April 18, 2019

What do you use or suggest for writing?

Logan Honeycutt 💡 @growwithlogan

What do you all use or suggest for writing?

For some context:

I'm writing a book that will be at least 300-450 pages. I'll be using lots of images. I need all the basics like paragraph styling/header/footer/margins etc.

I've already used Beacon and they can't handle more than like 150+ pages

Adobe inDesign is too much of a learning curve right now even as a Photoshop user.

Canva is way too tedious and can only handle 30 pages per project.

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages aren't really user-friendly.

Google Docs is honestly the best thing I can find right now to handle that depth and somewhat moderate control of formatting/styling but at 250~ pages right now I'm starting to get decent lag and it's frustrating if I want to move content around and deal with page breaks etc.

My dream tool would basically be Beacon if it actually worked and the reason why is because it has that "layer" style management and works in terms of actual separate pages, not just a running document. It also has global templates for managing color, hierarchy etc.

Plz help, I'm losing faith right now and I am really surprised I haven't found anything.

  1. 3

    If you are on MacOS, I highly recommend https://ulysses.app/
    It is the first time an app made me write more.
    It helps keep all your writing projects structured (book, blogs, notes, etc..), has tons of nice features geared towards writers, syncs across devices, with powerful exporting functions, yet remains simple and beautiful.

    1. 1

      I highly recommend Ulysses. It's good for all kinds of writing. There are tools geared towards books (such as rearranging sheets), but it also serves as a general-purpose tool.

      What I find valuable about it is that I can define and customize my own style sheet, and then use that to produce consistently-looking documents (I use it a lot in consulting work). What's even better is that the same stylesheet will produce a good-looking PDF on iOS. That means I can take the work I do on my Mac and continue on my iPad.

      1. 1

        Agreed, it's a very powerful software. I tried quite a few writing apps, and this is the only one I fell in love with because of its versatility, power/features and simplicity.

  2. 2

    For such a volume of words, I'd certainly suggest you use Scrivener.

  3. 2

    There are two different tasks: writing and layout/export.

    For writing, I use GDocs, mainly because it 1) keeps image layout simple and 2) allows for easy commenting/feedback on the main doc without version chaos.

    Other viable alternatives are Word and Scrivener. Scrivener is a very unusual tool, in that it has very different conventions for some common writing tasks, but it works great once you learn your way around it, and it also handles export to all book formats (again, very fiddly but very powerful layout controls).

    I used Scrivener for my first book and am using GDocs for my current one.


    Regarding creating the actual layout, you've got a few options.

    Vellum is the easiest, but it's designed for fiction and has limited support for fancy layout and footnotes. I used it for my first book, but couldn't on my current one due to needing better footnotes and tables.

    As a result, I'm using Word for the layout. This works fine, but is a bit fiddly. (Scrivener would have also worked.) Word can do everything a book needs, but you'll need to google for lots of tutorials about how to do all the small-but-important things like keeping chapters starts on a right-hand page, achieving a sensible image layout, etc etc.

    The Word doc will directly become my print version, and to get the ebook I'll just run it through either Vellum ($250, Mac Only) or Kindle Creator (free).


    There are also some command-line, Latex-based tools like Leanpub, although those are aimed primarily at technical books (math & code, mainly) and so I haven't given them a proper test.

    And of course, for complete layout control, people just use InDesign. Again, it's a case where you're going to need to want to spend the time reading a bunch of tutorials, because there are ways to do books on it which aren't obviously apparent.

    1. 1

      As a note on your page counts, GDocs will slow down after about 60-100k words and lots of comments. But so will lots of tools, and it's common practice to keep several files for different parts/chapters of the book to keep each one running quickly. I find it annoying and silly also, but such is the state of the current tools. (Word and Scrivener can both handle arbitrarily large documents, which is arguably a point in their favour.)

      PS. What is the link for Beacon? I haven't heard of it before and am having trouble finding it on Google.

  4. 1

    I used iBooks Author for my Landing Page Cookbook and it was an ok-ish experience (works most of the time, but some things are very frustrating/impossible). If I had to do it again though, I would definitely go with InDesign.

    There is a learning curve, although it should be manageable if you have experience with other Creative Suite software, but at least if you want a professional looking result, other tools don't seem there yet.

  5. 1

    Frankly I'd do my actual writing in a word processor and then dump it into InDesign with images at the end -- that's how I did both of my theses, anyway. Managing images in a word processor or writing words in a design tool are both VERY frustrating.

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