Well, it’s official. I have become old. Settle down, young’un, and listen to me bitch about this newfangled writer technology. Writer-specific software! Graphic design! Grammarlys and Dropboxes and writing in the cloud! Next thing you know, authors will be obsolete because brain-scanning cyborgs will be writing all our fiction using templates designed by teenaged nerds. Back when I was coming up, we had to write with wood-encrusted lumps of lead, and if we were lucky, word processors.
Ha! Just kidding. I’m not that old; we had computers in my later youth. Sort of. But I am the last generation that didn’t emerge from the womb holding an iPhone. Since I’m a bit of a Luddite, I very much prefer that the programs I use be designed with two features in mind: first, they should be at least somewhat intuitive to use, and second, they should possess some resource for finding answers to the non-intuitive bits. With that in mind, here’s a short, Kimmery-specific list of what works for me and what doesn’t.
The Good: Canva
I use this graphic design website almost every day. It is immensely versatile, there’s almost no learning curve, and I’ve never had any trouble getting an answer when I cannot figure something out on my own. It is also quick: I can design whatever I need to in a few minutes most of the time. The tools provided are extensive, even in the free version, but is well worth paying for the upgraded version. I design social media posts, event banners, invitations, avatars, graphics for articles and presentations, you name it. And I like it: this is one program that is actually fun to use.
The Bad: Mailchimp
Mailchimp, an email marketing service, is okay, but it is unnecessarily laborious to do some very simple things, such as wrapping text around an image in a newsletter. And their newsletter templates are pretty dull in my opinion. They do seem to have decent delivery rates, however, unlike some other services I’ve tried.
The Ugly: Scrivener
Scrivener is writer-specific software. I rarely write sequentially and I have 10,000 versions of every chapter I’ve written, so this sounded right up my alley: a program that allows you to move things around and access capsule summaries and see all chapters at once on cork boards. The research files sound so cool and so helpful, too. I’m generally pretty good at figuring out software but I’ve tried twice now to write using Scrivener and both times it was a horrendous, time-sucking, infuriating disaster. Scrivener is like a house designed by 40 psychotic architects over a period of decades; nothing is where you expect it to be. Instead of walking down a flight of stairs to get to the lower floor, you have to descend a rope ladder that only appears when you clap three times while reciting the alphabet backwards. Not only could I never figure out how to do the things I wanted, but neither could any of the hard-core Scrivener devotees I crowdsourced whenever I hit a wall. (For example, Scrivener lets you break chapters into separate files for each major scene. I wanted to use the corkboard to see word counts for both the chapters and the separate scenes I’d pinned up, to be able to judge the length of those chapters and scenes relative to one another. Nope. I tried for hours on this one thing, and never could get it. To get the word counts on those files, I’d have to exit that mode, open another one, write down the scene word count, write down the chapter word count, go back into corkboard mode, and then manually write the word count onto the post-it. And I’d have to do that again every time the word count changed. There must be a way to do something so fundamental and important to writers in this program but I couldn’t find it.) The simplest things, such as exporting a 40 chapter document back into Word so I could send it to my editor turned into hours of frustration as I had to painstakingly re-insert mysteriously vanished paragraph breaks. (I’m told this is less of an issue if you write in Scrivener from the beginning, but I had imported a document to revise it.)
Worst of all, there were few accessible answers to any of the many, many problems I encountered. I tried watching tutorials, but I read at the speed of light and I can’t watch a video any faster than anyone else, so I wasted entire days without ever getting the answers I needed. The Help feature and the written tutorials are near-useless. Okay, so yes: it’s probably me. Other people manage to figure it out without becoming weepy and homicidal. Devoted Scrivener users love the program, and I’m jealous of them because of all the awesome-sounding features. But for me, the whole experience was so negative I’m bitter. I want my six days back.
There are a few other programs I use frequently. Scannable, which snaps perfect pictures of documents and business cards, then automatically saves them for me; Slack, which lets me communicate with other writer nerds; Bitly, which customizes trackable links, so you know how many people clicked on your link and where they saw it; and Later, which allows me to schedule Instagram posts AND insert paragraph breaks.
Now if only someone would invent a program to counteract writer’s block.