Introducing Manuskript

I’ve started testing a new writing program for Linux users called, Manuskript. This is a very promising first draft tool along the lines of Plume Creator or Scrivener. If you want to give the program a shot, I suggest you use the develop GIT version, instead of the pre-release. But if the terminal causes you anxiety then just wait for it to go out of beta, because this one is still unstable and going through rapid development.

I started outlining my latest novel using Manuskript and found it quite nice to use. Unfortunately, I was not able to recover from a file system location change and wound up losing some of my outline. For this reason I’ve returned operations to Plume Creator and will be coming back to Manuskript to test and play around with it as I write Corvette. What this means is I’ll be cutting and pasting my completed scenes into Manuskript after I create them in Plume. Then I won’t freak out if something happens to them.

But if you want to install and play around with Manuskript I highly encourage it! It’s a pretty slick tool already and as it becomes more stable it will be another welcome addition to the Linux writing tool set. While I was using Manuskript I introduced the program’s developer to Plume Creator’s developer, hoping the two of them could share experiences and ideas. I’m pretty sure this will help improve both tools and give us Linux writers a huge productivity boost.

As time permits, I’ll be doing more posts about Manuskript and showing you some of the features I really enjoy. If you have any program testing chops, this is the perfect opportunity to help a new project out. Download the develop version from GIT and let the developer know about the issues you find. That’s called giving back to the community and I believe it’s an essential part of being a writer. Very few folks use Linux to write books, but those of us who do, have the unique ability to help developers make our products better. Something users of proprietary programs like Scrivener, and Word, can not do.

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.

How I Use Plume Creator to Write a Novel


When you are first starting out writing a novel and are not set in your ways, you tend to look closely at how other writers ply their craft. This includes how they structure their novels and what software programs they use. Every writer is different and we all have our own way of doing things. The only way you are going to discover what works for you is to try the methods that others use and see if you like them. This post is not designed to be a tutorial on how to use Plume Creator, it is intended to show you how I use Plume Creator. Your mileage my vary and your methods may be completely different.

For this post I’m showing screen shots of my actual Works In Progress (WIP), the Space Opera novel, The Blood Empress and a future SF novel, Betweos. There may be spoilers in the images. If you are a reader and don’t want to have the stories ruined for you, perhaps you should skip this post. I’ll do my best to not show critical moments, but if you study these images, you could glean quite a bit about the stories. You have been warned. This is a bit like Dorthy looking behind the curtain and seeing how the Wizard works his magic. There will be inside baseball talk for writers ahead. Oh, and all images are clickable for larger versions.

Plume Creator

Last year I switched from using Mac OS to Linux. The move was not difficult but it did leave me without a decent writing program. I had been using Scrivener, but they don’t officially support Linux so I started looking for something like Scrivener for Linux. That’s when I discovered Plume Creator. Plume is an Open Source program written by an excellent programmer who also happens to be a writer. I started using it and realized that it was a diamond in the rough. I offered to help test the program and over time, several other writers did the same. In the past year Plume has progressed to be a world class piece of software that might soon be challenging Scrivener for the hearts and minds of writers. Especially those of us on Linux.

You can download Plume Creator from their website here:

There is a Mac port of Plume Creator and it’s maintained by a user. You can find it here, under Recent Releases:

There are some excellent video tutorials available here:

Getting Started


Plume has a default theme on the left and a dark theme known as Space Opera on the right. I mostly use the dark theme because it matches my OS, Ubuntu. For these posts I’ll be sticking to the dark theme, I just wanted to let you know that there is an alternative. You can also create your own custom theme using the Settings Dialogue shown in the picture on the right above.

To start a new project go to the top menu of Plume called Project and select New Project (ctrl+n). This brings up the New Project Assistant. This is the most efficient way to create a new novel in Plume.

Specify the new project name and the location you wish to save it.

I put all my projects on DropBox a web based, version controlled file system. If you just put your project on your local drive, you won’t have version control which is a way to recover previous saves of your project. Also, if your hard drive crashes, you will be out of luck entirely. Saving to DropBox creates a local drive version and auto-magically backs it up to the cloud. This has saved my butt many times. Do it.

The final screen of this assistant lets you select how many Books, Acts, Chapters and Scenes you want to include in your Project. Normally, if you are just doing one book, then you won’t need multiple books in one project, but if you were doing a trilogy, you’d want to have three similar books in one project.

