One of the things I like about writing first drafts longhand is the visceral satisfaction I get from tearing a sheet off the pad, crumpling it up, and tossing it across the room when I realize an article or essay isn’t working. You can delete your working draft on a PC or tablet of course, but that’s not as fulfilling unless you heave your device across the room, and few of us can afford that kind of gesture. Besides, it might damage the floor.
The hard truth is that first drafts are often disappointing and that you shouldn’t be reluctant to toss them, literally or virtually. It was Hemingway who opined that all first drafts are crap. In over 50 years of writing published freelance articles and book chapters, I’ve rarely had a piece come together as soon as I started writing or typing it.
Your experience might differ. If your first drafts practically write themselves, bless the writing gods and carry on. I’m envious. I’m more like William Zinsser who said in On Writing Well that writing, for him, was always hard work and that his pieces required many revisions before they were ready to submit.
The best way I’ve heard this expressed was by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. in The Mythical Man-Month in which he stated the principle “Build one to throw away.” The context of Brooks’s book was different — it was about building an IBM mainframe computer — but I think the same principle holds true for writing.
First Comes the Vetting
Of course you need to give your writing brain a chance to go with the flow on your first draft. It’s important to let creativity and imagination power your writing to see where it leads. This may apply more to fiction writers, but even nonfiction writers are susceptible to the singing of the muses. Don’t judge your first draft until you’ve either written it out or become too bogged down to continue.
The next step after writing a first draft is not editing it, but vetting it. Don’t worry about editing at this point — there will be plenty of opportunities to wear your editorial beanie once you get past the vetting stage. Vetting your piece is different.
Here’s how to vet it: Read your first draft in the context of “is this really what I meant to say about this?” “Honestly, is this writing working?” “If not, where did I go astray?” “What might be a better approach?” It’s even okay to ask yourself, “Am I really this boring?” Vetting can be humbling.
But don’t despair!
If you decide your first draft stinks, consider your time well spent. You’ve learned how it shouldn’t be written. Toss it, and with your newly acquired insight start over. This time you’ll envision your piece from a different perspective. Put back in any parts that seemed to work, but recast the framework of your piece so it fits with your new concept of how it should read.
We all hope that our second drafts will express our second thoughts about a piece and that it will develop wings and fly. I’d be dishonest, though, if I said I’d never crumpled and threw away a second draft. I have had, at times, to write a third draft before my writing began to jell. Usually by second draft, though, the writing picks up.
Then Comes the Editing
Just because your piece is now fleshing out the way you had envisioned it doesn’t mean you’re done. Now is the time to edit the dickens out of it.
Watch for sloppy phrasing, clichés, misspelt words, and sections where the piece doesn’t flow well. Tighten up everything. Remove unnecessary words. You want to make reading your work easy for your readers. Above all, you want your writing to be crisp and clear.
This means multiple edits. Be ruthless and be certain to give your piece at least 24 hours rest before its final edit prior to posting.
Quality Over Quantity
I’m assuming here that you want to feature your best writing. This vetting approach doesn’t work well if you’re trying to post 30 articles a month on blog site. To do that you have to dash them off, give them a light editing, and press on to the next piece even if your posting isn’t as good as it could be. We’ve all read too many stories from writers who sacrifice quality for quantity.
The bottom line is this: Writing is hard work. Quality writing is even harder, but it’s an investment in your writing reputation. To quote Calvin’s father (of Calvin and Hobbes fame), “It builds character.” My advice: Strive for quality. Every time. And that means being willing to toss that first draft and refocus your efforts.
Good luck with your writing, and may the muses smile upon you.
This article was originally published in The Writing Cooperative, on Medium.com
When you look at the number of writing applications available to writers, whether novelists, short story writers, essayists, or nonfiction writers, you see an almost bewildering number of choices. The time-honored notion that you should use the right tool for the right job sounds good in principle, but what, exactly, is the right tool?
