Just An Old Fashioned Geek

Today I’m taking part in An Alternative Read’s Author Blog Hop, as part of my Blood Knot tour.

The question all the authors participating in the hop are answer is:  What software and applications help you write your masterpieces?  What do you wish you could afford?  What do you regret buying?  And what ebook reader do you use?  Why/why not?”

I wish I could tell you I used the latest whizz bang applications that did everything but wipe your nose and tie your shoes, or yearned to buy them.  There are some very expensive software packages out there, just built for fiction writers.  Scrivener leaps to mind as the perfect example.   A cheap but creative alternative is Liquid Story Binder XE.   And that’s just the actual text editors.  Then there’s all the support software:  Dictionaries, encyclopedias, grammar checkers, graphic editors, html editors (what, you don’t build and maintain your own website and blog?), music programs…  There’s very expensive, auto-everything brand-name programs everywhere.

I’ve learned over the years that when it comes to software, you get what you pay for isn’t necessarily true.  I’ve learned to observe what the hackers use, and test to see if their favoured program works for me.  Often, their prefered program is open source and therefore free.  And because I have acquired over the years a modicum of programming and advanced user knowledge of software, these programs suit me just fine…especially on my author’s income!

Now that I’m self-published all of the above applies twice over.  I have to be far more technically proficient: “writing” a book involves page layout, graphics manipulation and more.  It also involved keeping expenses down as much as possible.

I’ve tried both Scrivener and Liquid Story Binder XE, by the way.  I dumped them both.  If you want to know why, read my review of Liquid Story Binder XE.

Here’s my list of applications that I use to get a book onto the bookseller’s shelves.

Microsoft Office, Business Edition, Latest Version.

This is one program I don’t stint on.  There’s no way around it.  Open Office.org can’t compete with the advanced editing functions Word provides.  It simply becomes easier to use Word and be done with it.  Besides, I love, adore, and have not used anything else but Outlook to keep my life on the rails for over twenty years.  Throw in Excel and Publisher (more on Publisher in a bit) and it makes Office an imperative buy.

Word is my default text editor for writing manuscripts.  If you read my review of Liquid Story Binder XE, you’ll already know why I use Word and not a text editor specifically built for writing fiction.  Word doesn’t dictate how I write stories.  It’s basically a freeform text editor that lets me write stories the way I write stories, not the way a committee of code writers and research consultants figured out the majority of fiction writers write novels.  And if I change the way I write a novel, I don’t have to sit and figure out how to get around the software to do it.  I can just arrange the text to suit the change of pattern.  No problems.

Windows Media Player

I have individual play lists of music for each book I write, providing the right “mood” and inspiration.   Building the play list is part of the plotting process.  Sad, but true.  We authors all have our little quirks.  That’s one of mine.

I’ve tried using iTunes, but don’t like the way it tries to take over your hard drive and rearrange things for you.  It’s too much of a control freak and you can’t have two control freaks in one room at the same time, so one of us had to go.

Wordweb

A free taskbar + on-line dictionary that will look up any word you highlight, anywhere.  It’s far more powerful than the dictionary function in Word, which I’ve stopped using altogether.  Wordweb provides definitions of words, plus lists of antonyms and synonyms, and you can cross-link to any word mentioned.  Because Wordweb is active throughout your computer, it means you can check words that pop up inside your spell-checker, for instance, as you’re spell-checking your final manuscript, if you’re not sure which version of a word is the correct one (if your grammar is shaky).  You can also check definitions of words you come across on the Web, in PDF documents, in emails you receive, any document that will let you highlight the word in question.  It’s very handy.

Wikipedia

I used to have a CD-Rom dictionary…but it was extremely limited and soon got woefully out of date, and then Wikipedia came along.  After a while, scholars were agreeing that Wikipedia wasn’t too bad when it came to peer review and accuracy, and when my editors began to allow me to use Wikipedia as a source for research in my novels, I pretty much threw away all my out of date print and CD-Rom encyclopedias.

As a first stop for outlining a time-and-place location for a novel, or a quick check on dates or facts, I love Wikipedia.

Adobe Acrobat

There are many programs that will make a PDF these days, but for sheer compiling and editing power, you simply can’t go past Adobe Acrobat, the original creator of the PDF file format.  It can be pricey, so I tend to hang onto the version I have until the technology just won’t play nicely with other programs anymore, then I upgrade, kicking and screaming.

GIMP

Graphic Image Manipulation Program.  It’s an open source (and free) graphics editor every bit as powerful as Adobe Photoshop, and includes just as many filters and tools.  There’s also a wonderful support community if you need help with the program, too.

Microsoft Publisher

Professional editors and graphic designers are usually Mac oriented.  I’m a PC geek and always will be.  I tried hard to like Macs, and never got the hang of them.  So when it comes to desktop publishing software, I don’t like the industry standards.  Pagemaker, InDesign and QuarkXPress are all Mac platforms.  I started playing around with Microsoft’s Publisher about ten years ago.  Publisher is considered a kiddy toy by the industry, but I like using it because it’s intuitive for anyone who is familiar with Word (me), and it does give you infinitesimal control over your page layout — far more that you get with Word.  Publisher doesn’t mind handling four hundred plus formatted pages, either, while Word will slow down and think about it.  I used Publisher to lay out the inside of Blood Knot, and Publisher works seamlessly with Adobe Acrobat to deliver a high resolution PDF file to my printer’s specifications.  Word wouldn’t have done that.

