Monday, 1 February 2010

Guest Review: Writer's Café

My thanks to Jo Stafferton for this review of Writer's Café, a computer program which helps writers organise and develop their work. Some very well-regarded writers have praised it: if you don't believe me, just take a look at the Writer’s Café website. You might see a familiar name on its front page.

My current work-in-progress is a children’s novel set in Ancient Egypt, an idea that has been going round in my head for some years. Now, I am no Egyptologist, so as you can imagine, attempting a project like that required a lot of research, a lot of note taking. I started out using notebooks to scrawl down my notes from books, the internet and museum visits and I got myself a giant piece of paper, upon which I printed out and stuck relevant photos from the internet (I don’t have space for a pin board at home). But I found myself overwhelmed by the volume of information, the notebooks got lost and the large piece of paper became crumpled down the back of a bookshelf, all progress in my work-in-progress stopped, for months bordering on years.

Then by chance I discovered Writer’s Café; you are able to download a demonstration version, which is pretty much fully functional with a few limitations (notably in its plot lining function, which is why ultimately I upgraded to the paid version) but it does give a good idea what it can do. I was able to go back to the photos I had found on the internet and place them on a ‘virtual’ pin board alongside notes and ideas for my story. Good websites I had found and wanted to preserve in their entirety, away from the muddle of the rest of my ‘everyday’ bookmarks on my internet browser, were placed in a ‘virtual’ scrapbook. Lengthy notes from my Egyptology textbooks were written in the program’s notebook feature. Everything was basically kept in one, well organised place, which was invaluable to me, as I lack space in the real world to store those things on paper.

What really saved my story though was the program’s Storylines feature, an electronic version of a very long corkboard and some index cards, you would put your plot points on a series of cards and place them in the order you wanted them, dividing them into chapters as you go. Having my stalled storyline out in front of me like that, enabled me to see the holes in my plot and enabled me to plan in a way that I had struggled with before. Consequently my project, which had stalled prior to me discovering Writer’s Café, at approximately 15,000 words, is now, as I type at 34,000 words and unlike before, I am fully confident that I am going to finish it.

There are other features in Writer’s Café to, that I use less frequently if at all; a journal, a names generator, writers’ tips, writers’ prompts and an eBook ‘Fiction: The Facts’, written by Harriet Smart, the published author behind the program.

So, ultimately there’s not much you can do on Writer’s Café that you can’t do in real life with a pen and a piece of paper, but if you’re disorganised and lack a space of your own to store and display your notes and plans as you work on them, Writer’s Café is a big bonus, particularly for any writer who has a large volume of notes and ideas to organise, such as someone writing historical fiction or for anyone having a whole new world to create.


Megan Burke said...

Really helpful, thanks!

Jenny Woolf said...

Writers cafe sounds brilliant. I've bookmarked it for when I'm able to get back to my YA novel. I have a feeling it's going to be one of those wonderful timewasters too!

Nicola Morgan said...

Can't think which writer's name you mean, Jane!

The fact that the authors of the software live around the corner from me is genuinely a coincidence but I do think there's something in the water in Edinburgh that makes people so very brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Your description of your pre-cafe notetaking is horribly familiar! Think I might be the ideal candidate - if I can ever find all the stuff currently scattered around real and virtual rooms ...
But thanks for the suggestion! anyway.

Gary Patterson said...

I agree Writers cafe is generally brilliant and I have used it in the past. For those looking for a program to aid in writing a novel, however, I would strongly encourage looking into Scrivener.

It currently only runs on Mac, but if you are a writer working in Windows, I can only beseech you in the name of all that is holy to step away from the Microsoft products.

Oh and just fyi, Scrivener is also produced by brilliant Brits.