Editing a Novel is still in the Dark Ages

NO CHAOS Daniela Hartmann via Compfight

Someone needs to build a writing tool that is better than Word and Write for editing a novel. The biggest issue I have with using a word processor is that they just don’t handle larger documents gracefully. How hard is it to buffer a 400 page rtf file? It must be more difficult than anti-gravity cars. Because nobody has done it yet.

The commenting features of these modern word processors are great. Heck, live editing in Google Docs is really cool. But even Google Docs chokes on loading longer documents. Novels can be hundreds of pages in length, especially an Epic Fantasy novel. Why can’t I load and edit such a long piece of TEXT easily on my computer? It’s TEXT!

Anyway, here I sit, using Write to edit my novel and wondering why I have to suffer with such a simple concept. I have other beefs with these programs too. The biggest is the lack of a portable dictionary of words added to the document. WTF people? I make up all kinds of words in my novels and carefully add them to my document dictionary and then I open the novel in another computer and bingo, now all my words are forgotten. I really dislike that.

Okay, back to the editing.

Moving Away From Word

Lately I’ve been taking steps to get off word processors like Word and Write and get back to a basic text editor. Modern writing programs are just not capable of saving my words as simple strings anymore. They wrap my words in proprietary or even open code that clutters up my documents and makes it damn near impossible to save them as basic HTML. Why do I want my stories in HTML? Because that’s where Self Publishing and I believe, all publishing is heading.

The days of proprietary formats like .doc and .pdf are finally gone. Replaced by the new code of the web, HTML 5. E-book formats are also in flux, but the most popular ones are HTML based. Formats like epub require your text to be wrapped in basic <p> tags of common HTML. As anyone who as ever tried to save their story at a web page in Word knows, if you actually look at the HTML Microsoft provides, it’s riddled with stylesheet garbage that only makes sense to Word. The same goes for Open Office’s Write program. When I can save documents to clean, HTML 5 in those programs, I may return to them.

In the mean time, I’m using Gedit, the plain text editor that comes with Gnome, my desktop of choice on Ubuntu, Linux. There are other similar editors available for your favorite operating system. What I like about Gedit, is that fact that it is extendable and so has some rudimentary spell checking. But the end result of what I write in Gedit, is a clean, simple text file. I can then transform the text into <p> wrapped paragraphs or lines quite easily with simple Python or Perl scripts. I know, I’m quite nerdy like that. But because I can do these simple scripts, I am free to ditch all the madness of formatting my writing into basic HTML.

Also, as anyone who follows Cory Doctorow knows, if you write in basic text strings, you can do wonderful things with your work that can not be done to proprietary document formats. Like check it into repositories as a way to back up what you write, or transform your text into HTML, or query it for any number of things with simple code snippets. As any programmer will tell you, manipulating strings of text is one of the most powerful things you can do with code. It’s also the most basic way to communicate with your computer, but that’s another lesson for a much more technical crowd.