What I Regret Buying

I haven’t “bought” any software for the longest time.  These days, with thirty day trials of everything, I usually can tell pretty quick if something isn’t going to work, and can bail out before the due date.  The last time I got locked into buying something I really regretted was when I used an on-line data back-up service.  The low monthly rate looks so reasonable, but because they are just backing up files, rather than synchronizing data, the size of my data file quickly grew to gigantic proportions, to the point where I was paying exhorbitant fees per month for redundant data.  Live and learn…

The last time I truly regret buying anything, I didn’t really buy it.  It’s quite a long story.  Many years ago I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking, the voice-to-text software and loved it to pieces.  Then I wanted to upgrade.  There’s a very long story involved in how I acquired the upgrade version and you can read it here.  The short version is, I snagged a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 about two years ago.  I used it for about a month and haven’t touched it since.  It makes my computer crash and when I contacted the company about it, they basically shrugged and said “shut down your sidebar.”    I’ve given up.    That program has been my biggest lemon ever.

What e-Reader I Use

My cellphone.

I know, it’s shocking, coming from a 10 year veteran of epublishing.  But I was reading ebooks on my Palm Pilot for ten years, then I swapped over to my cellphone when I got a full screen phone, and I only swapped to a dedicated ereader last year when I got a Sony eReader for Christmas.  The Sony imploded about three months ago, when the battery gave up the ghost.  Unlike my cellphone, I can’t access the battery on the Sony.

Unlike my cellphone, I never did take the Sony with me everywhere, either.

Unlike my cellphone, I only could load one specific format of books on it, too.

My cellphone will take text, Mobipocket, eReader, PDF.  If I fire up Mobipocket Reader on my desktop, or Calibre, I can convert from other formats so my cellphone will theoretically take those, too (but the Sony was fussy about some conversions).  When I get my new Android phone in June, I won’t even have to convert first.  I can just download an ePub reader to join the eReader and Mobipocket readers I’ll have on the phone, and I can read all three of the most popular formats in their native state.  And I believe there is a Stanza for Android, and Stanza reads almost *everything*, so that will do away having to have three programs (but I might be wrong about Stanza for Android, so don’t quote me).

My cellphone is backlit.

I always remember to recharge my cellphone.

I have music on there, too.

What’s not to like about reading on a cellphone?

13 Comments

  1. Ginger Simpson April 14, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Wow, you really got into the subject matter. I enjoyed reading your post and learning more about your software preferences. My post is pretty boring compared to yours. Show off! *lol*

    • Tracy April 14, 2011 at 7:18 am

      I’m afraid my teaching experience is probably showing. That, and my tendency to talk a lot!

      Cheers,

      Tracy

  2. Megan Johns April 14, 2011 at 4:14 am

    This blog is an education. Thanks for sharing, Tracy

  3. Gabrielle Bisset April 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Thanks for the info on graphics software. I’ve wanted to play a little with some pics, and GIMP sounds just right.
    Have a great day!

    Gabrielle Bisset

    • Tracy April 14, 2011 at 9:36 am

      You’re welcome, Gabrielle!

      Nice name, by the way. Have you seen this? 😉

  4. dianne hartsock April 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I would guess with self-publishing you have to be right on top of things. It all sounds very confusing to me.

    • Tracy April 14, 2011 at 10:46 am

      I’m new to self-publishing, Dianne, but I was using all these applications before I released my first self-publsihed title last month. I release my second self-published title tomorrow, and so far, I’ve found the process tedious, more than confusing, and very, very painstaking. It helps if you’re meticulous and anal, especially if you format your own books, as I do. But you can always pay for one of the formatting and expediting services that are available now. They’re expensive, but they would certainly take all the confusion out of self-publshing!

  5. Lawna Mackie April 14, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Wow! That’s a very impressive list of software! Good for you. I’m a MAC girl, but at work I use a PC. I find myself lucky because I work with two graphic artists and a webmaster. I love learning new things and they help me out frequently.

    • Tracy April 14, 2011 at 10:49 am

      I love graphic artists and webmasters, Lawna — I learned so much from them about web pages, and book page layout, when I was a magazine editor, and it is serving me *very* well now I’m self-publishing. I also love soaking up new knowledge. I taught myself XHTML, just before I jumped over to using WordPress as a content manager. That was brutal!

  6. Angelika Devlyn April 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    This was certainly an enjoyable post. I will be looking some things up. Funny though, the two programmes you don’t like I do LOL I’ve also tried Liquid Story Binder but didn’t get on with is to much. But I love Scrivener and have recently tried out Dragon Dictate and thought it brilliant – although, not all reviews did, I have to admit – it seemed to work for me. 😉

    Thanks for such an informative post!

    Here’s mine singing my praises about Scrivener lol… You may want to skip it 😉

    http://angelikadevlyn.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/meet-the-love-of-my-life-scrivener

    • Tracy April 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Angelika:

      I guess if Scrivener, et al, happen to be structured just the way you work as a writer, they’re a joy to use. So far, though, I’ve yet to find a program that works just the way I do when I write a novel. Every novel writing application I’ve met so far seems to think I should break my novel up into chapters, for example, and that I *think* in chapters. I don’t. I think in scenes, and when I’m writing, I just put chapter breaks at the end of scenes when I’ve reached the necessary number of pages. So all the programs that insist I build a novel chapter by chapter are a pain to use…for me.

  7. Cate Masters April 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Oo, I’ll have to check out GIMP. Thanks. Google’s free Picasa program is fairly nice too, though not on a par with Photoshop.

    • Tracy April 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      You’re welcome, Cate.

Comments are closed.