Dabble - My New Favourite Writing Tool
I suspect most writers keep one eye out for something that’s going to improve their productivity and make their writing lives easier. Even the best authors are distraction-prone, and the current coronavirus crisis is making things worse. It’s one thing to work from home of your own accord with the possibility of a tantalising trip to your favourite café to sustain you: it’s something else altogether when it’s just you and the blank page. And the internet. And games. And everything else.
At the beginning of lockdown, I began to struggle with my focus just as most people did. Once I’d gone through the final edits, proofing and release of Such Crooked Wood, it definitely got worse. With no deadline in sight, I had to force myself to write. I’d resolved to finish a first draft I started during NaNoWriMo 2015 that was around 15,000 words, but I couldn’t see myself completing it unless I changed my style of working. So, I did what any writer who’s procrastinating about their writing does – I procrastinated by comparing different writing tools.
I first encountered Dabble on a Facebook ad and clicked through (this isn’t usual behaviour for me, so the ad must’ve been brilliant). What attracted me to the software was that it operates as a pared-down version of Scrivener. While I see all the benefits of Scrivener and I do use it for non-fiction work, it just doesn’t work for my fiction processes. Dabble brings the ability to storyboard your novel into focus alongside an uncluttered writing interface. Let me show you what I mean.
In the screenshot below you can see my storyboard for the third book in my Valerie Series (hopefully without too many hints about what’s going to happen). On the left of the main panel the book scenes are listed and to the right are all the different plot strands I’m trying to keep track of. I can add blocks into all of those to make notes about what’s happening and clicking into any block will bring up a notepad where I can make more detailed notes about that scene or that plot point.
Goal setting is an important feature of writing software for me. In the past, I’ve used cumbersome spreadsheets which I’ve invariably forgotten to update and that means I have no real visual on how I’m doing with my goals and what I need to finish on time. Dabble’s goal setting pane is on the right side of the screen, showing your daily total and 30-day rolling totals (on this project and any others you’ve been working on). It’s easy to set up and keeps me motivated to reach my goal.
The most vital element of any writing software is, of course, the writing canvas. I wanted something uncluttered and that’s what I got. The below screenshot shows the writing canvas with the side panes visible, but you can set them to auto fade or switch to focus mode using the little eye in the bottom right corner. I usually combine this with the full screen function so there’s absolutely nothing on my screen but the text.
I won’t go into the rest of Dabble’s features in detail, but you can keep notes on characters and your story world in separate folders, set your formatting preferences from a small selection of fonts and, crucially, you can export your documents as Word documents or text files. It’s also a platform which is intent on growing – read about their long-term plans here.
There’s a dark mode, spell check, and it’s available on any computer or mobile device through its apps. It auto-syncs, and the only problem I’ve occasionally run into is that I sometimes have to exit the application and restart because my internet connection has glitched when I’m in the garden.
So, you’ve got to this point and you know there’s a catch. It’s this – Dabble isn’t a free resource, nor would I expect it to be given how much it’s already helped me as a writer.
There are three plans charged on a monthly basis at $10, $15 and $20 but these are currently reduced by $5 each as Dabble offer support to struggling writers during coronavirus. Paying annually will garner a 20% discount and there’s also a 14-day free trial to see if the software’s right for you.
I’ve gone straight down the middle and signed up to the Standard plan (locked in at $10 a month for the lifetime of my subscription). This includes all the features I’ve discussed in this blog including the plot grids and focus mode which aren’t available on the Basic plan. I don’t feel I need the extra features in the Premium plan, but they’ll be useful for others.
I can see myself working with Dabble for a long time. Finally, I’ve found something that works for me and there aren’t any excuses left – I’ve got to get writing!
Complete disclosure: I have no affiliation with Dabble and I haven’t been given anything for this review. I’m just a happy customer motivated to write about something that I’m impressed with.