Freeware for Writers

With the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) having kicked off, I was having a discussion on Twitter the other night about writing software, and especially freeware that is useful for writers.

On both sides, commercial and freeware, there are excellent programs available. Premium commercial programs like Scrivener provide a lot of features for writers, and over time has made improvements, both in the program and in response to feedback from those using the program.

Now if you are of the mind that free programs are free because they are limited and of little use and believe in clichés like “You get what you pay for”, well for one clichés are for people who don’t like to think for themselves and let others do their thinking for them, and if you are of such a mind you are obviously too limited in your thinking to continue reading this article.

Free and paid software both exist for the same reason: someone needed a program to perform a certain function, or set of functions, on a computer. Additionally, a lot of programs have come out of the limitations of included programs in Microsoft’s Windows*, and have sought to improve upon those basic programs.

*Being a Windows user myself, I am concentrating on freeware for Windows as I do not have any way to test and use programs on other OSes.

Some programs independently developed can be commercially viable, and such programs come with a fee if the developer or company which owns it deems to do so. Many freeware programs are developed independently, though some are commercial programs which have been released as freeware. Those which are developed independently are often more niche specific in their functions as they were developed often by someone needing those particular functions; though there are many freeware programs which offer an incredible number of features that compare with commercial programs.

Programs I am including here do not require Java or .Net in order to run or your computer. If you have Windows Vista and above, .Net is included with it, but with XP and below it has to be installed and sometimes the install is buggy. Java is just slow, kind of like trying to walk an elephant through mud. I prefer something which will work on Windows computers without having to download addons or slowing down a computer. There are two exceptions I have made in the list where the same program is available in two varieties and where there are two similar programs.

 

Text Editors and Basic Word Processors

In looking at freeware for writers, it makes sense to start off with programs which meet the most basic need of a writer: text editing and word processing.

 Akelpad is seemingly a simple text editor, and no doubt it is that, but it has some built in features such as an always on top option that keeps it on top of other windows (i.e. active) so that it does not disappear when using other programs. This feature makes it handy if you are doing research for an article or story, and would like to keep your notepad handy, like it should be, in order to take notes.

Akelpad also does not include a lot of junk in the top menu bar, though you can include more junk with plugins. What this means is that you can resize the window to almost as small as you would like to have it to keep it at hand for notetaking without it getting in the way of whatever else you are doing.

It does have various plugins available, most of which are included in the basic download anyway, offering additional features like multi-document interface (MDI), allowing you to have several working windows, text areas, in the program at the same time, and other useful plugins including a spellchecker.

Additionally Akelpad does have a portable version which you can get from their website as an archive version which you can unzip, or you can get a portable apps installer version from the Portable Apps website.

QT Writer Express is my preferred writing tool. It has a clean and simple interface with the tools you need easily available on the left side panel. You can easily change font, alignment (no, I don’t mean lawful good and chaotic evil :p ), zoom, and it has a handy word counter so you can keep up with your word count as you type.

As I get older, being able to clearly see what I am typing is a help in preventing typos and dropped words. And even if you are not getting older and/or have clear vision, the text you type can be made to appear so clean and legible, and so easily, that QT Writer Express makes it a pleasure to write.

QT Writer Express is also a portable app. The program is in a zip file, and you can either unzip it to your hard drive to install it*, or unzip it to a USB thumb flash pen drive to carry it with you.

*If you’re not that familiar with installing portable apps, just right click on the zip file you downloaded and choose to unzip it to a folder of the same name as the file (it will create the folder, you’re not looking for one with that name). Then copy (right click and choose copy) that folder you just unzipped, and paste it (right click and choose paste) in the program files folder on your hard drive under c: in windows explorer. For portable use, just follow the same steps, but you’re just pasting the folder to the USB drive.

Atlantis Nova is another favorite of mine. This is an older freeware program that is a small download; being an older program, I don’t know how well this works on 64-bit Windows as I use Windows XP myself.

I like having Atlantis Nova on my computer because it uses very low resources and starts almost instantly; it’s not going to drag your computer down, and is ideal if you have a tendency to keep several programs running as it will still run very well on a slow computer.