It’s a cliché to say that each writer is different, and that no set of writing tools will be right for all authors. For instance, Canadian SF writer Robert J. Sawyer and American SF writer George R.R. Martin, two highly successful writers, still use WordStar, an ancient, but capable, word processor from the days of CP/M and MS-DOS.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that switching to WordStar will make you a successful writer too. Writing happens in the brain, usually coming out through the hands resting on a keyboard, regardless of the application being used.
Even so, when you find the writing app that suits you best, the app works with you seamlessly, fading into the background as you create your story. Every app has its advocates, and it can be a good idea to try out different approaches to writing to see which type of writing app clicks with you the most.
Essentially, there are three general categories of writing apps:
Full-fledged word processors with all the bells and whistles to create everything from short stories to business reports full of graphics, or graduate-school theses.
Specialized word processing apps designed specifically for writers, with a writer’s needs in mind.
DIY apps that take a minimalist approach to writing, providing uncluttered text editors and usually employing Markdown for text attributes.
Let’s see where you fit in.
Millions of writers use Microsoft Word, the gold standard for word processors. It’s a complete office-oriented app and publishers everywhere can accept Word .docx files. The latest version of Word, in Microsoft 365, even offers a focus mode, that allows you to view your work on a blank screen, similar to such functions in apps like Scrivener.
Despite its widespread use, not all writers either like, or can afford, Word. Its ribbon menus drive some writers nuts, and others have have had bad experiences with Word in terms of stability. Still, if you don’t mind the menus and you can afford the annual subscription, you’ll never go amiss using Word. The current version of Word runs on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, which means you can use it on tablets and phones. There is also a cloud version.
If you’re one of those writers who liked the versions of Word prior to its ribbon menus, there’s the open-source and free LibreOffice Writer. It has much of the look and feel of Word from the past, and it has a reputation for being rock solid. LibreOffice can convert its files to Word and many other formats, including Epub. You also get the rest of the LibreOffice suite with it, including a spreadsheet, presentation program, drawing program, and database app. LibreOffice runs in Windows, Mac, and Linux, but not on iOS or Android.
Many writers have discovered the general excellence of Google Docs, a cloud-based word processing app that covers all the basics and is terrific for collaboration. Used in a browser, Google Docs is accessible from every operating system, including ChromeOS for Chromebooks. There are also iOS and Android versions of Google Docs for use on tablets and phones. Google Docs can export to Word format (as well as plain text).
Mac users may be drawn to Apple’s Pages, a very attractive word processor that comes free with a Mac. It’s also available on iOS for iPads and iPhones. It’s one of the easiest word processorsto use and it integrates well with other Apple software, such as Numbers. It too can export to Word format. Pages is a solid choice for those who work entirely within the Apple ecosystem.
All of the above, plus a few lesser-known word processors, can get the job done. If you’re happy using one of these applications, there is no reason to switch to something else. You have everything you need.
Specialty Word Processors
On the other hand, if you find word processors to be, well, a bit boring, there’s a tier of specialty writing apps that have turned the heads of a lot of writers who swear by them and who swear they’d never go back to a word processor after using them. The best known of these, and probably the most widely used, is Scrivener.
Scrivener, from an English company called Literature & Latte, was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of serious writers, rather than the word-processing needs of office workers. It offers views of your writing that are extremely useful, including an equivalent of storing everything in a spiral notebook, corkboard views, the ability to include synopses, and a place to store your research and your character and plot ideas. It has templates for novels, nonfiction, and screen writing.
Scrivener can output to Word, of course, but also to rich-text format, HTML, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Final Draft, Fountain Screenplay, plain text, PDF, and Markdown.
Scrivener has become the gold standard for a writer-oriented, specialized word processor. It runs on Mac and Windows, as well as iOS. There is no Linux or Cloud version. It is a commercial program that you must purchase, but there is no subscription required.
Another up-and-comer in the specialty writing category is Ulysses, a Markdown-based word creator with a minimalist interface, similar to other Markdown editors, but with some Scrivener-like features like a way to package your writing together and easily rearrange parts, like chapters. It has the usual export features. One of the distinguishing features of Ulysses is its beautiful interface. That alone might convince you to make an annual subscription to use the software. Unfortunately Ulysses works only on Macs and iOS.
