Do the write thing

Almost a quarter of a century ago, I got my first chance to bash away at an Amstrad PCW and it was a revelaiton. Having forsaken handwriting for the discipline of the typewriter, and then transcended manual typewriters for daisy-wheel electronic typewriters, the PCW was the final missing link that set words free.

Your document became a flock of thought sheep to round up. Start in the middle, wander towards the end, sort out the beginning, nail the end, rewrite the middle bit again, and make the ending bigger. Then stir the soup at the beginning again.

I wrote copious amounts on the PCW, and then on Word Perfect 5.1 when I was finally blessed with a PC. I even learned enough WP51 to make the display look like LocoScript (the PCW’s built-in word processor). I could sit there for hours until my forearms were on fire and my eye sockets filled with sand, pouring stuff into the world of green words in the void.

And then something happened.

I bought a Mac. I became all WYSIWYG. I collected fonts. I made HyperCard stacks. I’d create buttons that did things. I’d worry about presentation and margins and justification and colour and diffusion dither and 101 things that made a huge difference if you were into bevelled boxes and soft drop shadows.

But it didn’t help my writing. No Sir-ee.

I’d sit down to the Great Unfinished Magnum Opus, and fret about inter paragraph spacing. Or try to format it using my interpretation of an industry standard, or get lost in angst over two column layout or US screenplay. Later on, I’d be trying to yank my manuscript into an outline and try to add meaningful footnotes and comments.

Basically, I got lost in the trees and no longer saw the wood.

And that pattern can repeat in all sorts of ways. How many times are we editing and think ‘just a touch of Magic Bullet Looks, or a SugarFX transition’ rather than sticking to cuts-only editing – with guest appearances from dissolves.

Cut a long story short: if you need to write, are easily distracted, enjoy the first Matrix movie, were born in the 1960s, have a short attention span, do your best writing in email software, or even just want to end up with 1000 words of reasonable quality strung out in a line, check out Scrivener.

It’s the Bolex H-16 of word processors. Well, no. Actually it’s not. It’s the Red Scarlet of word processors, because it stops mucking around with picture profiles and deals with RAW, and it presents its self with what appears to be bare bones but which pads out to be high octane stuff. It’s pocket sized and blows the doors off the big shoulder mounted DigiBeta word processors out there.

There’s Final Draft – the standard script formatting software for Hollywood (there are some out there who know what its version of Courier looks like and they’re checking for it). There’s CelTx, which tries so hard to do everything. There’s WriteRoom which tries to do nothing other than replicate your DOS word processor. There’s Omni Outliner which is a superb outliner that can do some spreadsheet tricks. There’s Pages that will do Quark for the Web on a pocket money budget.

But when it comes to putting one word after another, throwing the results around and not being afraid to ‘delete’ stuff, Scrivener’s getting hard to beat for this humble hack.

Writing is like it used to be. It’s fun again.

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