1. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Does anyone write in plain text files?

    Discussion in 'Writing Software and Hardware' started by archer88i, Jul 20, 2017.

    I'm a long time fan of Word, but I'm writing my most recent piece as markdown text, using the same editor I use for program code. This is mostly because version control systems (I'm using git) are awesome and don't like binary formats (like docx, rtf, and every other format ever used by every word processor on the planet). This change has necessitated some other changes in my workflow (for instance, I have no idea how to spellcheck this, and getting my word count is now a shell command), but I'm fairly happy with it so far.

    Not looking forward to the possibility of needing to convert my document in order to submit it anyplace. >.>

    Has anyone else tried this? If so, do you have any tips on that front?

    (I'm aware this is basically how Ulysses works under the hood.)
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I used to write almost exclusively in bbEdit, a Mac text editor. But I've very recently switched to Scrivener. (One could argue that Scrivener has features not entirely unlike a version control system.)

    But I have no tips to speak of.
     
  3. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Senior Member

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    Just a slight correction: .rtf is not a binary format; it is, essentially, plain text with complex formatting codes, but those are still somewhat human readable. And not all word processor use binary formats. LibreOffice uses XML, which is similar to .rtf in that the text as such (without the formatting) is still mainly as plain text in there. Mellel uses its own XML variant. But in both cases you could reconstruct the actual text with no more complex tool than a plain old simple text editor. It's a pain, but doable.

    That said, I understand why you want to avoid that. I like markdown a lot, too, because of its simplicity. There are a ton of markdown editors out there that do almost all whatever you want them to do. Each has its own quirks and specialties, but they all have the same basic markdown, so file transfer between them is a breeze (except for the specialist additions some of them have). Some include a spellchecker, a lot have word counters, and all have converters build in to export. They almost all export to HTML (for web publishing, where markdown originated), PDF, and a lot do e-book formats, .rtf, and Word etc. With preview, so you know what you get beforehand. So you could get a .doc for submission right out of them. Though a lot of publishers communicate manuscript changes through track changes with Word. I have been told that LibreOffice may work quite well for that if you want to avoid Word altogether, but I have not done that myself. So for the submission/publishing part you may need to bite the bullet and work with Word or LibreOffice for a while... (Yes, personally I think that Word format is pretty much the worst choice for that task imaginable, but there it is, and I don't know how to change that except keep bitching and moaning.)

    You don't write which OS you're on. I am on a Mac, and know pretty much only the field here to recommend stuff (BTW, on the Mac there's a system-wide spellchecker. While it is not the best, it's good enough for me in everyday usage, so that's a feature I typically don't look for). Some markdown editors for Mac I can recommend: 1) Markdown Pro, whose special feature is a live preview; 2) Byword, simple base level editor with an iOS counterpart (it's my main note-taking tool with sync from iPad to Mac and back); 3) Archimedes, which adds LaTeX-style math (very specialist feature). You already know about Ulysses (essentially, adds multiple file managing with a bit of tagging on the side. Kinda a base-level Scrivener.)
     
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  4. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Martin: docx is also xml, but the question is whether or not the git diffs make sense. :)
     
  5. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Oh, I use all three of the big operating systems. Primarily Windows and Mac.
     
  6. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Senior Member

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    Yeah, I know... :roll eyes: I was incomplete; Mellel and LibreOffice use PROPER .XML ;). Really, you can open the files with a plain text editor, and you'll see a bunch of [not nicely formatted] code which somehow makes sense but you'll need a big manual [which do exist properly for .mellel, .odt, and .rtf, as opposed to .docx] to fully understand, and somewhere deep down the file you'll see your text in clear readable ASCII (there's still some code in the text if you had formatting or some special characters -- Mellel, for instance, puts two full lines at each paragraph break, but if you knew the text, it was easy to figure out what that code was there for, even if you don't get all the details). Don't know how git would react to that. Again, just wanted to say it's not as bad as a pure or heavy binary format for document retention like Word's .docx or Pages' format where you're essentially toast if the original program doesn't work anymore (say, because you cancelled your Office 365 subscription.... ;) ).

    That said, I fully understand why you would want to go plain text/markdown. For a LOT of writing, the formatting markdown offers is more than enough, and a lot of the stuff that's coded in the more complex formats like .rtf is just overkill.

    Some additions to the markdown editors I mentioned: Markdown Pro only exports to PDF and HTML; Byword additionally to .rtf, .doc/.docx, and LaTeX. Ulysses exports to PDF, HTML, plain text, .docx, and ePub. Live-updating word counters are standard; being Mac programs, they all spellcheck with the system spellchecker.

    On the Mac, you can convert/read-write a lot of formats with Textedit (it was made before markdown, though) -- and, curiously and sadly, not .pages. All the Textedit formats, you can convert on the command line with a nice tool called textutil.

