When I started work at TSR in September of 1995 the most surprising thing about my new job was how ridiculously God awful my computer was. They sat me down in front of a PC that was entirely obsolete even by 1995’s standards. I had a monochrome monitor. The computer did not have a mouse. We were all working on some kind of Neolithic version of WordPerfect, which was far from perfect on a good day. Internet access? Ha! That’s just going to distract you from your work of chiseling novels onto stone tablets.

It stayed that way for the relatively short time I worked for TSR, but then Peter Adkison and Wizards of the Coast swooped in, bought us up, moved us to the futuristic technological utopia of Seattle, and gave me a Mac. With a mouse. With internet access. With a color monitor. With everything you would expect from a top-of-the-line machine circa 1997. It also had Word.

Someone made the decision at Wizards of the Coast, like probably most companies in the world, that we would all be working with the Microsoft Office suite. Fabulous. Especially compared to that WordPerfect mess. I was all in.

And I’ve been all in ever since.

I wrote a couple screenplays using Final Draft, but since 1997 everything I’ve either written or edited has been done via Microsoft Word.

When I started teaching writing, first at conferences and conventions then at the local college, people started asking me about different software packages designed with the writer in mind. I always shrugged and answered, “Use whatever tool you like,” and I still believe that, and will continue to offer that advice to anyone who asks. Writing is hard enough without having to force your way through some process that slows you down, confuses you, frustrates you, etc.

And that being said, I merrily went on my way as a 100% MS Word user because after all these years I’ve got it working the way I want—pretty heavily customized, as it turns out—and God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.

But then I started to work with a few people who—gasp!—didn’t have Word. They used things like Google Docs. At least one author wanted me to share files via Google’s platform and I couldn’t figure it out. It was driving me crazy. Google Docs is fine for just getting text down but lacks anything like the formatting power of Word . . . and other complaints.

And then there’s my bias against anything that smacks of a machine making creative decisions for you, or even creative suggestions. If you’re buying software that’s telling you how to structure a story . . . yikes. So this bias tended to creep in even with things like Scrivener, and though I was telling people to go ahead and use it, secretly I was thinking: Don’t!

Then two things came together, as things tend to do, which made me start to change my mind . . . at least a little.

I’ve been working on a big and complex project with a client and we’ve been struggling with different collaboration methods, including an ill-fated attempt to use Google Docs and Google Drive, which ended up just being a file transfer point for us, and not anything terribly collaborative. Ultimately we were just swapping Word files with ever-increasing layers of file name complexity: dates, initials, all sorts of indicators for this is new, this is old . . .

He suggested Storyist and at first I balked.

But then the second thing came in . . . I was swamped, missing deadlines, doing very little if any of my own writing, teaching more about how to do what I wasn’t doing, and finally got to the point where I realized I need to rethink some things about how I work, so I can work smarter, not harder.

So with a few clicks through Storyist’s web site, and the client’s urging, I said to myself, “Self, stop resisting change and try something new.”

Good advice, especially when what you’re doing isn’t satisfying.

I bought Storyist.

Now begins the process of trying to figure out how it works.

On first blush, the default formatting is a bit clunky. It defaults to Courier for novel style, which should be Times New Roman, and it does other stuff I tend to hate, which is make any decisions for me at all. I’ve spent an awful lot of time in the past turning off anything that feels like an auto this or auto that in Word, and will have to work through some of Storyist’s preferences as well, but that’s not so bad.

One thing that’s bugging the crap out of me is that I can’t figure out how to turn on invisibles. I can’t make it show me where the paragraph marks are, if there are two spaces, and so on. Put that together with the fact that it doesn’t track changes and that means that I will not be able to edit in Storyist.

That’s not so good. It means I write in one thing, then have to export, reformat, and edit in another. I’d love for this not to be true, and maybe it isn’t. This is something that requires some exploration.

But as for the writing part, the storyboard and outline views are a welcome tool and one I’m excited to dig into. I used a similar tool with happy results in the screenwriting software Final Draft. I’m anxious to get to know this feature and can see becoming fairly dependent on it. I’d also like to get back at the screenplay thing, and my version of Final Draft is ancient and buggy, so Storyist’s screenplay functions make it worth the price alone.

I’m also looking forward to digging into the plot, character, and scene features. Could this finally break me of my insistence on having a paper notebook and a pen with me at all times? Could Phil finally fully enter the 21st century? Something tells me I’ll still want that physical object—it’s like a security blanket for me—but at the same time I’ve been writing over outlines, or at least plot beat pints, for a while now, so integrating the outline and notes with the manuscript is far from alien to me.

I’ll also have to play with the split views—still not sure how that’s supposed to work.

That client and I did spend a few minutes this morning figuring out how to use Dropbox to sync files and that seems to work nicely, and is a lot easier and clearer than I first thought. That was me falling victim to my own limited thinking, not any fault of either Storyist or Dropbox.

Feels like some exciting territory ahead, but anyone out there who has experience with Storyist—positive, negative, or a combination of both—please feel free to add your thoughts, and most of all your advice, in the comments here!


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Pingback: What’s on my mind? Storyist vs Scrivener | datanode.net


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