The most specialized writing app I’ve used is LyX, which calls itself a “document processor.” This is an app for techies who also write. It’s a front end to the powerful TeX/LaTeX typesetting system and can be used to produce beautiful books and articles, especially those with an academic purpose. It has deep support for creating mathematical equations, abstracts, supported graphics, and all elements of traditional book publishing, including front matter, back matter, footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies. I include it here because I believe it should be better known. A free, open-source product, it runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows. It’s definitely not “easy,” but if you’re looking for something that can create formal books and reports, this is it. It can produce beautiful novels and Epub ebooks, too.
DIY Word Processing Systems
For the DIY (Do It Yourself) crowd, the way to go is with Markdown. I’d have put Ulysses in this category except for its additional features, but the rest are pure Markdown editors with one job only, to help you write words with a minimum of fuss and bother. Anything you need to do with your words after they’re written is up to you.
A Markdown editor is simply a plain text editor, full stop. Any text editor will do, from Notepad in Windows to TextEdit on Mac, to any number of text editors in Linux. You can use oldies like Vim and Emacs or use a more dedicated Markdown editor.
One of the most universal Markdown editors I’ve used is Ghostwriter, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s a free, open-source editor that just gets the job done but with a few niceties like keyboard shortcuts for inserting Markdown notation.
My personal favorite Markdown editor is iA Writer, a commercial product available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. I’ve used it for years and it’s never let me down. On its own it can output to HTML, Word, and PDF. It has dark mode support and one of the least cluttered interfaces around. iA Writer was once free and had at one time sponsored NaNoWriMo, so it’s already known to many writers. The commercial edition is modestly priced and doesn’t require a subscription, like Ulysses. That, by itself, tips me toward iA Writer.
Typora is another solid Markdown editor, freely available for Linux and Windows (no Mac version). I’ve not used it yet myself, but, in addition to distraction-free writing, it offers an outline panel and a wider range of exports than iA Writer. It looks like a good offering.
One last app I’ll mention in the DIY section is Joplin. It bills itself as a note-taking app, a kind of Markdown-oriented Evernote. Open source and free, it is available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android. It includes a built-in Markdown editor, plus a rich-text editor, and can as easily be used for writing as for note-taking. The organizational framework it offers gives it a bit of a Scrivener and Ulysses vibe. In my experience, it syncs well across platforms. One feature that grabs me is that it can also invoke an external editor, such as iA Writer, when you’re writing with it, storing the story in Joplin itself.
Ultimately, as a writer, you are what you write, not what you use to write with. Nonetheless, each of us develops preferences for which tools we like, and there’s no lack of options.
It’s worth experimenting with different writing tools to see which ones attract you, and why. Most of the commercial ones offer a free trial period, and you can experience the open-source ones at leisure. When the tool fits, you’re more productive.
The main thing is to get the job done. Happy writing!
Gene Wilburn is a Canadian writer, photographer, and retired IT specialist
My Covid-era 2020 Christmas present to myself was an eye-catching red and white keyboard with a computer inside: a Raspberry Pi 400. Like a 1980s-vintage Commodore 64 all it needed was a cable connection to my monitor and I was sitting in front of a fully operational Linux computer. Cost: $70 US for the unit alone, or $100 for a complete kit that includes the keyboard/computer, color-coordinated mouse, HDMI video cable, and a book, The Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide.
As a writer, I’m fascinated by low-cost, minimalist writing devices and the Raspberry Pi 400 (RPi 400) delivers more power per dollar of computing device I’ve yet encountered. Let’s take a look.
Introducing the Raspberry Pi 400.
What you get in a Raspberry Pi 400 is not just an attractive keyboard, but a full 64-bit ARM CPU computer inside, with 4GB RAM, a microSD slot to store the operating system and local data, 2 micro-HDMI ports, 1 USB-2 port, 2 USB-3 ports,, a USB-C port for power, a Gigabit Ethernet port, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, and a GPIO (general purpose input output) 40-pin port.
