Temptation dropped into my email box last week,

with the subject line “Writer’s Blocks 4 is Here!”  Rewritten from the ground up for Windows 7, it promised, along with all sorts of new and/or improved features.  I knew I was doomed.  I closed the email, but I didn’t delete it.  In fact I flagged it.  I knew I’d come back.

Writer’s Blocks is one of the latest in a long string of programs I have tried, and usually abandoned, in the pursuit of some magical writing aid.  Maybe that mysterious program that enables some writers’ computers to turn out several books a year.  Haven’t found that one yet.

One of the earliest I tried was something called IdeaFisher.  It was, as I recall, something of a cross between a thesaurus and a brainstorming program.  I’ve long since lost track of both the software (which probably came on a 5.25 inch floppy disk and ran on Windows 3.0) and the manual, so I looked it up on Google.  Somewhat to my surprise, the old IdeaFisher has been resurrected and rewritten as ThoughtOffice, with an add-on called Muse for novel writing.

Another early foray into writing software was a disk called Software DreamPack for Writers.  That one came on a CD, and I found it in a box of old software.  The contents consisted mostly of trial versions of software programs, both shareware and commercial, all dated 1998.  I used a few of the programs, including a couple of games I played for years, but I think the only one I bought a commercial version of was Action Outline, an excellent outliner, still going strong, although I haven’t used it in quite a while.

Character Pro used the enneagram method to assist in character development, although at the time I wouldn’t have known an enneagram if I’d tripped over one.  I’ve since been introduced to them in various workshops, by people who really make the system pay, but I find I’m not one of them.  Character Pro has evolved (thanks to the charmingly named Typing Chimp Software) into a broader program called Character Writer.  Darn, now this research is leading me into temptation–Character Writer looks interesting.

Many writers swear by WriteWayPro, which was designed by a writer and written by her programmer-husband.  The program combines an outliner and a word processor, with areas for research, character development, etc.  I tried it for a while, but I couldn’t get used to some features of the word processor.

When Randy Ingermanson released a software version of his “Snowflake Method” of novel writing, I popped for a copy at the introductory price.  Haven’t used it much yet, it’s kind of a start-from-the-beginning tool (for me–no telling how it might work for you), and I’m half-way through my current project.  The price has gone up since the introductory offer, but you can cut it down considerably by buying a copy of Ingermanson’s Writing Fiction for Dummies.  And while you’re nosing around the site, you can read the uncomputerized version of the snowflake method and subscribe to his free Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine.

Writer’s Blocks, now in version 4, has been around since 1994.  It’s essentially a story-boarding program, although it does include a word processor.  A couple of years ago I treated myself to version 3, and used it extensively in writing Paper Hearts.  Although I continued to write in Word, I found the visual aspect very useful, putting up a block for each scene, with location, characters, and a line of action, and color-coding the blocks by the point of view character, which gave me an instant sense of  the POV balance, and the outline view produced an excellent summary for use in the dreaded task of writing a synopsis.  I also found the learning curve a bit steep, some of the commands less than intuitive, and the help files not always helpful.  There were a few programming glitches that annoyed me, too (although as someone who knows nothing at all about programming, I hesitate to criticize).

Needless to say, I downloaded the trial version of Writer’s Blocks 4 on Saturday afternoon (even as an upgrade, the program’s not cheap, and I want to look at it before I buy).  It looks gorgeous, all Windows 7 and ribbon commands, and the glitches seem to have been worked out.  The learning curve hasn’t softened, and it took me half an hour to figure out a couple of new features, even with the 155-page PDF manual.  But I can spread out a lot of blocks on my very large monitor.  I used version 3 when I was starting to work on Bathtub Jinn, although I’m not sure how much of that made it into the manuscript.  Now that I’ve got half the book written, maybe next weekend I’ll put the first eleven chapters into blocks and really see what I’ve got.  Oh, dear, where’s my credit card?

Software is an amazingly subjective area.  What works brilliantly for one writer (or engineer, or graphic artist) may be a total flop for another.  Looking over some of the programs I’ve tried over the years makes me think that the story board, the computerized index card, may be the approach that works for me.  If something else works for you, there’s a lot to choose from.  Write on!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dnichols77
    Jun 08, 2011 @ 00:20:35

    Hey great post. As a new writer( and I mean a total noob), I have been looking at a few software programs. Many of the programs you mention I have never heard of. However, I have heard of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method and I use it extensively. It makes creating a story structure so much easier. I am also interested in his Snowflake Pro software. I am still working on the design elements of my first book, and I started a new blog for it hoping to gain some exposure. As far as the different softwares for writing prompts, I’m not sure I’m sold on that idea. I have never tried them, but for some reason I believe technology can in many ways water down the creative process. But that’s just me…

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    • Kay Hudson
      Jun 08, 2011 @ 09:46:27

      Everyone’s writing process is different, absolutely. I’m not big on writing prompts, either, and when a workshop presenter goes into “Now let’s write for five minutes about . . . ,” I want to hide under the table. I think the only software that’s really useful for me (beyond my trusty Word and Excel) is the organizing variety. I doubt if software can make anyone more creative, but it can help keep track of all those plates we’re juggling.

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