Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Writing Tools

Read this: http://thesweetsetup.com/apps/our-favorite-pro-writing-app-for-mac/

What I have been doing instead of using these sophisticated, integrated writing tools?

I use OmniOutliner. https://www.omnigroup.com/omnioutliner I've used it for years. It does a lot of things. Most notably, I can create multiple columns so that I can create page budgets for outlines. Acquisition Editors like this. Except, of course, they like it as an DOCX file, which requires a bit of manual juggling to produce.

I use BBEdit and KomodoEdit for a the bulk of my writing. http://www.barebones.com/products/bbedit/index.html
https://www.activestate.com/komodo-ide/downloads/edit

"But wait," you say, "those are text editors."

(Or, more dismissively, "there are merely text editors.")

Correct.  I use RST markup and write in Unicode text.  I use tools to convert the RST text to a variety of other binary formats. See http://docutils.sourceforge.net/docs/user/tools.html for a list of tools. This is what I often use:


How is this better than a tool like Scrivener? It depends -- as always -- on what you're trying to optimize. My pipeline has the (dubious) advantage of being very inexpensive. Except for OmniOutliner and BBEdit, it's all community-edition, free software. If cheap is your goal, I've got cheap.

The cool part is this.

The Mac OS X desktop is an integrated writing environment. I have browser, outliner, writing tool, publishing tool, etc., etc., all readily and immediately available. The "look and feel" isn't consistent, but I'm not sure that's a show-stopper.

The biggest difficulty?

BBEdit doesn't enable the Mac OS X grammar checker. Really. It's switched off. The grammar checker is sometimes handy for preventing a large number of common, dumb writing mistakes. BBEdit shows the word count, which is very helpful for some kinds of writing. I wind up using a second app (i.e. the built-in Mac OS X TextEdit) to make a grammar check pass.

I think, however, the hacker-friendly free-and-open-source tool chain may have reached the end of its service life.

Why Not Use Word?

"After all," you say, "MS-Word does everything."

Agreed. It does everything badly and confusingly. (1) The outliner is hard to use and is firmly tied to the text in a way that breaks outlines all the time. (What's that paragraph doing there? Why is it the wrong outline level?) (2) There are too many useless features. The presence of "advanced" mode is a UX nightmare come true. (3) The character-mode and paragraph-mode formatting rules are baffling (and break the outlining.) (4) The styles are essentially invisible: you have to click on the text and check the style side-bar to be sure that the (invisible) markup is actually right.

The worst thing is that publishers have house style sheets for MS-Word that drive the publishing pipeline. This means that writing involves a weird step where I have to apply the publishers styles to things that are **very** clearly annotated with RST markup. You have to review each word. The words may look right, but have the wrong style applied. This is extremely tiresome to get right.

I intend to stick with plain-text markup. Scrivener supports MultiMarkdown. It's not RST, but it seems to be as rich with built-in semantic categories.