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Word Processors — One Writer's Further Retreat

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the flipping-toggles-is-next dept.

Software 391

ch-dickinson writes "In 2003, I posted an essay ('Word Processors: One Writer's Retreat') here about my writing experience — professional and personal — that led to a novel draft in vi(m), and I outlined reasons I chose a simple non-WYSIWYG text editor rather than a more full-featured word processor. A few novels later, in 2010 now, I decided to try a text editor that predates even vi: ed. I'd run across ed about 20 years ago, working at a software company and vaguely recalled navigation of a text file meant mentally mapping such commands as +3 and -2: ed didn't click with me then. But writing a novel draft is mule work, one sentence after another, straight ahead — no navigating the text file. The writer must get the story down and my goal is 1,000 words a day, every day, until I'm done. I have an hour to 90 minutes for this. So when I returned after two decades, I was impressed with how efficiently ed generates plain text files." Read on for the author's brief account of why he looked a few decades back in the software universe to find the right tool for the job.
Documentation for ed is available on the Internet, but I found it a great help to take Richard Gauthier's USING THE UNIX SYSTEM (1981) with me when I reported for jury duty in Portland, Oregon. His 30-page discussion of "the editor" is thorough and gave me some sense of the power of this pioneer text editor (cut & pastes, for example).

As I said, what drives my mule-like early morning routine is word count. The text editor ed has no internal word count tool (through dropping back to the command line gives, of course, wc). What I had to do was quite simple: I converted byte-counts (which ed does with each write to the file) into word equivalents. So if my style of writing runs 5.6 characters per word, then a word goal of 1,000 words is simply 5,600 bytes. Every day, I set my target byte count and once there, I quit.

In less than three months, I finished a 72,000-word novel draft and give ed credit for not slowing me down. Based on my experience writing novels with plain text editors (vim, geany, and now ed), I understand how few computing resources are needed to take manuscript composition off a typewriter and put it on a personal computer. The advantages of the latter are several, including less retyping, easier revision, and portability among different systems. Whether going from typewriter to personal computer makes for better writing I'll leave to others for comment.

What doesn't make for better writing is confusing text on demand (that daily word count that grows to a manuscript) with desktop publishing. Desktop publishing makes so many word processors into distracting choice-laden software tools. Obviously, there is a place for a manuscript as PDF file compliant with appropriate Acrobat Distiller settings, but that ends, not begins, the process. I like to think I'm not putting the cart before the horse.

So why would I recommend ed for a wordsmith? I'd say it comes down to just enough computing resources to do the job. WYSIWYG word processors have a cost and intuitively I think there's cerebral bus contention between flow of words onto the screen and keeping a handle on where the mouse arrow is (among other things).

But then perhaps I've a "less is more" bias (I have a car with nonpower steering — better road feel; I ride a fixed single-speed bike — ditto). That feeling is the sum of things there (and things left out). When I ride my fixie bike, it seems to know why I ride. Similarly, when I invoke ed, the text editor, it seems to know why I write. An illusion, sure, but also a harmony that goes with being responsible for all of it and staying focussed (without any distracting help balloons!).


One of Charlie Dickinson's novels is available for download at cetus-editons.com.

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391 comments

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Regarding your novel (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33845950)

tl;dr

Re:Regarding your novel (5, Funny)

maztuhblastah (745586) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846476)

> tl;dr

Is that the emacs command used to indicate you're a twat?

Next step? (5, Insightful)

eddy (18759) | more than 3 years ago | (#33845952)

I guess the next step is writing a novel using a hexeditor?

I get using a simple editor to not get down in layout/font issues, but I don't get using ed over vim (or emacs or any other simple text editor). This story failed to sell me on the concept. Is the idea that because it's hard to navigate in ed, you're not tempted to rewrite during the first pass? Seems a bit weak, you should probably have the mental power to just not do that.

Re:Next step? (2, Funny)

buswolley (591500) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846042)

Well why don't you just buy a pen and notebook then chump?

Re:Next step? (2, Funny)

buswolley (591500) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846064)

Well why don't you just buy a inkwell and parchment, chump?

Re:Next step? (4, Funny)

buswolley (591500) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846090)

Well why don't you just buy a cave and some paint, chump.

Re:Next step? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846178)

Well why don't you just sit down and tell your stories to audience, chump.

Re:Next step? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846216)

Well unless you tell your stories using grunts I think cave painting probably came before spoken language, fail.

Re:Next step? (4, Funny)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846306)

Bah, you're still fussing over small details.
LET THERE BE LIGHT!

Re:Next step? (4, Interesting)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846548)

Neil Gaiman writes his novels longhand, with a fountain pen (usually a Lamy Safari) and paper. I believe there is a lot to be said for this approach.

I believe that as text editors go, so long as one is writing in English or at least a language in a latin character set, it's tough to beat the efficiency of VIM. That's certainly what I use, when I have a choice.

But the overall efficiency of a fountain pen is also pretty hard to beat. (For those of you who don't know, a fountain pen requires practically no pressure in order to write, and is held at a very natural angle, and is a quite different experience from writing with a ballpoint. I have serious fatigue problems if I try to write for a long time with a ballpoint pen, these problems go away with a fountain pen.)

