Tools of procrastination – how not to write by finding tools to write with

Let’s talk tools. Whenever a story threatens to be written by me, I find the best solution is to look for a new tool to scratch that itch I didn’t have until I was threatened with writing. I will warn you in advance my toolset is somewhat biased, though I try not to be.

Writing software on the desktop

Scrivener (software)On a mac, hands down I have to give complete props to scrivener. Literature & Latte has developed a piece of software that has as many bells and whistles as you want to expose without being overwhelming in the interface. Newbies often make the mistake of comparing scrivener with other desktop document creation tools and dismissing it. Scrivener isn’t about creating documents, not directly. Scrivener is about putting the words down your way. How the document looks is something you can worry about when you’re done with it, because the “compilation” phase is completely independent of your work in progress. You could spit out a word document where the font is all wingdings if you wanted – the original text of the document is independent of the final product’s formatting. With multiple ways of letting you approach your story, and the flexibility of being able to move chunks around at will, scrivener really is amazingly flexible.

When I was a windows user, scrivener wasn’t available on that platform. That’s changed in recent years, but because I’ve never tried it, I can only recommend what I know: yWriter. Freely distributed and written by Australian sci-fi comedy writer Simon Hayes, yWriter may not have the visual polish of scrivener, but what it does have is a solid architecture. Similar in approach to scrivener, yWriter isn’t really intended to be the final distributor of your manuscript. Instead, yWriter is more about letting you produce your story your way. Scenes can be moved around, and there are some really nice features, such as auto-keywording and storyboarding (features I sadly miss in scrivener, truth be told).

Writing software on the go iPad

Herein is the painful part of the toolset. While some writer’s have their routine and perfect spot, many of us like to daydream that we could just pick everything up and work on our great project at some random location (and I don’t just mean the stereotypical coffee house). I’m not suggesting I’ve ever successfully followed through on this daydream, or achieved any writing anywhere, but its a nice thought. More apt is the desire to be able to work in different parts of the house. But how to do this?

With scrivener? Hah, I wish. I pester the folks over at Literature and Latte for updates every few months, but the fact is right now, there isn’t a port of scrivener for the iPad (it’s coming, its coming – maybe even this quarter – but still, nothing). No, the best bet is to sync scrivener with an external folder (that happens to be on dropbox) as plain text and to load it with a simple text editor on the iPad. I have both Elements and WriteRoom on my iPad – there are small differences in the two, but overall, either works. No matter what, the process of converting to plain text means you will lose formatting (italics, bold, etc.). Plus, while scrivener does the export/import just fine, the naming convention and structure is…well, it’s not always easy to decipher, but maybe that’s an artifact of how I structure my stories.

With Pages? This is a solution that actually works really well, to a point. Pages on the mac and Pages on the iPad can share documents over the iCloud (mac dropbox), and formatting is retained. The only real drawback (besides having to buy a copy for each platform, unga) is that if are used to working in discreet chunks, like with scrivener, going back to just one huge document is painful. In theory you could manually maintain multiple files, one for each chapter, etc., but that would imply I have a plan when I write. Which I should, I know, but that’s a different topic. For shorter documents, though, Pages tends to be my go to app these days, at least until scrivener is on the iPad.

Just go text. This is of course always a solution. All OS distributions that I can think of offer a plain text editor, and I’ve already mentioned a few that work great on the iPad. Add some dropbox support as your middleman and you could just drop the pretentious my app is better than yours crap and just write.

Ever more evernote. Seems like a good point to bring up evernote in this context. I use it more for being able to access the same notes no matter where I am, plus on the desktop you can clip articles, etc., (sadly, no simple way to do this on the iPad yet). You could also just use evernote as your writing platform, at least initially, and have your formatting, features, etc., between the two environments, though I find it clunky somehow. I’m weak, I know.


Planning is something I wish I did, honestly. If I planned more, I wouldn’t be here procrastinating. To that end, I think I may have agreed to a challenge with a good friend of mine – but since neither of us has mentioned it since, I’m not going to pyt her on the spot here. Unless she makes me.

On the iPad, I’ve tried indexcard (which integrates with scrivener, sort of), but ultimately my brain has problem with organizing things in rows. What I would love to be able to do is to be able to make virtual piles of cards that represented chapters, and you can in indexcard, except they don’t translate back when you import into scrivener.

There are plenty of other outlining tools for the iPad, but all of them come at a price, and it seems like none of them integrate with any of my desktop apps. In this regard, I think I have to just wait it out for the iPad version of scrivener (I forgot to mention before, one of the many features of scrivener is a built in outline mode).

Web based writing tools

Two candidates to toss into this list, right off the bat. First up is 750words, which is just what the name suggests. The idea is that writing just 750 words a day will help give your brain a boost, and they do all kinds of competitive tracking and scoring and what not to let you know how you fare against other members over the course of a month. Nice idea, too bad real life doesn’t let me write that consistently.

The other big mention here is yarny, which in a lot of ways reminds me of a web based scrivener. Of course, to use it mobile you need to pay for the app, and I think there are other paid add ons, but all in all this was an impressive offering.

A runner up that I only recently became aware of (as in the last few days) is hiveword, which looks to be a lot like yarny. I know I didn’t mention other services, like google docs, and I’m sticking with that for now.

The Ultimate Tool of Procrastination

Its worth mentioning, but there is one tool I have found that appears to be platform independent, contributes randomly to a work in progress, and is unique:

Tara at war

(I have three editions!)

And there you go, the tools I tend to flip flop around. Hopefully before this spring scrivener will be on the iPad, and the magic will be wondrous. Of course, at that point, any failed writing is me, and not the tools. Won’t that be a cold, harsh reality to deal with?

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