Monday, March 05, 2012

Novel Content-Management Software: yWriter5

A writer friend recently told me about yWriter5, which is software that helps you organize your novel.

I was dubious at first. The "Cadillac" for this type of software is Scrivener, made for Mac users, which left me out. Then Liquid Story Binder was created for windows users, which I bought.

I was never happy with Liquid Story Binder. You can do untold numbers of things with it, including storyboarding and mind mapping and so on, but the software is not intuitive. Even when you've learned how to use it, the resulting products (storyboards, mindmaps) are terribly klunky looking, and moving information around is not easy.

I stopped using it and fell back on my own rather frustrating methods. I've always created my own storyboards in Microsoft Publisher, but that is time-consuming. You can move things around, but in a less-than-ideal way.

So when my friend got excited about yWriter5, I was not at all sure I wanted to spend time learning yet another piece of software that might have a steep learning curve and, in the end, be unsatisfying.

It took me three weeks to finally download yWriter5. I was learning four other pieces of software during those three weeks, one of which is mind-blowingly incredible and has a steep but totally worthwhile learning curve, and is for another post. Once I had finished playing with the other new pieces of software, I downloaded yWriter5 and discovered ...

It is totally intuitive, with almost no learning curve, and is everything I could hope for in content-management software. It was developed by Simon Haynes who has twenty-five years computer programming experience, and is also a multi-published author. His website is full of useful information about the craft of writing, and worth taking a look at. (I've included a link to his website at the bottom of this post.) 

Some of the things I love about yWriter5:

  • It keeps track of word count of individual scenes, chapters and overall project. 
  • There is a place for scene notes and notes about locations and the characters. If you're in chapter 10 and you can't remember the color of a particular character's eyes--just pull up that character's notes. 
  • It will save all versions of your scenes in a neat little package that you can grab whenever you want to look at it. One of my big problems is that I may have re-written a scene 10 times, adding and removing information each time. Then I get to the 11th revision and I realize I need some information that was in one of the earlier versions. It still exists; I never destroy my drafts, but which draft was it? It would take me countless hours to sift back through hundreds of files to find the information. 
  • There is a screen where you can keep track of the scene conflict in a few words. Or if what you wrote was a scene-sequel, it allows you to note the character's decision that will create the next scene's goal.
  • You can set it up to keep track of a daily word quota and project deadline. It will show you how  well you are keeping up with your daily output in order to finish on time. 
  • The notes field can be used, if you wish, to summarize the scene in a sentence or two. If used in this way, yWriter5 will then generate a synopsis based on the scene summaries. (How cool is that.)
  • The storyboard works very well. It looks nice and the scene cards are easily movable. 
  • You can also, very easily, re-order scenes within chapters and chapters within the entire project. 

Even more good news? It's free, however once you've tried it, you will probably like it so much that you will want to give Simon Haynes a donation for creating such a lovely piece of content-management software.


  1. Thanks so much for this review, and for pointing me at ywriter. I've been using FastPencil, which is great but has nowhere near as many features as this.

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