My New Writing Workflow

I’ve been changing my writing workflow this week. What follows is how I draft, edit and build my Indie novel ebooks. I’m admittedly an extreme corner case here, but I think no matter which OS you use, these tools are available. You may have to tailor some programs to your specific OS (Operating System).

I start with Plume Creator. Plume is a first draft writing program similar to Scrivener. Since I write on Ubuntu, I can’t use Scrivener and for the last three novels I’ve used Plume with great success. Plume is Open Source and can be downloaded for Linux and Windows. There is a Mac version, but it’s a few releases behind.

I then export to .odt and import the book into Libre Office’s Write. Then I send it to my editor and he marks it up using Write’s commenting features. When we get the manuscript perfect, I’m ready to build my epub. Write is Open Source and can be used on Linux, Mac and Windows. After all my edits are made, I clean up the document removing tabs and extra spaces.

I now use Jutoh to import my .odt document and divide it up into separate chapter files and add front and back matter pages. I use Jutoh to set my style sheet and import special fonts. When done, I unzip the epub and look it over in the fourth program – Sublime Text 2. Jutoh is NOT Open Source but is available for Linux, Mac and Windows.

Sublime Text is an editor used by programmers. It lets me manually tweak the XML in the epub. Sublime Text is NOT Open Source and is available for Linux, Mac and Windows. Reminder – you must unzip an .epub directory to get at the raw XML files. As you can see below, Jutoh leaves a nice clean base to work with.

You can probably substitute Scrivener for Plume and Word for Write on both Mac and Windows OS. There are many other programming editor tools available on Mac and Windows that are free or low cost.

Sublime Text – Setup

I’ve recently converted my coding text editor to Sublime Text. This post is a reference for if I have to set it up again. The editor can be used on any OS and looks particularly nice on all of them. It’s also a Python program. (This post subject to updates, as I find nifty plugins)

Get it here: Sublime Text

Reference this blog post for common plugins and general tomfoolery.

Package Control

HTML auto fill.

GIT plugin.

Code Completion plugin.

Lint plugin.

Make Sublime your default editor in Ubuntu.

Make your default Monokai theme have a dark side bar.



Sometimes You Write, Sometimes You Give Back

I’ve been doing two writing related things this week since returning from my summer vacation. Finishing my first draft of Starveyors and helping to redefine how I will write my next novel. Sometimes you write and sometimes you help others write. Either you help them learn the craft, or you help create a new tool that will help them write more efficiently.

I mentioned a while back that I found a new writing tool for Linux. Plume Creator is an Open Source project that is available on all three operating systems – Linux, Mac and Windows. I’ve recently moved to Linux and so I’ve been looking for something similar to Scrivener to write my novels in. Plume Creator is not a Scrivener clone, but it does work in a similar manner.

I’ve been working with the developer – Cyril Jacquet, to test and improve Plume Creator to make it the best free writing tool on any operating system. It’s a slow process. Cyril is trying new things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but his willingness to keep working at it is really impressive to me. All I’m doing is trying to spot errors so he can squish the bugs and make the program better in the process. There are others helping too, because we all want a better program. This is the essence of Open Source programming, people volunteering their time and effort to make something that we all can use and benefit from.

This weekend I had so much fun watching Cyril change the program and make it better that I neglected to work on my novel. I’ll have to double down to finish up the novel. However, the time spent helping Cyril improve Plume Creator, will help other writers down the line. My next novel, which I will begin in a matter of days, will be completely written in Plume Creator. Programmers call this eating their own dog food.

Cyril has released a new beta version of Plume Creator. If you would like to take it for a test spin and let him know what you think, he’d really appreciate it. Since this program is in heavy development, some parts are not working yet. The program runs on Linux, Mac and Windows.

Leaving Apple for Linux

Tux PhonepaperCreative Commons License mlabowicz via Compfight

When I got my new Dell laptop and put Ubuntu on it, I was doing more than just setting up a new laptop. I was defecting from the most popular creative arts platform for one that is mostly known for being a geek’s dream. Apple’s marketing machine has always catered to the rich and to the creative. So it’s not surprising that some of the best creative arts tools are only available on the Mac. But times are changing.