Nobody knows how long their book will be in the end so this is really just an educated guess. You’ll be able to add or subtract chapters and scenes later as you outline or just plow through your novel pantser style.  I usually format my novels into four Acts each act contains about four chapters and each chapter contains about four scenes. Again, this is just a guideline. Something to get you started with. You can add and subtract anything at a later date.

Here’s a closeup of the assistant. You can see it adding things on the right as you change the numbers under Count.

There are many other options available such as Short Story, Short Novel and Long Novel. After you are satisfied with the overall structure of your novel click finished and your project is ready to go.

You still have to label the chapters and the scenes in your novel outline. I label chapters (Chapter 1) and I just use numbers for my scenes. I figure there is no need to write “scene” because the icon for scene is a page of paper. All the parts of a novel have their own icon in the Project tree. I label my acts, (Act 1-4). Again, you can do it however you want. As you can see from the above screenshot, you can collapse the Acts and the Chapters to better view the areas of your novel that you are interested in.

Setting badges. You can set badges on every element of the project tree. I use badges to set things like Turning Points on scene headers and word counts on chapter headers. Below you can see the right click menu where the badges are set.

Below you can see Chapter 1 has a word count set as a Badge and the first scene has Inciting Incident as a badge.


I outline my novels using the Project tree on the left and the Synopsis area to the right of the main editor. I drop a two or three sentence description of what happens in each scene and add a Badge to the scene to describe it if something significant happens like it’s a Turning Point. Below you can see a novel, The Blood Empress, that’s been outlined in the tree and the Synopsis has been filled in. This makes writing the novel much faster for me as I already have a prompt for each scene. However, this is not set in stone. You can change it and I frequently do to control pacing or flow.

If you prefer to use a spreadsheet type of outline, Plume has the Workbench. The Workbench takes whatever is in your Project tree and displays it in a spreadsheet format. It also includes the POV character. You can add and subtract columns in the Workbench to customize it.

Mise en scene

After you create the framework of your book or outline, you can go back through it and add characters, locations and other pertinent things you’d like to track. This is all done in the Mise en scene area of Plume Creator. In the screenshot below, you can see that I have set the characters and locations used in a scene. The POV character is also set. You set the POV character by highlighting the character on the Stage and clicking on the POV button which an icon that looks like an eye. To get the character you want from the bottom tree, simply drag it onto the stage area above the tree.

Taking the time to add your characters and locations to every scene is sometimes too time consuming during your first draft. After all, your mission is to get the words down, not to fiddle with it. So I try and set those things before I start to write. Again, they are easily changed as you go along.

The Mise en scene Manager is where you add and subtract things. Select the Characters area and then click on the Green Plus sign. A New character appears. Select the New character and rename it and then fill in the information. The selection boxes are slanted towards characters and not Items or Places. But I just use the big text box to write down any pertinent details about say a spaceship or a location. If you like to work out the details of your characters and keep that information at your fingertips, this is an awesome feature. In the near future it will be modified and improved upon.

In the Mise en scene dialog, you can add your own categories. For my Space Opera novels I keep track of starships this way. Below is Scene 2 from Chapter 1 of The Blood Empress. You can see the main characters, the POV character and the starship they are all on. I use this feature to keep track of who is in a scene without having to scroll up all the time to remember that alien’s name.


There’s a lot of added functionality included in Plume Creator and I only use a fraction of it. The program is not as complicated to use as Scrivener. There’s a simple elegance to it. Clean lines and the ability to show you only what you need to see are hallmarks of Plume Creator.

Wordcounts: Along the bottom of the program you have word counts for your Project, Book, Act, Chapter and Scene. You can also set a word count goal per scene before you start and it will track that with a simple green bar.

Tools Bar: On the Tools Bar you can set a timer for your writing session. I never use that feature, but I know many writers who do. So it’s there if you need it and if you don’t remove the bar for it.

Full Screen: There is a full screen mode that takes away all your distractions and lets you just focus on the writing. Sometimes I use this feature.

Workbench: One added feature on the Workbench is the ability to mark what version your manuscript is on. This is done using the drop down menu on the Status column.

Editor Features:  Most features you will need are just a right click away on the main editor. But some of them are hidden in a tool bar at the top of the page. Run your cursor over the top left corner of the page to activate this hidden formatting menu. You can also pin this menu and make it visible all the time.

Spell Check: My favorite feature because I spell like a fifth grader.

Styles: Plume does not let you format like a traditional word processor. It has Styles that you can set to format the text of your novel. In the Settings Dialog under Styles you can create your own styles to your heart’s content. I usually have an indent style and a Chapter Header style for my novels that have a character quote at the start of each chapter. The formatting for these things can be pre-set and to apply them I just highlight the text and select the Style I want.

