Let’s talk about software.

Hey, you. Sit down. It’s time we had that chat. About software. Specifically, the software this author uses to pen his novels.

For decades I’ve been using Microsoft Word, upgrading to the latest version with each new desktop purchased. But I’ve finally succumbed to the warm propaganda issued by my fellow writer Michael Marshal Smith, a stalwart source of many authorly tips at the HarperCollins’ Summer parties hosted at the British Museum. Michael swears by a software program called Scrivener, so I have finally decided to throw my conservative stick-in-the-mud habits to the wind and give said new application a go.

In Dark Service bound proof copy
The new Far-called series, book 1 out May 2014, soon to be written with Scrivener (click to see full size).

The main advantage of Scrivener over Word is that as well as being a fully functional word processor, it comes with a nifty project management tool specifically designed for novelists, screenwriters and creatives. Having just handed in the manuscript for ‘Foul Tide’s Turning’ to Gollancz (the sequel to ‘In Dark Service’ and second in the Far-called series), I’m now using Scrivener to plan out the plot for the third fantasy novel in the sequence. So far, colour me impressed. The daily word-count target tracking is one of those features, I suspect, I’ll wonder how I lived without.

I’m still in Scrivener’s very generous trial period, but I think this is one piece of software that will be making the cut on my PC in the next twenty days.

On the subject of PCs, I read today that Microsoft is cutting its losses on its touch display Windows 8 system and bringing in Windows 9 as quickly as possible. I know of no one who uses W8 on a desktop or a laptop that has a nice word to say about it – it’s essentially a tablet O/S squeezed into a serious desktop environment as a panicked reaction to the average Joe(ss) switching from desk/laptops to tablets and phones when consuming media. Notice I say ‘consuming’ – I don’t know of any developers who code on their iPad, or even many authors who write novels on their phone/tablet, although I guess it is technically possible. Peter V. Brett even proved it during his commute by writing the Painted Man on his phone, although the media broke the story in the same manner as a goldfish riding a cycle – the act of the fish caught doing it proving of far more interest than the journey being undertaken.

I’ve actually been holding back from purchasing any new computers (Raspberry Pi aside), because I didn’t want to be lumbered with Windows 8, and couldn’t face the time-suck and built-in obsolesce of manually reinstalling with Vista. Let’s trust Windows 9 is better. And let’s hope the ghost of my old boss, Steve Jobs, doesn’t read this and come back and haunt me for even mentioning Windows. Yes, I know, Steve. IBM. I should have Bought Macintosh. I’ve still got the T-shirt, even if my last Mac is slowly rusting in the loft. Bet it’d start first time if I plugged it in, too.

Now, if only I could convince George RR Martin to ditch DOS and Wordstar and his steam-driven difference engine and embrace the 21st century . . . what do you say, George? If I can finally leave Word behind, you can welcome those chill winds of change into your life, too.


I am an author of various fantasy, science fiction, crime and other genre books from Gollancz, Hachette and HarperCollins. Some day I hope to grow up and be an astronaut. Exploring Mars would be nice.

5 thoughts on “Let’s talk about software.

  • January 14, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Should have known this would involve Scrivener ;-).

    S’alright — Scrivener is a really nice piece of work. I find people are intimidated by all the visual structure, but they’re often won over by how easy it is to get to everything you want to work on.

    From a geek perspective, Scrivener is terribly cool for a lot of reasons. It’s one of the most future-proof systems of the sort that I’ve seen — everything is stored as RTF or plain-text, so if you had to, you could recover everything by hand.

    Plus, as these things go, it’s pretty cheap. Well worth the price. I own 2 licenses (dating to the time before they relaxed their multiple-computer/single-user licensing).

  • January 15, 2014 at 12:07 am

    I never liked Word and originally wrote in Lotus Word Pro – only changing to Word a few years ago due to pressure to conform, so I was glad to ditch Word for Scrivener about 6 months ago. It was well worth spending a couple of days learning my way around it. I fed a novel into it that I was editing (you can break an existing piece into chapters and scenes) and it was invaluable for restructuring and editing. I’ve now delivered that novel, exported as a doc file, and am writing the first draft of the next one.

    As for Win8 – I’m sticking to my old XP pro laptop for as long as I can, and if I’m forced into a new machine before Windows9 is available I shall buy a copy of Windows7.

  • January 15, 2014 at 2:08 am

    To fix the concern about Windows 8, you can install Classic Shell and make the interface look like anything you want. I know a computer consultant who does that, as his customers just want to use their computer, not spend a lot of time and money learning to use another operating system.
    On the other hand, my son uses Windows 8 as is on his desktop computer, and really likes it.

  • January 15, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    The thing I was never that keen about MS Word is how its interface kept on getting changed with every version, yet I was only ever scratching the service of what it could do … Italics and tab indents being at my ‘power’ end of its use.

  • February 13, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Scrivener feeds all my demonic needs for organization. Folders, pages, notes, scraps, photos, web pages: everything has its place.

    I hope the Windows version has the “session goal” feature. Write and write till the meter turns green. Simple pleasures.

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