The Right Tool For The Job: Dabble Writer

When I signed up for NaNoWriMo last year I decided to take a chance on a brand new writing platform. I had tried several, including Scrivener (too complicated), Apollopad (unreliable), and one which was so relentlessly awful I can’t being myself to name and shame it.

As I write in various locations and on several different devices, my main priority was finding a platform that allowed me to save my work to a remote server, something I had been waiting in vain for Scrivener to provide for years.

Fortunately, I found just such an application was one of NaNoWriMo’s sponsors for 2017, a new platform called Dabble. Usually I’m a bit wary of being a pioneer for a new piece of software. I prefer to wait until other users have identified the major bugs before I bog myself down in frustration, but this time I figured, why the hell not? I could always resort to pen and paper if it all went wrong. And besides, the creators of Dabble were providing a free month long trial for everyone who signed up during NaNoWriMo. Count me in, I said.

Well, I’ve been using Dabble now since the end of October, and what a wonderful experience it has been. Sure there were one or two kinks to iron out. What new piece of software wouldn’t have those? But the guys at Dabble understand good customer service and are pretty quick to respond, even though they’re a small team and must require sleep at some point.

In terms of Dabble’s functionality, it’s simplicity may not appeal to devotees of Scrivener, but that’s exactly what I love about it. It does share the same project ‘tree’ layout, with individual scenes nested inside chapter folders, and separate branches for characters and world building, but it’s very much on a no frills basis. There are no fancy cork boards or index card graphics, just simple backgrounds and text boxes in a plain, grey colour scheme which is wonderfully easy on a tired writer’s eyes.

Where Dabble really did blow it’s competitors out of the water for me though, was the plot grid function. I was never able to get to grips with it in Scrivener, and Apollopad doesn’t have one at all. In Dabble, plot lines can be arranged as columns, with individual plot points dropped in at the relevant point in the overall narrative. Best of all, it required no tutorial to get the hang of the interface. Anyone who has arranged their desktop icons using drag and drop will get it. Perfect for complexity challenged people like me.

Then there’s the actual writing interface itself, which is wonderfully minimal, not unlike writing on a blank piece of paper. Dabble does simple formatting for you as you write, and has an auto-save function that saves your work to the cloud on a regular basis, making sure you don’t lose anything. It also means that whatever you write is instantly available on any other device, whether you’re using the Dabble desktop app, or accessing the platform via your web browser. This is an absolute must for me.

Dabble’s creators are adding new functionality all the time. A post NaNoWriMo progress tracker has just come online and I love it. You specify your total word count and the day you’d like to finish on and Dabble automatically works out a daily word limit for you. Like it’s predecessor, the NaNoWriMo tracker, you can even use the calendar function to book ‘days off’.

There are some functions which most writer’s would consider vital, which are currently still in development. A spell checker for the desktop version for instance, but Dabble’s creators are nothing if not transparent about their development process. All the upcoming functionality is listed on the website with it’s place in the programmer’s queue. Users can even upvote the development ideas they would like to see most.

Access to Dabble is on a subscription basis – there’s no licence fee – and new users can take advantage of a 14 day trial. If you find other platforms frustrating, dull or simply not suited to the way you write I recommend giving Dabble a try. It’s been an enormously enjoyable experience so far and after three months of regular use, during which I’ve been more productive than ever, I certainly won’t be using anything else.

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