back to article Brit Sci-Fi author Alastair Reynolds says MS Word 'drives me to distraction'

In August last year, one-time-sysadmin and now SciFi author Charles Stross declared Microsoft Word ”a tyrant of the imagination” and bemoaned its use in the publishing world. “Major publishers have been browbeaten into believing that Word is the sine qua non of document production systems,” he wrote. “And they expect me to …

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Windows

Not unheard of

Well, since Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the Command Line" we were alerted to the vagaries of "Word".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not unheard of

I wrote two novels on Google Docs. I gave it up because of extremely heavy bandwidth use that topped out my bandwidth. Libre Office is now my favorite software to compose books, but I do have to save the final copy as DOC for my editor.

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Re: Not unheard of

Not sure if serious.jpg.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not unheard of

"Libre Office is now my favorite software to compose books"

I can only assume you must be on a budget or you are using a *NIX OS for which there is no MS Office version. Libre Office is vastly inferior to Word for pretty much all parts of that task and is far more buggy.

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Re: Not unheard of

MS word is vastly overloaded with feature bloat.

Most people use less than a dozen features of their editor program. The rest is all just padding.

One could as easily use Abiword, which is screamingly fast.

Bear in mind that MS came to dominate the market not by being the best but by being "good enough" to do most functions for most people and "cheap". Once they had market domination they followed the lead of all monopolies everywhere and pursued lock-in as hard as they could.

Libre and friends scare the shit out of MS, not because it's "the best" - but because it's "good enough" and "cheap"

Personally I find the Libre UI somewhat more easy to use than MS's, but I haven't had to undo years of exposure to MS's bad habits first. (I have used Wordperfect, Wordstar and friends in the past, but spent most of the last 20 years not having to deal with secretarial programs)

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Why use an unsuitable tool in the first place?

To be honest, I can't understand why anyone would want to torture themselves with a full-featured word processor to write anything serious.

You're the Writer, NOT the Editor. You're there to write, not to edit or prepare for publishing. If the writer is trying to do the editor's job, and even the best writer might be a mediocre editor/publisher, the primary task will suffer and the resulting book will be form over substance.

I can understand a writer emphasizing certain passages, introducing quotations, digressions, etc., but it's the choice of the editor whether to italicize or embolden, not the writer.

What any self-respecting writer should do is to submit his or her work in plain-text or at most in light markup (such as RTF, for all its shortcomings), and the publishing house should be the party to actually decide what the final form will be.

With that in mind, either use a typewriter (with a facility to save text, of course), or software such as focuswriter (it's free) that comes with features specifically for writers.

Do note that the alternative is to let the writer do everything, including (virtual) typesetting, preparing for publishing, sending to the printer, promoting it, hey, why not pay for the whole thing while he's at it, in effect self-publishing, but where the proceeds go to a publishing house that didn't do anything worth paying for.

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Re: Why use an unsuitable tool in the first place?

hey, you may be the writer, but you need to be GOOD to the publisher!! do you want to earn any money from your work???? that means stuff he can read *easily*, not full of tons of errors... any excuse he can give NOT to use your work!!! :(

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Re: Why use an unsuitable tool in the first place?

Did I make even the slightest hint that the work should be submitted full of errors?

1. The tool I suggested (focuswriter) has a spelling dictionary and checks on the fly or at the end.

2. Word is not better (or worse) in this regard.

The software you use is not an excuse for errors. However, let me point out that it used to be common to submit written works as typescript (or manuscript) and the writers did not have the luxury of spellcheckers or even error correction. And the quality of manuscripts and typescripts was vastly superior to some examples of today's works where the writer did not even bother to run a spellchecker on his or her text once.

However, it's Alastair Reynolds we're talking about. So your comment that the publisher would give excuses not to use your work is absurd. Mr. Reynolds has been published extensively and his publisher is definitely not going to give excuses not to use his work since it's basically printing money. Well, okay, I presume if he submitted utter rubbish, the publisher would firmly say 'no,' but otherwise, you're very unreasonable.