The GPIO port is for makers and experimenters — those who create things such as robots and robotic structures, specialty electronic circuit boards, art and light installations, and much more. To this crowd the Raspberry Pi is at the heart of many a specialty project. For them Raspberry Pi is as common a brand name as Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, or Asus to most home computer users. Chances are you’ve not heard the Raspberry Pi name bandied about much in writing circles … yet.
With the RPi 400 that may be about to change. This is the first Raspberry Pi model that is a ready-to-boot-and-use Linux computer with appeal beyond its usual user base. I can see parents picking up one or two of these for their kids. It’s a inexpensive and great way for anyone who has heard of Linux, but may have been shy about trying it, to get a hands-on introduction. The purpose of this review is to examine this device as a potential minimalist writing tool that could be used by someone with no previous experience with a Linux computer.
Setting Up the Unit
The RPi 400 arrives with a 16GB microSD card inserted, ready to boot up Raspberry Pi OS as soon as you add a monitor or TV, and a USB mouse for convenience. The first time you boot the system it prompts you for your country, language, time zone, and a new password. The RPi then scans for a WiFi connection and prompts for its password.
Once set up, the interface looks similar to Windows or MacOS, with the task bar at the top instead of the bottom. Navigation is simple: click on the red raspberry icon in the top left corner to display a menu from which you may launch any of the included programs or apps. The RPi 400 comes loaded with programming editors, text editors, and the Libre Office suite, which includes a Word-like word processor. The default browser is Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome. A file manager allows you to browse through your folders to copy, move, delete, or select files. The operations are intuitive and familiar to any Windows or Mac user.
And that’s it! You’re ready to write.
The RPi 400 as Writing Device
Because I use Google Docs for much of my writing, I fired up Docs for this review and found the RPi a very comfortable device to work with. The keyboard is full size, minus a numeric keypad. Because it’s weighted with a computer inside, it has enough heft to feel solid as you work. The keys are well spaced and the layout is normal with well positioned arrow keys in the lower right-hand corner.
At this price you don’t get a first-class keyboard, but it’s completely serviceable. The one caution with the keyboard is that you occasionally get keyboard bounce — two characters appearing with one press of the key. The bounce is infrequent enough that it’s not a show stopper, but you need to keep an eye on the output for occasional misbehavings. Some of the bounce may be determined by your touch on the keypads. I’m a heavy-handed typist, raised on upright typewriters and the original IBM PC keyboards.
The RPi 400 is not a speed demon. It has enough zip that it doesn’t lag while you type but it’s not a sports car. It’s more like a cute VW Beetle with rear engine. Fun to use and it gets you there.
Who is the Raspberry Pi 400 for?
The RPi 400 is a variant of the small Raspberry Pi 4 used in maker projects. As such it will certainly be of interest to makers and experimenters, but putting the computer inside the keyboard opens the device to a much wider audience.
Parents can purchase this unit for their kids as a way to learn programming, or just for general use. It’s a little sluggish on websites that include heavy graphic material but that’s to be expected.
Writers may be interested in this unit if they’re in need of a cheap computer and already have a monitor or HD TV it can attach to. At this price, it could serve as a complementary machine to a laptop or tablet, or even a unit you might want to leave at a site you visit regularly, such as a cottage or other external location.
Overall, the Raspberry Pi 400 is cute, highly usable and cheap. For most writers I would recommend the $100 kit over the $70 standalone model. The kit comes with matching USB mouse plus the critical HDMI video cable.
The Command Line
Although you don’t need to know much about the included terminal app that is similar to the Windows Command Prompt and nearly identical with the Mac Terminal program, you will need to use the command line occasionally to make certain your software is up to date. This is done by starting up the terminal and typing the following two lines at the command prompt:
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt upgrade
Running this once a week or so will keep the Raspberry Pi 400 software and operating system up to date with the latest upgrades and security updates.
