Over the years, I've encountered and actually used quite a few programs that might aid your writing efforts. What follows is a list of some of these products with my comments. If you're interested in one of these products, just click on the name of the program and you'll be transported magically to the appropriate web site where you can get more information or purchase the software.
Information Management Tools
Writers are infamous information packrats. Consequently, one or more information management tools are essential weapons in a writer's arsenal of software tools. When you're shopping such tools look for products that:
- can easily read, import or snapshot information from as many as possible of the information sources you typically access. I typically want to store information from e-mails, websites, wordprocessor documents (.doc, .rtf), standard text files and picture files (e.g., .jpg, .gif, etc.). Some products can handle most of these types of inputs, but no one product does it all yet. So choose the product that satisfies most of your requirements
- have a strong rich text editor, since .rtf files are the closest thing to a "universal" format for documents containing graphics. Be wary of any product that doesn't handle tables well . . . or one that doesn't have the kind of text editing features you want
- can handle large amounts of information. For instance, Ultra Recall Pro can handle databases as large as 1 Terabyte, whereas Treepad X Enterprise can only handle files as large as 384 GB.
- has a conceptual paradigm that makes intuitive sense and feels comfortable to you. For instance, TreePad and UltraRecall follow what I think of as the Windows Explorer mode of presentation–consising of folders which you create and add data to; Evernote, One Note and AskSam, on the other hand, follows a "paper roll" paradigm–you save information sequentially, then organize it. Other products use a "collection-of-note-cards" approach.
- that includes extra features that you might find very useful. For instance TreePad X Enterprise and TreePad Biz have tools to create entire web pages derived from information stored in the database.
The information management tools I use are: Evernote and TreePad X Enterprise–both are commercial products. Why I use two products–instead of one–boils down to the fact that TreePad cannot accurately snapshot web pages as they appear naturally on the web; Evernote can. Check out this page to learn more about other information managers.
Other Tools That Will Directly Aid Your Writing Efforts
- WordPerfect–I've been a WordPerfect user since the days before it became the industry standard. I've watched it knocked out by superior Microsoft marketing of Word. It’s “Reveal Codes” feature is vastly superior to what Microsoft Word has. It also can convert to any Microsoft or other standard word processor format. As far as I'm concerned, it's still the best word processor out there; it’s built for writers.
- Scrivener–This is a word processor alternative built for writers specifically. It has many unique features, such as its “index card” view, which enables you to plot as if you were using index cards, its ability to store–not only your writing–but also your notes and other background material (including pdf, movies, web pages, and sound files) in an organized fashion you determine. I find it very handy for plotting; but its wordprocessing power does not rival that of WordPerfect.
- Page Four— This is a word processor designed specifically for writers. Notes and outlines are stored with your writing in one "notebook" for each writing project you have. It can import .rtf, .doc and .txt files. Its SmartEdit feature can flag any "overused" phrases in your writing. Includes various templates for easily printing your work for submission to various publishers.
- Outline 4D–Since the day when “DOS was boss”, I’ve been looking for a program that provides similar features to the old Grandview and PC-Outline programs. This product comes closest. For ease of use, I’ve programmed a game pad I have to make the product act like the keys did in those old programs. If you have a programmable macro key program, you could do something similar. This product also has some timeline features, you might find valuable in your writing.
- WordWeb Pro–This very excellent , up-to-date Dictionary has add-in dictionary modules (including the Oxford Chambers and Collins dictionaries); lists synonyms, antonyms, anagrams, and related words; has an audio capability so you can hear how a word is pronounced; and it links with other resources on the web to further explain any word you may be wondering about. It also has a feature that allows you to add your own technical “glossaries” of terms and acronyms your company may use a lot. Additional wordlists can be added to the dictionary too, e.g., Scrabble or technical words). Wordweb also has a powerful search facility that takes wildcards * and ?, similar to what you’re used to in program editors. Very,very nice.
- Character Writer–Think of this as the ultimate character profiler and plot creator. It generates characters based on the Enneagram of Personality, which defines nine personality types. It has a “story generator” that helps you with plotting and the overall structure of your story.
- Random House Unabridged Dictionary–Next to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is an excellent dictionary. Look for the Third Edition which includes the full paper-based Dictionary and the software product on CD. The CD includes the electronic version of the dictionary. Note that this dictionary is about 14 years old.
- Word Menu–This basically is the electronic version of the old writer's standby The Random House Word Menu book. Word Menu is extremely useful when looking for strong action verbs, synonyms, and antonyms. The program seems to be hard to get now; but it appears you may be able to download it from Screenplay.com; however, it needs a serial number. I’m not sure whether Screenplay.com will sell you one or not.
- yWriter Novel Builder–This is a product which attempts to roll scene creation and management, character profiling, chapter organization, and your writing into one tool. It's free.
Tools Useful to Science Fiction Writers
- AstroSynthesis–This tool will help you model star systems, planetary systems, planets, asteroid belts, asteroids, moons, etc. Also works with Fractal Mapper & Fractal World Explorer. Very detailed modeling tool.
- Celestia–3D space simulator for modeling star systems, planets, etc. A visualization tool. Freeware.