Monday, October 12, 2009

Article | Jers Vs. Scrivener Vs. MS Word and a little bit of Mac Love on the side

The more I get to know about my Mac the more I love it. I grew up a PC user with Windows. I was used to that so was a bit confused by the simplicity of Mac. Turns out I am a huge fan of simplicity. I don’t need a lot from my computer. I am an aspiring author, and I keep a blog. So I need writing utensils, some photo utensils and access to the Internet. The rest of my life may be complicated but my relationship with my computer is not.

The newest coolest thing I have discovered about Mac today is that to uninstall something all I have to do is send it to the Trash folder. I had suspected this but being a long time PC user it just seamed like to simple of a solution. Long live simple.

Another cool feature I love about my Mac - it spell checks in every application I am writing text. On the Internet writing an e-mail – no problem. Spell check is there to back you up. At first I had found this quit annoying but after using it a few times it became second nature. No longer would I have to pre-write in MS Word and then cut and paste it into what I wanted to say. I still do this because I find I edit better in MS Word, but now I know I don’t have to, it’s simply a choice.

As mentioned I am an aspiring author. I have recently (well lets just say sometime this summer when I stumbled upon it) registered for NaNo. I have been waiting with bated breath for November to roll around. The site went live updated (it was running before but it wasn’t ready for the 2009 NaNo year yet) on October 1. The forums are all cleaned up shinny and new and as a Newbie I felt really welcomed and not lost to an already developed community. I am able to subscribe to threads I want to stay involved with, which really keeps me on top of things and not constantly digging through a forum to find a thread I was following.

With the forums going live and new I have been really delving into this trying to find out how other people approach their NaNo’s. I was mostly interested in how they kept themselves organized. As a previous PC and Windows user this naturally makes me and MS Word user. And I was really starting to find MS Word limiting in what I wanted to do. I was a mess of folders and separate files. One for notes I would have to dig through. One for characters. One for deleted stuff I wanted to keep. And no way of flipping from chapter to chapter easily. I was curious how others manipulated MS Word to work how they wanted it to. Through the NaNo forums I have discovered that they don’t. What I have discovered is that in most cases MS Word is relegated to being an editor and a polisher of the final manuscript but not the main means for compiling it. This made me question my financial investment in the MS Suite for Macs. However I remembered my adoration for Excel. If I have a need to manipulate data (don’t ever tell my high school math teacher this) Excel is the place to plug in and do it. If I want to keep myself organized in a table format – Excel is my bitch. She is pure organization, and I love her for that. And so I won’t complain about the MS Suite too badly because it does have its redeeming qualities.

I spent some time this week checking out two programs for writers, Jers and Scrivener, and then since I am broke I spent some time trying to figure out how I might manipulate MS Word into doing similar tasks for me.

I started my research with Jers. I was led to believe that it was free and it is after a fashion. Except every time you go to use it is asks you if you would like to buy a key and that was going to be a bit annoying for my tastes. And I actually read the policy. It irked me that if you lost your shit it was too bad – that they were taking no responsibly for corrupt files. That if something went wrong with the program they would take no responsible liability for it. I totally understand the legal shit they must cover but the way it was presented was a bit surly (well funny but not professional) for my tastes. There were also hints that indicated that the future of this product was not thriving. And if I were going to invest in a key I would want my program to have a future. Which is a bit of a conundrum because the more people who invest the brighter the future of the program is. Sigh… anyways moving onto the actually review of the product.

Jers – the program. I didn’t know what to think of the drawer at first. However, after going through the tutorial it was kind of second nature to have it available. The program is very simple. There are three options to the drawer. You have the Outline, the Database, and Notes. The outline is like a table of contents that can be divided into as many sub-sections as desired (I think anyways). I really really loved this as I felt it sorely lacking in MS Word and I desired it very much. The database was wonderful too because it answered my question of how to keep track of characters and notes in regards to them. I was thrilled with it. The Notes section – I can see its uses but this wasn’t as thrilling a feature for me as the rest of it was. I also really loved the column notes. I loved that you could color co-ordinate them. I loved that if you had a thought about a scene or a sentence that wasn’t quiet working instead of having to remember it or get hung up on it, you could jot down the problem and move on. What I didn’t like so much and didn’t realize till later was the organization of the text. It was still one huge ass long document like MS Word. It did give you the option of flipping through it but not the option of seeing it separately (it may and I may not have given it enough time to show me this – so please do not hesitate to defend your program of choice).