Even with its small size and speed, Atlantis Nova is loaded with many features that make this a more than capable word processor. It saves your documents as RTF (rich text files), but RTF files, though not as full featured as DOC files, can be read and formatted properly by any word processor making it an ideal format, and my preferred format for this reason, to share your files with others without having to worry about compatibility issues.

 

Full Featured Word Processors and Office Suites

Although the above text editors and word processors offer the basic needs of many writers who are primarily interested in writing content, there are writers who need additional capabilities such as text areas, images, columns, PDF capabilities and other advanced features akin to being able to create magazine like pages. These word processors offer advanced features and some are part of office suites offering many of the tools an advanced office suite like Microsoft Office offers, but at no charge.

Softmaker Office 2008 is the Cadillac of what will be seen here for free. Yes, it includes spreadsheet (Excel) and presentation (PowerPoint) software, but its TextMaker word processor (Word compatible) is the focus here and is every bit as capable as Microsoft Word and other commercial word processors.

Softmaker Office 2008 is an older version which the company makes available for free, and completely free without any BS or limitations. You do need to register your email address to get an unlock code that will make the software fully functional, and you will very occasionally, like once a month at most, get a promotion email, but that’s it.

AbiWord has been a freeware word processor offering many of the features of a commercial word processor for many years now. Though it has been used by many as is still popular, it seems like development has come to a crawl or complete stop.

AbiWord is a fast running piece of software. In the past I have found it to be a buggy install on some computers, but that has been the minority of times. If, however, you do have any difficulties with running AbiWord, sometimes an older version will work; older versions of AbiWord can be found on OldApps.com.

SSuite WordGraph is available separately or as part of several office suites from Van Loo Software. As a word processor it offers graphics, tables, PDF creation and other features comparable with commercial software.

What I personally don’t like about it is it sets your RTF file association to use WordGraph as its default program. Now if you do not use another program specifically for RTF files like I do, then this will not be a problem, and it is the only bug which keeps me from using it, so aside from that it is a fine piece of software, especially that you get so much functionality for free.

Van Loo Software specializes in making free office software and suites which require no .Net, No Java, or have any other specialized and resource robbing requirements. The previously mentioned QT Writer Express is by Van Loo and they have many other programs and several office suites, including portable office suites, at their SSuite Office Software website.

 

Novel and Story Writing Software

Yes, there is professional software like Scrivener for novel writing, but freeware? These are specialized programs designed for writers specifically for the purpose of organizing your fiction.

yWriter was designed by a writer who is also a software designer. He used it for his own novel writing, designing it for his own needs, and has made it available for free to other writers who may find it useful.

yWriter is a combination of a word processor and an organizer. It allows you to outline and work on your novel by chapter and scene. You can build chapters by populating them with characters, locations, content and more, allowing you to work on them individually while maintaining your continuity.

This is the one exception I am making in including a program which requires .Net on your computer in order to run, but there is an exception to that as well.

yWriter5 requires Windows Vista or above to run without any additional software, and Vista and above come with the .Net runtimes necessary for the program to run. Windows XP and below requires that you download and install the .Net runtimes for Windows (the link is on the site) in order to run it.

yWriter4 is a previous version of yWriter which does not require .Net in order to run. It is a Visual Basic program with the necessary runtimes included, and will run on any version of Windows from 95 up.

PlotCraft is another novel writing software which works differently from yWriter in it is a general database application for ideas. You select categories for your ideas and group those ideas together. Although not as seemingly organized for novel writing as yWriter, it offers a good way to store ideas and categorize them, then be able to form them into works rather than making separate notes and forgetting about them.

 

Specialized and Useful Freeware for Writers

Spellcheckers are useful because, well, let’s face it, we’re not always as good of spellers as we are writers, and we do make mistakes, which spellcheckers help to prevent. Spellcheckers are for those who don’t have a spellchecker included with their text editor, word processor, or other programs and about any program which has a clipboard function. tinySpell is a lightweight program that you can keep running, and even set to run with Windows on start up, running from the taskbar, that monitors the programs you use and alerts you on suspected misspellings.  SSuite SpellChecker is more manual than tinySpell and does offer suggestions, especially helpful if you just have an idea of the word you’re trying to spell, or are simply way off on your spelling.