Your post reveals that you may have been rejected by some publishers. However, I would offer an alternative explanation. Whatever tools you use (or don't), they're not the reason you were rejected. And they were right -- they want "stuff" that's readable. Yours is not. It displays as three lines on my screen and I can say with all certainty that if I were to read through three thousand lines of such dubious quality, my eyes would bleed out of my eyesockets.

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Re: Not unheard of

> Libre Office is vastly inferior to Word for pretty much all parts of that task and is far more buggy.

If your task is fighting with a substandard, bloated, crash-prone P.o.S. that has one of the most abominable user interfaces this side of Blotus Notes, then yes. Otherwise the only functional use of MSWord is as a doorstop.

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Personally ...

... I use vi as my text editor. Because I'm inputting ... er ... text.

Correct tool for the job, and all that.

Markup comes long after typoing/editing.

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Re: Personally ...

It's difficult to know when jake is feeding the fish and when he is being serious.

I can imagine that you might do some scripting with VI but 250 pages of Sci-Fi novel sounds a bit dubious.

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@ Khaptain (was: Re: Personally ...)

First, it's "vi", not "VI". Second, I'm totally serious.

BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi (EMACS, or other ASCII text editor of choice). vi just works.

Adding rainbows, stars, unicorns and sunsets aren't actually functional.

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Re: Personally ...

Ahem.

If you read this post by Charlie:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/01/writing-tools.html

he mentions having written several novels using vim (vi improved). I've read at least two of those novels. They're pretty good.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

There is nano these days. Sometimes progress is good.

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Re: Personally ...

Jake as much as I agree that "vi" just works, I find it hard to believe that today someone would choose vi over the multiitude of WYSIWYG solutions. As an example "Scrivener" is a dedicated writing program with a multitude of tools that can assist the writer. Whereas vi is a just "text editor". ( yes I know it is more than just a text edit but you get my point).

What advantages does vi offer a writer ?

Personally, on Linux, I use nano because I really do not like vi. I never remember the shortcuts, which forces me to pull out my cheat sheet, which i don't like having to do.

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Re: Personally ...

Charles Stross has also mentioned that he uses scrivener - although he likens comparing it to a text editor as similar to comparing Word and Project.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

"There is nano these days."

Or joe, which uses Wordstar commands, just as nature intended....

Actually, it's now an automatic reaction on a new install to type "aptitude (or zypper) install mc joe"

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Re: Personally ...

"I can imagine that you might do some scripting with VI but 250 pages of Sci-Fi novel sounds a bit dubious."

I don't write books, but study packs in the 30 to 90 page range can be done in 'mark up' quite easily using a text editor and a previewer now and again to check the typesetting.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

I just wrote about 140K words in last two months using notepad++

Tabs for open documents

Wonderful regex search and/or replace on selection, document, all open documents, all in directory or including subdirectories.

Minimal markup when imported later to something else:

_and_ for auto itallics

*and* for auto bold

Auto tables from comma separated lists

Auto headings base on line spacing

I now distribute copies for proof reading etc to Kindle etc using .prc fornat

(text -- > Word or Libre Office --> Save as filtered HTML --> Mobi Creator --> eBook)

Kindle DXG is nice for proof reading and allows markup. The "share" feature is rubbish sadly.

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@ Khaptain (was:Re: Personally ...)

"What advantages does vi offer a writer ?"

The ability to just write. My goto for shifting ASCII from my brain into my computer has been vi (with the help of a Model M keyboard and a serial attached so-called "dumb" terminal) ... to the point where I have a user-name "write" that uses vi as the shell. When I'm writing (code, documentation, contracts, dead-tree letters), I don't like distractions.

Once the words are on the page, I'll format them as I see fit.

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Re: Personally ...

