1. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    Writing Tools

    Discussion in 'Software' started by Spacer, Jan 18, 2011.

    I write using a word processor on a computer. Although I'm also an aficionado of pens like the one at the top of this web page, it's simply not productive. I type best at a proper set desk with a high quality keyboard: I fondly recall my Keytronics KB-101Pro which I wore down the plastic keycaps on, and currently use an older model Das Keyboard.

    However, I'm doing a lot of creative work in the living room, not the office. I'm using a Lay-Z-Boy sofa and a laptop computer on a padded lap desk, and listening to music on the room's sound system. The flat keyboard is no match for the real thing, but it's less "work-like" and comfortable for working out ideas.

    What I'd like to discuss is the word processing tool itself. I'm using a word processor, not a programmer's text editor, because I want the spell checking and wrapping and other "paragraph like" features. I also like to see and read what I wrote compactly on the limited screen space but highly readable. What constitutes "readable" is the same thing that book makers do!

    So, having to pan my head from side to side to read very long lines is not good. I set my page size to be that of a normal hard-bound book, and used this as my exemplar. It is very well produced and higher quality than most mass-market books you find these days.

    I said I started with that, and indeed I used it as a starting point. My font is wider than the "times" style that is known for being rather condensed. My signature font has always been Bookman. I absolutely detest how Microsoft's "Times New Roman" looks on the screen, and find it only acceptable on very high end printouts. So, I made the lines wider, to hold about the same number of words on a line as in that book. My screen is not real-world sized, as I zoom the page 10 or 20% anyway. So physical measurements don't matter: I want the result to be the right size at this distance on this screen as I sit here.

    I'd just as soon do without page breaks, as I do with programming and web page writing, as I don't plan to print it like this anyway and I'm just preparing raw text, not determining its publication-ready formatting. But, Open Office Writer doesn't have an "infinite" setting for page length.

    Meanwhile, I want to eventually prepare the text for consumption. Publishers might want the double-spaced thing. I can change the styles in the document and get the needed result. But is there a tool that will do that at the press of a button? Maybe some set of macros or templates?

    Likewise, for test reading among my circle of friends, rather than submission editors, I'd output a PDF or ePub file to make it pleasant for them to read, and look as good as professionally published material.

    In the old days, there were no WYSIWYG word processors and preparing text was similar to preparing programs: Type the text in a plain file, then run a processing system over it to produce the final output. Feed it different templates or options, and get different results. I've used TeX, for example.

    So... what I really want is a combination of the two. Type and edit a pageless system that, like a "liquid" web page, will flow to whatever size I make the window, and show basic formatting like headings and italics in real-time as I edit.

    Include features I'm used to from programming editors, such as bookmarks.

    Then, have a series of buttons for "rendering", where I can produce plain text with required markup for italics and indicating breaks, or RTF, or PDF, or print out using the 19th century typewriter look.

    Now another feature I get with my programming source code is revision control. You might not be familiar with it, but it a necessary tool for programming. I like git in particular, right now.

    Say I made some minor edits while proofing, or change a name everywhere. I can record the old and new versions and see the delta of what I did, if I want to review that later.

    Or, what made me think about it, is when I started out writing a novel and discovered a short story lurking within. I'll want to change parts of the story: trim down stuff that is needed as part of the larger story, fill in some more or different foreshadowing, and bring together elements from the short end back up through the short telling.

    But, I want to keep the old stuff to, in case the rest of the novel comes to term. That is, there are two versions that branch. But, other fixes I want to be sure to incorporate back into the original. In short revision management is a useful thing to have, in general.

    So, the editing/prep tool should save its files, not like word processors typically do, but in a way that the version control system can understand and show its full potential.

    Wishful thinking?
    What tools are available?
     
  2. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    If you work in text-only files then you can still get your font renderings just right, and then use something along the lines of Subversion maybe?
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i hope you realize that despite whatever format you prefer to work in, you'll need to convert the work to standard ms format/font before submitting to agents, editors, or publishers...
     
  4. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    That's what I was talking about. I spent several paragraphs on it, in fact. Am I not understandable to those not familiar with software development tools or non-WYSIWYG document preparation?

    I asked about using macros or templates in OpenOffice to do exactly that, in particular!

    Since this is a writing forum, it seems appropreate to wonder why your reply seems to me at first impression like you didn't read what I was saying at all. Assuming that's not in fact what happened, the question becomes: what is it about my post that made it completely not understandable? But you didn't say you didn't understand it, so what do you think it said? I'm used to writing for other software developers, and talk about such things with friends and co-workers too, so I'm not aware of what other people might think of this terminology. Or perhaps there is some deep-seated preconceptions about how computers are used?



    To summarize:

    • Ergonomic on-screen typing and editing
    • internal saved file format is conducive to existing revision control systems
    • Can output to various prepared formats, including:
      • Printed output for hard-copy submissions
      • Outputs used by various submission systems (RTF, text, etc.)
      • ePUB and PDF for reviewers and self-publishing
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use plain text files for my writing. I create a folder for every story, and put the date at the beginning of the file name to keep track of the different revisions:

    2011-01-19a The eyes of The Beholder.txt

    All my writing is synced to DropBox, an online storage service (you get 2 GiB for free). Then I can bring up the file on my laptop, my iPhone, or anything else that has Internet access.

    On Windows, I edit the text files with Wordpad. On Linux, I use the text editor that's installed by default on Ubuntu. On my iPhone, I use an app called PlainText.

    If and when I'm ready to submit my story, I copy/paste it into a Word document. I've made a template with the formatting editors require.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    exactly!... all of that is worse than greek to me, since i do know some bits of greek! ;-)
     
  7. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    You might try using a revision control system instead of separate files. Besides using less space, it can show you just what changed between any two versions.
     
  8. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    WinMerge has good diff capabilities between text files.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    To be honest I find Open Office works perfectly well for everything I need. The kind of package I would like to do my writing would be impractical.

    I email and use dropbox to save copies and use descriptive file names.
     

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