Scrivener. I was immediately impressed and perhaps a bit intimidated by the professional layout of their website because Jers wasn’t that pretty. I don’t understand website code much but I know when something gives off a professional vibe and Scrivener had that edge. I flipped through their different screen shots of the program and read what it could do. I was impressed but since Jers was my first, I kept thinking can it do what I love about Jers. I downloaded the 30 day trial (well get back to the trial thing later) to check it out and do a compare and contrast.

Immediate difference. My table of contents was on my left. Now this kind of flows well for me rather than the drawer on my right so I gave it a nod. I went through the entire tutorial and lets just say it is way way more involved and has way more shinnies to play with than Jers. And Scrivener is esthetically more pleasing to me. I really liked the table of contents. And I loved that the Outline was a completely separate cup of tea with notes for the scenes. And these notes (I think anyways) hook up to this really neat feature called the corkboard. You can write notes on little index cards and post them on the cork board and group them and color co-ordinate them and they orientate themselves with scenes and characters and at first I thought this is not the database of Jers. I can use it as such but it is not quite the same. But the more I it gave it to percolate I realized that along with the other various cool shnazies, it might be possible for Scrivener to be better or at the very least more suited to my needs. A main thing I noticed that Scrivener didn’t have was columns notes like Jers. I was a wee bit disappointed about this because that was a big winning feature for me. However, at the end of the tutorial it kind of addressed that with the comments/footnotes feature that exports to MS Word nicely. Also its ability to keep research files in a section and easily view them while you are writing give me tinglies. Yup. I have become a Scrivener fan. Now Scrivener is not meant to polish the formatting of your document. It doesn’t do that, but it will export it to a program to let you do that elsewhere. It knows what it is capable of and it doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. I respect that and appreciate that I can bring it back to old faithful (MS Word) and make my document pretty there.

Now if I had never found Scrivener and Jers was all I came across I would probably be a hard core Jers fan. It had everything I wanted from MS Word but better. It was organized for me and it was simple. I could jive on that. But Scrivener has more and it is prettier and it has a script feature which kind of pushed it over the top for me.

Now I am broke and the trial version of Scrivener is only 30 days (not consecutive but still a measly 30 days). It does have a 20% discount for NaNo-ers or Wrimos as they are referred to. But it also mentions that if you make your 50 000 word goal that come December 2 there will be a code to receive 50% off. And something about my broke ass self decided that I would have to way and win NaNo before I was allowed to buy the new shinny. It broke my heart a little because I was already in love with Scrivener. I didn’t even want to use the rest of my trial days for fear I would go over the 30 days somewhere in the middle of NaNo and then be forced back into MS Word to finish and get my discount. If I started in a program I wanted to finish in a program. And then I hooked onto a tweet from Scrivener that has an extended trial period version for those participating in NaNo and I was absolutely ecstatic. Because I know myself and I would have cracked and bought the program and made myself further broke or I would have bemoaned my waiting and annoyed the crap out of everyone around me. I will be buying that program come the beginning of December.

As per MS Word, I did spend some time going through it to see if I could manipulate it how I wanted to use Scrivener or even Jers. I came up with a table of contents and a hyperlink system to use. It didn’t thrill me but it would have to do. I could even use comments as a column note feature. I was a bit excited to whip MS Word into shape, but it was a defeated kind of excited – reluctant.

Ladies and gents this is by no way a tutorial or even a walk through on these products. You really need to check them out for yourself to get a feel for what all they do. You will have different likes and dislikes based on what you want to do and what fits into your budget. This is merely a review of what I like and why. If you are Nano-ing this year – good luck. Let me know what works for you in the tech department.

P.S. I would have loved to have been able to also do a compare on Liquid Story Binder because that looks really neat to except it is PC only. I have a Mac laptop and that is my primary computer. I use a PC at work but work time is more for work and plus I can’t install programs on it – it’s protected. I do have a desktop PC but I am not found of it any longer. It is clunky and I don’t like its chair – it is not the same as lounging on my couch. The PC has been mostly relegated to a Internet browser. Which means if you are a Liquid Story Binder person by all means post a comment on why you love it, I may not get around to checking it out but I would like to here why it rocks your socks.