I am the write-annotate-research-annotate more-edit type of writer. I write zillions of short notes and scatter them all over the place and within my texts. For as long as I am forging words, I am looking for the perfect writing tool.
I had my stint with Word, then reverted to pen & paper, where I could quickly draw sketches or insert collages of found material to further flesh out unfinished ideas. But while working oldskool, there was always this "next step": I knew that some day I would have to go back to the computer and enter all that stuff into the machine, be it for proper printing or emailing. Being the lazy person that I am, this workflow always felt like a pain.
Back to keyboard and screen: I chose to use the built-in Microsoft Editor. It's so simple that it runs on all machines, on my old notebook and the office desktop. It's always available. maximizes screen space and you won't ever again loose formatting - as there is none. Plain text, simple paragraphs. The output ist plain ASCII. That's it. Beauty lies in simplicity.
One thing you might know from yourself when developing texts on the computer is the urge to easily drag-around big chunks of text without really thinking about the effect on your coherence. While this might be regarded as bad style (as this wasn't so easy back then, chained to your typewriter), my opinion is that this is actually an achievement of electronic word processing. Rearranging, kneading, editing, outlining - that's how our brain works. And when writing, one important thing for me is finding the shortest path between imagination and words.
But let's be honest: sometimes it is hard to edit something. Let's assume this situation: you finally wrote a good sentence. Then you changed the surrounding text and the good sentence begins to fit less and less. Time for some painful decisions. In most cases you will leave that for later...
This is where versioning comes in. With a proper system for keeping track of past versions you wouldn't be so hesitant about changing or trying something. Yes, Photoshop has the History, and you can Undo stuff in Word and everything else. But once you save your file everything is engraved in stone. Proper version handling would free yourself, letting you "safely mess with the text any time", as Martin nails it. Backing up and past versions give that warm feeling of: I can always get back to this piece of ingenuity (although you rarely actually will..). So when you are fed up with files ending in "_old", "_older", "_old_2", its time to rethink your workflow.
A short look around reveals that there are many fresh approaches to reinventing how we write texts. Many focus on collaborative writing, like Writeboard or Google Docs. While others simplify the actual process by reducing distractions
- a pitty is that none of these more advanced tools from the second list are free. (Tell me if you know a decent open-source/free one.)
As I am currently hacking away with the help of Editor, my current idea is to use a combination of flat text files and Subversion (SVN). I will write another post about that and my experciences in setting up and working with SVN for fictional writing.