Cat is way simpler than a hexeditior. (2, Funny)

spaceturtle (687994) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846048)

Hex editors are too bloated. He should use cat instead (not the bloated monstrosity that is GNU cat of course).

Re:Cat is way simpler than a hexeditior. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846196)

Hex editors are too bloated. He should use cat instead (not the bloated monstrosity that is GNU cat of course).

Are you entirely sure this is ethical? I tried this once and was sued by the ASPCA.

Cats are too unpredictable (3, Funny)

jandoedel (1149947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846536)

Cats are too unpredictable to be good editors. The last time I let a cat use my keyboard to edit something I wrote, I ended up with page after page of "vnmerhi gbchqeruiph vvj buiphbjnnk wfqÙQSC g[no tyn"

Re:Next step? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846072)

I guess the next step is writing a novel using a hexeditor?

Well, assuming his next novel keeps the same word count, he just needs 3136 punch cards (I'm assuming 7-bit ASCII is enough for him, Unicode is probably too advanced).

Re:Next step? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846080)

Real Writers use a magnet-tipped pen to flip bits on the hdd.

Re:Next step? (3, Insightful)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846202)

Seems to me this issue has been explored as thoroughly as it needs to be - by none less than Neal Stephenson in In the Beginning Was The Command Line" [cryptonomicon.com] . The man can write, and having done do on a subject close to the heart of many geeks is doubly cool.

Re:Next step? (1)

thrawn_aj (1073100) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846456)

Agreed.

Notepad++ works for all my technical needs (coding or general writing).

For creative writing, I use this single exe file (357kB) free tool called Q10 (eminently portable so I use it from my usb stick). Superb writing program - opens full screen, soft font, no formatting possible and you can customize background and font colors (but that's it). All keyboard driven (no mouse functions and the mouse cursor disappears entirely) - a command list appears with F1 (intuitive - open close, save). Oh, best thing - you can choose to hear a typewritten sound when you type :). Wrote a lot of neat stuff on this thing - I can see the difference in the way I write.

Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (5, Insightful)

The Living Fractal (162153) | more than 3 years ago | (#33845960)

Even though I'm struggling to understand why you went this route (I'm leaning towards you're a hopeless romantic, or worse), let's put that aside for a moment and focus simply on your statement about the mouse cursor. I know of no text editing/authoring/publishing software in existence that requires use of the mouse. Not a single one. You could have easily not even connected a mouse to the computer and proceeded to write with any program out there. The fact that you chose one so old and out of normal use speaks more to it being old and out of normal use, and to your romanticizing or somehow aggrandizing that facet, than the fact that it doesn't have a mouse cursor in your way.

Look, I get it, you want to write without distractions. That's fine. All I'm saying is there is something else going on here behind the scenes...

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846220)

I know of no text editing/authoring/publishing software in existence that requires use of the mouse.

both sam and acme require a mouse

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846252)

I very much agree with the OP was talking too. I do most of my writing in a text editor. This is mainly because of the necessity of portability and lack of distraction. There are some better common open formats such as RTF and HTML. My bigger issue with them is that many editor's don't support these formats well. You can say there are some good WYSIWYG HTML editors but everyone I have seen so far adds lots of odd HTML tags and CSS entries. I'm looking for something that just makes

,... , , ,, tags for formatting. After all of the writing is done, then it is easy to go add more decorative CSS and HTML tags to get really what you want. Another benefit of just using straight TXT or HTML is that if you use a code versioning system for storage, it makes it very easy for tracking changes.

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846326)

Ok who's the idiot that allows raw HTML tags in posts...

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (1)

ezzzD55J (697465) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846424)

Ok who's the idiot that allows raw HTML tags in posts...

You, by selecting html formatted ;-)

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (3, Informative)

Balinares (316703) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846270)

> Even though I'm struggling to understand why you went this route (I'm leaning towards you're a hopeless romantic, or worse)

I think you would be surprised.

The thing about writing is, it's hard. You get this brief bright spark of a plot idea that you've got to write, and then it's hour upon hour upon hour of churning word after word after fuck it I'll go check out Slashdot. The initial excitation lasts perhaps all of 10 minutes before you start asking yourself what the hell you're doing. And at this point anything -- anything -- becomes a tempting distraction. A simple, no-nonsense editor is a boon. You set it full screen and keep trudging along. I like vim; dark color schemes are easier on the eye, you can jump between sentences at the press of a key, and if you're at all the nerdy type a plug-in like ScmFrontEnd or Fugitive lets you version your work on the fly.

There's a reason why George R. R. Martin notoriously uses Wordstar on MS-DOS to this day, you know. :)

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (4, Insightful)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846418)

There's a reason why George R. R. Martin notoriously uses Wordstar on MS-DOS to this day, you know. :)

Maybe that's why his next book is five years late?

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (1)

aliddell (1716018) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846450)

Damn, beat me to it.

