You Can Go Home Again: On Returning to Word

One of the things that I’m obsessed with is the tools artists use to create their art. I’ve
always been a process guy. It’s not enough for me to know that an artist created their art. I’ve got to know how they did it. What was the physical process they used to pull this abstract concept – their idea – into being – finished product?

So to that end, I’ve always tired to be very fluid with what tools that I use to create my writing. Once I made the jump from Windows to Mac a few years ago, it was really important to find a writing program that I could write effortlessly in. Because if I was going to give up Windows, I should probably give up Word as well. I wanted to be Minimalist Writer Guy and only have a small blank box that I could write into and a finished manuscript would pop out. I started with Pages. It was much more simple that Word and you can remove almost all of its interface and just have a blank screen to write into. I found that worked okay but I had to reorganize everything for each document. At the time, I was writing a lot of blog posts and I didn’t want to have to set up the program every day so that it’s just how I like it. It was only about three button presses to do it, but I’m so twitchy when I first sit down to write that I don’t want any kind of barrier to entry. So I moved onto and application called Desk.PM. I’m writing this post in it now, and I’ve found that it’s amazing to write blog posts in. It connects to every CMS you can think of and it’s interface gets out of your way until you move the mouse and then what you need is just one click away.

However, the way the application formats text is great for the web but not good for fiction. That is to say, it doesn’t like to use paragraphs indents and it auto-spaces between paragraphs.

I was trying to write most of my fiction in Scrivener, which is bills itself as a writer’s word processor. It has all sorts of tools to help you organize a large project. It was fun to use but most of it’s tools got in my way. I was using them because I felt like I should be using them not because I needed them to solve a problem I have. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much how I feel about Scrivener itself. It probably does have a place in my work flow, just not for first drafts.

There were a lot of other applications I looked at, but I’m not going to go over all of them. The Mac is not lacking for writing tools. However, just about a month ago, I broke down and got an Office 365 subscription and brought Word back into my life. I got the subscription because my girlfriend was going to need the office apps for work, and I was willing to try anything to find a good text editor for fiction. My quests to find something had been eating up and taking away from the actual act of writing. I was using it as an excuse. “Why should I even writing anything today if I’m just going to have to move my document to another tool with a different file format.”

Sometimes when you’re a writer, you look for any excuse to not write.

So I downloaded the Office apps and fired up Word. I started to write some fiction and guess what? It felt great. Word was the application I first used when I was getting into writing. I’ve tried many times to be a pen and paper guy, but I have to work digitally because of my bad spelling and the fact that I can type faster than I can handwrite. (Although I love the act of actually writing things down.)

And I held on to Word for years even after all the hate on it started. I even defended it during the dreaded Clipy years. The argument I would always use was that it had a really good spell checker and that’s what I needed most.

It wasn’t until I tried to remove it from my life and then come back to it that I actually realized what the real reason I was defending it was. Word just feels like writing to me. It’s not rational and it’s hard to encapsulate. Like most feelings are. But it’s what I’m used to and all of the presets work the way that I like. I like that Word will auto capitalize sentences for me and put in paragraph indents. Those two presets had become such a part of my work flow that using other programs are really hard.

And I like it’s tight integration with OneDrive. I’ve been keeping all of my writing in the cloud for years now with DropBox and I like that my writing tool has a native sync client built in.

But all the features in the world don’t mean anything if I’m not writing. And I’ve found that I’m writing more. I know the tool I’m using and I like using it, so I’ve found that I’ve been writing more in the last month or so that I’ve had it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Word has a lot of issues with feature bloat and there are a lot of people that don’t like it’s existence. I’m just saying that it works for me and I know that for a fact because I tried to stop using it and I lost – I’m not joking here – years of writing to my search for something I’d already found.

Art is actually a lot like math: there’s more than one way to solve a problem. Unlike math, not every solution is going to work for everyone. My tools work for me. I’m going to be trying new things because I think there’s always a better way, but for now I’m going back to basics and sticking with what works.

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