more helpful than before.  I haven’t even touched on storyboarding and scene cards yet!

If you find you don’t need a scene, don’t delete it!  Mark it as “Unused” and it won’t count towards your grand total, won’t be included in any exports.  You can mark entire chapters this way.  My project setup includes a chapter called “I’d like to use this, just not sure where” and contains those scenes that have the germ of a good idea but no real place in the overall story as yet.
Now, the price.  You can spend a lot on software to write novels.  Microsoft Office isn’t cheap, Open Office is free  – and is the word-processor-of-choice for the Writer’s Cafe suite (http://www.writerscafe.co.uk £24 at the time of writing, Linux, Mac and Windows).  Scrivener, one of the main sponsors of NaNoWriMo (http://www.literatureandlatte.com £30, only available for Macs at the moment but there’s a beta for Windows).  Okay, so not exactly “a lot”, but it’s certainly a lot more than yWriter.  It’s free.  As in costs nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  And for that, what have you got to lose?  Get it downloaded and check it out.

On Windows, you’ll need a machine with the latest .NET libraries installed to get it working.  On Linux it works with Mono 2.4 or better.  I’m installing it on my newly-built CrunchBang box here at the office at the moment.

Another very good reason to visit www.spacejock.com – as if yWriter and the rest of the collection of applications there isn’t enough – is the Hal Spacejock series of books.  Just to get you hooked, and to keep you coming back for another fix, the first one’s only $1.99.  Of course, you’ll want to get the lot for your eBook reader, so this link will take you straight to the shop: http://www.spacejock.com.au/HalSpacejockEbooks.html

So, he’s an author, a programmer, a cyclist and an all-round great guy.  If I’ve had trouble with yWriter, he’s responded to tweets and emails quickly and we’ve got everything resolved.

Software: http://www.spacejock.com

Novels: http://www.spacejock.com.au

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/spacejock

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