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846320)

Its more about the lack of a mouse option than it is not requiring the mouse. No mouse, often means no visual menus, meaning more vertical space. You're left only with your words and nothing else. Its hard to do that with MS Word. Its more a case of correlation, rather than causation. Lack of mouse correlates to a less cluttered text editor, although not necessarily the cause of it.

Re:Ok...But let's not blame the mouse. (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846394)

I know of no text editing/authoring/publishing software in existence that requires use of the mouse.

I bought and used my first mouse in 1991. (I was enrolled in an AutoCAD class, and the rodent was a cheap option for use at home).

However, I had managed to survive perfectly well from the mid-'70s without such a crutch. My favourite text editor for many years was TECO, which had variants among many of the mini/mainframe machines of the day, and later became the foundation of EMACS.

TECO was (and still is) a blazingly fast program, ideally suited to quick-and-dirty scripted editing of flat files in a production environment. Some of my colleagues used to complain, however, of its memory usage: the memory involved in remembering all those cryptic commands like "zj-1d" (jump to the end of a file and delete the last character). Wimps.

I don't think this is a universal condition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33845994)

Sorry, but going to a more and more primitive editor? Maybe that works for this person. There are authors who like using old-time typewriters. There are authors who like writing things out by hand, then transcribing them. There's authors out there who voice things and have somebody else type them up.

We each have different ways of working. Some of us might come up with our best ideas while working, or while lying in bed. Some of us might find staring at the CLI is less conducive than the GUI for our work.

Who knows? Do what you like, if it's working with plain text, fine. If it's working with a more convention word processor go with it.

Besides most work for word processors probably isn't novel composition, it's probably more letters and articles and whatnot than novels.

Just saying.

ed is too fancy (5, Funny)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846010)

real men use

cat /dev/stdin >> story.txt

Re:ed is too fancy (5, Funny)

machine321 (458769) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846168)

Bruce Schneier uses

cat /dev/arandom >> story.txt

Re:ed is too fancy (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846384)

Bruce Schneier uses

cat /dev/arandom >> story.txt

Don't use this. It might lead to plagiarizing Shakespeare.

Re:ed is too fancy (-1, Redundant)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846362)

Real men use butterflies. They open their hands and let the delicate wings flap once. The upward disturbance ripples outward, changing the flow of eddy currents in the upper atmosphere. These cause momentary pockets of higher-pressure air to form, which act as lenses that deflect incoming cosmic rays, focusing them to strike the drive platter and flip the desired bit.

Of course, I just use C-x M-c M-butterfly.

You and your fancy append (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846406)

Real men use 'cat > story.txt', starting from the beginning each time.

Re:ed is too fancy (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846428)

real men use

cat /dev/stdin >> story.txt

I always like copy con whatever.txt

But ya, i sucked, I used dos.

Re:ed is too fancy (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846480)

copy con was still better than trying to deal with edlin.

Obvious... (1)

alder (31602) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846018)

perhaps I've a "less is more" bias

What about

cat < >novel.txt

then?

Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (2, Insightful)

whizbang77045 (1342005) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846026)

The writer has a point. Words processors have continued to have more and more tools, making them harder and harder to use. Look at Microsloth Word: it keeps getting more and more like a page layout program, and less and less like a tool to get text in the computer.

When all you're trying to do is get words down on paper, all you really need is a simple, repeat, simple, text editor. Anything beyond that can get in the way, and detract from the creative process.

That's my 25 cents worth, reminding everyone as always that 25 cents won't buy what it once would.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (1)

bemymonkey (1244086) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846066)

But then why go to all the trouble of finding the perfect text editing software (i.e. a piece of software that has absolutely no features)? Why not just type it up in Word and ignore the fonts and other settings? Or just use what came with your computer (Gedit, Notepad, Wordpad, whatever)...?

Personally, I like Notepad++... don't think I've ever been distracted by all the options, as I only ever actually grab the mouse when I realize I actually need it.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846482)

ed have plenty of features and is a really great editor. If I didn't use vi, I'd be interested in changing to ed. Yes, it takes some time to learn, as does vi, but compared to typing in notepad, the difference is huge. Notepad is inefficient.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846502)

...the trouble of finding the perfect text editing software (i.e. a piece of software that has absolutely no features)?

Maybe you have never tried a real text editor. Spend a couple of weeks learning the intricacies of emacs or vi[m] if you must, then try again. You won't need a mouse, and you will be working with an editor vastly superior (at processing text) to any Microsoft or Apple product.

Once your text is in place, you can use whatever you want (TeX/LaTeX, OOo, MSWord or whatever) to do the formatting. Getting the input right in the first place is the important thing,

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (1)

crazycrazy (730886) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846086)

Wow, last time I started Word, it plopped me right on page one with a blinking cursor. If all you want to do is type in text and keep moving forward, word is as easy to use as any other text entry tool. Just start typing and ignore the menus. And for a writer the built in auto-save can be a lifesaver when the power goes out.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (3, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846182)

The last time I used Word, 'plop' was very descriptive of its behavior as well.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846238)

I use Word to write all my stuff. The one thing that pisses me off is a scrolling graphics error where it fails to update the text and gets stuck and how it has a limit to how far the grammer and spelling check can go. It's like 400 pages but still, definitely annoying to split my longest stories into 2+ files. But for the find and replace and advanced features and word counts and page arrangement for page count based quartering, I can't imagine using anything more primitive. It would slow me down soooooo much! I think the only reason anyone would use something so ancient is because they aren't properly trained in more modern methods.