As you can tell, I’m enthusiastic about the Raspberry Pi 400 as an inexpensive, minimalist writing device. The bang for the buck is incredible and there’s nothing difficult about using a Linux computer for writing. All the usual amenities are here, packed inside a keyboard. The unit, while easy enough to carry to other locations, is not a portable. This is a small desktop computer waiting for you when you’re ready to create the next best seller. Happy typing!
I was determined not to make any Black Friday purchases this year, but my resolve melted when Amazon offered a sale price of $50Cdn, approximately $30US, on its diminutive, discontinued, 16GB Kindle Fire 7 ereader/tablet. I’m a tablet junkie with a soft spot for minimalist writing devices that goes back to my days of writing on a Palm Pilot. Small, I learned, could be not only beautiful, but also portable and productive.
And so, despite my resolve, I clicked the slightly more expensive ($70Cdn) 32GB version of the device into my shopping cart and checked it out. Two days later it arrived.
On its own, the Fire 7, about the size of a thin paperback novel, makes a fine ebook reader and a minimal Internet browser — nice, but unexciting. However, like the wardrobe in the Narnia books, the device harbours a secret — a passageway that can lead to new vistas.
In short, the Kindle can be upgraded to include the Google Play Store, which opens up the limited Kindle to a much broader selection of apps than Amazon intended, including Gmail, Chrome, and the writer’s friends, Google Docs and Microsoft Word — apps that Amazon does not make available through its own App Store. (Although not illegal, it should be noted that this upgrade is not officially sanctioned by Amazon, who would prefer you to remain within their gated ecosystem.)
All that is required is that you download four Android programs and run them in sequence, following “Option One” of Chris Hoffman and Craig Lloyd’s excellent instructions on How-to Geek.
With the Google Play Store installed, the Kindle Fire 7 punches above its weight, morphing into a kind of digital David that isn’t afraid to take on Apple’s Goliath, the iPad. (Spoiler Alert: an iPad it’s not, but the Fire’s chutzpah might amuse you.)
Compared to my ancient Palm IIIc, the Kindle Fire 7 Is downright luxurious. Running a modified version of Android on an ARM CPU, it comes equipped with an earphone jack, MicroSD card slot (providing up to 128GB additional storage), front and back cameras, microphone, speakers, USB charging slot, Wi-Fi adapter, Bluetooth support, wireless printer support, and apps from Amazon store. It has a smallish 7-inch, 600 x 1024 pixel screen in 16:9 ratio. It also offers Alexa for voice commands.
The front and rear cameras are good enough for Zoom meetings and taking casual snapshots, but by today’s standards the camera resolution is minimal — 2 megapixels on the rear camera and even less on the front camera.
The Fire 7 is small and lightweight, easily slipping into a jacket pocket, tote bag, or purse. Larger than smartphones and smaller than an iPad Mini, it’s a ready-to-go device that is easy to carry around.
The Writing Experience
Because the Fire 7 is larger than a smartphone, I found it easy to type on the virtual keyboard in vertical position. Turning the device to landscape position offers an even larger keyboard, at the expense of seeing less on the screen. The device offers word suggestions that you can tap for completion, saving keystrokes. However, it has a mind of its own and will sometimes change a word after you hit the spacebar. If you hit the backspace key immediately, your original word is restored and it stops changing it. It’s something you have to keep an eye on. This word-substitution quirk only occurs while using the built-in virtual keyboard.
Many writers will prefer to work with an external Bluetooth keyboard for faster typing speed. The Fire 7 connected easily to both my BT folding keyboards. It’s more efficient to use an external keyboard and I preferred it on the Kindle virtual keyboard when practical.
To prop up the Kindle Fire while typing, I purchased a case for the unit with a textured back and a “kickstand” to hold the tablet in landscape mode. This works very well, and with no virtual keyboard taking up screen space, the typing window in Google Docs is pleasant to work in.
I generally find that the virtual keyboard is most useful for jotting down ideas, outlining a topic, or writing short passages where typing speed isn’t as important. It’s also useful in editing completed drafts. An external keyboard, of course, allows you to flow at faster speeds.