Note Organizers are definitely handy for writers. They can be looked upon like a combination card file or even filing cabinet for your ideas, with the advantage of a built-in text editor so you can write notes directly into the program. minipad2 is a favorite of mine as it can be configured to have what seems like indefinite tabs and sub-tabs, and can be used for different stories or even for novel writing by assigning tabs to individual chapters, scenes, characters and more. Notebox Disorganizer is somewhere between minipad2 and the aforementioned PlotCraft by allowing you to create categories, individual notes applied to categories, connect notes, and keep everything in a convenient and abbreviated view. Both minipad2 and Notebox Disorganizer are portable apps and can be installed on your hard drive or on a USB drive.

StoryBoard is exactly that, a storyboard program where you can write and sort text boxes on a virtual storyboard like sorting index cards on a bulletin board. StoryBoard is old software requiring Visual Basic runtimes which are included with it. On Windows 2000 and above it will require two installs; the first being an install of the runtimes, then a restart before you can install the program. Text Block Writer is a newer program similar to StoryBoard which does require Windows Vista or above, or Microsoft .Net to be installed on XP or lower in order to work.

TreeSheets is an amazing free program which is called free form data organization software by its developer. It is part organizer, spreadsheet, mind mapper, and notebook which you can organize as fits your needs. It is not bloated nor does it require specialized runtimes like every other mind mapper program, and this one is better organized. I only found this just a few days ago as a result of the conversation I had about freeware for writers and a random search and am very happy to have found such a program, and even freeware at that.

Repetition Detector is a program I have not tried yet, but it looks like it could be of use to a writer, and could perhaps be of use to me someday. It offers a single but useful feature in checking the repetitiveness of the words in your writing and listing the top 50 most used words. For someone who is concerned they may be using words too repetitively, this could be very useful.

Distraction Free Writing works for some writers. Although I prefer having my controls and menu visible, anything which helps a writer keep their flow without distracting them is of prime importance. Distraction free text editors and word processors are designed to have one thing on the computer screen, and that is a writing area and nothing or little more than that; rather like turning the computer screen into a blank piece if paper with just your words on them. Both FocusWriter and Q10 are available for desktop installation and as a portable app to be carried on a USB drive with FocusWriter having options such as including a background for inspiration while Q10 is fast and light. CreaWriter offers the ability to use your own picture for a background, vary the text area, and even have ambient sounds, offering a lot of customization options, though it runs more slowly that the previous two programs.

Yadabyte Portables has several freeware programs available including a notetaking app and, most of note for this article, a dictionary. The Yadabyte Dictionary can be used as a portable app or put on your hard drive. The dictionary comes with 145,000 definitions as well synonyms, and its speed and compact interface make it ideal for a handy quick reference that is not going to get in the way. If you have problems with the website loading, here are alternative links for Yadabyte Dictionary and Yadabyte Notes.

Cybia Utility Apps are small and useful apps primary designed for notetaking and organization AlphaPad is almost like an alphabetical phone index, but designed for notes, not phone numbers. PasteBoard is a multi-page clipboard or notepad for taking notes and keeping them separate, while Jot-a-Lot is like PasteBoard with a file browser added. Yes, this is the same Cybia which makes many wonderful and free Photoshop plugins.

 

Endnote

What I have included in the above list is certainly not all inclusive. For the most part I have used or tried the programs included with very few exceptions. I am not trying to list every freeware available which a writer could possibly use as I would still be searching and it would be a huge list. What I have listed, or tried to list, are the more useful programs I have found which cover a broad spectrum of functionality for writers. Feel free to leave a comment about this, or add you own programs in the comment which you have found.

–Dos

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Keeping an Open Heart

We’ve all heard it to some degree before, someone, perhaps a friend or relative, talking about how life has hardened their heart, toughened them up, but do we wonder what they were like or might have been like if it wasn’t for being “toughened up”?

