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10 Questions Answered by Writers on their Writing Life

5 October 2018

From The Writing Cooperative:


  • 44% of writers regularly work on their novel on more than one device.
  • 58% of writers still use Microsoft Word as a regular part of their writing toolkit.
  • 34% of writers say they write Science Fiction or Fantasy.
  • 6% of writers say they write Literary fiction.
  • 20% or writers are part of an offline writers group.
  • Private Facebook groups dominate online writing communities.
  • Romance is the second most popular genre for writers.

. . . .

The first question, aimed at identifying the professional status of the writer, showed that 53% of respondents had published or self-published a novel or short story. A further question showed that over 85% of respondents were currently working on a novel or short story. The answers to these two questions highlight the fact that the writers surveyed were, for the most part, professionals rather than wannabe writers or dreamers — they were actively working on new novels and many had already reached the publishing stage at least once.

. . . .

Q4. Do you regularly work on your novel on more than one device?

Of all the questions asked in this survey, we consider this to be the most important for software developers like ourselves as we strive to build better products for writers. When PageFour was first built way back in 2005, much of the world was still struggling with dial up connections — broadband was making inroads but only slowly and storing personal data on the cloud was not even an idea. Almost everyone worked on a single PC or Mac and working on multiple devices was for pure techies.

We were expecting that a large majority of writers would be working on a single lap-top and that maybe 10% or so would be syncing across a second device — possibly a desktop / lap-top combination.

Yet 44% of respondents say they work regularly on their novel on more than one device. In a few years that figure could rise to 70% or even 80%. What then for single-platform software or software that does not automatically sync data with a central cloud repository?

Microsoft Word is cross-platform, comes with apps for iOS and Android and syncs with your own OneDrive account. Multi-platform, multi-device — everything a modern writer needs apart from the fact that it’s Word and not software designed for creative writers. Scrivener — the market leader for creative writing software — has Mac and Windows versions as well as an iOS app, but it does not store your novel in one location and it does not keep your novel in sync across devices — for this it relies on the user to configure and use Dropbox accounts separately — and carefully.

Our own new software, Atomic Scribbler, specifically warns against working on a project from within a cloud folder, as corruption of the project can happen easily in such an environment.

Food for thought here to be sure. The biggest stumbling block we see with building cross-platform software for writers that fully utilises central cloud storage is marrying the reluctance of consumers (writers) to pay a monthly or yearly fee for their software with the necessity of such recurring fees for the development of the cloud based software they seem to want.

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Writing Advice

23 Comments to “10 Questions Answered by Writers on their Writing Life”

  1. So, the most popular genre among readers is only tbe *second* most popular among authors?

    Well, that would explain a lot, if true.

    Funny thing, listening to the establishment types you would think litfic is the most common choice among authors. 😉

    • This is a poll limited to a group I’d consider to be a very niche audience…

      This survey was completed by 740 writers who use one or more of our software applications for writers (Atomic Scribbler, SmartEdit and PageFour).

      …so to the extent it mirrors the wider community of writers, well, I have no idea. I can say it is software that ONLY runs on Windows, so by definition you’re excluding anyone using Linux or the Mac OS or a Chromebook. For those not in the know, PageFour/and its successor Atomic Scribbler are basically a free competitor to Scrivener. Apparently the business model at this point is to try and hook you to Atomic Scribbler and then get you to pay for SmartEdit.

  2. Reading the whole article was interesting. They have a clear understanding of the main biases in their respondents, but I still found it amusing (in some sense) that in their several lists of software used by writers, Pages didn’t show up once. Nor did Vellum. And Scrivener for IOS only from a single answer (if I read the text properly). I guess those responding were definitely inured to using Word for their final formatting; Indesign and similar products (like Vellum) didn’t seem to show up either.

    That last was hinted, I suppose, by the comment that many products are marketed only as ‘first draft’ (DWS grins maniacally), so perhaps the users here go elsewhere for formatting, or didn’t consider that ‘writing’.

    Still, I thought the time spent was well-spent. Thanks, PG, and Bill.

  3. “58% of writers still use Microsoft Word as a regular part of their writing toolkit.”

    Microsoft (R) Word 2000 (9.0.2720) in my case, still loads/works under Windows 7. Used as the ‘main’ part of my writing toolkit.