Text: You can also change the text style in the Synopsis and Note areas under Settings Dialog -> Text tab.


After you are finished writing your novel you need to get it out of Plume and into Standard Manuscript Format. In previous versions of Plume, I exported my novel to .odt and edited it in LibreOffice. My editor used Word and made notations and all of that was able to be accessed in Write. But for my latest novel, I’m going to try and do each draft in Plume Creator. This is because my new editor also uses Plume Creator.

Above is the Export dialogue. You can’t export to Word’s .doc, but if you select .odt, you can use OpenOffice or LibreOffice to convert to .doc.


I wanted to say a few things about multi-book series and trilogies because I write them and I’m pretty sure others of you do to. I’m writing a nine book series and I decided to break it up into three Plume Projects. This means that I will have three full size novels in one project and probably a few novellas.  This creates some interesting issues, but performance is not one of them. Plume takes all the words you throw at it from 3 Thousand to 3 Million.

The only issue I have had so far is that each book has a bunch of characters unique to it and there are also some that appear in more than one book. Eventually the Mise en Scene gets pretty full and finding a character in a list of hundreds is none trivial. This problem is being addressed now and will be ironed out in the coming year. Which leads me to the final thing I’d like to say about Plume Creator. It’s Open Source. There is currently one developer and a bunch of interested testers helping him out. We’d love to have more developers willing to help out with the project. So if you know someone who can program in C++ and who supports Open Source coding, let her know about Plume.

Part of being a writer is being willing to give back to the writing community. Helping out with a program like Plume is giving back in a huge way. Probably more so than another blog post on how to write believable bad guys.


Weekend Update 08 Sep 2013

Special Birthday edition of the Weekend Update. Today I am forty-eight years old.


My son’s team got shut out by a group of kids that have been playing for each other for four years and were really good. But they shut out the other team in the second half, so they were making adjustments good. We have two key players injured. Hopefully they will be back for next week’s game.

My BSU Broncos had a big day on The Blue, destroying Tennessee Martin. Not sure if this means the Broncos are still good, or just good against lesser teams. Time will tell.

Testing Plume Creator

A big week for testing Plume Creator, the writing software I use. Cyril, the programmer served up a new stable build that fixed a bug in how the main text was displayed and in turn created a new customization tool for it. It has been such a pleasure working with Cyril and the other software testers that work on Plume over the past year. The program has come a long way and now I can finally say that I no longer miss Scrivener. In a month or so I will have finished my first novel using Plume Creator and I can honestly say that I love writing with it. I first started using Scrivener when it was in beta years ago but I never had a relationship with the developer. Chiefly because Scrivener is closed source and therefor not open to the kinds of suggestions that an Open Source project like Plume Creator is. So while you can suggest that Apple, Microsoft or Scrivener add a feature to their software, unless thousands of users agree, it ain’t happening. Meanwhile, everyone who uses Plume Creator can have a voice in what features are added even how they get implemented if you know how to program.

If you take the time to download and actually use Plume Creator, we encourage you to send the programmer emails when you find a bug or if you can think of a better way to accomplish something. Cyril appreciates all input and everyone will benefit from it in the end. One of the things I always preach when it comes to writing is giving back to the art and craft. If you have success, help lift others up. If you have a skill, pass it on to others. If you use a tool, help the developer make it better. It’s more than just good karma, you may actually learn something about yourself and your tools. And that will make you a better person and a better writer.

Writing Tools

I ordered a new laptop stand and a seven port USB 2.0 hub. They both arrived this week and below you see them in action on my home writing desk. I’m happy with both products now that I slid the hub under the stand to hide its high intensity green power light. Why do companies make such bright lights on appliances? Don’t their designers actually live with their products? I think not.



I also found a shorter HDMI cable to use for connecting the laptop to the monitor. Be nice if dongle makers would cater to non-Apple devices and make black HDMI adapters. White is a horrible color for a computer accessory. The two outside ports on the USB hub are power chargers for my phone and tablet. The first two slots are taken up by the wireless keyboard and mouse, which is why I needed USB 2.0 instead of going with the 3.0 version. Apparently USB 3.0 interferes with wireless signals. The Cooler Master fan stand seems to be doing the trick in keeping my CPU happy while attached to the external monitor. I’ve been monitoring the CPU temp and it seems about ten to fifteen degrees cooler than without the fan.

Now I need to work on wire management and see if I can clean up this desk a bit.

