Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Software Review: yWriter 5 By Spacejock Software

During my journey into author-hood this past year, I have been following several prominent blogs and author websites, and I have seen a number of reviews for applications designed to help writers write.  
Back in the beginning of my journey into author-hood, I thought I could just pound out a novel in no time, using nothing more than that old behemoth from Redmond, Microsoft Office.

I have learned two things in the year since I began writing:
1.       Writing a novel creates a time warp in which everything takes at least twice as long as intended, so the novel that I was sure I could finish in two or three months is due to be published right at the one year mark.
2.       Oh how quickly I learned that Mr. Gates, while obviously a superb businessman and a techno demi-god, was not quite as adept at designing an application that fulfilled the quirks of writing a novel.  With nowhere to put my lists of characters, locations, plot outlines, and other random thoughts, I was reduced to a notepad or journal sitting beside my keyboard in order to feel as if I were staying organized.

After a month of constantly transferring my thoughts from the journal to the computer, I decided there had to be a better way. I tried demos of several apps designed specifically for writers, with mixed success. All had the basics; the ability to organize characters, plot outlines, locations and other elements into a manageable format, but each one lacked something for me. Until I came across yWriter from Spacejock software.

yWriter was designed by a bestselling author who just happens to be a software programmer as well, and the program is a result of his two skillsets. yWriter looks and feels like a scaled down word processor application with numerous enhancements made just for the writer.  The interface has a familiar basic windows-type feel to it, with clearly broken out panes separating the various parts of your work in progress.

One of the main problems I had with a couple of the other programs was that lack of an ability to import a project from my word processor, in this case, Microsoft Word, but yWriter imports flawlessly. You do need to make sure you meet some basic formatting guidelines, but they are simple to setup in most word processors and they will allow your project to be fully managed within yWriter.

Once your project is in yWriter, you can begin to really explore the multitude of features that will make writing you novel just that much easier. Elements such as character bios with pictures are supported, as well as sections for locations, items, project and scene notes, goals, and much more.

Projects in yWriter are divided into chapters containing multiple scenes. Adding, deleting, and moving chapters and scenes are simple mouse clicks or drag and drop functions, so reorganizing while in the middle of an edit is a piece of cake. Word counts are tallied for the entire project as well as by chapter and scene, and yWriter supports numerous reports and export functions for putting any information you want into hard copy for reviewing offline. I’m sure I’ve missed a few key features,  but the program is free so there is no reason to avoid trying it for yourself.

As with any product there are a few areas that could be improved, and yWriter is no exception. I have not been able to utilize the undo feature, so if you delete something by mistake, you will need to retype or go back to an earlier saved file. So far this hasn’t been an issue for me beyond having to occasionally retype a sentence or two, and I usually determine the sentence wasn’t needed anyway.

The other issue is the extreme bare bones word processor features. I couldn’t find any support for em dashes or any variation of punctuation marks at all, so if you need to do anything beyond italics or changing the font, you will need to do as I do and clean it up in a full word processor during final edits. But yWriter doesn’t claim to be a full featured word processor, so again, I wasn’t that deterred by this minor issue.

yWriter is a clean, simple-to-use product that can help writers get their digital novel organized no matter where they are in the process, and is flexible enough to integrate into most authors’ writing processes. Give it a try, the price is right!

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