Today’s my birthday, so my gift to you is a recommendation of free software.
Poets get a bum rap for never having money (it’s true!), but that’s not why I’m recommending two free word processors today. And it’s not because poets are so anti-establishment we have to fight against Microsoft’s domination with alternatives to MS Word, though that may be a noble cause.
Even Apple with Pages (free with your Mac, so not exactly free) might be worth fighting against on those terms, but I don’t mind it as much as Word. Pages doesn’t do the things that bother me most about MS Word, so it might be a good alternative if you already own a Mac, but for the rest of the world (PC or even Linux users), there are a couple of great free options to Word. (Sorry Google, I’m not thinking about Docs!)
First, what’s so annoying about Word, especially for poets? I’ve always struggled with its default settings, which are geared to an office environment. For one, I always have to instruct my poetry students how to force Word to single-space their poems. They set it to single space, but Word thinks every new line is a new paragraph and every new paragraph needs to have extra space between it and the previous one. Can we spell business letter, anyone?
(There’s an easy trick to fix that, actually: edit your default document template to set your default font and paragraph spacing options. It will affect every new file, but most of us don’t mind. Or create a poem template that has your settings for poetry, so you can keep your business letter template as default, if you must.)
The other annoying habit of Word isn’t quite so easy to fix. Word likes to have a capital letter at the beginning of every new line. It apparently thinks it’s a new sentence as well as a new paragraph, so in order to turn this feature off, you have to turn off capitalization at the beginning of a sentence. But then all sentences are affected, not just the ones at the beginnings of lines that aren’t really the beginning of sentences.
So the quicker, easier, and perhaps more gratifying solution is to switch to OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Both are free, open source office suites that are perfectly stable and secure. They do everything Word does, but the don’t treat poets like business execs (or their assistants). You don’t have to do anything to get them to work the way you want. They work well for poets right out of the box!
Both also include a database program, which might be more useful for keeping track of submissions than Excel. I’m currently working on that, and if I get it to work, I’ll post about it later. They both also have spreadsheet applications and other common office suite apps.
From what I’ve read, OpenOffice and LibreOffice are virtually identical, though if you want to save your files in Word format, then LibreOffice is the way to go. Both will open files in and save to a number of different formats that Word can see, and OpenOffice can save to a .doc file, just not .docx (which many people hate), so if you want to look like you’re using the latest Word when you exchange files, then LibreOffice is probably the way to go. Otherwise, choose the one whose icon or interface you like best or flip a coin. You can’t go wrong with either word processor, and you will be thankful for the reduced number of headaches they cause you, esp. if you write poetry!
Or you can do like a lot of Instagram poets I’ve seen recently: buy an old typewriter, type your poems, take a picture (typos and all), and post it online!
5 thoughts on “Word Processors for Poets”
I’d used OpenOffice for years, when a year ago it started reformatting my poems & inserting strange gray squares between words. I’m not tech-word savvy, so much of the language used in various options is more Greek than Greek to me. I gave up, given life changes, then recently started writing again. Now I want to submit to a literary magazine, but all my poems are prisoners, skewed on the page. Can you help?!
I’m not sure what might be going on for you, but I have a couple of ideas. One is that there may be a font issue, so try changing to a common font such as Times New Roman to see if that makes a difference.
The other idea is the you could download LibreOffice, which tends to be updated more regularly. It will open any OpenOffice formatted files, since it uses the same format.
If those don’t work, I would try saving my a file in RTF, Word, or another format like Google Docs. That way, you can at least open the file in another program and access your text. But I bet that updating your OpenOffice or switching to LibreOffice will solve your issue (unless it is a font problem).
Thanks very much for your reply. I’ll try this.
If none of those ideas work, you might try describing you issue on the OpenOffice forum https://forum.openoffice.org/en/forum/viewtopic.php?t=47351
Someone there might be able to give a better answer. When you do, let them know what operating system (and the version) you’re using and what version of OpenOffice.