Posted by on Oct 18, 2010 in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Playwriting | 4 comments

An example of a document in Google Docs

An example of a document in Google Docs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s lots of fancy novel writing software out there. Open Office and Microsoft Word are also some of the best known of the word processors out there. But a writer’s best friend is Google Docs.

If you’ve never used Google Docs, it has several big things to recommend it. Namely:

  1. It’s free.
  2. It’s everywhere.
  3. It works just like the word processing program that you are already used to.
  4. Even the free account comes with a ton of space, room for thousands of documents.
  5. It auto-saves as you write so it’s almost impossible to “lose” work.

Sure, if you’ve never used Google Docs before, it’ll take you a few minutes to upload all your documents and, if you are OCD about formatting, not all of it will carry over. But the advantages of the program outweigh these by far. If you’re a writer, let me break down why Google Docs is a writer’s best friend:

  1. You have access to everything, everywhere. How many times have you found yourself with a little extra time on your hands only to curse the luck: you forgot your work in progress on that other computer? Everywhere you have access to the internet, you have access to your entire Google Docs library so there are no more excuses. You always have your work at your fingertips. For challenges like NaNoWriMo or just anyone trying to fit writing in around a day job, this is a huge lifesaver. When you have access to your writing everywhere, you tend to do work on it more often and those minutes here, minutes there really starts to add up to getting more writing done. This is also really useful if you don’t have your own computer or use multiple computers.
  2. The near infinite memory they offer makes for the perfect writing back-up system. When you first sign up, take a minute to upload every single text document on your computer and be amazed what a wee little bit of the space they give you it takes. Convert them all to Google Docs format and they’ll take up even less space. Not only is every document in your life at your fingertips everywhere (see #1), next time you have an epic computer crash, you won’t lose a single written word. Even if you still prefer to use novel writing software or a word processor, I’d still recommend converting them to RTF and uploading to Google Docs as a back-up. Your words are precious, take any advantage you can to back them up.
    I also find that this large amount of space gives me more freedom while editing. Rather than hem and haw over whether to change something, I just make a copy of my story before editing so, no matter how big a change I make, the old version is still saved in the original should I find myself needing it later.
  3. Makes it easy to find and organize your writing. If you’re like me, you’ve had that moment when you’re desperate to find this one scene you wrote but you can’t remember what you called it, what the characters’ name was or when you saved it but you are 100% sure someone in it says, “Blatherbits!” Google Docs, as you would imagine, comes standard with Google search which makes finding parts of writing very easy, even if you don’t remember the details of the file. In the example above, I can search the content of every single document for a single line I remember and find my scene quickly with no more info than that. By the same token, this features makes it very easy, when editing, to find the phrases you use too often or to easily change a character name or other details through many files.
    The other great feature are the folders which operate more like labels. This means that you can have a single file inhabit more than one folder at a time. So a file could, say, be in the Book Title, NaNoWriMo and Rough Drafts folders all at once. You’d find it no matter which folder you looked in and can always move it around later as needed.  So, I could move it to the Second Drafts folder once I finished editing it but it would still stay in the other two folders with no issue.
  4. Sharing, editing and collaborating. Like to let your close friends read your work in process but not everyone? Want to give your beta readers instant access to your story so then can critique it right away? The “Share” button gives you a host of options for sharing your work with others. Decide who can access your work (with many levels from only you to the whole world, depending on what you need) and what they can do with it (only read it, edit it, print it, etc). You can also let multiple readers track changes which is perfect for critique groups.

The good folks behind Google Docs come out with new services and advancements all the time so it is constantly improving. While I understand some people are used to a certain software, I highly recommend giving it a try, even if just as a back-up service.

Have you used Google Docs in the past? What features worked best for you?