Whether you're new to novel writing or have had some previous experience, one thing is quite certain. You are unlikely to get very far with such a complex project if you simply decide one day to simply "go for it," open a new file in your favorite word processor or text editor, and simply begin typing. There is a lot of planning, organization, and discipline involved in managing what can very easily become a very unwieldy task indeed. Most text editors are very useful when it comes to editing words and lines. They are not quite as convenient when it comes to chapters and scenes. And – perish the thought – keeping your entire novel in a single file is asking for trouble. What if your computer has a hard disk failure and the file cannot be opened?
Spacejock Software's yWriter 5 is a freeware answer to many of these problems, using a software engineer's perspective on the file management problem. Computer software is typically developed by dividing the project into many small files, and keeping all associated information with each component together in one place. Moving the components around within the project is then relatively simple. In yWriter 5, the same idea applies to the various scenes that make up a novel. Each scene is a separate text file that may be edited standalone (in either the built-in or an external text editor), and then scenes may be ordered, moved or assembled as required into chapters. Editing tasks such as moving a scene earlier or later in the book becomes a very simple task indeed. many of the menu options suggest that the software has been regularly used for entrants in National Novel Writing Month, and as such, features have been added in response to users' wishlists. The yWriter program is available for Windows, but by using the Mono emulator software, it can also be run on Linux and Mac OS X platforms. It requires a rather large .NET package from Microsoft to already be installed, but most modern Windows installations will already have this present, required by other common software.
If your experience with word processors is limited to gargantuan office software, the word processing features of yWriter 5 may seem a bit spartan. The editing environment is quite reminiscent in simplicity to simple programs like WordPad, for instance. There is limited support for formatting and editing, and even though there is a spell checker, the option to enable this comes into effect only when a scene is saved. There are no squiggly red or green lines appearing beneath your text as you type here. This is intentional; the point behind the software is to free you from the technical details and just allow you to simply write, as undistracted as possible. Nor will yWriter write the novel for you. It does not provide any creative input for you, write your plot, or come up with a story – that is all your responsibility. All the software attempts to do is to make the technical and management aspects somewhat easier, and give you easy access to some useful tools that will help you write your latest blockbuster. One thing to remember as well is the program is designed only to manage the "getting the words out of your head" part of the writing process; any paper output it produces is purely for preview purposes. Do not expect pretty output from this program; that is way beyond its scope.
However, yWriter 5 does more than allow you to write text in scenes. It serves as a place to gather and collate all your ideas relating to your novel as you write it. For instance, you may keep track of characters, locations, and items as they appear in each scene, and keep track of whose viewpoint each scene is written from. You can add notes, reminders, even images that can serve as your inspiration or research for each part of the novel; jot down ideas about goals, conflicts, outcomes, and the time at which each scene takes place; mark up the scenes as they pass through the editing process, and even rate them subjectively on up to four user-defined scales for such metrics as tension, humor, or quality. The software is cleverly designed to make all of these features available, but purely optional; furthermore, the features may be used in the way the novelist wishes, rather than forced into a particular usage pattern. For example, one user of yWriter submitted a translation file that converted the novel-writing program into a tool that writes sermons. At this very moment, this review is being written in yWriter, with each paragraph in its own file. This allows me to check the word count to make sure I am writing a review that's balanced and sufficiently informative.
The best things about yWriter 5 is the author – not only a software developer but also a published novelist in his own right – evidently encountered a lot of the common issues with the development of a novel and put his software development abilities to finding suitable solutions, rather than marketing gimmicks that do not help with the task at hand. The most important feature for a writer surely has to be to present an undistracted environment in which to write, and the yWriter editor certainly satisfies that. It is easy, almost immediate, to get to use and the management of scenes and chapters is exceptionally intuitive. However, along with that simplicity are also a wealth of features which are not just there for added complexity, but are genuinely useful. I must admit, the more I use the program, the more features I find and the more uses for them. What is more, the features have evidently proven useful to a community of both amateur and professional writers alike. It can read your scenes aloud, which is an interesting means to identify issues. One impressive feature is the program can be run from a USB flash drive, allowing you to easily move your work environment from one machine to another. The program automatically makes backups of your work, as well as automatically checking for software updates. It prints out reports, including a work schedule, so the writer knows exactly how much effort is required to meet that deadline – or listen to the whooshing sound it makes as it passes them by.
With so many features, the elements about yWriter 5 that I did not like seem relatively insignificant. There were some times, for example, when closing the text editor, that the parent screen did not regain the focus and reappear as the next logical place I'd like to give my attention. This caused me to have to go look for it in my taskbar, which broke my concentration in a program that, as much as possible, allows me to focus on the writing and not so much on the minutiae of operating a computer. There's a preview window for scenes on the main window, which in fact I can place a text editing cursor, but text cannot be typed there, although it would seem that would make sense. I'm a little curious about the decisions to automatically backup the files in the background as the user works. The files seem to always be compressed into zip files' this seems not only a little awkward to retrieve the files in case of an emergency, but also somewhat dangerous – a corrupted file might render all the contents irretrievable. On the one instance where I did purposely crash the computer in order to test this feature, finding the file to recover was not an intuitive process. One thing to remember, this is a free program. The help files are a bit skimpy, although the program is supported by a fairly active – and quite enthusiastic – e-mail group, which may be able to answer any questions.
I must admit, in a very short time I have become quite a fan of yWriter 5. I am very much in agreement with its concepts of how to manage and handle projects; indeed, it is now something I use daily for even small projects such as writing this very review. I'm discovering more and more features as and when I need them. and have yet to find the software lacking. Perhaps yWriter 5 is precisely the tool that you are looking for. Check out Spacejock Software for more reviews, details, and to download. As the developer himself claims, without yWriter, he would never have become a published author.
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