I want to take a break from navel-gazing (an occupational hazard, I swear) to offer something a little more concrete and useful.
There are a million tools for writers out there. For the most part, I ignore them. People chatter about Scrivener, but I plug away at my drafts in Word, crafting Excel spreadsheets that lay out detailed plans for scenes and stricter (and yes, that’s before writing—I’m very far on the “outlining” side of the spectrum!). I sign up for Novlr and then don’t even use it (I do plan to, for my next novel). I once had a brief flirtation with yWriter that lasted about one chapter of a now-defunct manuscript (novel 2). I read posts about the Hemingway app or distraction-free writing apps, but then I click the X and continue in my ways.
It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with the use of these tools. Writing can be painful as hell and whatever helps that process is a good thing. I am not a Luddite who insists that truly great novels must be written by quill via the light of a kerosene lamp, because seriously, fuck those people. Just someone who is loath to mess with their own system—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you might say.
But as much as I love my Word/Excel setup, I haven’t enjoyed the way I keep track of relevant information for my novels. I do some world-building before writing, sketching out details that are important to the plot and characters, usually in my catch-all writing notebook. But once I start writing, I constantly have to expand that, and I don’t usually have that notebook with me. My system for that was a notepad text document, adding random details as they come up. Inefficient and definitely open for improvement!
I cannot remember who originally brought this to my attention, only that it was mentioned in passing on some thread or another on Absolute Write. And it stuck with me, that mention, because it sounded like a potential solution for my world-building problem. I wrote down the name on my to-do list and eventually got around to checking it out: WikidPad.
WikidPad is a free, open source wiki software. Basically it is a digital notebook where I can jot down ideas and—very importantly—link those ideas together with merely a keystroke. It is easy to install and use, at least on a basic level. I am sure there is functionality that I’m not using, but it works for what I use it for. Every character gets a page, linked to the other characters they are related to, linked to their homes or groups, linked to whatever ideas I want. I can store facts about world-building locations or weird quirks about monetary systems. It’s searchable and sortable. And it’s not an online tool, so once you download and install it, you can work offline.
There are likely dozens of equivalent tools out there. I haven’t really looked into it, to be honest. I stumbled across this one, and it works for me. So I thought I would share this little gem, just in case it fills a niche for you too!
Screenshot of my wiki for novel 7.