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Software developers don't ever work in text editors, instead they use IDEs (integrated development environments) full of code assistance tools, etc.

Why don't writers use similarly advanced writing environments full of writing assistance tools, text analysis, and functions for improving their productivity? Is that because there is no actual need for that or is it a product opportunity here?

Full disclosure:
I'm a software developer looking for opportunities across different fields and I also tried to write a book several times in the past. I always ended up realizing that I'm not good at writing, though it would be great if I could provide some value to good writers (unlike me) and help them be more productive.

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    I'm also a software developer and had the same idea a while back. Someone suggested that I take a look at Scrivener before investing time in writing something. I not only gave up on the coding project, I bought both of their products. They have free trial downloads, so give it a try. – Henry Taylor May 7 at 23:00
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    FWIW I find the software-driven model of 'writing' to be rather depressing. I know a gent who recently discovered grammerly and while it 'improves' his writing, it decimated his voice. – DPT May 8 at 0:19
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    Even when programming, there are plenty who don't consider the code assistance tools (and rather rudimentary editing abilities) of an IDE to be preferable to using at text editor that lets one edit text efficiently. When writing non-code text, this is even more true. – Ray May 8 at 4:15
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    By 'text editor' do you mean 'word processor'? I know a lot of devs who only use text editors, not IDEs. – jcm May 8 at 7:51
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    Your first sentence isn't correct. Plenty of software developers don't use IDEs and use text editors like vim or emacs instead. – thosphor May 8 at 15:35

12 Answers 12

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IDE-like tools exist for writers. Scrivener is a powerful general-purpose tool (also with questions here). Madcap Flare, aimed at technical writers, has good support for updating links, defining "snippets" (xinclude blocks, essentially), variables, conditionalization, advanced build options, and more. Arbortext Epic is another tool in that vein. There are XML editors like Oxygen and Notepad++ that you are probably already familiar with as a programmer. That's just a sampling.

Many writers prefer to just write and find that too much tooling gets in the way. Some of them use tools for planning separate from writing. Maybe fiction doesn't need to be refactored as often as code (though it does need to be refactored sometimes, and doing that in an editor using search is a pain). There are a lot of different kinds of writing and writers, and generalizations like "writers don't (or do) X" don't always stand up to scrutiny. Some do, some don't, some would if they didn't cost so much, and some do sometimes, depending on the task at hand.

(Psst. Some software developers still use emacs or vim...)

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    On a more serious note, this is a very good answer. I would also point out that other forms of writing (screenplays, graphic novels, etc.) have an even larger collection of specialized software to support the particular needs of those media (specialized formatting, asset management, etc.) – Roddy of the Frozen Peas May 8 at 3:35
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas you're doing those the wrong way round. pen and paper to code, vim for novel :-P – user17926 May 8 at 11:28
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    "Many writers prefer to just write and find that too much tooling gets in the way." - As a user of scrivener I'd agree. I wrote an entire book in google docs. I also partially through writing most of a book in scrivener. Scrivener is a great way to organize things, but with its files stuck on your computer it's not very portable. Google docs was a great way to write anywhere at anytime, but "compiling" the work at the end of the day sucked. If there's a space for development, there would be an elegant solution like opening up notepad with no frills that still has the power of compilation. – Kirk May 8 at 16:55
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    @MonicaCellio I'm a hobbyist screenwriter, and there is definitely a lot of software to help with writing in the correct format. After I tried to write using just a text editor, one of the first things my writing group had me do was buy a screenwriting program! – Kevin - Reinstate Monica May 8 at 20:00
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    @Pavel well, since you mention it... while I do use Flare at work for other reasons, for some work tasks and all personal tasks, I type my XML or HTML or Markdown straight into emacs because decades of use and muscle memory make that way faster than any GUI. (And really, you only use 10-20 XML/HTML tags commonly, right? Easy to remember!) – Monica Cellio May 10 at 14:11
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Software developers don't ever work in text editors,

I'll challenge your premise. I know plenty of highly successful software developers who do not use IDEs, but standard editors; sometimes even only with very limited, basic functionality.

Why don't writers use similarly advanced writing environments full of writing assistance tools, text analysis, and functions for improving their productivity?

There are people who eschew complex tools. Just as there are woodworkers that prefer to use hand tools, some people prefer to use simple editors. This has little to do with efficiency; you find people using full fledged IDEs who are very slow, and you find people with basic editors who are fast.

