Last summer when I participated in the Fast Draft challenge on Candy Haven's yahoo group, I happened upon a post where someone was raving about yWriter. I googled it and found spacejock.com and all his cool programs. They are freeware and amazing tools.
yWriter and yBook were my first downloads and I absolutely love these programs. Both have made my writing life so much easier.
yWriter is a great project manager for your writing and a valuable tool for any writer who feels overwhelmed by the process of getting their whole story down. I'll try and explain a little of how it works and why I love it so much.
First off, you create a project (novel) in the program. You fill in the name of the project (novel) and your name as the author. Then, using the menu bar, you can add chapters to your project. The default number is 25, but you can change this. There are three panes in the project window and on the left pane, you'll see all your chapters show up with their word counts (zero, of course, when you start). Yous you fill these chapters up, you'll see your word count per chapter. This is a great way to set goals for yourself.
Click on a chapter, use the menu bar to add a scene (or three). You can add as many scenes as you like per chapter. When you click on a chapter in the left pane, in the top right pane the scenes in that chapter are listed. To edit the scenes you can double click them to open up the text box where you can actually write the scene. At the bottom of the box are tabs with all sorts of great options to help your writing along. In fact, one of the things I love about yWriter is you can track which version of the scene you are working on (outline, 1st draft, 2nd draft, etc), which character's POV it is; the goal, conflict, and outcome of the scene; and all sorts of other good stuff.
Kingmonkey asked how I managed my first draft from moviesonline and fanfiction.net when I rewrote it. Well, I made a new project in yWriter, added a bunch of chapters, made empty scenes in each chapter, then began cutting and pasting each entry from the forums into their own scene. This enabled me to get a good handle on the story right away. I could clearly see the breakdown of each chapter and how the scenes all fit together. I even dragged a few scenes around, added a few, etc, without having to do the continuous formating you have to in Word.
I also made sure to build my character database where I included their physical descriptions, a photo of what I thought they looked like, and a basic personality write up.
It's a program that is a little intimidating at first, but once you figure out how it works, it makes your writing life so freaking productive. The best part is that you can export your project and edit it in Word or Openoffice once you're done with the novel. yWriter isn't an editing tool, but a writing tool. You'll need to use Word or Openoffice to run spell check or grammar checks.
One of the things I love about the program is that if you want to skip a scene and get onto another one that is hot on the tip of your fingers, you can write a short description of the scene you want to write later and skip onto the one you want to write NOW.
I have mad love for this program and I love its companion program, yBook, where you can load up your manuscript and read it like its a paperback on your screen. Being able to visualize your writing in novel form in yBook makes it easier to read for editing purposes (you can't edit it in yBook, but you can have it running in Word or Openoffice behind yBook to fix up anything that needs tweaking). Plus seeing your manuscript looking like a paperback is a big inspiration.
I am very serious about my writing and I think yWriter is the best program out there. I can't imagine writing without it.
Check out yWriter 4 here http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter4.html and give yourself a few hours to get accustomed to it. This is a great user guide to get you started http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter4_Quickstart.html
Once you start using it, I don't think you'll want to stop.