What's your point? (4, Insightful)

Petersko (564140) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846150)

"Words processors have continued to have more and more tools, making them harder and harder to use."

For the purposes of this guy's word grinding, any word processor in existence would be spectacularly easy to use. Launch, type, save. Maybe print. The fact that he couldn't resist doing the formatting when writing is his problem, not the tool's. He overcomplicated his work flow. "But too often I tackled the day's writing deciding such issues as a font for the day's draft." I mean, come on, dude. Pick one that looks like the typewriter output you yearn for and go write.

"Look at Microsloth Word: it keeps getting more and more like a page layout program, and less and less like a tool to get text in the computer."

Actually it's a perfectly decent tool for getting text in the computer, unless you're VERY easily distracted, and then when you're done typing, it becomes a page layout program. And seriously, "Microsloth"? Is it 2002 again? I thought that tiresome insult-through-spelling thing had died down.

Re:What's your point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846478)

And seriously, "Microsloth"? Is it 2002 again? I thought that tiresome insult-through-spelling thing had died down.

Yeah, that is Epic Fail right there..

Re:What's your point? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846552)

For the purposes of this guy's word grinding, any word processor in existence would be spectacularly easy to use. Launch, type, save. Maybe print. The fact that he couldn't resist doing the formatting when writing is his problem, not the tool's. He overcomplicated his work flow. "But too often I tackled the day's writing deciding such issues as a font for the day's draft." I mean, come on, dude. Pick one that looks like the typewriter output you yearn for and go write.

Having to do so every time he creates a new document.

Actually it's a perfectly decent tool for getting text in the computer, unless you're VERY easily distracted, and then when you're done typing, it becomes a page layout program. And seriously, "Microsloth"? Is it 2002 again? I thought that tiresome insult-through-spelling thing had died down.

Word is not a decent tool for getting text into the computer. It starts slowly, vi starts without visible delay. Word also gets slowed down, when typing text, since it does formatting in realtime. Then it saves the document in binary encoding, which is a really bad idea, if you want to not loose your data, with a couple of bit errors. It also tends to correct spelling as you type, this slows down your typing. It has a nasty habit of changing i to I, despite having looked around and changed the language to swedish.

This slows down the typing, so word is about the worst tool to type in text to a computer.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846204)

Word is a word processor, if you want to just get text into a computer, you've got better choices. Both vi and emacs would suffice. As would notepad, wordpad or any number of other text editors.

Word has for quite some time now been about WYSIWYG which involves a whole lot more than just getting text into a computer.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but ever since sometime in the mid 90s, a word processor has been used for page layout as well. Much of the complaining about Word is the failure to properly lay the pages out in a way that works between word processors.

Re:Word processors are becoming page layout tools! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846308)

25 cents is worth more than you. As soon as you went the "Microsloth" route, I knew what a worthless slashfag you are.

ed knows all (2, Insightful)

daremonai (859175) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846034)

Similarly, when I invoke ed, the text editor, it seems to know why I write.

Or, in my case, why I shouldn't write. Whenever I try to type anything into ed, it simply responds:

?

posing the question it knows I cannot answer.

What you see isn't what you'll get anyway (2, Informative)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846038)

Not if you're going to see it in print, that is. A writer writes the words. An editor and publisher will have it put into the final form.

I got to review Jef Raskin's book in its manuscript form, and "manuscript" is very close to what it was. One of the early human-computer interface experts, who helped develop the Macintosh, created his book in double-spaced Courier, designed to be proof-read, not published. Drawings were sketched; a real artist created what ended up in the book.

I don't know what he used, and he'd probably find "ed" to be a little ridiculous: it's a line editor, not suited to blocks of text. He probably used something WYSIWYG. But didn't bother with any formatting, and that saved him a lot of time and care.

Re:What you see isn't what you'll get anyway (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846258)

That's an excellent point, and the reason why there are software programs dedicated to manuscripts. A good system will provide for diffs and revision control. Which you can do outside the program, but it's probably better to have it integrated.

Whatever works for you (5, Funny)

travisb828 (1002754) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846046)

Its all about personal taste, and I happen to like little red squiggly lines under most of my words.

Real men pipe the input in using cat (1)

00_NOP (559413) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846056)

that is all

The essence of hipsterism: (5, Interesting)

lxs (131946) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846062)

Use the most backward impractical tool available and declare it superior.

cf. fixie bikes and Holga cameras.

Re:The essence of hipsterism: (1)

colmore (56499) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846098)

In defense: Holga cameras take really interesting looking pictures, and fixie bikes are good for...

um...

bike polo i guess.

Re:The essence of hipsterism: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846350)

Fixie bikes are good for fitness. You end up doing lots more work as you've got to use your legs to reduce speed as well. My father rides one he put together from an old mountain bike when feels like being a masochist. While riding it he wears a stylish high visibility vest and lycra cycling getup. He's 63.

