When I started writing, I had to make do with my dad's old mechanical typewriter for about four years before I upgraded to a second hand electric word processor. When the personal computer became more affordable to the average household, I took the plunge and bought my first computer: a 286 Pentium processor with a 20 MB hard drive running DOS 5.1 and a monochrome monitor. (This was in the days before Windows 3.11 graced our computer screens.)
As technology changed and I replaced my old work horse, I tried several software, ranging from WordPerfect 7, Microsoft Word, to name a few. As my skills improved I realised that specialised software is the best thing to use.
Here are some of the tools I now use to write:
yWriter - Spacejock Software
After struggling for years trying to use word processing software to write with, I stumbled across this gem by accident. I read a science fiction novel by Western Australia author, Simon Haynes. I jumped onto his website to find out when the next book in his Hal Spacejock series will be available. There I discovered that he wrote this tool to help him write his own books.
Free to download (though you're welcome to donate something to Simon for his hard work), yWriter is a fantastic tool for writing novels. It allows you to break your novel into several chapters, each chapter into several scenes. It allows you to write a brief description for each chapter, similar to a synopsis.
Another great feature about it, is the ability to assign which of your characters will appear in the scene and from which character's viewpoint the scene will take place. What's even better is the fact that you can simply drag and drop to move scenes around, or to move them to a different chapter in your novel.
I used yWriter in writing my two science-fiction novels as well as my adult novel. It's an invaluable tool to help you plan your novel and structure it before you've even written a single word. A tool I highly recommend.
Over the years I have submitted numerous short stories to a variety of magazines. Keeping track of which story you sent to which magazine and when can be a nightmare.
Sonar is the answer. It lets you track each story, which magazine/agent/publisher you have submitted it to, the date it was submitted and whether it was rejected or sold. With the ability to add markets, store contact details of magazine editors, agents and publishers, it's an absolute must to keep track of those little bits of information you wrote on that post-it note you had yesterday, but can't find anymore because you cleaned your desk this morning.
Another fantastic tool for writers from Simon Haynes. If you're like me, and you want to get an idea of the 'finished' product, then this is the one for you.
After putting the final touches on your masterpiece, simply save it in Text (*.txt), Rich Text Format (*.rtf) or HTML (*.html) format. HTML is the best format as it preserves all of your formatting, including bold and italics.
Simply open the file in yBook and you can get an idea of what your book would look like in printed format.
Personally I like to open my first draft in yBook, and read it like an ebook, making notes as I go. It gives me the sense that I'm reading a book rather than a manuscript I have the tedious task of editing and polishing.
yBook is another freeby from Spacejock software and can be downloaded here.
Final Draft - Final Draft Inc.
Though you can use it to write novels, Final Draft is the industry standard for writing scripts.
It's loaded with features, such as index cards that can be moved around to swap scenes. A personal favourite is the panels, which allows you to view your synopsis/index cards on one side of the screen and your script on the other.
The best feature is the auto-formatting of your scripts. If you're not familiar with script layouts there are a wide variety of templates from well-known TV shows such as ER, Start Trek, Days of Our Lives and many more to choose from.
As an industry standard, it also includes production features such as scene numbering, revisions and page locking.
A search will certainly afford you a list of free software that works very similar, though I found them difficult to master or just simply hard to use. Final Draft is certainly not on the cheap end of the scale, but if you are serious about writing scripts for television or movies, I highly recommend the investment.
Download a trial copy of Final Draft from Final Draft Inc. here.
Other bits and pieces
Despite our dependence on technology these days, I'm yet to find a good substitute for the old pencil. By the time I've done my second round of editing, I make a printed copy of my manuscript. I will then set out, pencil in hand, revising and editing my manuscript on paper. I also reduce the print area to leave myself at least 2.5 cm (0.9") either side to make notes or comments.