The Workhorses of Publishing: Software Writing Programs

Once in a while a reader will ask what program I use to write. After I answer, I expect a follow up question: “And what program do you use to edit?” Never once have I received that follow-up question.

I’m guessing that most readers assume that writers pound out copy in a Word doc and blast it off to a publisher. Done.

Many might, but not me. I’m not a high-tech person, but I do rely on five software programs to simplify my writing process and make the end product shine. Five may seem a high number with extra levels of complication, but that’s not true. Each program, except Scrivener, took about an hour to learn. I attended a four-hour class to figure out the bells and whistles of Scrivener. Time well spent.

I estimate that these programs shave off up to 20% of my time in research and save me potential embarrassment. That’s priceless. Speaking of price, most of these programs go on sale annually. Follow them on Facebook to learn more.

I begin with Plottr. It’s an easy-to-use program that helps me plot my stories. I’m not a pantster (winging it by the seat of my pants). I’m a plotter; I like logical organization. Sometimes while writing I’ll take off on a rabbit trail, but I don’t detour much from my plot outline. Plotter has 14 great plot templates. I chose “The Snowflake Method” for my first novel. It was a terrific help, though complex. I had to read the accompanying book. I’m using “The Hero’s Journey” for my current manuscript because of its simplicity.

Once I’ve built a solid plot, I import my outline into Scrivener. This robust program allows me to set up a list of chapters in the left column and write in the right column. Before I learned about Scrivener, I’d pop back and forth between Microsoft Word documents, which I’d save as separate chapters. So time consuming. Now I click on a chapter number in Scrivener’s left column, and the copy appears in the right. Scrivener also allows me to build character descriptions that I can access from links beneath the chapter listing. This is very helpful when I forget a character’s eye color. It happens.

Before anyone lays eyes on my work, I send it through the ProWritingAid program, which links directly to Scrivener. It catches most misspellings, duplicate words, punctuation errors, grammatical mistakes, and pacing issues. This program actually scores my work. If I don’t make an A, I keep at it until I do.

Because my developmental/copy editor prefers Microsoft Word, I save my chapters in that program before sending them to her. We both like the friendliness of Word’s Editing/Track Changes tool. She usually highlights my text and comments on it in the right column.

After making her suggested changes in Scrivener, I’ll save another copy to Word and forward it to my buddies in the Storyteller Squad through the American Christian Fiction Writers online critique loop. This high-tech program allows me to send my work to 14 writers of young adult novels at once. They serve as my initial beta readers, proofing my work and providing uplifting feedback.

Then I’m back to Scrivener with their feedback. After saving the updated copy to Word, I send it to the true beta readers—the teens. Their responses provide the final round of changes before I submit to publishers, who also prefer to receive the proposed manuscript in Word.

If you’re a writer, what tried-and-true software do you use?