My favorite writing program is Scrivener. Lots of people like Google Docs or MS Word. It’s fine if you do.
I started with Word. I wrote a 120,000 word MS in Word, and that’s where I discovered that Word is terrible for novel writing.
See, I had one document. It was that long. It took several minutes to open. Scrolling through it to find anything took forever. It was unwieldy and annoying and ended up being quite large, megabytes-wise. And editing in it was absolute hell. The comments function isn’t really designed for novelists, and there was no way to get back material I’d cut out unless I pasted it into a different Word file. Soon I had random Word files everywhere and that just wasn’t working for me. I tried breaking everything into chapter files, but that meant opening a bunch of files any time I wanted to look for something that had happened earlier in the story.
Google Docs is worse. I know some people love the Cloud, but I’m not that fond of it. I don’t like not owning my software or the place where I store my creative works. Also, Dropbox corrupted some of my files and I’ve known people who have flat-out lost files they’ve stored in Drive or Dropbox or iCloud. So, no thank you. It does have revision history, which is one up on MS Word, but it’s not as robust a program.
Scrivener is basically a database program. You can create “folders” and put “files” in them. Each file can be whatever you want — a chapter, a scene, some notes, etc. They’re easy to organize. You can “paperclip” things to them and even write on the “folders” as if you were writing on the outside of a manila file folder. It’s quick to open and quick to organize the files. It’s also not big.
It comes with some other features that make it extremely useful. (I don’t even use all the features.) You can toggle “split screen” and split it right/left or top/bottom, if you need to have two files open at the same time. There are templates for characters and places and you can modify them or make your own. It compiles into a variety of different formats based on how you intend to publish it, so I can press a button and have something I can read on my Kindle, or publish to PDF, or whatever. You can set target goals and there’s some pretty sophisticated statistical analysis stuff I don’t use, but you could probably use it to figure out how many times you use the word “probably” if you needed to.
On the right hand side is the Inspector, which has several useful things. There’s a notepad for jotting stuff down or storing sentences. Whatever’s on the notepad is saved to that particular file. There’s an “index card” you can write on, and some general meta-data that you can customize so you can indicate if you’re on your alpha draft, or if this scene contains those particular characters, plus you can toggle things so that the file does or doesn’t get included in your ending compile (useful if you have a “notes” file). You can attach hyperlinks to files inside Scrivener or on the Internet. You can create keywords, comments, and footnotes.
Best, there’s a function called ‘snapshots.’ I use this extensively. You press the button, and it saves your text file into a ‘snapshot’ which is dated and appended to the file without being included in the compile or word count. You can name each snapshot. This is a godsend for editing. Before I make any changes to my work, and especially before I erase anything, I click “snapshots.” If I make a mistake with my edits, I can roll back to the snapshotted version. I can also click on the snapshot and read it in the side bar without rolling anything back. I honestly don’t know what I would do without snapshots. It’s the single-most useful feature I’ve found in a writing program.
Another thing that’s useful is that it has several “views.” The first view is the standard word processor view — you type your text in it. But if you click the button at the top, it takes you to a literal corkboard screen with index cards that you can write on and move around. Those index cards are your file folders. It’s extremely valuable for plotting. If you don’t like index cards on a corkboard, there’s another screen that shows you your outline in list form, and you can edit or modify that.
Scrivener is about $45, goes on sale every time there’s a NaNo (3x/yr), and you can get discounts on it through subscribing to various writing sites. Also, they let you put it on more than one computer, so I have Scrivener on every PC and Mac I own. They have great customer service and a forum and there’s a really good Scrivener for Dummies book which is better and more useful than their tutorials. In addition to using Scrivener for writing, I also use it for curriculum planning and I’m compiling the recipes we use frequently into a “cookbook” (they have a template for that) so that we can eventually get rid of most of the cookbooks that we only use for one or two recipes, and free up a little space.
Last, there is a timeline program for novels and the two can link. Super nice!
Scrivener is used by countless published and unpublished writers. Their testimonials page goes on forever. If you plan on seriously writing, I encourage you to download the free trial (good for 30 disparate days) and give it a try.
Again, I don’t get compensated by anyone for anything. This is really me loving this product.