Probably not too much different from what they are now, but how much are they missing out on by letting the actions of a few influence their interactions with so many more than that few?

One thing I have been opposed to is overreaction. A perfect example of this, many such perfect examples, is city or state or even federal government imposing new restrictions on the populace based on the actions of a few or even one individual; punish everybody else for the actions of one.

City councils are notorious for this, proposing and passing ordinances based on a single action which affects everybody; even pet peeves become legislation which often only ends up in books like “America’s Dumbest Laws”.

But let’s examine this from a more personal perspective, from an individual perspective; how it affects each of us, and how we can avoid this. I’m going to use a few examples from my own life to illustrate the things people can do, how I could react, and how I should react.

I had been friends with a lady on Facebook for over 9 months, probably being the person who talked with her the most, especially through the message system. She was a beautiful woman, often sharing pictures taken by photographer friends of hers, showing she had a propensity for modeling.

What I really focused on was her artwork which not only showed incredible talent in being able to draw, but had incredible depth to it, even one such line drawing using a single color was so filled with emotion that I found myself tearing up just looking at it, and I don’t normally have these reactions to artwork.

I found myself wanting to know more about the person behind this artwork and began talking with her and discussing personal things with her, as well her with me.

I wasn’t the only one who found her to be interesting and she had many friends, including some celebrities, but most of her commenters were guys telling her how beautiful she was, while I was interested in talking about her to get to know the artist.

One day I received a message from a fellow friend of hers with a link to a website in it. I clicked on that link and the website which opened had her face proudly displayed on it as well as other pictures of her. One disturbing difference, though, is it wasn’t her name on the website.

My heart dropped as I looked for a contact form, found it, and sent an email to her, in some way desperately asking if she was my friend I had known of Facebook for so long.

The lady whose website it is was not her, though she turned out to be a very nice person responding kindly, and rather quickly, but my friend was a phantom; she did not exist.

For a second story, I work for a fortune 500 company in a field position. One year ago I was injured, and though I’m not going to focus on that part, in late March of this year, after having been put back to work prematurely and under false pretenses perpetuated by a manager, I was injured again, aggravating the same injury.

Te second time around I had asked for a number to call in to get medical treatment, an was met with silence. No answers to text messages, emails, and my managers would not answer their phones. Even calling in to an office I had dealt with before on the previous injury I was met with a roadblock saying they could not help me, even though I was in severe pain and pleading for help.

I did get in touch with a previous manager, who is the only person in the company I trust, and he got me the number I needed which got me in touch with the right person in HR who got things rolling to get me medical treatment. I am facing surgery and have effectively had my life changed as a result of this, but not ruined; I have my life and even though adjustments have to be made I can adapt and learn new things to move ahead.

And why did my managers ignore me and try to kick me to the curb? For money. Someone who gets injured and is off work and drawing compensation counts against their quarterly totals and can affect whether or not they get their bonuses, and they ignored me and tried to interfere with me getting medical treatment to keep from losing their bonuses.

Do I have anger? Yes, but I cannot let that rule me. For a while with the latter incident concerning my injury and my managers, I was very angry with what they did to me and thought some things I probably should not have thought. In the former, I was hurt and especially since I thought I had developed a level of trust with this person and she used it against me and others.

Yes, in these two cases I dealt with people who were dishonest, cheaters, and without conscience. But these are only a few people, others did not do this to me, they did. If I allow myself to judge others by what they did, there is a lot I can miss out on by closing my heart.

This is essentially the crux of this discussion, keeping one’s heart open despite the pain, anger and suspicion a select few have put into us through their actions. When people do things like this, it is tempting to say things like “that’s what people do”, “it’s the nature of people”, or even “what’s the world coming to”, but the actions of a very few do not define the majority of people, or even a single person unjustly.

People, flesh and blood people who have feelings as we do are what makes up the world around us, and that world includes those online. If we let the actions of a very few close us off to others, we are not only missing out on a lot, but also being unfair to others by treating them with a conviction and suspicion for things they did not do.