More and more creatives are realizing that Apple may not be as shinny as they first appeared. For me it was definitely about the shinny at first. I was attracted to the polished white plastic lines of the MacBook. It’s no myth that Apple makes beautiful products. But over time, the shinny wears off and you start to realize that no matter when you buy a new shinny product, it is always a few months away from being obsolete. I’m not rich enough or vane enough to keep up with that treadmill.

After six years of mostly loyal use, I retired the MacBook when it began to physically fall apart and was no longer supported by Apple. In this business, six years is a lifetime. So you know the product was well built to have lasted that long.

Forced with looking around for my next laptop, I considered a new MacBook. After all, they now make the most awesome laptop ever invented – the Air. It would have been so easy to just get the Air and carry on with my writing. Then I started to look at what reasons were keeping me on the Mac platform. I-tunes? Nope, never use it. I-Bookstore? Nope, never use it. Mac apps? Nope, never use them. I-Phone? Nope, don’t have one. So exactly why was I still on a Mac? Scrivener.

The one totally awesome creative tool that was keeping me on the Mac was a program not made by Apple. Huh. Could I get Scrivener for Windows? Yes. Could I get Scrivener for Linux? Not really, but kinda maybe someday. That’s when it started to be clear to me that I didn’t really need to get an Air. I mean one program does not a loyal customer make. I don’t need Scrivener to write novels. Does it make things easier for that task? Yes, it sure does. But there were other programs that made writing easier out there, I didn’t have to run with the cool kids and only use Scrivener.

Then I found a program that worked on all platforms and was being built from the ground up for writers, just like Scrivener had been. I was one of the early adopters of Scrivener. But the programmer never offered to let me help him make it better. It was not an Open Source project after all. The program that I found is called Plume Creator and I’ve been asked to help the developer make it better by testing it and reporting bugs and offering suggestions for improving it. In other words, Plume Creator was an Open Source project.

So I had a decision to make. Was I going to continue to live in a walled garden where the only application I truly used was not open source or was I going to return to my Linux roots and be a force of positive change? Easy decision. I went back to Linux.

It’s not just one unknown writer turning away from Apple products and moving to Linux. There are other writers and film makers, musicians and artists making the same move every day. You may not hear about them in the news, but they are there. Most of us are moving so that we can have the freedom to build our own tools and be creative bad-asses on a platform that doesn’t shut us out or fence us in.

Join us. If you dare.

Amazon, Apple and Microsoft

The new Big Three of digital publishing. Ugh! Can I have a new future please? No? Drat. Okay, then put me in two of the three major markets. Apple still makes me pay to play with purchasing an ISBN. Who knows what kind of lame format Microsoft will insist on after they consume B&N’s Nook inventory. Amazon is already in their own darn universe when it comes to ebook standards and availability. Really guys? Are you just trying to piss off everyone?

All three media companies want you to use their own ebook formats. Let’s continue to make the same dumb formatting decisions we made when the web first started. Remember the Netscape, IE, Apple/Linux web browser wars? Yeah, well ebooks are basically just fancy web pages folks. So the battle of the formats continues to rage.

As long as I continue to play the do-it-yourself publisher game, I’ll have to have my books formatted three different ways. Lame. This forces me to make decisions. If I want to be in all three markets, I need to spend more money converting my books. That’s just not in my financial future. Maybe after I start living off my ebook sales, I will have the money to be in all three markets, but for right now, it’s only going to be two. This assumes that Microsoft doesn’t mess with epub for another year or so. But you know they will, it’s in their company genes to make proprietary formats.

Since I make the lion’s share of my pittance from Amazon, I will have my ebooks there first. Since my ebooks are born as epubs, making them available on PubIt, is a no-brainer decision for now.

You may be wondering why I don’t just throw out a shingle and sell my books on the web site? Because I’m a largely unknown writer selling my own fiction and my audience is too small to justify the effort and money required to set that up correctly. When you are undiscovered, nobody comes to your house. Again, if I were selling thousands of books a day, I’d damn sure have a way to buy from this web site. But until that happens, I have to ride the long coat tails of the Big Three.

But over all, I can’t complain. My audience is mostly finding me on Amazon. Not in great numbers but about a hundred times greater than on B&N and Apple. So it makes sense to cater my ebooks to Amazon the hardest. You can have a thousand lines in the water, but if all the fish are in another pond, you’re not eating fish tonight.