    For converting for whatever purpose you should also check out pandoc. It's an open-source swiss-knive command line converter that blew me away when it converted between .odt and LaTeX back and forth with everything in there text-related (it had trouble with the math and images, naturally) including references and table-of-contents almost completely.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
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  7. TheNineMagi

    TheNineMagi take a moment to vote

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    have you thought about using other version control systems. I have used Tortoise SVN with some pretty good success,
    it has the branching and merge features, and is open source. -- really good when looking for differences between versions.
    https://tortoisesvn.net/about.html

    I also do a lot of writing in notepad, just an environment I prefer, from older coding days. --- lot's of snippets of various ideas just captured in the moment.
     
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  8. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Yeah, I get what you're saying. For me, it's either plain text or it's binary--I'm not really a hair-splitting kind of guy. Hare-splitting, maybe. :D

    I have written a tool that exports markdown to HTML, so formatting for ebook publication wouldn't be that big a deal. I'm not as clear how I might export to docx for review purposes. I had not heard of pandoc when I wrote that tool, so that may be the way to go for all of this crap. I'll have to test it out.

    Speaking of testing out, I tried out aspell today. Works pretty well.

    What I'm using to edit is Visual Studio Code, which has a markdown linter package available and does a decent job of generating previews. I also use vim, but only under weird circumstances that don't bear explaining.

    Hi, TheNineMagi! The reason I use git (and I mean I really just use git--I don't have a gui for it) is that all my machines are already set up with it, since I use it at my day job. Custom aliases, terminal profiles, etc... I haven't got a lot of experience with other version control systems (I mean, I've used the Microsoft one, but not long enough to even know what it's called), so I admit I don't have a lot to compare against, but it's hard to imagine using a different one for my writing than I do for code. What's the advantage of Tortoise?
     
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  9. TheNineMagi

    TheNineMagi take a moment to vote

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    Tortoise SVN, allowed us to manage versions of Word Documents, with all the basics we expect in a coding environment...

    Any form of writing is an iterative refinement of thoughts, language, and vocabulary. But, Microsoft Word, one of the most popular editors in the Windows world, does little to facilitate this iterative refinement of the document. Although Microsoft word provides "review" functionality that keeps track of changes in the document, using reviewing functionality makes the document cluttered and messy. Further, Microsoft Word does not provide common functionalities such as comparing, merging, or identifying differences between different versions of the document.
    http://newgeeks.blogspot.com/2006/08/word-document-management-using-svn.html

    the repository also maps and integrates nicely into windows explorer, so you can right click files to check in and check out, and various other functions. It was great on technical documents being worked on by 3-4 people. We could bring up histories and see what changes were made and who made them. Nice part was we all had a local check out folder we could work from.

    We could have done track and review in Word but it gets messy really quick.

    ---------------------------------------
    another free piece of software was a bug tracker, converted to a work flow and peer review system:

    Mantis Bug Tracker:
    https://www.mantisbt.org/index.php

    will integrate with various version control system...
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
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  10. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Ok, cool. Sounds like Tortoise has some serious advantages for users who may want to try version control but aren't necessarily in love with the command line.
     
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  11. TheNineMagi

    TheNineMagi take a moment to vote

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    It was more of a free collaborative environment we cobbled together, so we could assign, track and review work, see issues, and not get into each others way.

    Makes me wonder if a fully integrated writing environment would be beneficial, or just too much, for most writers. Maybe I'll start a thread on what writers would like, and minimum requirements they would look for in writing software. Build out a common feature set and then go from there. I seem to have a little spare time on my hands anyway.
     
  12. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Well, it's absolutely within reach, depending on how technical your audience is. :)
     
  13. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I usually write song lyrics and short poetry in a text format, but longer pieces are usually done with MS Word.
     
  14. AdiraAugust

    AdiraAugust New Member

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    I use Google docs. It solves all the issues in red. You can download in a variety of formats. I download in rtf and directly upload to Amazon. Works great, including images. You can download in docx and covert in Calibre. Simple. I do that for Instafreebie.
     
  15. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Hey, Adira. The thing is, you don't get version control of any kind with Google Docs, as far as I'm aware. So, for instance, over the past week or two when I was fine tuning the end of a scene, I would have been hard-pressed to do that as easily with Google Docs as I did with the tools I'm using. Having plain text (or whatever) stored in a version control repository means that I'm able to view the complete history of every file, and if I don't like a change I made, I can revert that change with a single command, or at least go copy paste the old version from the history.
     
  16. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I use Kingsofts Writer.
    It is like word, and I like my .doc files.
     
  17. fivetoesten

    fivetoesten Member

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    I like text and git, but I thought I'd mention fossil for revision control in case nobody's heard of it.
     
  18. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    What's the advantage of fossil?
     
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  19. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    It helps if you are an archeologist? :supergrin:
     
  20. fivetoesten

    fivetoesten Member

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    There are a few.
    • It's easy to install. There's just one executable, just download it and run it.
    • It has a built-in web interface.
    • It has a built-in wiki you could use for story notes or whatever.
    • You can export and import to and from git.
    • It was created by the same person who created sqlite.
    I don't use fossil very much, but it's pretty nice, and a good place for folks to get a feel for revision control.
     
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