As a writer, the written word is your tool. The editor is the medium through which you express it. I know (of) writers who prefer to use mechanical typewriters, or even write by hand (pen&paper). Not because they are not computer literate, but because they might not want the distractions. Or maybe they just find luscious joy in sitting in front of an aged desk, writing with a fountain pen (I certainly do). Or they like that a mechanical writer forces them to really think about each word, before typing it in.

I personally know one guy who writes a lot. Unfortunately he uses Word (which is maybe not what one would dignify as an advanced writer's tool...), and not a month passes by when he doesn't get panic attacks because that software almost destroyed days' worth of progress. He does not need any of the features of that software, he could get along just fine with, let's say Notepad++. Have I suggested (and demonstrated) that to him? Sure! Does he switch? Nope. Why? He's used to that tool, and objective reasons don't matter much.

And I'm pretty sure there are writers out there who use the full capacity of modern PCs for their work; e.g., keep track of their timeline/characters in a spreadsheet or whatever it is that helps them.

To answer your question whether there is need for better software => I'd say no; sure there is always need for better software, generally, but I'd say every writer has a lot of tools at their disposal already.

Also, the basic problem is: if you create a very specific software for writers, one part of it will be that it has no features that are not applicable to writers. Or in other words, the software will be first and formost used by writers. Which will be a very small audience. So... even if your software will be the premiere writer's software, you still will maybe not get abundantly rich from it very soon...

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    I know plenty of highly successful software developers who do not use IDEs, but standard editors; sometimes even only with very limited, basic functionality. I know of no highly qualified developer who only use basic text editors, in fact I'm very close to just declaring there are no such developers. VIM is not a "basic editor", neither is Emacs for that matter (One can do more in both than an IDE). Many of the less feature-full terminal editors aren't even that basic. In contrast, it sounds like you are some how talking about a developer working in the equivalent of notepad...(cont) – whn May 9 at 20:39
  • Notepad only recently has gotten the ability to use alternate line ending, previously, even as a pre-programming pre-teen, when I wanted to edit configuration files for the game Tremulous, I was told I should use notepad++, because notepad would add garbage to a file if you merely opened a file and closed it. So the idea that a child had some how found a better programming tool, albeit a still horribly non-ideal one, than a "highly successful software developer" doesn't send good signals about your acquaintance's ability...(cont) – whn May 9 at 20:45
  • Your point about This has little to do with efficiency; you find people using full fledged IDEs who are very slow, and you find people with basic editors who are fast. doesn't work in the software world. It makes sense when you talk about Vim/Emacs/vs IDE, it doesn't when you talk about IDE vs Notepad. Vim is hard to learn the keybinding from but you get a tonne of productivity out of it, and fast. IDEs can be bloated, but Notepad manages to not be all that fast either, and makes refactoring take as long as coding the program in the first place. – whn May 9 at 20:48
  • Also, Word is the accepted standard for "shipping" manuscripts. Many writers write in Word simply because "oh, I'll have to switch tools to send this out, and then I'll have to vet it in Word anyway to make sure it didn't get weird in the process" is yet more cognitive load to take on, and the writing is enough of that already. – Joe McMahon May 9 at 22:27
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    @AnoE By default they don't really have "IDE" functions, but the base tools they come with are already so powerful that it can make up for or replace it. Storing copies in a stack, moving words around, jumps, If you aren't using a VIM/EMacs plugin in an IDE, the tools are powerful enough that the productivity gain from intellisense/refactoring procedures from an IDE(which might be obtained via regex tools in editors) can easily be outpaced by proficient VIM usage. You make it sound like its rock vs pocket knife. It's more like a manual sportscar vs an automatic fullsized sedan. – whn May 10 at 13:36
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I thought I might offer a perspective from the point of view of a writer who is a creator of novel writing software.

When I first started out writing, like you, I thought that there was no good software for writers that helped me be more produtive and offered useful, writer oriented tools. I did of course come across Scrivener, but I found the learning curve too offputting.

As I also had software development resources at my disposal I also decided to create my own (is the disclosure implicit here?).

My main goal has always been to create software with features that facilitate my own writing (dog-fooding at its best) and I'm happy to say that that approach seems to work very well, as is evidenced by the positive feedback we receive.

If you would like to get into the software writing game, then the first thing I want to say is - welcome! Most of us are a pretty friendly bunch.

The cautions I would give you are that there are actually already quite a lot of programs out there aimed at writers, so if you were going to create something yourself, I think you'd need to strongly consider what you'd be offering that the others didn't.

