Do We Really Need MS Word?

Do We Really Need MS Word?

When it comes to the business of writing, one of the most important tools is the software we use to collect our words and thoughts and put them into some sort of order. For years, this has been Microsoft Word, and its .doc and .docx file types are the industry standard when it comes to submitting to publishers.

So I was interested to read this post on the Guardian’s website, about how Word is losing its shine, even in large corporate businesses.

I don’t write in Microsoft Word anymore. (I do have MS Word installed on my machine, but that’s because I like to check everything looks okay in Word before I submit it to clients.)

So, if I don’t write in Word, what do I write in?

Well, for several years I used Scrivener from Literature and Latte. I used it for all of my writing. And when it launched an app for iOS devices (iPhone and iPad devices) I was really pleased. Being able to review, edit, and tweak my work on any device really helped with productivity.

I find I do most of my writing on my desktop computer, or my laptop. However, increasingly, I undertake my editing on my iPad. I can read the text as if it were a book, and whenever I come across an error, it is simple enough to make the change and carry on.

However, in order to access my Scrivener files on any of my devices it is necessary to use Dropbox – an online storage service that all of these devices can access.

The synchronisation of these files between devices is a little ‘clunky’, in my opinion. To open a file on another device I have to ensure that I’ve closed it down on any other device first, and then allow Dropbox to carry out its synchronisation process before I can open it up on another device.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t difficult. And it doesn’t take that long. But it does slow things down.

As an Apple user I then heard about another piece of writing software: Ulysses. It only works on Apple computers and iOS devices (iPhone and iPad). Because of that it uses Apple’s own iCloud service for synchronisation, which, so far, has been seamless. I don’t have to ‘physically’ synchronise devices before I can start using them. It just pick them up, open the Ulysses app and continue working. Seamlessly. On any device.

What some writers may find unusual is that Ulysses is a text editor. There are no page layout options. I don’t set paper size, or margins, or font sizes or anything … I just write the text.

It uses a markdown language to undertake some minor formatting (such as bold and italics). But, even so, that’s still accessed using the shortcuts that anyone who’s used Word will know (Ctrl/Cmd B for bold and Ctrl/Cmd I for italics).

What simple text editors do is allow you to write.

Word encourages you to think about how things will look on the finished page. But that’s design stuff. Yes, it needs to be considered, but not while you’re writing a first draft, or a ninth draft, come to that. You only need to design the way it will look on the page when you’re ready to send it somewhere. Yet Word seems to encourage you to do that from the start. Why worry about what font size you’re going to have the title in, when you haven’t written anything else yet?

And the way word processors are going now (and this includes Apple’s own Pages word processor) is into page layout design. Years ago we used to use Microsoft Publisher if we wanted to do a newsletter or a brochure. Now we can do it all in Word or Pages.

But when it comes to the business of writing, it’s not how our words look on a page that makes us a writer it’s the friggin’ words we put onto the page!

And, for me, a plain text editor does that. It focusses my thoughts on the words, rather than how they look on a page. (Another benefit of plain text software is that the files sizes are excruciatingly small. My entire writing library takes up negligible space on my storage devices which means all of my writing is on my desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone. Frightening when I consider how many hundreds of articles, short stories, non-fiction books and novels that is!)

So experiment. Don’t use Word to create your first drafts if you don’t want to. At the moment, in this writing industry, many publishers request that we submit our files in .doc or .docx formats. But that doesn’t mean to say we have to draft all of our work using that software.

Of course, if you love Word, keep using it. But if you find it drives you up the wall, then why not consider using something else?

I still use Scrivener for outlining large projects. But I do all of my writing in Ulysses now. Who knows what I’ll be using in the future? But I use the tool that helps me to write. Because it’s only by writing that you become a writer. And you can’t sell words unless you’ve written some.

Good luck.

4 thoughts on “Do We Really Need MS Word?

  1. I use LiIbre Office. I can ignore temptation to design pages but set up a template with headers that have the details editors need: pagenumber, contact details, etc, And its free. I just save as word when needed. This saves me time formatting the text.

    I tried using LaTeX but nothing I tried gave me a decent export to Word.

    1. Hi, Alex K. Thanks for your comment. Yes, there are lots of good, free word processors out there, are there? And they allow you to Save As a word document. I have heard of LaTeX, but didn’t pursue that one. I think some of the other alternative pieces of writing software are getting better at exporting to Word. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding the software that enables you to get on and do the writing your want to do, isn’t it? Simon

  2. I usually write my first draft longhand. For me, ideas flow better that way. The first edit happens when I type it into Word so, yes, I still need Word.

    1. Thanks for those thoughts, Helen. I used to write my short stories in longhand first. I felt it gave me more time to think while I was actually writing. Sometimes, typing is just too quick, isn’t it? Simon

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