Why so? For simple things (text, the occasional title, table or image, regardless of length) rst markup is enough (usually I just rst2pdf it). For more complex stuff I use lout. Never a problem with putting half a word in italics or with randomly-shifting left alignments etc. That alone makes it worth trying... not to mention, the result is beautifully typeset.

For collaborative work, comments and corrections à la MSWord are a source of problem as often as a solution, so while I understand the reason people use them, I personally find inline corrections with comments markup (or a quick diff) more useful.

Matter of taste and work habits I suppose. There's something you can't argue against though: ressource usage. I typed entire sections of my last article on my Ben Nanonote.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Personally ...

@khaptain

Aye, aye, sir ...

I maintain a 2000+ pages book almost exclusively with vi. Sed and awk come in handy. Actually, it is 2000 distinct pages in 13 books. Part of my work is tech writing.

Never had an issue - I must say that I use wiki style for markup, links, and tocs ... if I need to move a chapter of 5 topics, I open the toc file, locate chapter, "5dd" move cursor to correct position "p", done ... no select, cut, [prays the scrollbar does not freeze] scroll & paste hoping the formatting is not all down the gutter.

I even have a preview function in vi that renders the stuff into HTML and opens a browser, complete with links, images, etc, etc ... spellchecker, grammar checker, markup checker ... you name it. I can output almost any format.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi...

Remind me again which of those is a science fiction novel?

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

Nano is awful.

With so many common control-key shortcut standards available, why did they have to produce another one ?

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Re: Personally ...

Because a wanter wants to write, not page-set ? As someone else said, the content is very different from the layout. Concentrate on text and let the typesetter make it look pretty - you'll be more productive and he'll do a better job.

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Re: Personally ...

@Adrian4

For producing simple narrative text, Notepad will do; or Geany/Kedit on Linux machines.

But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives. So it is Libre Office or Word. Also, I need the spell check: not because I can't spell, but because I can't type (to a professional standard).

I like using One Note for first drafts.

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Re: Personally ...

Yeah I know I went back to plain text as well, just use #*@ for own mark-up. WYSIWYGs in general distract you with visuals you don't need when you write creatively (imagine coding in a WYSIWYG). The downvoters don't know any better.

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Re: Personally ... (@Primus...)

> But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives.

If you only have tables, illustrations and captions (all quite simple) you can use something simple like aft or ReStructuredText.

For more complex stuff I prefer Lout to LaTeX, as the whole install is around 1 MB instead of 5-700 MB for a usable LaTeX setup. It is also a single piece of software, maintained coherently, which means that everything from the C code to all the high-level metacommands is coherent. Makes it very easy to remember the parameters you may want to faff around with.

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Re: Personally ...

Wait, how do I undo my upvote? I thought you said "I use Emacs"...

... Oh, they are the same. :)

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Re: Personally ...

>WYSIWYG

If you are an author you don't need to care about layout - that's what you have publishers, editors and cover designers for.

It's like saying a composer should use a mixing desk because they need to know what level of compression will be used when they music is played on Radio3.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

No novels. But I've written documentation, programmes, HTML and collaborative stuff by the shed load in vi(1). Much easier than Word or similar, much quicker and I can call any shell level command within it (e.g. sort(1)), mark up with HTML, troff(1) or whatever else you like. For personal notes, programming etc. I still use it (and for the ksh command line history :))

I rather think the original C manuals and lots more were done in vi(1) or something very like it and the output is just the text you want, not the overhead deemed essential by the supplier. If you look at the older text books, they often say they were marked up in troff or similar and those were for text files that would be thoroughly broken by word processing software. So a text editor, usually vi(1) or emacs(1) was the normal tool.

An incalculable advantage for those who can touch type is that one need not move the fingers away fro the home keys to reach arrow keys, function keys, <insert> and so on. This provides speed and simplicity. And, being text, a text editor provides true portability.

Finally, interesting subsitutions and rearrangements across thousands of lines and simple macros are simple, quick and can be automated (using the vi(1) subsets, ex(1) or ed(1) or, the streaming, ec(1)-like sed(1).

