Creative writing using Notepad++

2020-08-26

How I do my writing

I use Windows for my writing. This may seem heretical given how many writers swear by their Macs, but whilst I have a MacBook Air 2020 with the fixed keyboard, my Lenovo S730 and ThinkPad 13 both have vastly better ones and are much more comfortable for long-duration typing.

I also prefer the look and feel of Windows 10 and Linux Mint over the dated OSX interface, but that’s a personal choice.

Anyway, I do most of my writing in Notepad++. It’s free, open source, light on resources, fast, and extensible.

Whilst being designed originally for coders, with one small addition it works great for writing too - that addition being a highlighter for creative writers.

What do I mean by this?

Coders use programming languages (like Python for example) and editors like Notepad++ have built-in and plugin options to highlight the various bits of text, numbers, instructions, etc, that combine to make up code. Each programming language has a different highlighter to cope with the language’s uniqueness.

Screenshot of the Notepad++ Prose highlighter in use We can leverage that to make life easier for writing. To do that I’ve created a prose highlighter. If you’re unfamiliar with prose, think of it as the opposite of poetry. Basically treat it as meaning normal writing (articles, books, blogs, and so on). There’s a screenshot of what this looks like in use to the side, or click here to see a full size version.

What the Notepad++ Prose highlighter offers

There’s more detail, including how to add it to your machine, at the Github page. Don’t worry, it just involves downloading a single file. There’s nothing tech-like needed.

  • dialogue is subtly coloured and italicised
  • numbers are emboldened
  • comments can be done - in four different ways
    • // comments out the remainder of the line
    • -- comments out the remainder of the line
    • # comments out the remainder of the line
    • /* and */ will comment out just the enclosed text
  • chapters and scenes, with the ability to fold them up for easy navigation
    • CHAPTER or SCENE designates a new one, and END marks it’s end
  • BOOK, CHAPTER, TITLE, AUTHOR, ISBN, PUBLISHER, PUBLISHED, SERIES, SEQUENCE, COVER, COPYRIGHT, GENRE, SYNOPSIS
    • These are all highlighted, but have no function beyond that. For my own purposes I expect lines of book metadata where each is one of these tags followed by a value.
    • The file sample-text.prose in Github is a more complete example showing all of these tags.

Here’s the example text that relates to the screenshot shown above.

BOOK Some example Lorem Ipsum
AUTHOR K Cartlidge
PUBLISHER K Cartlidge

# This is a sample file only.

CHAPTER One - Sample text

SCENE 1st para of text

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod
tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. "Ut enim ad minim
veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea
commodo consequat." Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate
velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat
cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim
id est laborum.

END

SCENE 2nd para

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium
doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore
veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim
ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia
consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt.
"Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur,
adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore
et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis
nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid
ex ea commodi consequatur?" Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea
voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem
eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

END

Final thoughts

If you’re doing your writing in Notepad++ then you’ll get simple, fast, powerful editing. However you don’t get the extra structural and export stuff that comes with Scrivener for example.

Personally I have no issue with that. I’m using plain text files in a cloud-backed folder on my local machine, one per chapter.

It’s very easy to take that content and put it into another tool with copy/paste or import, whether that be Scrivener, Office, or similar. That small overhead at the end of the process is more than made up for by the streamlined writing that comes before.