The New York Times Book Section has a nice article (account may be required) that looks into the phenomenon that while many professional writers avoid using technology to practice their craft the ones who do find it a big boon. The article looks at author Richard Powers and how he uses speech recognition on his Tablet PC to create not only email and correspondence but also his novels.
“As life becomes increasingly complex, the kind of novel that tries tolink the individual life with broad-canvas collective existence becomesmore difficult to coordinate,” Powers wrote in an e-mail message — orrather, dictated, since he uses the voice recognition software builtinto the Tablet PC operating system to compose everything, includinghis novels. Computer programs allow novelists “to build up dense andinterconnected views of the world they are recreating,” he added.
Powers also uses one of my favorite programs, Mindjet’s MindManager to create rich character outlines for his larger works. In the production of one of his recent novels he began his work by creating detailed mind maps for each character to flesh out his story:
For “The Echo Maker,” which won the National Book Award last year andis about a man who emerges from a coma without an emotional connectionto his intimates, Powers created a visual outline for each character.It included material on his or her “life history, personality traits,physical characteristics, verbal tics, professional and educationalbackground, choices and actions, attitudes and relations to the othercharacters,” he said. “As the material grew, I created topicalsub-branches and sub-sub-branches. … After many months, at the verytips of these increasingly articulated branches, I sometimes ended upwith sketches that plugged right into the draft.”
He does research for his projects using Microsoft OneNote which allows him to collect and organize all the material that he will likely use in his books. I love this guy already. :) I can attest to how these three programs Mr. Powers uses has improved and streamlined my own writing projects.