I still feel like Google is sitting this one out. My local Indy bookstores are using them to sell ebooks, but Google’s author back-end is not easy to use and at times hostile to authors who publish themselves. It would be really great if Google spent some time to make their process easier. I’d love to be able to sell ebooks locally and let my favorite bookstores have a cut.


Duel Booting Ubuntu and Mac OS

Installing Mac OSX after hosing your Macbook hard drive

This is a cheat sheet that I have created in case I have this headache again. There were parts that I screwed up and there were parts that I simply was not able to find anywhere on the internet. So if you have this issue, I hope it helps you.

I completely botched my single boot install of Ubuntu on my old Macbook. This resulted in a HD with ext3 file system only. No EFI boot partition. I could boot into Ubuntu by holding down the option key during booting. The Mac firmware thought I had Windows installed and offered to boot from it. After choosing the Windows icon it would then boot into Ubuntu. But the wireless internet didn’t hold up for the first updates from Ubuntu and that left me with a botched install of Linux. Not good. The LAN connection was unusable and so was WiFi.

So the problem I had was how to boot the Mac OS disc. After trial and error, here’s what I had to do. Boot the same way, but put your Mac OS disc in the internal CDROM drive, or use an external one. This time it will see the Mac disc and the “Windows” disk. Choose the Mac one and boot up the Mac install disc.

The next issue is that it won’t see a hard drive, because Macs can’t see Linux partitions. So you have to go into the Mac utilities and from there erase the HD and then install the Mac OS, using the whole disc. After you have a clean and shiny install of Mac OS, then you can install rEFit and proceed to follow these directions from Ubuntu for duel booting.

Even though you are a die-hard Linux user, you have to keep OSX on the drive in order to do firmware updates. So deal with it.

Firefox Callsign Lookup Search Engine

If you drop by my web site, and click on the Amateur Radio page, you will find an option to install a Search plugin into your Firefox browser Search Engine box.  The handy little plugin lets you search the QRZ database for who owns an Amateur Radio callsign.  If you are a Ham, this is terribly useful in the your Radio shack.  If you are not a Ham, please disregard.

I also have a Mac Widget that does the same thing.  Sometime soon I will make that available to users of Mac OS X.  I may some day even make a Vista (what do they call Widgets again?) widget.  But since I would not touch Vista with a  ten foot pole, maybe not for a long time.  Feel free to take the Widget code and make it work on Vista. Here’s the code, any HTML dweeb can do it.

Something I may actually do is make a Linux version for use with gDesklets.

Virtual Windows

I spent the entire afternoon installing Windows XP Pro in Parallels as a Virtual Machine. Installing Windows on any PC takes a good bit of time, but as a VM, it seemed a little quicker, by a few minutes.  As long as I only have Parallels running on the OS X side, and put XP in full screen mode, it’s pretty much like having a Windows lappy.  I installed the free developer tools so I can do .Net programming and I installed an old version of Office 2000 that I purchased a million years ago when I was a loyal Windows user.

I mostly use the Windows VM for when I need to check if my web sites work with IE7 or to play with Visual Studio.  Both situations are rare.  I need to get ClamWin installed on it, so I don’t get every virus around.  But really, the thing is only on for short amounts of time and I don’t surf or do email on it.

I do like how Parallels lets you access your home folder on the OS X side from the Windows XP VM.  That’s way cool.

Word Processor For Mac

Most if not all of my creative writing now gets done on my MacBook. I have a wonderful writing program called CopyWrite that I live in when I’m actually banging out prose. It’s wonderful for keeping track of my notes and all my various versions. However, as a text formatting program it stinks. But that’s ok because that’s not what it was designed for. So I began my search for a word processor that I can use on the Mac for formating my final documents.

I will never shell out the bucks for Microsoft Word, so that option is out. I tried Open Office, but it lacks the features I need for formating novels, short stories and story synopsis – mainly, it does not let me put a different header on the first page of a document, something that I have found is pretty hard to find in a word processor. Yes, MS Word can do it. No, Open Office can not and neither can Pages, or AbiWord. If you know how to do this in either of those programs please do tell.

I finally found a Mac only program called Mellel that allows me to format headers the way I need to. I have only been playing with it for a short time, but so far it’s proved adequate, if not completely elegant. My search has ended at Mellel, but if anyone knows of a cheap, Mac only or multi-OS word processor that can allow me to have a different header for the lead page of a document, please let me know!