As a novelist, something that I’ve learned along the way is the importance of a good writing program. Similar to the reading experience, any tools that a writer can utilize to making writing and keeping track of information will ultimately help keep the creativity flowing. I have most extensively used Google Drive throughout my writing career, although of course I’ve also used Microsoft Word, scribbled in a fair amount of notebooks, and even dabbled with Scrivener.
For about two months, however, I decided to try writing with yWriter. It isn’t the first time I’ve used the writing program, but it is the first time I’ve been able to use it so extensively, in large part because I only recently began my current project back in January. I know this particular program is not exactly new, but if you find your current writing routine lacking, then below are a few things you may want to know about yWriter.
Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by or affiliated in any way with yWriter. This is just my personal opinion on the successes and failings of this particular program. For the purposes of this review, I should also note that I have the most recent version out available right now, which is yWriter5.
It’s Free. Unlike Scrivener, and even Microsoft office programs, yWriter doesn’t cost anything. This makes it risk-free to try, and if you like it, then it doesn’t cost a pretty penny to keep.
Easy Learning Curve. yWriter’s main function is a writing program. It has a simplistic interface, and when it comes to creating chapters and scenes, and writing in those chapters and scenes, it’s easy to navigate. In addition, yWriter also has a place to store character and setting info. These particular elements are not flawless, and I’ll go into depth below, but it’s easy to add characters and locations so that you can keep track of them throughout the project. I’ve taken to prioritizing the accuracy of the character list over my previous Google Sheets, simply because I could quickly and easily add any new side characters to the list, along with any descriptions I might’ve placed in-text, so if they appear in another scene down the line, I don’t have to go searching for them.
Word Count Breakdowns. One of the things that I found most frustrating with Microsoft Word and Google Docs had to do with word counts, on two fronts. The first was that, as someone who had self-imposed daily writing goals, there wasn’t really a way to know how many words I’d written unless I either a) wrote down my starting word count at the beginning of the day and did some math or b) remembered where I started writing that day and just highlighted the text. It was a hassle. Not only does yWriter just automatically keep track on the bottom of the screen how many words have been added that day, but it also allows you to view your progress over time.
In addition, on the left sidebar, the “table of contents” area, so to speak, includes not only the chapters but also word count in that chapter, the number of scenes, and the total number of words in the entire project. And although of course chapters should be however long they need to be, I personally prefer some level of uniformity for pacing purposes.
Scene-by-Scene Formatting. One of the less-obvious benefits that I’ve found using this program is its flexibility. I do generally prefer to write in chronological order, rather than jumping around to whatever scenes feel most interesting. Whatever your preferences, however, because each scene has its own file, it’s very easy to skip a scene, or go back and add some later, or even delete scenes that need cut. And, while I would have thought that having to face a blank screen every time I needed to start a new scene would have made it harder to write, I found that I could raise my word count goal, and meet it much easier. Or, in other words, I found myself writing well over a thousand words, and consistently, where prior to using yWriter, it was a struggle to get to 700 every day.
Transferring Information. This did take a few tries to figure out, but I found that exporting and importing was a useful tool, especially when it came to character and location lists. Due to my own particular plotting style, which can best be described as “meandering,” I’ve found that I frequently have to restart a writing project in order to explore changes to character identity or setting details, usually because they’re big enough changes that it would have significant impact on the narrative. But I’m also a digital hoarder, by which I mean I hate deleting anything. So, starting a completely new file allows me to save any minute details while also allowing me to import character and location lists, thereby saving those details and making it easy to reference them no matter what project I’m in.
I will add that I have not, as of yet, been able to figure out how to transfer scenes and chapters from one project to the next. Then again, I only tried to once, and it was late, and I gave up.
Not Online. I know, I know, most writing programs aren’t. And even Google Docs is a hassle when internet is being spotty. However, I can’t deny that one of the biggest things I liked about Docs was that I could work on my novel basically anywhere I wanted to, whether I had my laptop with me or not.
Extra Features Either Way Too Detailed Or Far Too Simplistic. This is perhaps the biggest failing for me. The excessive features, I can accept. Different people write in different ways, and some need more places to leave more details. However, especially when it comes to character and setting, I hate having to store information in different areas, because then it’s harder for me to remember where I’ve kept a specific piece of information.
Scene Details. As you can see above, the scene and character details windows have ways to keep track of various information. For the scene details screen, I usually tend to focus on the “Status,” the “Viewpoint,” and the “Scene Title.” Some authors may find the other functions more useful, or perhaps I’ll find them more useful in the revisions stage, but for right now, I’m not even sure I could fill out all of this information for each scene, not to mention the fact that it seems a tedious practice.
Character Details. This window probably gets the closest to being the most useful, although I still find myself focusing on “Short Name,” “Alternate” (only if the character has titles or even fake identities), and “Description.” I find it easiest to keep the most important information there. Especially for the minor characters, the other tabs just aren’t relevant or worth my time to fill in, not when there are so many.
Location Details. This is probably the least functional feature of yWriter, especially as a fantasy writer. If you’ve seen my new Setting Study posts, you’ll know that world-building is multi-faceted, and prior to yWriter, I would create an entire Google Sites dedicated to my world-building (and in-depth character details, although keeping the character lists updated there was a huge pain). I cannot for the life of me figure out how I might keep track of a location’s language, culture, history, and magic when I’m only given one window to write it all down. As a result, I don’t use it as a source of information, but rather simply to keep track of where characters are at. I make do by stack my locations. Every named business/building is written down, as well as city and country. For example, I’d have add a “White House”, “Washington D.C.” and “USA” location, and add all three to the list of settings in that scene. This is the only worthwhile use for the locations section that I’ve found, at least for a fantasy author such as myself.
Minor Bugs. There are a few other nit-picky issues that I have with yWriter, although they’re small enough that they barely obstruct my writing. The first has to do with font changes. This could be ascribed to user error, but every time I tried to change the font, it would only keep that font for as long as the scene window was open. Closing it and re-opening it later would result in it returning to its default Arial. This isn’t a particularly huge issue, but I, as a writer, have found that personalizing the fonts for the book helps me keep its core character in mind. Arial is just…bland. But, again, this is just a minor inconvenience. The only other thing I’ve really noticed is that sometimes the edit-undo can be a little finicky.
State of Recommendation
Overall, despite its somewhat simplistic interface, I find yWriter to have a lot of features that help with the writing process. Its biggest letdown is its detail windows, primarily the “locations” one, but if you’re willing to keep the world-building information elsewhere, it’s a functional, easy-to-learn, free program whose benefits primarily outweigh its failings.