Five Books, Five Writing Applications

In About Writing by Daniel M. Clark0 Comments

Scrivener for Mac

A few days ago I added a Published Work page to the site and listed the three books that I have published over the years. I hadn’t thought about the first two in long time, but typing up each description got me thinking about the evolution of my workflow—the tools I use to write. Oddly, it’s been a different tool for each book.

The Hard Way In (Unpublished)

I’m only including this as one of the five books because I wanted to humblebrag that I’ve actually written a novel longhand. Pen and paper, baby. The Hard Way In was written in the wee hours of the night at a Denny’s in Boca Raton, Florida over a period of months during the mid–90’s. I didn’t own a computer at the time and laptops were uncommon and expensive. Though I still have the notebooks buried in a closet in my study, I did transfer the text to a computer years after I wrote it.

It’s a terrible bit of fiction and it will never be published, but I’ve got an inspirational quote stuck to my monitor that reads, “You’ve written your practice novel. Time to move on.” It may be terrible, but it still has value.

And I wrote it longhand[1].

Success With Cafepress.com (2006)

Tool: Microsoft Word

I was a PC user until 2006, and writing this book using Microsoft Word was one of the factors that went into my decision to switch to a Mac. It was painful. Excruciating. Word was a fine word processor for short documents or works that didn’t require pictures. For anything book-length that required hundreds of screenshots with captions… look, I didn’t want to have to earn an MOS Master certification just to get up to the skill level required to lay out a technical manual in Word.

There have been at least three versions of Word since I last used it, so perhaps things have improved.

The Big Book of Spam (2008)

Tool: Adobe InDesign

When it came time to start working on The Big Book of Spam, I knew that I wasn’t going to use Word (I had made the switch to a Mac and didn’t want Microsoft Office anywhere near it). I looked around for an alternative and almost settled on the tool that I’m using today—but I’ll get to that. I needed an application that would properly lay out a book. InDesign was perfect.

The learning curve was a little steep; I had never used a proper page layout application. Between a number of online tutorials and a book, the name of which I cannot remember, I got the help I needed and got to work. Production was fast and easy, and while it may not be expertly formatted, I’m satisfied with it. I wasn’t, and am not, a publisher, after all.

I can’t imagine writing a novel in InDesign, though. It’s great for page layout, setting up frames, images, and complicated formatting… and I can definitely see writing the novel in one program then importing it to InDesign for layout. The actual writing though, no. Not in InDesign.

The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Podcaster (2012)

Tool: Scrivener, Pages, Word

This was a tough nut to crack. My first thought was to use InDesign again. The book is basically a technical manual, the same as the Cafepress book was, and InDesign should have been the go-to tool for that. The folks at NMX had other ideas. They wanted the final manuscript in Word format[2]. The page layout was up to them, you see. I wasn’t used to that, but then, I wasn’t used to having someone else publish something I had written.

I could have bought and used Word right from the start and saved myself a headache, but that would have been too easy. I wanted to use Scrivener. I had almost used Scrivener for The Big Book of Spam, but I didn’t like how it handled images and I needed an easier page layout tool. The Ultimate Guide was much the same, so at first glance, it might look like I would have the same problem, but again, I wasn’t responsible for page layout. It was enough for me to write the manuscript and sprinkle “[insert image #x here, with caption “blah blah blah”] throughout. Bliss.

I was able to dig in and learn how to use Scrivener, and now I seriously can’t imagine using anything else. A full feature review is beyond the scope of this little article, but here are a few I think are worthwhile:

I mentioned Apple’s iWork Pages and Microsoft’s Word. After writing the book in Scrivener, I needed to get the manuscript into Word format. While Scrivener does compile (export) to Word format, the editing phase would be difficult. I would need to compile to Word, send the file, get a Word file back with suggested changes and notes, make the changes in Scrivener, compile again to Word… not an optimal workflow. Being a Mac user, I had iWork installed and was pretty familiar with Pages already. Once the first draft was sent to NMX, I put Scrivener aside and used Pages.

For about a day.

Apple will tell you that Pages can open, edit and save Word documents, and it’s true. To a point. Formatting, comments, revisions; few things translate perfectly when you’re opening a Word document in Pages, so what was the solution?

I installed a trial of Microsoft Office on my Mac[3]. I went through a few crash courses in Word basics, enough to get me up to speed for the editing process, and it ended up going really well. I still wouldn’t want to write a draft in Word, but the collaborative editing was fine. If you’re interested in trying Scrivener, I have a handy referral link that I’d love for you to use: there is a trial version for Mac and a trial version for PC users.

The Last King of Avven (working title) (2014)

Tool: Scrivener

I already gave the overview of Scrivener, so bounce back up to read it again if you like. Set in the year 501 on an alternate Earth, this is the first book in a trilogy spanning thousands of years. It’s a very, very large universe and Scrivener is the perfect tool to handle it. There’s the chapter and scene organization, the corkboard view, the research folders, asset management, full-screen writing mode, support for a million export formats and it’s intuitive (see the above list of tutorials and reviews for more details).

I expect I’ll have to export to Word and then turn the editing phase over to that program again, but who knows? If I self-publish it might turn out differently than if the book gets picked up by a traditional publisher.

For now, the tool of choice is Scrivener.


  1. I know I’m far from the first to write a novel longhand, but in this day and age, it’s fairly rare. I’m not patting myself on the back for it as much as it might sound like I am.  ↩
  2. You guys have no idea how sad that made me. Le sigh.  ↩
  3. Again, a sad day.  ↩

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