Here is a review of some of the most popular novel writing programs out there: https://blog.reedsy.com/novel-writing-software/

I'd recommend trying as many as possible before embarking on what is a bit of a rabbit hole of an endeavour.

Also, there are quite a few people who offer writing software for free, so if you'd like to make any money out of it, you'd really need to make sure it was something special, and be prepared for a hard slog to make yourself stand out.

My main advice would be - if you just want to write a book, then writing novel writing software is an olympic level procrastination (something us writers tend to be excellent at).

But if you have genuinely tried most of the software out there and find none of it meeds your needs, then of course it makes sense to develop something that you find useful.

Best of luck, whatever you decide.

5

No, I think there are lots of good writing tools to choose from. Also, as I think editing is as much a part of the act of writing, I've included two editing tools.

So, here are my favourite editing and writing tools after a career as a professional writer/editor:

Editing tools I'd recommend

Stylewriter is an excellent tool to check what rules you have broken for writing in plain English, grammar and more. As a successful contract digital writer/editor/technical writer, I used it for 15 years. Stylewriter It will give you a score and mark areas where it sees a problem. You can modify what it looks for. You can download a trial, and the guy running the company (Nick) was always responsive. Windows only. You can localise the version of English to UK, US and Australian etc.

I've also used a remarkably good, free online program to check the clarity of what I am writing, called the 'Hemingway app'. Fast and useful.

Writing tools I'd recommend

Scrivener is excellent, and my experience of it is that it's better for complex writing tasks. I've half written a book with it, and I found its best feature was to be able move chapters around easily (drag and drop folders in the tree structure). While I think Word is a superb tool, MS Word can't create chapters as easily then re-arrange them. (It uses sections.)

Other have mentioned MS Word. Most users use about 30% of what it can do. It just gets better, and the interface is a million miles ahead of what it once was.

Microsoft OneNote is a remarkable piece of software, which let's you blend a whole of lot of creative tasks such as writing, images, drawing with a stylus into a clever well organised interface. Worth a look and available for Mac and Windows. And its free. A superb thinking tool, almost a smart whiteboard on my screen.

Don't overlook apps. There are dozens of these available, including Google Docs, which is so good, one Melbourne university switched to it a few years ago.

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There are some (primarily for screenwriters), and they focus mostly on structure and planning:

https://store.savethecat.com/pages/save-the-cat-4

https://www.writersstore.com/trubys-blockbuster-screenplay-structure-software/

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/big-news-introducing-outlining-novel-workbook-computer-program/

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    This answer is getting automatically flagged as a link only post. I suggest you restructure to add some details about the software you link. You could also add some support about why the existence of this software means there is no need for more. – linksassin May 9 at 5:11
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I use a lot of tools: Microsoft Word; Grammarly; Language Tool; ProWritingAid; WordWeb; Poet Assistant (for synonyms); OED online; Google.

One difference between writing code and writing a novel is that the former has to be syntactically correct to work, and for that I love a good IDE. Sentences in a novel have to be interesting rather than correct.

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I've written two (and a third) novels in Scrivener. It lets me keep everything I used to accumulate in (actual) file folders and note cards a click away: research, old versions, web links, photos, whatever my workflow requires.

I also use Grammarly & writersdiet.com as I'm writing to give me a different view of my work in progress. I don't let them dictate, but they often show me sentences I need to reconsider.

I wrote most of my first in Word before Scrivener existed. Not going back.

  • Just as a matter of balance, I started in Scrivener and decided I like Word better. Less fussing when all I want is to write. I use OneNote heavily for outlining, and that document becomes a monster so Word would not suffice. But for pure key capture, Word is clean and quick. – icanfathom May 13 at 20:36
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I'd really like better plotting software.

What I'm struggling to find is a true timeline plotter. There are other options out there (Plottr and Save The Cat) but they're either too basic -- you can't print from Plottr or export to Scrivener and even the Word export is poor -- or they're too complex and designed for writers who don't know how to plot and need their hand held to create characters, settings, and a three act structure to rigidly follow.

What would be great is software that allows you to plot without a rigid structure. Something that allows you to drag and drop scenes onto multiple timelines and move the scenes around. You'd need a notecard for each scene added to each timeline. You'd also need an option to date that timeline, so you know what takes place on what day, month or year in your story.

But, most fundamentally of all, would be a fantastic export to Scrivener. So, your entire timeline exports seamlessly, breaking each scene on the timeline (in time order) into a Scrivener folder. From there, you can then create documents beneath each folder and write each scene. And the notecard information would be dropped automatically into the synopsis for that scene, ready to refer to as you write.

