yWriter is a free novel-writing program developed by Simon Haynes, programmer and author of the Hal Spacejock books.
Because Simon wrote yWriter for his own use as an author, the program is continually improving and expanding as Simon considers feedback from other users and his own needs for the software. I’ll be discussing the most up-to-date version, yWriter Version 4.
So what can yWriter do for you?
yWriter allows writers to organize their work in an clearly laid-out system that can be easily exported into a final document. yWriter produces various summaries and reports, such as:
- a work schedule from outlining to completion
- a long or short synopsis based on chapter and scene descriptions
- an outline
- a storyboard that allows scenes to be rearranged graphically
- a scene list and scene cards
- lists of characters, locations, and items
- number of scenes and word count for each viewpoint character
- scene ratings to measure tension, humor, and any other qualities you would like to track throughout the story. The scene ratings can then be viewed as a chart.
Chapters and scenes can easily be rearranged, either in the main interface, pictured above, or in the storyboard. Also, characters, locations, and items can all be associated with scenes, and the author can make notes about the projected goals, conflicts, and outcomes. yWriter also has a places for general notes and descriptions for each scene. Notes can also be created as separate scenes and chapters, then marked “unused.” For example, if you have an idea for a scene that you’ve not yet written, you can create a placeholder scene with your notes that can be ignored when a draft is printed.
How I’m using yWriter
I really only started using the software after I finished most of my rough draft for my NaNo novel. yWriter has a rich text editor that allows users to adjust the font style and size, and apply boldface, italics, and underlining, but I didn’t write directly in the software. Instead, I used the minimalist word processor JDarkRoom to do the first draft. When I finished the rough draft, I copied and pasted my work into yWriter, allowing me to see the structure of my novel more clearly. yWriter creator Simon Haynes says this is how he uses the software as well.
yWriter allows me to see the structure of my story much more clearly than scrolling down one seemingly endless document and looking for missing pieces. Now that my rough ideas are organized into chapters, I can see more easily where I need to add scenes.
Some tips on using yWriter
One of the best features of yWriter is the program’s extensive backup system. Unless you delete the entire project folder, it’s difficult to lose all your work. Each scene is stored in a separate RTF document that can be edited outside the program without disrupting any of the settings. One caution though: If you export the entire project, work on that file, then attempt to import the document back into yWriter, you will erase your project settings, such as the viewpoint characters and notes for each scene. I wouldn’t recommend trying to import a file unless it’s with a brand new project.
But if you’re looking for a way to use yWriter when you’re away from your home computer, install the program on a flash drive. Simply run the installation program as usual, specifying your flash drive as the installation location. Then do the same thing with the Pendrive Runtimes program from the Spacejock downloads page. Put the Pendrive files in the same directory as the yWriter files and you’ll be able to use yWriter on any Windows computer with your flash drive.
Note to Linux users: Follow these directions to install yWriter in Wine.
For a thorough overview of all of the functions of yWriter Version 3, see House of Strauss. Also, you might find this discussion on the NaNoWriMo forums to be useful.
I look forward to using yWriter to organize many other projects. One of the sticking points I’ve often had with previous projects is confronting the mess I was left with after the initial writing. yWriter provides a free, easy-to-use, and helpful way to organize my writing. One of the best aspects, in my opinion, is that the software is designed by an author who also uses it for his own work. All in all, yWriter is an excellent tool to organize a novel, whether as a creation tool or an organization tool.
Have you used yWriter or any other novel-writing software? What has your experience been?