Monday, December 16, 2013

Tools of the Trade, v. 2.0

John Scalzi recently posted what he was using for writing tools. I’ve done so in the past, too. In my post, I focused on the programs, Scalzi listed his books and what he used writing each one. I think that was a more interesting way to do things. I should state, this subject is a moving target, as I'm always on the hunt for an excellent writing program that allows me to format my writing properly, but doesn't get in the way of writing.
The list below will give readers an idea of what writing software is in use, and will give readers a look at what titles I am working on for the future—assuming I can still afford to continue as a writer. The following list is what I’m writing now:

Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody
Pages (v. 4.3), Mellel, TextEdit, BBEdit—For now, Pages is my primary writing program of choice, mainly because it can output directly to EPUB, which makes my life significantly easier. Secondarily, I also like the auto-correct system in Apple’s OS X, something which other programs such as Mellel didn’t take advantage of to any great degree. I was using Grammarian on top of Mellel, but as OS X advanced Grammarian didn’t and became problematic to use. One thing I absolutely love about Mellel is that it stores its files as XML files, which means my work is available in human-readable format should anything go horribly wrong.

Aggadeh Chronicles Book 2: Dragon
Pages (v. 4.3), BBEdit—Again, Pages continues to be my tool of choice for the above-mentioned reasons. Now, all the programming geeks out there are saying, “WHOA! BBEdit? For real?” Yes, for real. I use BBEdit by Bare Bones Software for editing the code in the EPUB file to tweak and correct it until it is proper. I use BBEdit for people that want a personalized copy of the ebook and buy it directly from me. Bare Bones maintains a humble marketing approach by saying BBEdit “Doesn’t Suck.” That greatly understates just how useful I find this program.

Aggadeh Chronicles Book 3: Oracle
Pages (v. 4.3)— Just a few pages of notes collected for this one, plus a number of pages into the opening. I was considering moving this to be the second book, but decided to keep it in the original order.

Pages (v. 5.0.1)—I’m trying Apple’s newer version of Pages for this hard science fiction, but I find it falling short. In an effort to bring parity between the iOS and OS X versions of Pages, Apple removed some functionality from the OS X version of the program. I expect a lot will be returned later, but for now it is annoying enough I’m not happy with it. For one thing, an author lives and breathes by word counts. I hate that Pages 5 places the word count in a floating window that hovers over my work making it difficult to see my work. Bad move.

Music on the Wind
Pages (v. 4.3), Mellel—I’ve merely written the notes on this story so far. I’m about halfway through it. What do I do when I’m feeling burned out from writing? I write something else. MotW is evolving more into a YA novel. I’ll just have to see where it is going as I further develop it.

Light of the Moon
PalmOS, Word, TextEdit, vi, Mellel, Pages (v. 4.3)—Yes, you read that correctly. I actually used vi from the Unix command line to write portions of this story. Many of the notes were written on my Palm Pilot during lunch breaks back when I was employed. Light of the Moon is actually one of my older story ideas, but I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory ending. This was one of the four stories I laid in front of me to choose when I decided I was going to go full time into writing. For now it sits on a shelf until I am ready to tackle it again. For those of you who are curious, yes, the story is based on an idea I had from a piece of music I heard: Brian Eno’s First Light. (Hah! I bet you expected me to say Debussy’s Claire de Lune, didn’t you?)

Word, TextEdit—I have (had) a very old version of Word (Part of Microsoft Office). I upgraded hardware and software, and it was no longer compatible with what I was using. Word is an industry standard, but I was really taking the hell out of it with my writing. So I gave up using it. Also, more to the point, I was sick and tired of every time there was an upgrade, the file format of the DOC files would change. I was concerned about recovering my writing from the files should something ever go wrong, so I stopped using it. Yoshimi—about fourteen chapters along so far—is a story about the science of magic. A hard science fantasy, I guess. Some of the concepts have trickled into Aggadeh Chronicles, but you won’t get any hints of either story, other than I, as an author, was trying to come up with a firm set of rules for bending reality.

An Unwanted Hero
TextEdit, Mellel, Pages (v. 4.3)—There are so many stories about young adolescents finding themselves in other worlds and becoming heroes through some hidden power they didn’t know they had. What happens when the battle is won and they return home? In this story, the hero returns home after seven years in another world and tries to reconnect with friends and family. I’ve only a few pages of notes on this, mainly as a mnemonic so I don’t forget about the story too much.

The Stars Within My Grasp…
Pages (v. 4.3)—Again, this is just a few pages of notes for now. It really has the length to go for a few books, or perhaps to be worked into an animated series. A boy on the verge of manhood has dreamt of becoming a Ranger all his life, but has his dreams crushed when it turns out it was a classmate who was being scouted. When the classmate and the girl he has a crush on are kidnapped by a militant group, he steals the technology used by the Rangers to rescue them. Is doing what is right truly worth losing everything?

A Writer’s Chronicles
Pages (4 & 5), BBEdit—I use Pages to write my whining missives tripe  blog entries. Then I copy-and-paste it into Blogger, then use BBEdit to edit the resulting HTML so it displays in the manner that I want it displayed on my blog.

Word, TextEdit, vi, Mellel, Pages (v. 4.3)—A witch fairytale in modern times.

The Witch and the Huntsman
Pages (v. 4.3)—A romance between a witch living on the fringes of society and a huntsman with a surprisingly open mind. Just a short for now. Eventually I'll expand it to a longer story when I put my attention to it.

Overall, I’m using Pages 4 because it delivers functions I need right now for self-publishing, the ability to create the basic EPUB file that I refine into the final ebook that is released for publication. Pages 5 I find to be a disappointment, because it has been watered down from Pages 4, and seems more to be geared to writing office documents rather than writing novels.
Mellel is an excellent program for writing novel-length documents, but it falls short of my technical needs.
I can’t criticize Microsoft Word, because I was using a version that was so old and behind the times, it would be a disservice to base my opinions on that old version. Many writers use it, many don’t. It is considered the industry standard. You should decide for yourself.
What do I want in a word processor?
  1. The ability to output to EPUB, the industry standard for ebooks.
  2. The ability to format the pages according to various book formats. I am writing books, not office notes. I want a preset for a 6x9 US Trade or a 6.8x4.25 Pocket Book. I don’t need my books formatted for 8x11 printer paper.
  3. Allow me to define a chapter heading. Not have to choose an HTML H1 heading and settle for that. When I have defined that Chapter heading, use that heading to separate the chapters when outputting to EPUB. That would make my life so much easier. Top margins, drop caps for the first paragraph, other ornamentations would be nice.
  4. I do want to try and get the look and feel of my book as close as possible on the screen while I’m writing it. Normally, I don’t get to see how it will truly look as an ebook until I have loaded the active ebook into my ebook reader. And it is difficult to figure out how many pages a book will be in print if I don’t have the page size defined correctly.
  5. DON'T give me fixed presets, fonts, and styles for the above. I don't want my book/ebook coming out looking like everyone else's. DO give me an alert if I exceed industry standard parameters, but don't stop me from crafting my work the way I want it done. 
With the growth of people seeking self-publishing routes, you would think the producers of writing software would wake up and start trying to cater to that crowd. No one to my knowledge has done that yet. Whoever does it is going to own a very exclusive market, for sure.

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