So, just like last year I’ve had a few people ask me what was in my writer’s toolkit for National Novel Writing Month this past November. Starting from the top, let’s go through the equipment, software and other tools that got me through the month in one piece (mostly).
Apple 13″ MacBook Pro Retina: It’s about a year and a half old now, and El Capitan (Mac OS 10.11) is riddled with weird problems…but the Mac OS platform is still a solid one. Sure, I have about two dozen third party applications that run at launch – I’ll get to that in a moment – but the Mac OS still provides, at least to my mind, a friendlier, more attractive work environment. I use Windows extensively at work (7, 8.1 and 10), and I still prefer to come home to a Mac at the end of the day.
Third Party Software for Modifying the Mac OS: Yeah, okay, here’s where the Mac OS falls down on the job: Apple wants me to do things their way, and I’ve never been much of a follower. I am very much a creature of habit, and I like to customize my work environment to make it more comfortable for the way I do things. To that end, the following third party apps enhance my use of the Mac OS. (This is a brief list – I’ve got a LOT more than just these running.)
Disclaimer: Because Apple has been making it harder and harder to modify the way their operating system works – sacrificing flexibility for stability and safety, according to them – running some of these apps requires violating a level of Apple’s ‘user security’ (ie: doing things the way they want it done) or two along the way. Do a little research before deciding if these are for you!
ClipMenu (http://www.clipmenu.com/): A compact clipboard manager which remembers the last X# of items you cut or copied (I have it set to 20, but it’ll keep a LOT more than that). Useful for the indecisive writer! It hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s free and still works well in El Capitan.
TotalSpace & TotalSpaces Grid (http://totalspaces.binaryage.com/): A third party replacement for Apple’s Mission Control desktop manager. It works like the original version of Apple’s Spaces (from OS 10.6), and is enormously more flexible and useful, especially in this age of fullscreen applications.
Alfred (https://www.alfredapp.com/): A Spotlight search/launcher interface replacement with greater flexibility and a wider range of uses. It’s free for basic use, which covers a lot of ground, and the (relatively inexpensive) PowerPack just expands that.
Path Finder (http://www.cocoatech.com/pathfinder/): A total top-to-bottom replacement for Apple’s Finder (the Windows Explorer equivalent on the Mac). This is as much an aesthetic choice for me as a functionality one – in addition to a wider range of information being available at your fingertips, Path Finder gives you more options for viewing, sorting and filtering the contents of folders. It also replaces the basic Mac OS desktop interface, giving you a lot of options for customizing the layout of icons and what information they present at a glance. (It also uses a lot less in the way of system resources, if you’re willing to let it quit Apple’s Finder when it launches.)
BetterSnapTool (http://www.boastr.net/bettersnaptool/): Adds Windows-like “snap to edge” functionality to the Mac, which lets you drag windows to the sides of the screen to fill half of it, to the top to fill all of it, or to the corners to fill a quarter of the screen. Yes, El Capitan offers some of this functionality…but not all of it, and BetterSnapTool is smoother and more reliable in its behavior.
And now, back to mainstream software…
Scrivener (https://www.literatureandlatte.com/): I have yet to find a better all-in-one solution for writing. Scrivener is a place to keep all of my research, character biographies, setting notes, and the manuscript in a chapter-by-chapter format that makes editing and reorganizing the story very easy. It can also compile and export your manuscript in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Word, ePub, Mobi and PDF, for easy publishing. There is, to my mind, no better all-purpose writing environment than this.
As a side-note, Literature & Latte also produces a program called Scrapple, a great basic mind mapping program. I’ve used it a couple of times to help me reorganize and disentangle particularly difficult plot threads.
Scrivener and Scrapple both come in Mac and Windows flavors, and while the Windows version of Scrivener hasn’t quite caught up to the Mac version in terms of features, it’s well on its way and worth the money.
FocusWriter (http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/): Remains the best distraction free writing environment I’ve tried, and it’s still donationware (I happily made another donation this year – I love it that much). Best of all, there’s still no Markdown in sight, thank goodness. But as I said last year, it’s distraction free, not feature free. It remains a fully-functional Rich Text editor, which means you get all of the vital formatting tools you need (italics, bold, underline, etc.), and for those writing in foreign languages it will do right-to-left text.
Like Scrivener, FocusWriter is available on both the Mac and Windows platforms, in addition to having a couple of Linux version. You don’t get more flexible than that!
Generally, I compose in FocusWriter, then copy it into Scrivener for storage and editing. Between the two programs, they’re better than any word processor on the market for a serious writer.
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard (http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Ergonomic-Keyboard-Business-5KV-00001/dp/B00CYX26BC): I bought this keyboard in October of 2014 for National Novel Writing Month that year. A year and about 300,000 words later (more or less – probably more), this keyboard is still going strong and I’m not having any Carpal Tunnel problems using it. The best keyboard on the market today, in my opinion. And yes, I bought a spare – just in case.
Microsoft Word 2016 & Apple Pages 5: I don’t have much to say about these this year. I’ve abandoned Pages entirely at this point – Apple has crippled it well past the point of it ever being useful as a serious writing tool. The few things I was using it for, Scrivener does better.
Word 2016 is a definite improvement over Word 2011, and has even improved the collaborative & editing tools that make it so useful for sharing documents (with, for example, your editor). But it’s an editing & finishing tool, not a writing tool. It has a tendency to bog down when working on large documents…as always.
Music: Music this year was odd and irregular. I was writing in silence as often as while listening to something, for a change. I can’t even really say what I was listening to…iTunes’s randomizer got a pretty solid workout.