How I Write 2: Hardcopy and Software


Notebooks, the soft kind you use with a pen.

I wonder how many other writers have a beautifully tooled and embossed notebook, bigger than A5 but smaller than A4, that lives in the bottom of an infrequently opened drawer, is almost totally empty and has a last entry dated years ago.


It’s not that I eschew notebooks. On the contrary, I’m a big fan, the photo is some of my own. But over the years my use of them has changed.

When I first started writing only the best of notebooks could match the pearls of wisdom that dripped from my pen. Choosing one could take longer than writing this post.

But bulky hardbacked notebooks are heavy and awkward in the pocket, where space is at a premium with competing demands from wallet, phone, keys, and spectacles (and now masks). So my notebook choices became smaller and easier to manage.


At Swanwick one year, during a crowded buskers night, I watched a writer I respect hugely use a notebook. It was a simple, soft covered memo book he tugged from his jeans pocket. It was small enough to fit any pocket and flexible enough to mould to the shape of whatever space it was crammed into. I was struck by how utterly sensible this was, useful for everything from flashes of inspiration to shopping lists.


Now my favourite notebooks cost less than a pound and fit into whatever pocket space is available. They are cheap enough to have several lying about so I never forget one. Afterall, these notes are transitory, and once utilised in whatever project I’m working on, are unlikely to be read again. Yet still it is impossible to throw any away!


Software centred selection

I use Microsoft Word and Scrivener when I’m writing. For something small, like this blogpost, I’ll write the whole thing in Word, as I suppose most writers would (or a Word equivalent). But when I’m writing longform I use both, at the same time and separately. It is useful to see the difference in the spelling and grammar approaches that each has. I also set font defaults and text layout style differently in each, so I get a different ‘feel’ reading my output.


After writing a scene in Word I copy it across to Scrivener and read it there, resolving any major issues as I go. I will also read the scene preceding at this stage to get a feel of context. When I’m happy with it the word file is deleted, and copy kept in Scrivener. I like the way Scrivener makes it easy to take an overarching view of your work and easily enables reorganisation of scenes and chapters, but for text editing I think Microsoft has the edge.

I’m happy with the version of Scrivener I have, but I’m looking forward to the update to Scrivener 3, not yet available for Windows machines.


Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.; either here or on social media.

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