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Words on Paper -- New Releases of Libre Office and Scrivener

by Steve Beisner -- March 16, 2011

The tools for writers just keep getting better. Cheaper too. Whether you like the basics (a good word processor) or are most productive with a writing tool that also helps with researching, noodling (what some call "thinking"), and organizing, new software versions are constantly being released. In this article we look at both ends of the spectrum: Libre Office as an example of modern word processors and Scrivner, representing the complete writers' environment.

LibreOffice

In the beginning was (MS) Word and the Word was good. Well, not too shabby, except that it was expensive and full of bugs. (It still is.) Anyway, thanks to the power of Microsoft, the MS Office suite and its word processor, MS Word, became the de-facto standard for word processors.

Libre Office's Writer showing chapter/scene navigation on
the left and paragraph style menu on right.

If you can bring yourself to not give Bill Gates and Steve Balmer your money, you can get an office suite that is arguable just as good, and some would say more compatible with MS Office than MS Office itself, for the grand sum of $0.00.

The latest incarnation of this boon to mankind is called LibreOffice. It's previously been known in its various lifetimes as StarOffice and OpenOffice. It's "open software" which means it's created by a bunch of smart people who believe that software should work well, and that humanity should not have to pay exorbitant prices to use it.

"But my editor says I have to use Microsoft Word." No, that's not really what your editor means. What he really means is that he (or she) wants what you submit in Microsoft Word format. This is not a problem. When you install LibreOffice just set the configuration to save word processing files in MS Word (.doc) format. I promise you, your editor will be blissfully ignorant of the fact that you used LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Word.

The truth is that LibreOffice can read and store more word processing formats that MS Word can. With LibreOffice on your computer you'll be able to handle even now obscure formats like MS Works and Word Perfect which even the expensive MS Word will choke on. And yes, you can even open or save in the new MS Word .docx format -- but please be a good person: friends don't send friends .docx files. It's rude and wastes people's time to speak unintelligibly. The "new, improved" .docx format is, most importantly, a scheme by Microsoft to make the unsophisticated believe they need to upgrade to the lasted version of Office.

You can get more information and download (for free) installation packages for Window, Apple, or Linux at the website: LibreOffice.org.

Scrivner

Scrivener's Main Window configured with "binder" on left,
novel manuscript in middle, and a research document on right.

Scrivner is amazing. If you think that computers are just typewriters with a few extra bells and whistles, prepare to have your mind blown. Scrivner could change your whole relationship with your computer. When I've demonstrated Scrivner (in its original version) at writers' conferences I've often turned to see a room of faces with mouths hanging open. Scrivner is now available in a new new, 2.0 version and is now even available for Windows users -- sorry Mac lovers, you'll no longer be able to throw your windows-using writer friends into deep depression by showing off your Scrivner chops.

Scrivener is designed from the ground up for big writing projects like novels, memoirs, screenplays, long non-fiction, etc. The word processor part allows you to manage parts, chapters, scenes, etc. as independent component parts, move them around, view their relationship in an outline, and other useful tricks.

You can keep old versions around with Scrivener's archiving ability, so you can go back and see earlier versions of your project.

Scrivener has a "cork-board" with 3x5 cards display for notes or storyboarding. You can rearrange the note cards, as work with them much like you would physical cards. There are lots of ways to add annotations, notes-to-self, and other information to your work.

You can add character bio's, screen summaries, or other kinds or "meta-information" -- whatever you can think of -- to your projects.

You can organize your research with web links, photos, other documents, PDF files, and your own notes. Scrivener has a "binder" to keep track of all the components of your manuscript as well as these extra research information documents, notes, and media.

What does Scrivener cost? How about $45.00? You can download it and try it out for free. There's a good video introduction that demonstrates Scrivner's amazing capabilities and will get you started.

Scrivener's Main Window configured to show binder, and corkboard
with information from manuscript and research notes.

For the Apple Mac version look here. For the Windows version (in beta as I write this) look here.