My writing process changes all the time. Part of that is a natural outgrowth of lots of practice. Some of it is an inclination to experiment. I like to keep things fresh by trying new tools and new approaches, to see how the change impacts my concentration, my output, and the quality of my writing. (I’ve yet to find a tool that improves the quality of writing, unless it’s editing software. The only thing that seems to work there is more practice.)
Sometimes, change is thrust upon me. Earlier this year, I found out my favorite tool for writing, Scrivener, had been discontinued for Linux. The team released one final beta and then waved goodbye to the community. Since I’m a long-time devotee of Linux Mint, that meant my favorite writing tool — the one I’d come to convince myself was indispensable — was about to become outdated, even dangerous, to continue running on my machine.
And so the hunt for a new tool began. I briefly considered switching back to Windows. As I’d just purchased a new laptop, this was actually a meaningful option.
My patience with Windows 10 lasted four hours before I gave up, wiped it, and installed Linux. There’s no advocacy or condemnation here. I just am who I am. I like the tools I like.
That left me on a quest for Scrivener alternatives. I needed something that could show me files at a glance, keep them organized, and allow me to have multiple windows open without a lot of fuss. I found quite a few alternatives, including:
- Manuskript (Shows promise, but development is incomplete, ongoing, and slow)
- Bibisco (Too constrictive for me)
- YWriter6 (For Windows, also just a little too clunky for my taste)
- Organon (A plugin for LibreOffice; I might try this someday)
- Plume Creator (Looks awesome! If I could get it running, which I can’t.)
Everything seemed to come up short. I began to miss my beloved Scrivener more than ever.
Then I ran across Atom.
Atom isn’t a word processor. It isn’t even meant for writing prose, particularly. But it did have a number of features that I needed and used most from Scrivener:
- A tree view with files and folders neatly organized.
- A totally customizable interface that allowed for multiple panes open at one time, so I don’t have to flip between windows, or worse, entire applications.
- Easy preview of what the output text will look like.
Atom makes it easy to write in – Markdown, a language designed for electronic publication. Writing in Markdown makes it easy to export to ebook format — and it’s easy to learn. You can even make checkboxes and previews with a couple of keystrokes, as you can see in this screenshot.
Best of all, Atom gets out of my way even more than Scrivener’s full-screen mode did. There’s as little as possible between me and the written word (but more than just a bare-bones text editor, which is a bit too minimalist even for me.)
The result: my writing output is way up. I’m on track to finish Nanowrimo this year, and I’m pretty happy about it. The other key to my success has been a pair of cheap Kloss over-the-ear headphones I use to drown out noise while I write.
I still miss Scrivener. I did love Scrivener so. But I feel like I can do okay without.
So is this an evangelical post urging you to try Atom and Markdown? I don’t know. Does this sound like something you’d like? Are you the sort to upend your writing process and dive into a new tool to reinvigorate your process? If so, then give it a look. If not, then absolutely do not do this. Stick with what you’ve got if that’s working for you!
Of course, no process is perfect, and if we’re fortunate, we keep growing and changing until the day we die. This isn’t another step toward perfection, because none of us ever really get there. We just find something that works a little better than last time.
So this is my process. There are many like it, but this one is mine. And the next time I write a post like this, it’ll probably be totally different.
I want to give special thanks to Matthew Graybosch, without whom I never would have considered writing prose in a text editor generally meant for coders, let alone writing in Markdown. But I’m officially in love with it. Visit Matt’s website. Buy his books.
(Also related: Writing a Novel Using Markdown)