    “The biggest stumbling block we see with building cross-platform software for writers that fully utilises central cloud storage is marrying the reluctance of consumers (writers) to pay a monthly or yearly fee for their software with the necessity of such recurring fees for the development of the cloud based software they seem to want.”

    Yeah, We’re having trouble conning them into not only trusting us but paying us for that trust.

    “Our own new software, Atomic Scribbler, specifically warns against working on a project from within a cloud folder, as corruption of the project can happen easily in such an environment.”

    Or if you actually do use more than one device you use one ‘storage device’ for your current ‘in work’ – and dated copies in the systems/devices used, that way if something happens to the current in use device the other(s) still have the last thing they did (and unless you’re time stamping/dating your files you can corrupt things in the cloud just as easily as you can at your devices.)

    • For all the flack Word gets in some circles it has a lot of advantages, starting with near total customizability and ubiquity. Lots of useful templates out there.

      Including the ones from Amazon/KDP.

      And when it comes to cloud support it integrates well with the free tiers of Cloud storage systems. Even Word 2010/2003 (my active installs.)

      Lots of people find it fits their workflows just fine.

      I’m waiting to see how Word2019 plays out–they’re adding more customizability yet and reportedly an option to do without the ribbon, not just hide it (about time!). From time to time Office 365 tempts me (5TB of free cloud storage plus the latest Office for $79 or less a year) but I’ll probably just buy the disc version of Home Office. That’ll cover me for the next decade.

      I don’t *rely* on Cloud storage but as a supplement to my physical storage and external drive backups it has its uses, particularly on multiplatform solutions.

      I use OneDrive because it works on all my gadgets, XBOX included, and I can specify which files reside both on the local physical storage and in the cloud.

      I’m never far from whatever files I choose to upload. And its not as if I put anything sensitive up there.

      • I’ve ‘looked’ at some of the other options but never found a ‘must have’ bell or whistle that was worth the change. I have a ‘read only’ cloud site I save to – which means I have all the revisions in case I want to go back and add something I’d earlier dropped. (Added advantage was giving my beta readers access as they can – and do – point out plot holes before they get too deep to fill in/change. 😉 )


    • “The biggest stumbling block … is marrying the reluctance of consumers (writers) to pay a monthly or yearly fee for their software with the necessity of such recurring fees for the development of the cloud based software they seem to want.”

      That last sounds like he’s doubting that writers “really” mean it when we say we want cloud syncing. For myself, I have had no trouble staying within Dropbox’s free 2GB storage limit. And using the free storage that comes with Amazon Prime to backup my projects. Four different Scrivener novels, of which the largest one, with most of my research files in it, is about 70MB. The others are ~22MB.

      Plus, measured in KB, I have some Scrivener templates and a volunteer project I did for my church, design assets for a graphic designer I know, and design assets for a website I’m overhauling, etc. Two gigs are plenty, especially for a writer who only intends to sync ongoing projects, while archiving the finished projects elsewhere.

      With respect to Dropbox, Scrivener’s tech people specified that it’s the only cloud service that syncs properly with them, so I’m not going to be tempted to leave Dropbox any time soon. For several years I’ve have OneDrive (I like the old name, Skydrive, better) on both my machines, but I haven’t gotten around to setting it up yet. I’ll do that if I run into the free storage issue with backing up to Amazon, but right now I don’t have a use case scenario for OneDrive. I have even less of a use case for the OP’s cloud venture. What problem would I be solving?

      Whatever these guys are trying to do, I’m puzzled that they seem to have started without knowing how writers work to begin with. Of course we use more than one device! Why would we want to restrict ourselves to only being able write when we’re at a specific location?

      And a lot of Word users are writers on a budget, so the OP & Co. should be thinking hard about what they could offer that OneDrive and DropBox don’t. Forget building their own, because third party compatibility is the way to go here. I refuse to use Adobe Cloud, so I stopped at their CS6 Creative Suite. I won’t pay a subscription to access my own work. File that under “happen, ain’t gonna.”

      • They’re trying to make money on solutions that writers aren’t actually seeing as a problem.

      • I liked Skydive better too but what can you say?
        Murdocks. European courts. Eeevile Microsoft.