The missing feature, for collaborative work, is inbuilt change mark-up. Somehow, with decent source code control systems, such as RCS, Subversion or even SCCS, we managed very well.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Personally ...

You think Word tables are good? Only if they conform to the ideal defined by MS.

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Re: Personally ...

not able to write a 250 page SciFi novel without word?

I wonder how Heinlein managed Stranger in a Strange Land?

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Re: Personally ...

I can imagine that you might do some scripting with VI but 250 pages of Sci-Fi novel sounds a bit dubious.

Seriously?

First: Look up "typewriter".

Second: Do a page count of Brit Sci-Fi author John Brunner's novel Stand On Zanzibar

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

I was just going to mention nano! I find myself using it more and more these days. Great editor!

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

I am amazed at the number of down votes to such a simple comment. I know some people have issues with vi but I never imagined them to get this incised about it.

vi is a great editor, it can handle files of arbitrary size, has no formatting info to worry about, and the resulting file can be imported into any full featured editing suite without issues.

Personally I wouldn't use it for a novel but hey, to each their own. It what makes vi so great, if you want a clean text editor it just works.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

You pedant.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was:Personally ...)

So, stuck in the past?

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Re: Personally ...

Well said. The crap which is vi was not intended to write books. It is meant for script kiddies.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

"vi just works."

A pencil and paper 'just works'. That doesn't make it a sensible choice.

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Trollface

Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

"A pencil and paper 'just works'. That doesn't make it a sensible choice."

Very right. Let's spend billions on the developpment of a pressurized ballpoint pen instead.

http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

>>BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi...

>Remind me again which of those is a science fiction novel?

Linux. It starts with "When Linux dominates the desktop". About as likely as the Orion VII taking of from Base 104.

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Re: Personally ...

The best editor for markup is LaTex. Everything else is just handwaving.

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Re: Personally ...

"I find it hard to believe that today someone would choose vi over the multiitude of WYSIWYG solutions"

Show me any serious author who uses anything other than a text editor.

The first thing a publisher does is throw out the formatting and select an apprioriate font/size based on the target market/papertype/sale price.

Prettifying your words is the mark of an amateur or a sales droid.

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Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

nano is derived from pico, which was a purpose built mail editor.

The keybindings are the same ones used by tcsh and the bourne shell- the idea being that people who were comfortable in a shell environment didn't have to learn yet another set of command strokes.

FWIW: Joe uses wordstar bindings by default but can switch to _any_ of the common text editors commands - something which keeps the jed diehards here very happy.

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Re: Personally ...

"But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives. So it is Libre Office or Word. "

As soon as it goes for publication the first thing that will happen to your document is that it gets fed into LaTeX for reformatting - if you don't want your stuff being buggered around with, use the right markup editor in the first place (where "right" = "what the printing industry uses")

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Re: Personally ...

> First: Look up "typewriter".

More than a few SF authors preferred to write - using a pen (or in some cases, a crayon)

Given the entire thing had to be reentered by typesetters anyway (typed or handwritten), it didn't make a lot of difference to the end product.

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Re: Personally ...

> The best editor for markup is LaTex. Everything else is just handwaving.

ERP DERP

> As soon as it goes for publication the first thing that will happen to your document is that it gets fed into LaTeX for reformatting

Nope. the first few things that will happen will be proofreadings and sub-editing; the people who do that are used to MSWord and Acrobat and that's why most editors require everything in .doc (or .docx) and sometimes .pdf. Which is a pain in the backside, but no big deal since my document processing software can output pdf and ODF (which is then easy to convert to whatever crap they want).

I've even had someone tell me they wished I stopped sending files in "that weird .txt format" as they had to copy and paste them into Word to read them. I kid you not.

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Re: Personally ...

Simply rename long_novel.txt to long_novel.doc

Word will open it just fine

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