I wrote here about how very disappointing the new 2016 version of Word for Mac is. Most of the reviews of Word have, however, praised it as an improvement that 'finally' puts the Mac's app on a par with its…
Love it or hate it, Microsoft Word is hard to avoid if you write to be published. That doc or docx file is what a publisher expects you to deliver, and increasingly the production process will take place through comments and change tracking within Word too.
On Windows, with the Word 2013 edition, this is no great problem. In fact I think Word 2013 is good enough to be used as a primary writing app in some cases. But the Mac has been ill-served by Microsoft for many years. The last version of Word, 2011, was a dog, slow, buggy, cumbersome and lacking the features that make Word 2013 so good on Windows.
Now it’s been replaced as part of the new Mac Office 2016 release. So what’s there to cheer about and what to boo?
The new Microsoft Office 2016 beta for Mac finally downloaded a little while ago. I promised a quick look at the long-awaited Word for this Mac version. Here it is. It's going to be very quick indeed. Bear in mind…
Most Mac users may be peering at Yosemite right now and thinking… why? But if you write there was one more subtle upgrade yesterday which is of more than passing interest. Yes, Apple Pages, the word processor it effectively massacred just a year ago in the name of compatibility with the iPad, is starting, finally, to get its act together.
To revise conventionally all you need is a pen and paper. Yes, I know there are people who agonise over exactly what kind of pen and paper. But not me. A4 copy paper and a red ballpoint will do.
In the digital realm nothing’s that simple. You don’t just have to pick your ‘pen’ — the stylus and software. You have to find the right kind of ‘paper’ — your device too. And that’s hard. Over the last few years since I set out on this quest I’ve tried (and returned) a stack of different tablets.
Still lying around here, used with different degrees of enthusiasm, are…
- A Lenovo Thinkpad X220 tablet PC. Lightweight, robust, fantastic for presentations but a bit too bulky for real tablet work.
- An iPad Air. Great for media consumption. Rubbish for work.
- An 11-inch Samsung Series 7 hybrid laptop-tablet. One of the first hybrid devices, picked up cheap as a refurb. Great screen, Wacom pen. Excellent for revising an A4 page full screen. But ridiculously expensive new, with middling battery life. A compromise. Quite a nice one but not something you’d use on a bus.
In short… there’s a gap. Meet the thing I think that may well fill it — and the great news is it costs just £20 more than the equivalent iPad mini.
Yesterday I looked at revision using an active stylus, OneNote and pdf apps. Yet the final writing process of any book is, for me anyway, always in Microsoft Word, since that’s how it has to be delivered to the publisher.
How about if you could do the revise directly in Word itself with a pen?
In theory this ought to be possible. Word understands what an active stylus is and will offer some pen commands. But you have to work to make these usable. Let me try to explain. And I repeat… you can only achieve this with a Windows 8.1 tablet or laptop with an active stylus. Nothing else can do it.
The last post asked the question: will your work live forever? As I said there… if it’s in a common format like Word, rtf or some kind of html I think the answer’s, ‘As much forever as you’re likely to need.’
The way we usually lose work isn’t through format changes. It’s clumsiness. I can’t remember the last time I lost something through a technical issue (one exception apart, which I’ll come to shortly). Mainly it’s just through mistakes — failing to back up, forgetting to transfer files when I change computers. All that kind of thing.
Here’s my routine for avoiding any nasty surprises.
A reminder here for newcomers: my comments on Scrivener are based on ruthless focus. I write fiction for a living. It’s all I do. Whether it’s Scrivener or Microsoft Word later in the process, the only thing I’m interested in is producing a book.
What that means is I ignore absolutely every program feature that is of no use to me in this pursuit. And boy are there a lot of extraneous features when you think about things like that. Word can do endnotes and references and fancy things with images that interest me not one whit.
Scrivener is incredibly versatile. In many way it’s more an operating system for writing than a simple word processing app. You could use it for heavyweight commercial book production — the equivalent of typesetting if you like.
Or turn your head away from its initial concept of novel-writing and think of it as an amazing document management tool. Before I took up fiction full-time I was a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times. Oh how I wish I’d had Scrivener to manage my work back then.
Most books require a structure. Think of it as an architect’s blueprint. You may not see the pen strokes and angles, but there is a skeletal framework, a sense of design, required of narrative without which it is likely to fall apart.
In something like Scrivener structure comes naturally. You create folders or master documents then add subsidiary documents to create scenes within chapters and parts. But Word 2013 – while it lacks Scrivener’s fancier features – can do much the same thing too. This isn’t the same as heavy duty outlining or brainstorming. But it can be a creative and useful way to develop a story – one I use all the time these days.
A comment yesterday reminded me what a software junkie I used to be. Had I tried TextExpander instead of setting up auto-correct in Word? Of course. And Typinator. And probably lots else besides.
I started using computers in the Eighties, when most of them were as inadequate as they were expensive. True they could do things that nothing else was capable of. But there were always holes, glitches, things you needed that weren’t there out of the box.