What Shakespeare and I have in common

I’m sure Shakespeare had to deal with this issue.

I’m sure he was walking through the market one day and saw a crowd gathered around one particular booth. It was only a quill and ink well shop, one that he’d frequented many times over the years, and he couldn’t dream what all the fuss was about. He joined the crowd outside the shop window, and that’s when he saw it.

A new quill. Beautiful, minimalist, high quality. And to beat all, affordable.

But there was a problem. It required a new kind of ink. If he got it, he would have to get rid of his old ink well, the one the Queen had given him, the one that had a nice groove in its side from the years of wiping his quill tip. True, his ink well was getting old and leaking a little, but when it came down to it, he didn’t want to give it up. It felt like betrayal.

But that quill…. But his ink well! But that quill….

Technology still continues its ruthless march. I find myself, a beginning author, wrestling with the tension of new gadgets versus the old. You see, Apple released its latest version of Mac OS X: Lion. The updates to Mail look great, I like the design of Safari (and the idea of Reading List is intriguing), and there are more 200 other features that make the asking price of $29 ridiculously low.

There’s just one problem: it doesn’t have Rosetta.

Rosetta was (such a pity I have to use the past tense) a small file that helped run old programs (known as legacy programs) on newer Macs. In prior releases it came installed by default, but when Snow Leopard was released, it was an optional install, one that you had to manually do from the install disc if you wanted it. Since I still use (blast, I have to say used) Microsoft Office 2004, I installed the file and merrily kept using MS Word for writing and MS Excel for finances.

I should have seen the hint. Rosetta as a manual install? What a blatant clue that Apple was weening people away from older versions of software and prepping them for “the new and better”. But what about those of us who like the old things? I used floppy disks for my first couple years of college because who needed a 2GB flash drive? My Word docs only took up 100KB, and those were the big ones. All of my writing, and I do mean all, from high school through my English degree in college till now, is still under 1GB.

But I’m getting off track. The point is, if I upgrade to Mac OS X Lion, I can no longer use MS Office 2004. There’s the one issue that I keep track of my finances in an Excel spreadsheet, and I’ve got the system worked out pretty well. But the second and more important issue is that the only word processor that I have ever used is MS Word. It seems like such a foreign idea to consider switching to a new program. Even if I did, I would still have the thought of, “How will anyone read my documents if I’m not saving a Word doc?”

Thus, it seems that I’m on a quest for a new Word processor. So far, here are my options:

  1. MS Office 2011. The price is really my issue with upgrading to Office 2011. My income isn’t high right now and the latest version of Office is over $149.99. It woud keep me in MS Word and I’d still be able to do my finances in Excel, but right now the price is inhibitive.
  2. Pages. This is Apple’s word processor. It comes bundled in iWork, Apple’s version of MS Office, but unlike MS Word you can purchase Pages on its own. And the big selling point: it’s for sale in the Mac App Store for only $19.99. This immediately puts it under serious consideration.
  3. Open Office. Open Office has a suite of programs like MS Office and iWork, but it’s free. I haven’t used it, so it remains to be seen what kind of functionality it has.
  4. Bean. Bean is a lesser known freeware program. I’ve downloaded it a couple of times over the years and briefly tried it out. The biggest thing that has made me not use it is that it saves in its proprietary format, and how will other MS Word users be able to open my documents?
  5. Google Docs. This is a viable option that I hadn’t thought about until a friend reminded me of it on Twitter. I think it wasn’t on my grid because I still have hesitations about relying on the cloud. Or to be more precise, I’m hesitant about the reliability of my access to the cloud. The ubiquity of free internet access is growing, but it’s not to the point where I want to store all of my financial data and writing on the cloud. One cool function is the ability to share documents with others and edit them simultaneously in real time.
  6. Scrivener. Scrivener is a program specifically designed for writing novels and short stories. It can also be used for screenplays (though I’d probably lean more towards using Celtx.) This program costs $45 and would serve a dedicated purpose in my workflow, which is about to include writing a novel.

And that brings me to my requirements for a word processor:

  • Robust enough to handle a novel. I’m working on outlining a middle grade novel and plan to start writing it soon. Programs like Bean and Open Office may be great programs, but how would they handle a 50,000-word document? That’s the same reason why I don’t want to rely on TextEdit, the free app that comes with every Mac, as my main word processor. TextEdit is great for short things like blog posts or notes or quick thoughts, but not a program I would use to write a novel.
  • Launches quickly. I love using TextEdit to jot down notes because it launches instantly. Word 2004 takes a while to open, although to be fair, I’ve heard that Word 2011 has fixed that problem. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it sure would be nice.
  • Word Count. Again, I love TextEdit because of its speed, but it doesn’t have a word count. (I really hope Lion added one. What’s the point in an OS upgrade if you don’t add a word count?) Pretty much every word processor has one, so this shouldn’t be a hard requirement to meet.
  • Customizable keyboard shortcuts. Because I’ve been an MS Word user for so long, I really don’t want to have to learn to use all new shortcuts. It seems silly that Bean doesn’t recognize Command-I as italics. How else could you possibly indicate italics? And Pages doesn’t recognize Command-L/R/E for left, right, or center alignment? Lame.
  • Able to save/export in compatible formats. I suppose MS Word isn’t the only word processor people use, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s the main one. If I send my novel to a publisher, you think they’re going to take my Bean document? Probably not. Pages chalks up a point here because choosing to save as a Word doc is an option easily accesible in the save dialogue box.
  • Good design. And I’m not just talking technically. If I’m going to stare at a program for 50,000 words and more, I don’t want a bunch of clutter. I work better in a clean, simple environment, and a million buttons at the top of the window would just be distracting.

Because I’m thinking mostly of my novel right now, Scrivener has leapt to the front of the pack. Designed by Literature and Latte, the tutorial in Scrivener when you first start the program says:

Scrivener is aimed at writers of all kinds—novelists, journalists, academics, screenwriters, playwrights—who need to structure a long piece of text while referring to research documents.

The brilliance of Scrivener is the ability to organize multiple documents within one program. Using this system, I can write my chapters and have scenes within those chapters, all as separate documents and all saved within Scrivener. I can also organize my notes and any other research, write outlines, and rearrange note cards that are automatically generated from my scene and chapter headings.

I could do all of this with MS Word or the like, but I would have a folder full of separate documents and I would have to switch back and forth between windows. Scrivener does all of that work for me. It also looks to have a good outlining function, which is something I’m trying out on my work-in-progress. All in all, Scrivener is starting to look like a great option for my creative writing.

There is still the issue of the one-off documents; the Christmas letters, the short stories that don’t require a dedicated project file, and the like. Scrivener is too complex for those and TextEdit is too simple. I need to find something to fill the gap. And then of course there’s the issue of finances, which I’ve always kept track of in MS Excel. There’s the web app Mint.com (I’ve tried it a few times but haven’t been able to get it working), or perhaps Open Office. I don’t think I would want to do that work in Google Docs, because I don’t know how secure it is.

So the search begins. I downloaded trial versions of all of the programs listed above and I’ll be trying them out to see which I like I best and has the best functionality. Part of me thinks that MS Word and Pages are too complex for what I need. They have become more and more for word formatting rather than typing. Both new versions are sold on how well you can design newsletters and documents with images, and that’s not something I currently need.

Shakespeare probably bought a new ink well, and I’ll likely have to buy a new word processor. Alas, such is the progression of technology. Stay tuned for updates on how the search goes. If you have any options besides what I’ve listed above, or reasons why you like one application over the other, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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