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27.7.16

Is there an “ideal” platform for writing a book?

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Distractions are so delicious for book writers. We’d like to read another book to make us more confident. We’d like to buy a new notebook, to get a new laptop, and to hear another author speak. Anything but write our books. Are you with me on this one? And the mother of all distractions is technology. Facebook, email, Instagram, Dr Google. Isn’t ‘surfing the web’ a perfect metaphor – a joyful but ultimately purposeless distraction from getting on with our day.

We face a risk with searching for the ideal platform to write our book that we may end up spending our writing time endlessly surfing instead of actually writing. This post provides a shortcut to your ideal book writing technology platform and that’s the end of that. You have no more excuses but to write, dear writer.

I’m going to make three recommendations based on my key criteria, which are that your platform helps you to:

  • Spend the least possible time worrying about technology and the most possible time writing.
  • Make re-organising or restructuring your book simple, smooth and foolproof.
  • Simplify the process of collaboration.

Microsoft Word

Every platform requires us to learn a few technical features to make the best use of it. In the case of Microsoft Word, it’s a very short learning process. The four key techniques to master are:

  • Styles (home tab), navigation pane (view tab)
  • Section breaks (insert tab)
  • Footnotes (reference tab)
  • Track changes (including comments)

These five features meet the three key criteria. They are quick to learn using Microsoft’s help tools and using YouTube instructions. The navigation pane, when used with styles, allows you to view and alter your structure simply.

Track changes and comments are ugly and clumsy (you can’t set a view preference, for example), but they do allow you to collaborate. To avoid disaster, set up a system of file classification (and ensure your collaborators stick to it) to number and date every version that is shared or substantially changed. I suggest something along these lines: [Book title]_[version number]_[today’s date]_[Last Handled by Initials]. So MyBook_v1_27716_KW.

If you save your word documents into Dropbox, you will always be able to retrieve earlier versions. One of the big risks with Word is that you can actually delete your work and not be able to get it back. With Dropbox, this risk is eliminated.

(Cost: via subscription these days at about $10 a month.)

Google Docs

This is the platform par excellence for collaboration. It used to be a clumsy experience but today it is brilliant. Simply share your document with your editor, writing coach, designer, etc. Every version of the document is automatically and seamlessly saved – no need for the version file name system or the track changes. Comments are intuitive and elegant.

Docs has a footnote function. It also has an impressive array of add-ons for everything from writing advice to bibliography and citation referencing to speech recognition, but don’t get too lost there.

Its weakness is in the restructuring function. Docs does not have a navigation view but it does have an add-on – Search and Navigate that does this job. I’ve had a quick play and it matches the functions of Word.

Cost: Free

Scrivener

Scrivener is widely touted as the best platform for authors, and it is cool.It is absolutely fantastic for dividing up your book into sections and writing it one bit at a time (which is the best way to get it done). It has a lovely visual corkboard where you can organise and reorganise your thoughts as you go – visual and easy to use. When you are done, it automatically pulls all your sections together into a single document. That is super good. One long Word or Docs file is pretty unwieldy.

Scrivener’s two downsides are collaboration and complexity. It’s pretty hard to wrap your head around all the program’s features, which means you generally don’t use them. It’s not set up for collaboration either. Takes a bit of setting up.

Cost: It varies, but its $US69.99 on the App store.

Get started the simple way

The simplest, least distracting way to get started is to create a series of Word documents — Introduction, Acknowledgements, chapter one, etc – and write your book. When you are ready to collaborate, upload your Word doc to Google Docs, and then keep it there. (You can always download it if you need to). Use Scrivener for your second book.

One more thing

Three other platforms that don’t fit the criteria, but are great if motivation is your problem.

An online publishing platform for everyone, with a supremely elegant and simple writing function, Medium is the Rolls Royce of writing experiences. You can also then publish your work as you go along. You might find you build an audience or get valuable comments as you go. Also, anything you publish (on any platform) is instantly copyright to you, which helps get you into the market without risking your intellectual property.

750words.com: What a little ripper this site is. Its whole focus is to get you into the habit of writing 750 words every day. As well as giving you heaps of encouragement for meeting your target, it also provides some analysis of what you write – such as whether it is mainly negative or positive — it’s fascinating. 

Your blog: You can blog your book. Why not. Again, you can build an audience, get feedback from your fans, and drive traffic to your website. Sounds cool to me.

Now stop Googling and start writing.

PS: Thanks to Vicki, a participant at my recent event, How to Write an AwesomeBook that Sells, for the question that sparked this blog.

PPS: Want more? Read ‘Is your book finished?’

 

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