1) Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/)
I found Google Docs several years ago, and have been using it religiously ever since. Google Docs is a simple online office suite that can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It can even export to .doc, etc. I used Google Docs to write The Ledger Domain.
The documents in Google Docs are stored online and are accessible anywhere with an internet connection. This is a GREAT feature. Going to your in-laws’ house for a few days? No need to take the laptop with you. If they have a PC you can use with an internet connection, then you can access your files and work on your book. Do they have a Mac (*shudder*) or a cheap PC without MS Word on it? No problem! All they need is a web browser, and any of them will do.
Be aware that they do limit the size of each file, so you can only put five or ten chapters in each document. Of course, you should be doing that anyway. Large files can corrupt easily, and it would be terrible to lose the entire novel!
Another great thing about Google Docs is versioning. Heather mentioned the benefits of saving multiple versions of your document with all your changes. Well, Google Docs does this automatically, and it’s easy to roll back to a previous version, copy that paragraph you want to retrieve, or even compare the versions to see what you’ve changed.
One final thing about Google Docs. It is easy to share your manuscript with friends and family. I had several people that were reading my book as I wrote it. I didn’t like the idea of just sending my files out into the nexus, even though I obviously trusted my friends. With Google Docs, you can share your documents with anyone with a Google Account, but they can’t resend it, as it’s stored in a secure location. When I did this, I typically waited until I’d completed a chapter, and then copied that file and created a new one, and then shared the chapter with my friends, preserving the one I work from so that I could make additional edits, etc. You can even just allow them to “view” the document, so that it appears like a web page, and they can’t edit it or make changes.
It’s a great tool, and it’s served me well.
2) Microsoft Office Live Workspaces (http://workspace.office.live.com/)
This tool is similar in many ways to Google Docs, only by Microsoft. It is a latecomer to the game, but it is a great and powerful tool. It offers versioning and sharing, just like Google Docs, and lets you store and edit your files. The one thing it doesn’t have (yet) is online editing ability. This is coming, but currently Live Workspaces only works with Microsoft Word (or other MS Office files). However, there are advantages to this.
To use Live Workspaces, you need to have a small app on the computer that allows Workspaces to work with MS Office. Then, when you click “Edit” in the Workspaces website, it will open the file in Word.
Alternately, you can download the Office Live toolbar for MS Office. If you are like me, you don’t like downloading extensions to your applications, but this one is a great one! When you have the toolbar, you don’t have to reopen the Workspaces website (unless you’re at your in-laws again... man, you visit them a lot, don’t you?). The Office Live toolbar has an Open dropdown and a Save dropdown, which lets you choose the workspace you want to open the file from or save the file to. So, Office Live becomes shared internet storage, only with built-in versioning and sharing. It is part on-line storage and part file management.
I have been using this more recently, mainly because it has only been around recently. However, the workflow I adopted has been to finish my first draft in Google Docs. It doesn’t have the grammar checker, which I don’t use for the first draft anyway. When I’m in “writing mode” for that first draft, it’s good to just be able to get it down, and Google Docs is great for that. However, once it is time to really get down and polish, I move to Office Live. I can format into manuscript format, edit the grammar and style, etc.
3) Online Storage
Speaking of online storage, if you haven’t saved a copy of your manuscript onto some sort of online storage location, you really need to. An online storage site will give you a few gigabytes of online storage where you can upload files and access them from anywhere. I don’t use online storage as part of my regular workflow, but I do use it as a backup. The one I use is owned by Microsoft, so you can bet that it is less likely that their memory is going to be lost than the files on your home hard drive. It’s a smart idea to make sure your manuscript is saved in multiple locations so that you always have a backup.
I use Skydrive (http://skydrive.live.com/), which you can use if you have a MS Live account. A simple Google search for free online storage will give you many others.
Wow, Kyle! These are some great tools. I wasn't aware of Google Doc's versioning or sharing capabilities. I'll definitely be checking all these features out now. Thanks!