Writing Advice

Help for Authors and Writers

The Craft of Writing: Writing Tools

What tools do you use for writing? How do you set up your books?

One of the most common questions I see from new writers is, what software do you use, and how? This includes variants like, how doy ou organize your files? Do you write every chapter as a separate file, or write the entire book in one big file?

I like to keep things simple. There are a lot of word processors out there, and some are even designed specifically for writing novels. For example, some writers swear by Scrivener, a dedicated novelist word processor that has note-taking functions and allows you to rearrange scenes and chapters. Me, I swear at it. I bought a copy, and found it cumbersome and clumsy to use.

But then, almost all my writing is collaborative. All my published novels are co-creations with another writer. I love writing with someone else; for me, co-creation is a source of incredible joy.

Fact is, you don’t need fancy tools to write. If the thing stopping you from writing is the search for the perfect tool, you’re paying attention to the wrong things. Masterpieces have been written with nothing but pencil and paper. The tool won’t finish your novel, you will.

I write almost exclusively in Google Docs. It’s an aggressively mediocre word processor at best, but it absolutely shines for collaborative writing—I have yet to find anything that can come anywhere close. Plus the truth is, you don’t really need anything more than fairly simple text editing to write a novel. Most word processors are massive overkill.

When I write, I don’t put every chapter in a separate file. I simply write all at once, in a single file. That may or may not work for you—some writers skip around when thy write, or write the ending first. I don’t; I write the novel from beginning to end, in the oder in which the reader will read it.

I keep formatting simple, too. Default font, double space between paragraphs. You can worry about more sophisticated formatting once the manuscript is done. It’s easy to get so hung up on formatting and spacing and choosing the right font, but every minute you spend on that is a minute you aren’t writing.

I start out with a row of numbers along the top of the first page that I link (using Google Docs bookmarks) to each chapter. Chapters begin on their own pages. The first page looks like this:

Manuscript first page

Each new chapter starts with a page break and a bookmark, which I link to the first page:
Manuscript chapter

Point is, a lot of new writers want to know how to write, because writing a book feels intimidating, so what they’re really looking for is a way to make it less intimidating. If I know how to organize my book, it will be less intimidating. If I know what program to use, it will be less intimidating.

Nope. I’m sorry, that’s not how it works. The whole deal is you have to figure out what works for you. What works for me might work for you, or it might not. The point isn’t that you do what I do, or what anyone else does, the point is you write. You produce words on a page. If putting every chapter in its own file helps you do that, then put every chapter in its own file. If it doesn’t, then don’t. But don’t let the search for the “right” tool stop you from writing!

How do you write a book without it feeling intimidating? I never sit down to write a book. I sit down to write a sentence. Anyone can write a sentence. When I’ve written a sentence, I write another one, and another, and another. What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?