Speed of Device
The Kindle Fire 7 is no speed demon. It’s akin to driving an old rear-engine VW Beetle — it gets you there, but leisurely. When I return to my iPad Mini I feel like I’ve stepped into a high-end BMW. This is not a device for the impatient, but it’s solid and dependable. Web pages in particular take awhile to fill and refresh, but I’ve experienced no particular sluggishness when using Google Docs.
The battery life of the device is so-so. I’d estimate I’m getting 4-5 hours of active usage, which is better than many laptops, but not as good as other tablets. In the evening, when I’m using the device to access social media or ebooks, I frequently plug in a 6-foot charging cable to charge the device and save battery life. It recharges back to 100% fairly quickly.
To say the least, it would be challenging to find a cheaper writing device. Costing 1/10th of the price of an iPad, it’s been a fun purchase, despite a few quirks. That said, this model has been officially discontinued. The next best price is on the Kindle Fire HD 8, a device I tested and can readily recommend. It’s faster, with better battery life, almost identical in size with the iPad Mini. It, too, can be upgraded to side load apps from the Google Play Store.
Still, if you see a Fire 7 for sale, and love small but workable writing devices, the Kindle Fire 7 Is a bargain.
Gene Wilburn is a retired Canadian IT professional who frequently writes on technology topics. His website is located at http://genewilburn.com
For years I resisted using a word processor. My preference is to write with a simple, fast, and uncluttered text editor, such as iA Writer. For things like headings, bold or italic, and links to URLs, I use Markdown notation. I find Word, LibreOffice Writer, Pages, and Scrivener overkill for my needs. Hence it came as a surprise to me to discover that I like using Google Docs.
There were two factors that drove me to try Docs:
The acquisition of a Lenovo C330 Chromebook as a portable writing machine. A browser-oriented laptop, it uses Google Docs by default, and;
The need to store documents where my co-author could access them for collaboration.
Prior to Google Docs I had been storing my plain-text Markdown files in a Dropbox folder. This worked fine when I was writing solo, but it lacked convenient versioning and collaboration tools. I needed both for a book project — Shift Happens — that I co-authored with my wife, Marion.
To further complicate things, I use a number of devices for writing: Macbook, Chromebook, Linux laptop, iPad, and iPhone, while my co-author uses a Windows laptop. We needed something common to all of them – something to act as a universal host. Google Docs filled that role.
Setting up Google Docs
The first thing I learned about Google Docs is that you also need GoogleDrive, a separate but related web application. Drive is where you create folders to use to organize your documents, and it allows you to mark a folder as shared, setting it up for collaboration or mutual access.
Any web browser can be used to access Google Docs and Drive, but, on a tablet or smartphone, Docs and Drive are separate apps that need to be installed. With this done, every computing device you own can access your files.
Because docs are stored in Google’s cloud, you never have to worry about losing your work due to disk failure, theft, or fire. It also means that your document is always up to date for both you and your collaborator.
All this assumes you have WiFi access to the Internet, of course, but Google Docs has a provision for working offline when you don’t have access. You can tag any document or set of documents with a “Make Available Offline” feature that stores the document locally as well as at Google. I use this for documents I want to edit while I’m travelling by commuter train into the city, or at least I did in pre-Covid times. When I later connect to the Net, Docs automatically synchronizes the local file with the cloud version.
Whether you’re writing by yourself or with a co-writer, Google Docs offers outstanding version control. Docs tracks your changes and keeps copies of your editing sessions, automatically, in the background. Available from File > Version History, you can inspect the edits in various versions going back in time. This offers the peace of mind that allows you to flail away at a draft, knowing you can restore from an earlier version if you mess things up. Versioning also shows you which collaborator made which changes to a document.
One of the impressive features of Google Docs is that it allows you and a collaborator to edit together in real time. My wife and I used this feature extensively while revising chapters of our book. Sitting in the same room, each of us with a device open to the shared document, we could each see what the other was doing, and any changes made by one of us quickly showed up on both screens.
This meant we could discuss the wording of the text, decide on changes, and see those changes reflected in real time when one of us typed them in. Although we were in the same room, connected to WiFi, this could also be done while in a Zoom session or on a phone call with a distant collaborator.
