Writing by numbers

Not unlike painting by numbers, writing by numbers - writing to special creative writing programs – is just one of the ways to help writers pen their bestselling blockbusters, but therein lies a problem, because many of these software programs often claim it’s a sure fire way to publication and success.

The reality, however, can be quite different. Writing experience, and the quality of that writing gets you published, not a computer program. 

It’s better to do the work yourself because you’ll feel much better about your accomplishments, and you’ll learn so much more about the writing processes.

But does creative writing software actually work? 

It can be useful to a degree – they provide an overview of novel writing methods and they help writers understand some of the writing processes. Their selling point is that they offer the framework for which to create your novel; however, not one of them will tell you how you apply some of the most important aspects when it comes to writing - sheer hard work, determination and the ability to write.

None of them will tell you how to actually write a novel.

That’s because there is no correct way, no right or wrong. You approach writing in the way you want to. Writing really is that unique.

And the ironic thing is that the resources and formats that some of these programs offer are already on your computer. You don’t need any fancy interfaces or pretty screens to organise yourself or write your work, you don’t need special indexes or a hundred ways to organise your scenes. In fact, by the time you’ve messed about inputting names of characters and clicking on various buttons and so on, you could have hand-written a full character analysis and moved on to the next character.

Take a close look at the majority of programs and you’ll find they are about organising – organising chapters, indexing characters, creating scene and chapters lists etc. Some programs have name and title generators, so they even remove that creative process from the writer.

One famous writing software program even has a menu so you can list all your scenes. But you don’t need that. The scenes are already there, in your story. You are only creating more work for yourself in an already long writing process.

If you have something that does most of the work for you, is there any point in trying to be a writer when you are not actually learning anything in the process?

Just write. Read and edit, then re-write etc. That’s it. The true heart of novel writing is nothing more than that.

Because so few of these programs actually get to the technical graft of writing, novel writing software is a bit of a misnomer. Realistically, ‘novel organising software’ is more accurate. And in the time you’ve spent organising all the menus and lists and indexes and screens, you could have written 10 chapters of your novel.

Despite the drawbacks, people do use these software packages, and are happy with them and that’s fine – it’s what works for the writer. Writing is a personal, individual activity, as personal as the writing itself.

For the most part, buying a good fiction writing guide is a much better idea (and costs less), and will help writers establish a familiarity with writing, with relevant advice on what matters. They can offer writers ways to improve, they can offer guides on the kind of technical aspects writers should know about when structuring their writing. More importantly, they show writers how to write.

Do you really need novel writing software to help you write by numbers?

Well, in truth, no. Sometimes, the best way to find your own success is to tread your own path and not rely on the one someone has paved for you. 

Fiction guides and websites are much better because many are written by writers with the experience and the success to know what they’re talking about.

Primarily, writing is about writing, not organising.

Have you ever painted by numbers? The result is a bit forced and flat, but in the end, it doesn’t teach you how to paint. It’s the same writing by numbers.

Of course, you should gain as much guidance and information about writing wherever possible, by what means you feel comfortable with, but the best way to find out your own writing worth is to work hard and do it yourself.

Next week: Pacing – getting it right


  1. It’s the same writing by numbers.

    Missed a word?

  2. I've been using a free ap from Sourceforge called Storybook for a long time now. The organising features really do help, but you have to remember to keep on updating your files or it quickly goes out of date. (like anything else really)

    So I agree. They're good for organising various things but not that hot to actually write out whole chapters.

  3. I'm sure this software works well for some writers but I've not been tempted to use it - I don't really like being organised.

  4. @ anonymous - Nope, it's as is.

    @ Gyran - Thanks for the input.

    @ Patsy - I'm the same, I would rather organise things how I like them.

  5. I'd have added 'with', but that's probably why I'm not a tutor!

  6. I understand the principle of using software to organise a large piece of writing. Certainly there are times when I open my WIP document and wonder, where am I? Who am I? What am I doing with my life...

    But you're right, you don't need fancy formatting to work that out, it just takes some forethought and personal organisation. My WIP goes backwards and forwards in time, so I track it with a simple one liner chapter summaries at the top of the document.

  7. @ Aziza It's good that you can organise yourself in the way that you want, and the chapter summary is great working method. I use it too. In the end, it's what feels right for the writer.

    @ anonymous Yep, that's writing for you :)


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