  4. I keep wondering why there are only two ways of categorizing people who write: “professionals rather than wannabe writers or dreamers.” As someone who’s written and self-published a small handful of novels, and always has several pieces in progress, I don’t consider myself either one. I’m certainly not a “wannabe” or a dreamer. But I don’t write to popular tastes, and I don’t put much effort into promotion because I’m not trying to make a living from it.

    • Same here. 😉

      But they can’t say ‘all levels/types of writers’ because they wanted a writer reading this silly thing to consider themselves a ‘professional’ – one that ‘must have/needs’ their stuff in order to be able to consider themselves a professional.

      It’s an advertising gimmick – like too many so-called surveys that the lead-in questions are to try to get you to say what they want on the key questions.

    • Because they don’t think they can make money off anybody else.
      Established professionals because they can afford what they’re peddling if they think it can help their workflow, and dreamers because they can be counted on to buy anything annointed by the establishment.

  5. This item started me thinking about how much computers have become document sharing devices in addition to document preparation. I often start with paper notes or drafts. I think I use more printer paper for handwriting than for printing. Until I begin editing, a project usually stays on paper.

    My writing group used to exchange paper copies, but we haven’t done that for years. Sharing links and using Word comments and mark up has become our de facto sharing method.

    I used to go through a case of paper a year, but the one I bought in 2014 still has a few reams left. We have one printer in the house and it is used mostly for printing out recipes. (I’ve tried cooking from a tablet, but I’m too messy for that.)

    I’ve used Word since the 80s and it is all the word processing software I need. Other people seem to have trouble using it for formatting ebooks, but I find it trouble free. I’ve tried Scrivener, but I couldn’t see that it added anything I wanted. For all round usefulness and ubiquity, Word is my choice. The stylus mark up functionality is improving steadily with every update and it works well for document sharing.

    Dropbox versioning has saved my bacon several times when I’ve inadvertently overwritten or deleted stuff I intended to keep. And it’s great for keep devices synchronized, if I remember to close documents when a work session on a device ends. Word document merge comes in handy when I mess up and have conflicting copies.

    Everyone’s mileage varies.

    • “… if I remember to close documents when a work session on a device ends.”

      The number one data killer right there. One place I was working the boss opened a document that needed updating, did a couple lines and got called away for meetings. One of the other techs opened the same doc, changed what needed changing and saved it. At the end of the day the boss was in his office just long enough to save his open docs before shutting his system down for the day – overwriting the tech’s saved doc …

      This and a couple other events got (some) people keeping a local save as well as doing a ‘save as’ with a new name or at least a time/date in the name.

      • “Save as” has become part of my DNA.

        • That, and I hope not using the default ‘save’ locations for most programs. Every con-man/virus maker out there knows everything important is saved in the ‘My Documents’ folder.


        • Here.
          Plain save every 15 minutes, autosave or no autosave.
          New numbered save after every session.
          And proud of it.

        • Adding a date-timestamp to every file name used to be in my DNA too, but I have to admit that since I began using Dropbox, I’ve quit bothering, which is probably a trap for the rare occasions when I don’t use Dropbox…

          Dropbox can be very helpful. When conflicting copies of a file are saved, it automatically writes both, adding a conflicted flag to the conflicted file name. If it happens to be a Word doc, the Word merge is easy and fast for resolving the conflicts.

          With Dropbox, you have to work to prevent it from saving a local copy on each of your synced devices. If one of your synced devices has low storage capacity (think phone), the option of not syncing a local copy of large files saves the day.

          Also, in the cloud, Dropbox keeps all versions saved within the last 30 days from whatever source and I like their interface for posting links to versions stored in the cloud.

          For me, Dropbox handles these issues more conveniently than any alternative I’ve used, and I’ve used a number of them.

    • My laser printer just became unusable. HP LASERJET 5L. Heh.
      (It still prints but the text is out of focus.)

      I don’t think I’ll bother replacing it.
      I still have half a ream I bought eight years ago.
      (How time flies. Must be FTL.)

      OfficeMax is more cost effective for the little printing I’m doing these days.

      • My latest discovery: when one of my beta readers requested a paper copy, I found that I could get a 300+ page ms printed as a bound proof by CreateSpace drop-shipped for about half of what FedEx would charge for printing loose sheets and I would still have to pay shipping. I hope that doesn’t change with the CreateSpace transition.

    • Almost forgot.
      Two of my author friends swear by (not at) Word TTS as an editing tool. Both for typos and cadence.

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