How anyone could think that's fashionable is beyond me...

Re:The essence of hipsterism: (1)

cats-paw (34890) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846364)

like all things it depends on what you're trying to do.

re: fixies. they are simpler and less costly. so if you don't have hills to climb, they're a great option. also, in rainy nasty whether you burn through chains and cog sets in a hurry.

fixie has a nice thick chain and simply tossing the chain ring and cog (just one) is relatively inexpensive.

so superior ? not really, but certainly practical. remember, as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Re:The essence of hipsterism: (2, Funny)

JackDW (904211) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846412)

Counter-example: Macintosh computers. A hipster is only permitted to be without his Mac if he is carrying at least one iPhone. On a Mac, the only backwards, impractical tool in common use is iTunes.

Re:The essence of hipsterism: (0, Flamebait)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846520)

No crap. This guy sounds like a total douchebag. He has some psychological quirk about "simplicity" that he's trying to parlay into some kind of popular movement or something? Look, if having a boldface button stops you from writing, that just means you're a shitty writer.

BTW, the reason nobody rides fixed-gear bikes or drives cars without power steering is *safety*. This hipster douchebag is going to kill himself or somebody else sooner or later.

i remember your post! (1)

jimjamjoh (207342) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846070)

I remember reading this post those many years ago and nodding my head in agreement as I read along. In college, I drafted all of my essays in Vim before importing them to OO.o for pdf generation. It's a wonderful tool for the job of cranking out text, but you're right that the ability to read what you've already written is distracting and antithetical to the goal of simply pumping out text, which is the novelist's first charge.

I think you've stumbled onto a very interesting use of ed here, though I daresay you're likely an army of one amongst your peers for your choose of authoring tools. :)

Isn't this what a typewriter is for? (1)

colmore (56499) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846078)

Writing forward with no editing or deletion, while still getting to read what you wrote yesterday. They still make new typewriters and a no-frills manual model goes for like $90.

But unlikes some sourpusses around here, I appreciate the appeal of using weird tools to do common tasks. So if ed is really your thing, ignore the haters.

Re:Isn't this what a typewriter is for? (1)

haus (129916) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846136)

Although, assuming that one does want to edit at some time in the future, having the output in a text file vice a pile of loose leaf pages, is a step in the right direction.

Re:Isn't this what a typewriter is for? (1)

weav (158099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846322)

Recapitulating some earlier posters in this topic: when I was at Javasoft, a co-worker of mine once asked Gosling what his favorite editor was and he answered, "cat."

Whatever works for ya...

Use LaTex (2, Insightful)

F.Minusia (748125) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846102)

If you need to avoid all the manual formatting and want great quality, then you should prefer LaTeX or a suitable *TeX.

Re:Use LaTex (4, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846158)

If you need to avoid all the manual formatting and want great quality, then you should prefer LaTeX or a suitable *TeX.

Or you could sent your manuscript out to a publisher who has professionals working full time in typography, layout, design and illustration.

Re:Use LaTex (2, Interesting)

N7DR (536428) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846368)

Or you could sent your manuscript out to a publisher who has professionals working full time in typography, layout, design and illustration.

Rather to my surprise, the last decade has seen a marked deterioration in the number and quality of professional designers and typographers used by most publishing houses (both large and small). I some time ago came to the conclusion that someone with skills in TeX (and, probably more importantly, an understanding of the minutiæ of typesetting) can do a much better job than most publishing houses these days.

That is not to say that publishers don't provide other useful services (principally editing and marketing).

Re:Use LaTex (1)

iris-n (1276146) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846530)

[citation needed]

Also, wouldn't the publishing house just remove your *TeX markup and typeset it their way?

Re:Use LaTex (1)

JackDW (904211) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846514)

Some confusion here. Latex is the next layer up. With Latex you have to use a text editor to write your source code, and then you "compile" it with Latex to get a PDF or whatever. You can use whatever you want as your text editor, even "ed".

I use "vim" for writing Latex source code. I know it's not the intention of the author, but his writing has challenged me to ask why I am still using "vim" when much better tools exist for writing documents (and programs). How can I laugh at his use of "ed", "the standard Unix editor" that dates back to the very beginning of Unix, when I too am using ancient software?

To be honest, I think it's habit now. I've learned to use "vim" well, and when I use Word and Visual Studio, the extra power tools that I get are not enough to make up for the lack of vim-ishness.

MS Notepad (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846116)

Dont you get all the lack of functionality in Notepad itself. use the edit command in DOS, if you dont want to use the mouse at all. Whats the point of using an editior like VI where even the backspace key does not work as it should?, doesnt it just add more overhead? Isnt it simpler to ise the arrow keys for navigation and backspace for backspace,etc.. I believe gedit does the same for Linux Pls enlighten me..

Re:MS Notepad (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846210)

notepad has size limitations forget what it is but I have hit it on several occasions.

though for command line editing I always preferred nano. the interface commands make sense when dealing in a mix UI environment and you don't want to learn the OS of emacs.

Re:MS Notepad (1)

ncc74656 (45571) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846446)

notepad has size limitations forget what it is but I have hit it on several occasions.

