not the right tool for book-writing anyways

Story: Why Johnny Can't Format a bookTotal Replies: 12
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Mar 09, 2014
9:00 PM EDT
i have worked on a book with open-office. i'll not do it again. for the next book writing project i'll insist that we work with plain text until the content of the book is complete and we are down to editing details.

formatting issues throughout the writing process are just distracting and rather unimportant. i think it should be more efficient to worry about that just once at the end. especially as a first time writer you'll needlessly spend more time worrying about the format before the whole book is even written. also, while open-office does have an option to mark what i changed and view differences between two documents, a feature i used extensively to figure out what changes my co-editor had made, tracking changes is so much harder than having proper revision control.

now it may be that as a programmer, text editing and revision control is just what i am used to, so i could be wrong about this, but i do believe that a distraction free editing process should be helpful for anyone. focus on the content first.

greetings, eMBee.

Mar 10, 2014
4:38 AM EDT
I think it is a case of sticking with simple formatting. Titles, headings, paragraphs. Bullets and numbering cause hassles. (Haven't they always).


Mar 10, 2014
5:00 AM EDT
Reading the article brought back memories.....WordPerfect. It was so far in front of Word (as far as I am concerned) that Microsoft Word was a hobbled and lame package........Its "reveal codes" remains one of the most brilliant advantages that any wordprocessing package has ever had......

I use Apache OpenOffice......I just like it - personal preference.......and I cannot imagine any problems at all with writing a book with it........just keep it simple until you are ready for final formatting.

Just thought of it.......the first "book" I wrote was a Bachelor of Letters thesis........97 A4 pages done on a typewriter and wait until you try formatting complex lists in columns on a ribbon fed ain't done nuthin' until you do that........and if you make a mistake, remove sheet of paper and start the page again........tick-a-tick-a-tick-a-tick.......swish......tick-a-tick-tick........etc. AND, I didn't know how to touch type either at that early stage.....

Mar 10, 2014
8:26 AM EDT
> ...and wait until you try formatting complex lists in columns on a ribbon fed typewriter...

Been there, done that. :)

Mar 10, 2014
9:25 AM EDT
I know there are a number of people that feel you should stick to plain text until you are finished with the text, and then you should format it using a typesetting system like TeX/LaTeX.

Mar 10, 2014
9:26 AM EDT last. I absolutely KNEW we had something in common Jdixon.......I shall try to be nicer to you in future - well, I did say "Try"....LOL............Anyone who has suffered through those early days deserves respect. ....... I remember seeing the first portable electronic calculator with glow tubes ......the ones where the number lit up as a sort of wire filament......and we all fought over using it....It was a largish thing and plugged into the mains power to work...It could add up and subtract, multiply and divide so fast - perhaps even did square roots........and probably cost two month's pay. Now you get disposable ones from the supermarket for $2.......and they do things we never dreamed of back in 1966......sigh. Memories........ :-)

Mar 10, 2014
10:16 AM EDT
> I remember seeing the first portable electronic calculator with glow tubes...

I remember those too. :)

I assume you used a slide rule at one time also?

Mar 10, 2014
10:20 AM EDT
> a typesetting system like TeX/LaTeX.

That's what I'd assume is the solution. I know Word is a nightmare. I usta hafta write technical papers with it and despite advanced M$ training, it would still format differently every time the file was opened. I hated it, but that's what the company had. :(

Mar 10, 2014
12:14 PM EDT
For anything as large as a book, I wouldn't consider anything but LaTeX/TeX.

I first encountered TeX back in my VMS days when we used VAX DOCUMENT for all of our large project documentation tasks (often getting into hundreds of pages, multiple people generating content, figures, etc.). (DOCUMENT was a front end to TeX much the same as LaTeX.) I tried to be a good soldier some years ago and tried to do a large documentation project using Word. I wrote (fortunately for me) the basic text as a set of plain ASCII files, reworked them as separate Word documents, and tried to use Word's master document feature (I think that was the name). After wasting a week's worth of time trying to get the formatting correct, and having to redo everything when Word corrupted the sections beyond recognition, I say 'forget it' and got everything assembled in an afternoon with LaTeX. I've since decided that Word is only useful for interoffice communications that don't exceed a few pages. Sending someone a PDF (from latex -> ps2pdf) and receiving a complaint is rare; most interoffice communications nowadays seems to be Excel spreadsheets any way. Coworkers don't seem to know that Word does tables and immediately jump into Excel when they have data in a tabular format that they want to disseminate. Even when the amount of tabular content is minimal. (And having to read prose in a spreadsheet is SUCH a treat.) My only complaint with LaTeX/TeX is not being able to nest "include"s.

Mar 10, 2014
2:31 PM EDT
@notbob Agreed. I do as little classical wordprocessors as I can (being a LyX addict). It boots my productivity at least twofold, since formatting is virtually no issue anymore. You just type. The little formatting you need to do with LyX is usually a no-brainer - only images are an issue every now and then. If someone needs another format, I use latex2rtf (which does a pretty decent job) or elyxer (making webpages was never so easy). My top is 30 pages a day, but I easily do 10-15 on average. Try that when you're battling styles, fonts and images that keep on jumping everywhere all the time. Added advantage: I've never lost a character with LyX. That is a whole different ballgame with multi-megabyte Word documents. Some crashes will render them unreadable. LyX handles 500+ pages with ease.

Mar 10, 2014
5:15 PM EDT
I did indeed Jdixon.......and they were expensive little sticks too.......had far more abilities than I ever used. I'm not sorry to see them gone from my own use though.....electronic calculators are much easier to manipulate.

Loved your comment notbob......a good friend of mine was system/network administrator for a local high school. He always claimed that what Word did on Tuesday was not necessarily what it would do on Wednesday......or Thursday.....etc. The more I hear of Microsoft products, the more I give credit to his statement.

Mar 10, 2014
8:12 PM EDT
> ...and they were expensive little sticks too...

Since I got mine pretty much at the end of their run, they were fairly reasonably priced.

Mar 11, 2014
12:19 PM EDT
An eBay search for "slide rule" is enlightening.

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