What’s Up (Google) Doc?

Alright, let’s talk about Google Docs.

Until recently I’ve been a gung-ho MS Wordy and never considered any other option. Since 2001 when I bought my first laptop that came with a free copy of Word 2000, it’s all I’ve ever written in. Short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, and a healthy dollop of graphic design and web work. But in the last year or so I’ve found myself writing across more computers and burning myself time and again by not having the most recent copy of my manuscript on the computer I’m on at the time. I’ve been using GMail as a defacto cloud storage solution which worked well, but, as I said, if I didn’t remember to email myself a copy after every session I was screwed if I moved to another computer which is a killer for momentum. So that’s where I began in my exploration of Google Docs.

In theory it seems like the perfect situation. Do all my work on the cloud and never be held captive by local storage. But the first time I tried Google Docs when it was new left me with an icky aftertaste and I wasn’t sure I wanted anything else to do with it. But recently I’d been opening my attached documents right in GMail through Google Docs and I could tell it looked different. Also, a few writers I follow online had taken to using it more so I gave it another shot. I’m happy I did.

At first it was hard to get used to it not being exactly like Word. The word count in Google Docs doesn’t match up with Word’s and extensive formatting of an entire 300 page manuscript (changing the font or the spacing or the tabs, etc.) took FOREVER. But at the time I was only working on one chapter of my Dead Man entry and the one page synopsis which worked fine. As I worked on that document, I started to see more things in Docs that I liked. While it will never be a full replacement for Word, I see myself doing most of my writing in it for the near future.

Most of the big deal about Google Docs is made over it’s collaborative features. I don’t collaborate with anyone but myself so I could care less about those features. (Though I love anything that replaces Word’s godawful track changes feature). But two other features I love most are the comments boxes and the immediate save to the cloud. I’ll occasionally get ideas for things I want to do later in the manuscript but I’m a linear writer and don’t like to write later scenes until I get to them. So what I normally do is write up an email with the notes for later scenes and send them to myself. But now with Google Docs comment boxes I can add my thoughts right in the document without making the manuscript look weird. I see this being immensely useful in the revision process. I also like that the document is saved to the cloud with every keystroke, not just after large changes. Every time I read through a manuscript I find myself tweaking word choices or cutting a phrase here and there. Rarely do those changes make it to the current version though because I can’t justify the effort needed to save the document and email it to myself just for a couple of deleted words. Now I don’t have to. Whee. Really.

The true test though will be the next two weeks when I push to get the Murder Boy manuscript finished. I’ll be doing that all in Google Docs and after that I think I’ll have a better idea of how I see Docs playing into my long-term writing future. On a side note, I also tried the free Microsoft Office Web Apps and Skydrive but found them lacking. The Word app doesn’t have a word counting function (and that’s the only way I’ve found to actively encourage my productivity) and getting into documents from Skydrive has way too many layers to the process. I will be emailing a copy of the document at the end of each session (when I remember) to my Hotmail account which links to Skydrive because it seems dangerous to have my work strictly at the mercy of Google and their servers.