Up through Win9x, it was 64K IIRC. Notepad on WinNT and its descendants may have a limit, but it's larger than you're likely to bump up against unless you're trying to pull some multi-gigabyte logfile (or whatever) into it for browsing.

Re:MS Notepad (2, Interesting)

gratuitous_arp (1650741) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846344)

Why people use vim, in 2 minutes:

The popular vi clones (like vim) allow users to perform advanced editing (not just tapping arrow keys to move around), and it does it with the keyboard alone -- and mostly keys that are easy to press (like :w to save, instead of Alt+F, S). This means you do not waste time moving one hand back and forth from the mouse -- it *removes* this overhead. If you try to use something like Word with the keyboard only, you'll be using some very awkward key combinations. Not so with vim.

That covers the "advanced" GUI editors. Now: ed, MS edit, Notepad, etc., don't even try to implement the vast number of features you get with vim that let you quickly edit through the command line. As Bram Moolenaar likes to say, once the commands are "in your fingers" -- so that it's second nature -- your editing speed improves immensely. Particularly for writing code, but it is true for any other use as well.

If you are not interested in quick, efficient editing, then there is no reason to use vim. Ed or Notepad or Word will yield the same result as vim, it will just take you longer to do it (assuming you know how to use both editors efficiently). Most users get hung up because vim is a modal editor, so they ditch it and go back to gedit. For the rest of us who put the time in to learn how to use it effectively, it pays off in a big way.

See also:

Bram's Seven habits of effective text editing: http://www.moolenaar.net/habits.html [moolenaar.net] (this is in presentation form somewhere on youtube, too)
Vim's about page: http://www.vim.org/about.php [vim.org]

Re:MS Notepad (3, Interesting)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846354)

Especially if, as he says, he's not going to be traveling around the text very much, VI is exactly the wrong tool. It's designed to let you move around a ton without leaving your normal typing position, and to re-arrange bits of text quickly. This ability comes at the price of a painful learning curve and a non-intuitive interface for doing simple shit like moving over a few characters to replace a letter or two in the last word.

If you're just typing text but want few distractions, something like Nano/Pico or one of those newer editors that run in the graphical OS but turn the whole screen black and show only what you've typed would make way more sense--especially the latter, which are designed precisely for this situation. VI's modes and other useful-for-code features are, for the purposes of writing, just another form of counter-productive bloat; it's not remotely worth learning VI if you're not going to be moving blocks of code around and bouncing about your document almost as often as you actually modify the text.

Re:MS Notepad (1)

msuarezalvarez (667058) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846472)

The Backspace does exactñy what it should in vim---but it may be different from what *you* expect it to do. It is trivial to change its behaviour, in any case. Vim is very selective of its users...

Less is romantic, it isn't more (5, Insightful)

Shihar (153932) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846132)

Personally, I think you just sound like a romantic, not someone who has stumbled upon a magic productivity method. What gets your rocks off is thinking that you are doing something old sk00l. It is pretty dead easy to make MS Word 2040 or whatever version they are on a blank white screen where words appear when you type. Your other old sk00l romanticism is just that, romanticism. A fixie really isn't better than a bike with gears unless you like having your legs sheared off when you go too fast. Gears are actually awesome when you need to go up a steep hill or want to haul ass down a steep hill. Power steering, computer control traction, and all of that goodness is likewise is awesome when something dives in front of your car and you need to make a sharp dodge. Touchy feel decelerations that you can feel the road better and that somehow improves your not hitting shit skills don't stand up the statistical reality that power steering, traction control, and fun stuff like that reduces accidents.

There is nothing wrong with being a romantic who idealizes simplicity, and there certainly is something to be said for keeping thing simple, but your methods are almost certainly useless to someone who doesn't see the romanticism in using old obscure text editors. For those people, if the editor is really distracting, they should just take a few seconds to pair down the interface to MS Word or Open Office (or whatever), rather than run an archaic text editor. If you are a romantic and need to be in a mood to write, find what gets your rocks off and go for it. Neal Stephenson wrote the 4000 or so page series with a freaking fountain pen. Inefficient? Sure, but if acting a little archaic gets your creative juices flowing, go for it.

Re:Less is romantic, it isn't more (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846408)

Touchy feel decelerations that you can feel the road better and that somehow improves your not hitting shit skills don't stand up the statistical reality that power steering, traction control, and fun stuff like that reduces accidents.

Professional drivers and professional writers fall on the far end of the statistical curve.
They don't necessarily want or need the fancy assists that keep the rest of us from failing in spectacular fashion.

Re:Less is romantic, it isn't more (0, Troll)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846538)

They don't necessarily want or need the fancy assists that keep the rest of us from failing in spectacular fashion.

Yes, but he's not making this claim:

"I'm a professional writer, therefore I don't need all the features in Word."

The claim he's making is:

"I'm a professional writer, therefore all the features in Word obstruct my work."

Those aren't equivalent claims, and the second one is complete bullshit by any measure. There's nothing in Word that's causing you to fail.