Yes, I am cautious online with people I don’t know, or whom I cannot confirm who they are, but I do not shut them out as everybody deserves a chance to be trusted and accepted, and the majority of the time I will be right; as compared to being suspicious and treating someone like they are guilty until proven otherwise and being wrong the majority of the time.

We reap what we sow, and even though life might be unfair to us at times, putting that off on others not only gives us back nothing but bitterness, it turns us into the very people who hurt us in the first place. I surely don’t want to be my managers, and I’m sure there are people you don’t want to be, but if we let those people change us, the next time we look in a mirror we might not recognize or even like the person we see.

Do remember that some people in life are going to be our enemies, and, like in war, when we turn to using our enemies’ tactics, we become our enemies and they can proudly proclaim “mission accomplished”.

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Underage Sex in Fiction

Yes, I can rightfully be called a hypocrite, but I’ll take it.

But, is there another level of hypocrisy in being a sex writer, but having limits? I guess maybe in looking from the outside in, but sex writers like any other writer are going to have their beliefs, limits, and disagreements.

I’m not writing this to point fingers at anybody, and it’s not specifically spurned on by anybody in particular as it is something I’ve considered adding as part of my About Me page on Pressing Flesh.

One of the reasons I am writing this, if not specifically the reason, is that I am having an internal conflict with a story I wrote. Now this is a story about a high school boy having sex for the first time with his teacher. I have written such a story before, but the distinction is the point of view; the person in which it is written.

The first story I wrote is from a first person perspective and is essentially a take off of my fantasies as a teenager about a teacher of mine. The problem with the other story is that I wrote it in third person, and though it is essentially a take-off of the same fantasy, it just, to me, changes it when the representation is of a teenager having sex with an adult rather than a reflection of a personal fantasy.

Yes, I can change the story and make the boy 18 in his senior year of school, but really, isn’t this just trying to dress something up and call it by a new name when we all know what it really is?

Some of you reading this may disagree, and may even be right; but this is my internal conflict, and one thing about an internal conflict is that it is an inner voice, a caution, that we are doing something that we perceive as questionable, and maybe just simply wrong, and that even if we justify it in our minds there is still going to be a conflict that we may even have turned into a regret, a deeply seated regret.

I’ve already written on deep seated memories and overcoming the stress brought on by those, but this is proactive when we take steps to prevent something, and maybe this may not be an issue for somebody else, but it is nagging at me, and I have learned to listen to that inner voice and when I need to heed it’s warning, and in this case I am heeding its warning and I am not going to be publishing the story.

Why do I feel this way?

That would be a legitimate question as I am a man pushing fifty and have no kids, so where do I get a conscience about teenage fantasies when, in the past, I’ve had them myself (and any man over the age of 18 who denies ever having had a teenage fantasy is not very honest or asexual).

Several years ago I met a teenage girl. She was and is beautiful, and she certainly caught the eye of every boy and man whose path she crossed, including mine. I spent a lot of time around her, due to situations as they were, and became close with her and her family.

As we became closer, a transformation was happening, and more than being a beautiful girl filled with that wonderful spirit of youth to me, I also saw someone whose light within her could be diminished by others who just thought of their own desires without considering that her innocence, that light within her, is more important than any desire they could possibly have. Yes, I became like a mentor to her, and she like a daughter to me.

More so than any other point in my life I looked upon not only a very special young girl to me, but youth in general as something not to darken but to allow to flourish unhindered. Whether a 14, 15, 16 year old has what anybody would look upon as an adult body, they are still a child who does not need someone else’s corrupting influence pushed on them.

Anymore the thought of a teenage fantasy is repulsive to me. That’s me, and my decision to scrap my story is simply me taking some responsibility, as I see it, in my writing. Some may see it as just stories, but culture, society, and religion are influenced by and even built upon stories, and as yesterday’s stories were, today’s stories are tomorrow’s allusions, witticisms, quotes, as well excuses and justifications.

The light of youth is precious…let no one darken it.

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