Not only does Google Docs act as a kind of universal host, it’s also a kind of universal donor. It can export (File > Download) to a number of highly useful formats: docx, odt, rtf, pdf, text, html, and epub. When I’m using Google Docs with Markdown notation, as I did for our book collaboration, I export as plain text.
From Google Drive, you can batch download any number of tagged files at a time. When you choose this option, the files are converted to .docx and placed in a single compressed zip file. There are no other options for batch downloading.
For our book project, we would batch download our files and run a custom script to unzip them and convert them to LaTeX files for typesetting.
Another useful feature of Google Docs is its ability to display a document outline beside the document being worked on. This is similar to “document maps” in other word processors. The outliner is based on assigned heading levels. You could outline an entire story using headers, then fill in the details later.
All in all, I found Google Docs to be a solid writing tool. With its highly useful versioning, its excellent support for collaboration, and its comprehensive export features, Docs could easily become the centre of any writer’s workflow.
This is not to dismiss other excellent writing tools, and if you’re already happy with your setup, there’s no compelling reason to change. But if you’re not totally convinced about your current editor, Google Docs is well worth taking for a spin. You may find it liberating to know your files are safe, in sync, and accessible through any computing device you may own. Its attractiveness is not lessened by being accessible for free, with no upfront or ongoing subscription costs. Of all the writing tools out there, Google Docs stacks up highly favourably. Recommended.
Gene Wilburn is a retired Canadian IT professional who frequently writes on technology topics. His website is located at http://genewilburn.com
It’s been a good run–well over 200 posts–but I think it’s time to hang up my spurs as a blogger. The truth is, as I age I’m less interested in writing blog posts and fewer people are interested in reading them. At one time blogging, as much of the Internet, was new and fresh, but today blogging seems a bit stale, with the exception of those who write specialty blogs. The generalist has been left behind in the way small towns have been forgotten in the migration to cities.
I would very much like to thank those of you who took the time to read my musings. Your comments and feedback have helped me along the way. If you’re interested in staying in touch, you’ll find me on Facebook.
In fact, Facebook has become my new equivalent of blogging. On Facebook I can post and repost interesting articles, thoughts, and humour, and it reaches more people than Silver Bullets ever could.
Although I have a Twitter account, I don’t tweet much. I don’t find myself simpatico with the service as a communication tool, though I like it as a newsfeed for various publications.
My activity on Flickr will pick up now that winter is finishing and it’s comfortable to get out with my cameras again. I also keep a modest set of scientific and engineering images in Pinterest.
Reading and music occupy much of my time these days, especially guitar playing. A new MacKenzie and Marr parlour guitar (Opeongo model) is my latest acquisition.
So, in all probability, this is my last post. I leave the door slightly ajar because … who knows? Thanks again for taking the time to read my posts.
William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well reminds us of a photograph of the essayist E.B. White, age 77, sitting in his writing nook, a plain wooden bench at a plain wooden table, in a small boathouse.
The window is open to a view across the water. White is typing on a manual typewriter, and the only other objects are an ashtray and a nail keg. The keg, I don’t have to be told, is his wastebasket … White has everything he needs: a writing implement, a piece of paper, and a receptacle for all the sentences that didn’t come out the way he wanted them to.
I’ve seen similar photos of other writers at work at their typewriters: Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, George Plimpton, and, still at it in the same way today, Harlan Ellison. What these writers all have in common is simplicity: the rapport between the writer and the words on the page, and nothing else. There were no choices of fonts—you used what the typewriter came with—and if you needed to indicate italics, you underlined the words in question.
In contrast, word processors are wonders of technology. Computers and tablets allow us to easily change words, rearrange them, delete them, and highlight them, but a glance at the menus of Microsoft Word or LibreOffice shows how far the balance has tipped toward complexity.
Although few of us would want to return to using a typewriter, it is possible to recapture some of the simplicity of the typewriter era—some of the intimacy between writer and word.