Re:Less is romantic, it isn't more (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846440)

Personally, I think you just sound like a romantic, not someone who has stumbled upon a magic productivity method. What gets your rocks off is thinking that you are doing something old sk00l. It is pretty dead easy to make MS Word 2040 or whatever version they are on a blank white screen where words appear when you type. Your other old sk00l romanticism is just that, romanticism. A fixie really isn't better than a bike with gears unless you like having your legs sheared off when you go too fast. Gears are actually awesome when you need to go up a steep hill or want to haul ass down a steep hill. Power steering, computer control traction, and all of that goodness is likewise is awesome when something dives in front of your car and you need to make a sharp dodge. Touchy feel decelerations that you can feel the road better and that somehow improves your not hitting shit skills don't stand up the statistical reality that power steering, traction control, and fun stuff like that reduces accidents.

There is nothing wrong with being a romantic who idealizes simplicity, and there certainly is something to be said for keeping thing simple, but your methods are almost certainly useless to someone who doesn't see the romanticism in using old obscure text editors. For those people, if the editor is really distracting, they should just take a few seconds to pair down the interface to MS Word or Open Office (or whatever), rather than run an archaic text editor. If you are a romantic and need to be in a mood to write, find what gets your rocks off and go for it. Neal Stephenson wrote the 4000 or so page series with a freaking fountain pen. Inefficient? Sure, but if acting a little archaic gets your creative juices flowing, go for it.

So your saying, using my TRS-80 4p, and Scripsit (first word processor I ever learned) to bust out a wonderful novel today would be wrong?

Calling the Model 4p portable was wrong. =)

Ed is the standard text editor. (5, Funny)

gratuitous_arp (1650741) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846134)

"When I log into my Xenix system with my 110 baud teletype, both vi and Emacs are just too damn slow. They print useless messages like, ‘C-h for help’ and ‘“foo” File is read only’. So I use the editor that doesn't waste my VALUABLE time.

Ed, man! !man ed"

http://www.gnu.org/fun/jokes/ed.msg.html [gnu.org] :-)

Screw ed (1)

hedronist (233240) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846144)

You can medicate ed with Viagra.

What you really want is TECO [wikipedia.org] FTW!

I never got the point of word processors... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846162)

They seem to be intentionally designed to be the wrong tool for anything you may be trying to do.

If you want a good, older editor try Jed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846174)

My editor of choice for many years has been Jed.
Text based, simple to use, even over an ssh session.

http://www.jedsoft.org/jed/

check it out if you are looking for something that doesn't get in the way of the process.

WriteRoom is better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846186)

for the simple reason that it support typewriter scrolling -- the line you're working on stays near the center of the screen -- no more peering down at the bottom of the page. Aside from that, any word processor or text editor that gives you full screen mode and and lets you turn off any sort of crappy toolbar/ribbon system is fine for me.

I must admit to having amassed a large collection of manual typewriters and expensive pens over the years in my attempts to find the tool that keeps me writing. So, if ed gets you putting words down, then that makes it the ideal tool for you.

Word processors detriment on books. (1, Interesting)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846206)

Do word processors not make it too easy for writers to write bloated books?

I take the position that word processors have had a detriment on clarity of writing. It's too easy to not have to keep everything in you head when writing with a word processor.

I used to enjoy Asimov, but it seems his later books (after 1980) just got fat and I stopped reading.

And look at college textbooks. Who reads all those pages?

Re:Word processors detriment on books. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33846388)

Hey, you're right! I re-read Les Miserables recently and that Victor Hugo, man, he wrote a tight plot with no wasted pages. I'm looking forward to re-reading Dickens' slimline Tale of Two Cities, too! Sure better than wading through the bloated word-processed rubbish coming out of these fancy modern "authors".

Re:Word processors detriment on books. (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846468)

Do word processors not make it too easy for writers to write bloated books?

I take the position that word processors have had a detriment on clarity of writing. It's too easy to not have to keep everything in you head when writing with a word processor.

I used to enjoy Asimov, but it seems his later books (after 1980) just got fat and I stopped reading.

And look at college textbooks. Who reads all those pages?

I feel the same way about Clive Barker. His short stories were excellent in my opinion, but his later novel size books? Wasn't the same. And it's not like I don't appreciate good thick books, i prefer them actually. Not into short stories really. So go figure.

I have no idea if he changed what he used to write with, but his short stories were during the younger part of his life, so ya, I could see him doing them more old school then the novels he did later after he gained some fame from Hellraiser.

Writeroom, et al. (3, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846208)

I've seen plenty of modern apps that offer "distraction free writing". Even most full-featured word processors have a full screen mode that hides the UI. Plus, you get nice extras like proportional fonts, bold, italic, and underline, simple copy and paste, and so on.

Also, modern CPUs are so powerful that even a graphical word processor should leave the processor idling most of the time. Unless your GUI word processor is incredibly bloated and inefficient (*cough* Word *cough*) there isn't really a practical performance or battery life benefit to switching to a command line editor.

But hey, you're writing a novel, so whatever fuels your creative process is fine by me. After all, some authors use antique typewriters, or pen and paper. I've even been known to use a stylus and clay tablet, but only when I'm writing Sumerian viruses.