You can add character and setting cards and tips for newbies (and these can export into the Character and Settings folders in Scrivener) but I think the market is missing a tool for the more experienced writer who works in Scrivener (or Word with a simple .docx exported document).

Now that, I would pay for! And if anyone on here can point me to something that can export a timelined plot into Scrivener in this way, PLEASE comment!

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TeX was an example of a software developer doing exactly that!

Donald Knuth got frustrated when a reprint of one of his textbooks wasn't formatted the same as before. The printer had upgraded to new software, and it didn't do things the same way. Knuth thought that was absurd, and decided to write his own text layout engine. He figured it'd take him a few months to get it all right. That was 1977

Twelve years later, TeX was deemed "stable" and ready for use!

Perhaps not the most encouraging prior art, but you have to admire the dedication!

  • I wrote my first book in LaTeX and while it was weird to start out, I grew to love it by the end. – Katharine Osborne May 10 at 16:01
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I work with VSCode for yaml and json, vi for config files and word for writing. I like Word for its simplicity, modern design, Grammarly, gramma check, showing me A4 paper, and easy synchronise with one drive so I can edit on the go.

In terms of if we need another writing software? Maybe, but if someone could develop another addon/IDE for writers that it could add below features that would be great:

  • Suggestions to words (similar to IDE) . At the moment I spent a lot of time with dictionaries, thesaurus, synonyms and onelook.com so it would be nice to bring all of those together (Some AI prediction algorithm would have to be used here). Grammarly does it but it's buggy.

  • Another nice feature of IDEs is the correction of indentation and it would be good to have those as well.

  • I asked MS to add a feature to Word so I could link two words/paragraphs with a line, for example connecting two events on page 10 and page 50. That would be a nice feature to have.

  • A timeline of events so when I scroll the document I can add an event with a date and on the right side (where comments are) I would have a nice timeline. Also that date would have to take dates without limits ie. millions of years into the feature/past.

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    Welcome to Writing.SE tr53! Please note that the question is about whether there is a need for more advanced writing tools or not. Your answer reads like it basically says "Nope, Word is everything I need." with some examples of what you like about it. But because you just contrast it with Scrivener instead of mentioning whether there is a general need for another new writing tool your answer looks like it's not really an answer and more of an opinion you want to interject into a discussion. – Sec SE - clear Monica's name May 9 at 16:44
  • Please take the tour and visit the help center to learn a bit more about the difference between this site and other sites you may be used to. You can edit your answer to more clearly state whether you think currently available software for writers needs more features and if so what that may be or whether the available software is good enough. – Sec SE - clear Monica's name May 9 at 16:45
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    You are both right and I should edit my answer. – tr53 May 10 at 8:55
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I think a lot of writers miss out by not giving vim a try. In other questions people make lists of ideal features they'd like, such as linking scenes, better dictionary integration with various services, etc. The thing is: you can do all of that with vim given enough customization. Each of these could be plugins or even just functions in a .vimrc on github.

Not only do I use vim for day-to-day software development. I use vim pretty much exclusively when I write as well, and it is wonderful. Everyone who knows a bit of vim or is interested in learning should give it a shot. You can do so much. I generally write in the groff .ms format then have a keyboard shortcut that writes the buffer (the file) and re-compiles it to pdf, which takes a second or less. I then have the PDF open in Zathura which automatically refreshes it whenever changes are made. The groff ms format is nice because each sentence goes on its own line and then you can version the entire project in git and see the differences line by line and character by character if you're so inclined. Finally, I have several other files open and switchable:

  • An outline file open in a separate split so that I can switch between it and the actual document or refer to it while writing.
  • A dedicated file for each character and place of note where important details, background-info, ideas, and plot/development issues are recorded.

Just with vim's out-of-the-box settings with no customization, you can do cool things like:

Editing:

  • Type 3) to move three sentences forward
  • Type 5w to move the cursor forward 5 words
  • Type f" to move the cursor to the next quote on the line
  • Type cas to delete the entire sentence and start typing something new
  • Type cip to delete the paragraph under the cursor start typing a new one.
  • Type 2fzdaw to go to the 2nd z after the cursor and delete the whole word in which the z occurs.