This is where Markdown comes in. Markdown is a simple markup language that allows the writer to use a plain-text editor, similar to a sheet of paper in a typewriter, yet still be able to add attributes such as italic, bold, heading level, footnotes, even rudimentary tables.
Because I’ve always preferred text editors to word processors, Markdown, and its advanced extension, MultiMarkdown, proved to be marvellous for my writing, so I decided to write a guide to using them for others who may not be as dedicated to picking things out of technical manuals. The result was Markdown for Writers available in Kindle format at Amazon.com and in ePub format at Smashwords, Kobobooks, and, soon, in the Apple iBookstore.
Of course I used Markdown and MultiMarkdown to write the guide, and it includes a chapter on using Sigil with Markdown exports to HTML to create an ebook.
I can’t promise the boat-house simplicity of E.B. White and his typewriter, but I can say that Markdown, and by extension, MultiMarkdown, have strongly influenced the way I write. They fit my writing aesthetics like quality leather driving gloves.
I feel I’ve been at sea, drifting on the currents and tides and going where the wind blows me. The past six months have been filled with reading and the study of math, but very little writing, with the exception of my personal journal.
What I’ve been lacking are projects, other than working in the garden. I’ve not worked up any photo projects or writing projects for some time. There are times in your life when you just aren’t ready to undertake any and this has been one of those times for me.
Lately, though, the writing urge has returned and, with the spring flowers, the urge to take photos. I just finished an article for Small Print and I’m looking at some of my dormant writing projects to see if I want to resurrect any of them. I’ve also been taking the guitar out of its case more often, building a new set of calluses for playing.
The highlight of the spring was a family visit I made to Arkansas to see my brothers Jim, Howard, and John, and my sister Lori. They were all looking good and we laughed and overate with abandon.
Next time I’ll talk a little more about Small Print magazine and my role in it. For now I’ll just say, it feels like the ship has come into port and I’ve been granted shore leave.
My friend and fellow camera enthusiast Ron Herron has published his first novel, Reichold Street, which “introduces a group of young, urban friends in the 1960s, and follows them from youthful neighborhood intrigue to family dysfunction, murder, suicide and madness. It explores the relationships that unite, divide and sustain these young friends, and their families, all the way to the searing tragedy and redemption of war.” The book is available in both print and ebook formats. I look forward to reading it.
I’ve been exploring the artistic/interpretive side of photography for the last while. In particular I’m using iPhone apps to create special effects and abstracts, as seen in my Abstracts set on Flickr. Standard photography has been in hiatus while I await the delivery of an Olympus OM-D, which should happen in the next week or two. Sometimes I need a new piece of gear to whet my appetite for photography.
I’ve been working on some essays for a collection I hope to pull together in the next year or so. My current essay has the tentative title, “On Becoming a Squirrel Whisperer.” I confess that work has been proceeding slowly, partly due to spending so much time reading on the Internet each day. It’s challenging to keep up with the science and technology stories that interest me. One aid is my Sci/Tech Daily Twitter newspaper that is issued twice a day.
For some odd reason I’ve been out of touch with my musical side. I never listen to music while I’m working or reading, and it’s been months since I took one of my instruments out of the closet. I’m hoping this is not some kind of brain problem caused by aging or the use of antidepressants. One positive sign is that I took out my six-string a couple of nights ago and enjoyed trying out some new (to me) songs. I’m hoping my interest in music will return.
Healthwise, not much to complain about. My ticker seems to be doing fine and aside from broken sleep patterns and a somewhat gimpy hip, both signs of aging, I’ve been feeling healthy. We’ve been enjoying a fine spring in Ontario and it’s a pleasure to go for walks.
One correction: in my posting, The Problem with Streaming Video, I complained about the lack of subtitles or captions. I’ve since discovered that Netflix has English subtitles for many of its videos. Getting captioning to display on the Apple TV is not intuitive, so here’s how to do it: Got to Settings, Audio & Video, Closed Captioning. Click it on and enjoy.
Latest tech acquisition: an iPad 3. A very satisfying purchase.