Plume Beta Sneak Peek

Thought I’d offer my audience a look at the latest Plume Beta, since it’s really not for public consumption yet. This being Beta software, things are not final and are subject to change. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s see what’s cooking for the next Plume Creator release.

Cyril has been giving the Project Tree an overhaul in an effort to make drag and drop smoother and faster. All his hard work is beginning to pay off, because in the limited testing I’ve done, it’s working great. Another new addition to the Tree is icons for Books, Acts, Chapters and Scenes. Yes, you read that right. Acts is new. As you can see in the screenshot below, your novel or book can now have Acts. Very cool. Kudos to Tushant Mirchandani, the new icons look clean and sharp. Again, things are in flux in this area, so the icons may change before the next release. Tushant is also responsible for the new layout options of the main screen.


Below is a screen shot of the Outliner which is now called the Workbench. This is where you are supposed to create your book in outline form. All changes to this Workbench outline immediately show up on the main screen shown above.


There are more new features planned and I’ll let you guys in on them as I test them. Rest assured that Plume Creator is still very much in development and is getting better with every release.

Using Plume Creator

I’ve written a bit over 2,000 words in Plume Creator this past week. So I thought I’d give some impressions as a writer using a writing program. I used the Outliner to sketch out the scenes in my first chapter. Being careful to write a synopsis for each scene and to use the notes section to remind myself of important features for each scene.

Before writing the scenes in the chapter, I also took the time to set up and add the locations, characters and objects used in each scene using the Attendance Tool. It seems like extra credit work when you are writing to do all this preparation, but believe me, it can save your butt and lead to quicker, more coherent scenes in your first draft.

I especially liked having the character’s names in the scene I was writing right there beside the text editor. I have a horribly short memory for new names of my characters and this prevents me from looking up the names and wasting time putting markers for names that I can’t recall as I’m writing.

Overall I’m very pleased with the program and I recommend you try it out if you are on Windows or Linux. If your using Plume Creator to write your novel, tell us about it in the comments. I happen to know the the program’s very talented creator Cyril, reads this blog.


Screenshots of the Latest Plume Creator Build

Here is the latest Plume Creator pre-release screenshot. More attention is being given to the look and feel of the program, as well as a few new features.

The best new feature is of course shown at the top and bottom of the main editor. First, you now have the option to get rid of tabs and just show one scene at a time. There is a thin line at the top and bottom of a scene in the editor when that scene has a previous and next scene already in place. If you grab that thin line and pull it up or down, you get a sneak peek at the previous or next scene. This is something I’ve wanted as a writer for years and now I have it with Plume Creator.

The way I have the side menu boxes, Notes, Tools and Attendance and even the bar that houses their buttons are all configurable to the user. This allows for typical flexibility that programmers have with their development environments.

The newly revised Full Screen mode now has icons for menu selections. Icons have found their way into the main editor too, for a more polished look and feel.

Another new feature for this version of Plume Creator is the Styles menu item. This lets you apply a Normal and a Poetry style directly to your scene. Sometimes when you are writing an Epic Fantasy novel you like to quote a poem. That bit of text needs to be styled differently than the main text. Now you can just highlight the area of the poem and apply the Poetry style to it. The result is visible in the above screenshot. Styles are configurable from the Configure Menu item.

Above is the latest Outliner for Plume Creator. It works like a tree diagram inside a spreadsheet. You can open chapters and move them around and add or delete scenes with synopsis and notes. The Outliner is in heavy development and is getting better all the time. It’s also a separate window so you could have it up on a second monitor and refer to it as you write in the main editor.

As you can see, Plume Creator keeps getting better week by week and I’m even using it to write my next novel.

Latest Plume Creator Even More Awesome

Plume Creator just keeps getting better with each Alpha release. The latest feature is the Preview Last Scene and Preview Next Scene by using pull down handle bars in the main editor. Elegant, intuitive and more useful than the previous button version. The above screenshot shows this feature being used.

More innovation is happening on the Outliner feature. The developer, Cyril, has added a tree view into the spreadsheet for adding chapters and scenes. Difficult to explain, but this is making outlining a novel much easier and intuitive.

And lastly, a feature coming into the build soon is Styles. This is the ability to let you embed things like poetry into your regular manuscript by using a Poetry Style. The lines of the poem are indented and maybe a different font or italics.

Plume Creator has come a long way since I first started using it. To be sure, it still has a spell to go before it can be released out of Beta, but that won’t be too long from now. If you download it and try it out, please tell the developer what you think of it. Feedback from actual writers, using the program as intended, helps weed out the bugs and makes the program even better.

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.