Upgrade time (4, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846248)

Next year he should upgrade to Microsoft Edlin. That'll teach him.

Whatever Works For You (3, Interesting)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846274)

I've always hated Word and its ilk because the program is constantly fighting how I want to work. I spend more time fighting with the program than I do creating new content. Microsoft and Apple both seem to feel they know how to do what you're trying to accomplish better than you do, and not just in the word processing tools. So if you found a tool that works better for you, more power to you.

Personally I prefer markup languages like HTML or LaTeX, which I create with vi or Emacs for the documents I write. You can generally get away with HTML for just about everything these days. You can generate (beautiful) PDFs with LaTeX, but a lot of times people don't want a read-only document. I expect that if you're writing a book the publisher will eventually format it the way they want it anyway, and plain text is ultimately the lowest common denominator!

It is not like you have to use Powerpoint... (2, Informative)

netsavior (627338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846278)

I get that Office Suite 20xx is bloated, but it is not like there aren't a wide array of Novel specific editors that cater to the exact things novel writers need, and it is not like OSs don't come with VI, EMACS, DOS Edit, Notepad, etc...
Scrivener is almost good enough to make me want a mac. [literatureandlatte.com]
Rough Draft [f2s.com] is what I actually use to write novels, it is simple and outputs in RTF, has very few features, but the ones that it does have are what I want.

IMO a good creative writing software package has to be simple, and it looks like TFA is looking to simplify even further... It is an understandable thing, because distractions are killer for a writer...

IMO he should get an AlphaSmart [neo-direct.com] A portable, purpose built device which does text and only text. Full keyboard, it gets something like 700 hours on 3 AA batteries, it does not have fonts or animated assistants or 1gb install files, and best of all, you don't have to look like a pretentious douche on slashdot to use it.

Wrong end of the telescope (2, Interesting)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846288)

Remember when you were a kid and you would pretend that the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels was a telescope? You would look down the tube and see a tiny piece of the world. That's what it's like to compose text using a line editor.

I was once compelled to write a WYSIWYG editor, in the days when all the system provided was a line editor equivalent to ed. I noticed that the work became an order of magnitude faster once I was able to use my editor as a development tool.

No Patent Infringement! (2, Interesting)

TheNarrator (200498) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846302)

One good thing about using technology that old is there's no chance you could be violating any patents. It certainly makes sense as a symbolic gesture at least.

Ed not pioneering (2, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846314)

Ed was never pioneering in any sense—if you're going to be romantic about the past, at least be right. It's essentially a minimalist clone of qed [bell-labs.com] made by and for, as usual, Unix guys who couldn't run the real deal on their low-end PDPs. qed/qedx, for the record, had all sorts of bells and whistles, including at one point regexes.

Scrivener (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846336)

This guy should have checked out Scrivener [literatureandlatte.com] . It's not focusing on layout and stuff like that, but useful features that keeps a larger work (novel or other things) together. Keeping track of your loose ends with a storyboard feature and much more. There are more tools like this too.

vi? Yikes (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846342)

As i am not a masochist, if i wanted to go minimalist I would choose Joe. Back in my MSDOS days i used to use Galaxy ( i couldn't afford anything else, until i bought FrameWork II.. and it worked just fine for me )

A monitor is just a distraction. (1)

fatalexe (845503) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846434)

Send the command prompt output to a line printer. Ed is nice when you have everying on paper.

Old School on the New School (3, Informative)

Reeses (5069) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846448)

I don't know what OS the author of the original post is using, but if he's using a Mac, he should look into WriteRoom.

http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom [hogbaysoftware.com]

It's like writing on the word processor from the Apple II days, it clear all the modern OS widgets out of the way so you're not constantly distracted, and you can edit in any combination of background/text colors you want.

I prefer bold blue text on a black background. None of the formatting is saved in the document, it's only done in presentation by the app and you get modern features like word count and what not.

I can't recommend it high enough.

But hey, I'm an oldster around here, what do I know?

This isn't about productivity (4, Insightful)

Gooberheadly (458026) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846474)

This article is more about how the process of hammering out chips of stone in a tablet focuses the mind on the words than it is on technology. Asimov, King, Heinlein, and DeCamp all wrote about establishing a writers discipline and what it takes to get the job done. This article isn't about efficiency or technology per se. Discipline is about output over a period of time and what it takes to 'make' yourself produce. What this author is talking about is how he disciplines himself to create output. Notice that he mentions his daily time limit. Apparently, a lot of writers have to force themselves into certain constraints to get the job done.

Whatever works for him. Some people still write out their novels in long hand on lined paper.

Screenshot or it didn't happen (3, Funny)

bazorg (911295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33846494)

How I'd love to see this guy's clutterfree text editor, especially if it's running in a window surrounded by blinking reminders to upgrade Skype, update Java, download the new version of Nokia PC Suite, check whether there are new updates for all Apple applications installed; then the antivirus requires immediate attention because the subscription is due, there's 20 unread Twitter status updates, and everytime a new friend comes online MSN Messenger throws a big party on its side of the screen... Oh yeah, that would be worth writing a big story about productivity.
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