Movement, useful copying/pasting with registers:

  • Create mark to section you're working on with ma and move back to that line at any time by typing 'a
  • Copy Character's name e.g. "John" into register j when cursor is in word John: "jyiw
  • Paste that character's name while typing: Ctrl-r j

(Just making these examples up off the top of my head).

Besides all this, vim also opens up a wide world of customization. For instance if I press \d then a new split is opened which has the dictionary and thesaurus entries for the word under the cursor. I have another shortcut to add it to a separate file of words I'd like to remember.

You could have a shortcut that will open up the list of character names for the project you're working on and another with a list of place names. Or you could make it so that if the cursor is over a certain character's name then a keyboard-shortcut will open their file of details. The possibilities are endless.

Of course all this has the potential to distract from actual writing.

0

Yes, there is!

At least for the writer who must control complex sets of characters.

My stories are typically complex (hundreds of characters inter-connected) and very focused on inter-personal interactions (gossiping is used as a way for the main characters to get precious information to reach their goals). I need to keep track of appearance, family connections, alliances, addresses, etc. Once you hit 200 characters, even if most are extras that barely get a name, things start getting messy.

Worse, my stories stretch in time. I may have a story start in 1345 with the arrival and settling of a new family, but then my next story will star the children of the couple. That means everyone must have become older, more kids have sprouted while lots of folks died... and, for continuity sake, I can't forget everything that was mentioned in the previous story. If the daughter has had her first child, the mother will mention how she used to cry day and night - and this must match the events of the first story.

If I decide to write a prequel to the first story (as has happened), I need to know who was pregnant of who at what time (so as not to mess up the ages of everyone in the first story) and how old everyone is at any given event. I also need to know who was mentioned in which chapter, as well as objects, pets, etc.

To make it worse, most of the action happens in villages, so I need to make sure I'm not creating too many kids in an elderly village or that I haven't created too many single parents in a place where children out of wedlock are marginalised, and this means keeping track of local demographics.

Since programming would take too much time to learn (keeping me from writing), I've created a complex excel file complete with name and demographic generators. I start a file by naming the local villages and towns and determining their profile (high-low fertility; high-low mortality). Then I determine little things like average kid per family, % of adults who are married, divorced, widowed... And the generator creates a map of max people in different age groups, kids per family, number of couples and singles.

When I create characters, I get suggestions of names and how often the suggested names have been used to avoid repetition. I can write down their description, family relationships, addresses, etc. If I'm creating too many people of a certain age in a village, I get a warning and I can change their ages, or change their address to a nearby village, for example.

Every time I select the name of a character, I get an automatic summary of the most important facts (age, description, address, lives with whom, job, important connections in terms of lovers, enemies, etc) according to a certain date. I can also get a detailed report of all events and connections for a given character through time. Since some characters are mentioned once in a blue moon, it's great to have a quick reminder of who they're supposed to be.

I'm also in the process of creating a map, so that I can select a dwelling and know who currently lives there, who will live there in the future, and who lived there in the past, while at the same time, quickly identifying neighbours of a given character to determine interpersonal connections.

Is it fast? Not really. Is it practical? No, but it's better than most anything I've tried. In the very least, it's perfectly customised to my needs (within the limits of my abilities and of Excel).

Still, I keep scouring the web for the software that puts everything together: story, backstage information and statistics. While I've found some solutions to keep the world under control (which lack sorely in terms of statistics), nothing effectively joins backstory information and writing.

  • This is really interesting. We're planning to add character relationship features, world building and timeslines to the Novel Factory at some point, so presumably you're okay for us to use your description above to influence what we build? – TheNovelFactory May 13 at 11:43
  • @TheNovelFactory: Feel free! If you'd like a full description with all the present and future fuctions, send me a message. I depend a lot on automated fields to save time. The only thing I can't do in excel is a graphic visualisation of the connections between the characters as I'm stuck with tables. I looked into Neo4J but the learning curve was too steep for the limited free time I've got. If you can get your software to deliver in terms of character creation, manipulation and info visualisation, I'll fall on my knees and worship you for the rest of my life. :) – SC for reinstatement of Monica May 13 at 12:49
  • I'd love to! But can't work out how to send a private message... any clues? – TheNovelFactory May 13 at 13:56
  • @TheNovelFactory: Couldn't find a way to do so, so I went to the chat (just scroll down to the footer and click the link) and created the chatroom Discussion with TheNovelFactory about app functions (chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/93586/…). I believe all you have to do is 'join this room'. But it's the first time I'm working with chat, so... let me know if you have problems. – SC for reinstatement of Monica May 13 at 14:21

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