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What a Tool, Part 2.

November 8, 2011

Today’s tool topic is text editors. First though I wanted to mention a small update to Part 1. I decided to swing towards Google Docs and the cloud storage offered there. Mainly because I could upload a folder and subfolder structure easily, and now on my main computer I can keep the local and remote files in synch, while editing the online version from the laptop or other remote location. I am going to try this out for a few months and see how well it works for me. I may jump ship again (grrr.)

For me personally, MS-Word is my go to text editor. I have read other opinions that it is too much and that it distracts from writing because of all of the bells and whistles. The cost is also prohibitive, unless you are a student or in a position to get it for a significant discount. I am fortunate in that I can get the latest version of MS Office on the super cheap.

I use MS-Word because it is what I know best. I started using it with version 1, in the early 80’s when the entire application came on two 5 1/4 inch floppy disks, with a third optional disk for spell check (though that was a later add-on.) In college Word Perfect was all the rage and so I was forced to use it in order to turn in properly formatted files. I still went back to MS-Word whenever possible. There are now some files I wrote that I can no longer open thanks to proprietary formatting and no application with which to read them.

MS-Word does have a lot of tools built-in. This post is not going to attempt to discuss the use of MS-Word (henceforth simply: Word.) Just the reasons why I like to use it.

  1. Compatibility with documents
  2. Grammar/Spell features
  3. Formatting
  4. Search / Commenting
  5. Synchronizing files

Compatibility: I can open just about any Word document I have. There are some that are pre-1997 that I cannot open directly into Word. However, the majority of my work is completely functional. Most alternatives (I’ll cover a few at the end) either support the more recent versions of Word, or can handle Rich Text Format (rtf) which Word can save to. So putting my Word files onto my Google Docs account allows me to edit them in browser, in Word or an alternative text editor from just about anywhere.

Grammar / Spell: Here’s a confession… I am pretty bad at grammar sometimes and spelling is not always my best feature. Word can certainly assist me in getting the most egregious errors cleaned up. I still have to be able to tell the difference between Their and There or to, too and two. But that is where proofreading comes in. The grammar features (especially passive voice) really help me clean up my writing. Generally I try a few different versions of the phrase or sentence that is being reported and come up with a workable solution.

Formatting: It has to be done eventually. If you are going to submit a work for publication the odds of them accepting it in 16 point Comic Sans Serif is practically nil. I tend to use the built-in Formats for different header levels and body text modified to fit my personal taste. 14 point bold Calibri headers, 10 point normal calibri body text. Then when I go to publish I format the whole document as one of the final stages before printing/email the submission. I probably should just pick the standard manuscript format and apply to the whole document from the beginning, thereby reducing the amount of work at the end. I find that Word likes headers and will organize a navigation pane based on them, which makes jumping around a 120,000 word document much easier! I format chapter titles in the header style, so I can instantly get there one the document is assembled. This brings us to:

Search / Commenting: The navigation pane mentioned above makes moving through a manuscript quite easy. A single click and you are there. Of course the normal search input works well as does the search/replace. It facilitates moving throughout the document which is very critical once a manuscript reaches beyond 10-15k words. Commenting is a nice feature, which one must remember to turn off/hide from printing and submissions. It allows you to jot down editorial comments or general thoughts for a section of text.

Synchronizing Files: As noted previously, I worry about losing files. Since MS Word 2007 the ability to synch files with Windows Live Skydrive has been cooked into the program. The interface is somewhat lacking and there is no real way to save locally and remotely at the same time. There is the Windows Live Mesh app that synchronizes files and folders, but when I tried it I could not find the files on the Windows Live Skydrive. Google released a Google Docs Connector plugin for Word. This allows a user to write and save locally, then synch with the Google Docs Cloud. Or load from the cloud, etc.. Users can pre-populate their google docs by uploading a file or folder (a sub folders). Google Docs steps you through it nicely. There is a java applet for folks not using Google’s Chrome browser, which is the route I took. After uploading and checking everything seemed complete and intact.

There are other text editors, some are designed specifically for writing books, others are more swiss-army knife like, able to handle scripts (tv, movie, comic) as well as novels. A few of the alternatives to Word that I have tried are:

  • Celtx – Basically a script tool for movies, comics, tv. It also works for novels thanks to upgrades to the product. It is free for local file use, and the company also has a pay service available. This program will hold media, character profiles and format your typing for an appropriate type i.e. Movie Script, TV Script etc..
  • yWriter – Free application written by an Author/Programmer (not me…) Please check out their list of features.
  • Open Office – Open source office suite. It is free to the public and maintains excellent compatibility between itself and MS-Office files.
  • Scrivener – Macintosh OS X only application. It is NOT free. 30 day free trial, $40 (as of today).
  • Liquid Story Binder XE – This program is pretty intense. It can be used for webcomics, comics, novels etc.. It will hold media files (images), create timelines, dossiers for characters and a ton of other features. It recommends Drop Box for cloud storage. I used it for a little while, but switched to yWriter for simplicity’s sake.

I recommend browsing through each program’s site if interested and evaluate the varying features and see if any of them meet your own needs.

So, I know I said I use Word, but just a bit ago I copped to using both Liquid Story Binder and yWriter. I’ve also used Open Office and Celtx. Here’s the explanation. I use Word to write the project. I use another program to organize the bits and pieces of it.

Next time I will discuss the program I use to organize the projects floating around in my head.

Stay excellent!

s.

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  1. What a Tool, part 3. « Tales From Xira

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