Writing In Public: Year 1, Month 1, Day 7


Rising late after a late night last night and cutting out early to go to some side work doesn’t leave much time for taking care of business. The last thing I needed was a distraction, but…

When I read The Passive Voice, i found a link to an article at LifeHacker called I’m John Scalzi and This Is How I Work, and suddenly, I was distracted. Only in a very good way. I’ve been lamenting about wanting my process to be more simple, and in the article, John Scalzi lists his core writing business tools as: Word, Google Docs, WordPress, Gmail, and Google Calendar. That’s quite a bit simpler than my list of tools and dependencies, not even counting that I have to code and maintain some of my tools myself.

I started wondering: could I go that simple?

I wouldn’t go with Word, of course, but I can do LibreOffice Writer just fine, I already use Google Docs, but not for core writing, and I’m already on WordPress, and I’ve used Gmail happily in the past, and I already use Google Calendar for its ability to be on my phone and shared with my wife. Could I thrive with just those tools? As I thought about it, I started to feel excited.

Sure, I would lose certain things leaving behind my plain text system, but I’m not very sure I need those things at all, and I would gain a lot. In particular, my current plain text system is set up for regular tweaking and republishing, but I’m changing that approach to the Heinlein/Smith model of write it and leave it alone.

Using OpenDocument (the format LibreOffice uses) as a base would also solve several other problems that I’ve thought about lately. One is that my current approach is building a tough legacy, because anyone else would have no idea how to use my tools, and it would be a huge chore to get the files in a state for anyone else to publish or otherwise use. Another problem is that the tools on which mine are built are in a state of slow, incompatible evolution, so when I come back in two or three years to re-release a book, my tools are likely not to work and the format is likely to be incompatible in some way, meaning I would have to study and figure out the changes, reformat the file, and re-code the tool. That’s a lot. Also, some of the tools I was using for PDF export to go to print are evolving such that if I come back a few weeks after publishing a print book and I want to fix a few typos that slipped through, the new print file may look different enough to require a whole new edition, and I would have no way of even recreating the original print file. Using LibreOffice Writer as a base would solve all those problems.

The real challenge is in publishing e-books. I think the structure and layout that I use is the best I’ve seen anyone using for an e-book. It provides a solid framework for a reader’s brain to recognize, so that their attention can focus on the content of the book instead of wondering where in the book he or she is. However, my system relies on hiding some titles in the presentation but not in the navigation, and I know of no software other than mine own that will produce an output like that. I don’t want to adopt a complicated system of export to ePub, but will LibreOffice Writer export to an epub I like? Probably not.

When I looked into that question, I was not surprised to find that LibreOffice still does not natively export to ePub. I have hopes that someday it will export to ePub as beautifully as it now does to PDF, but that day is not today, nor does it seem to be coming soon. However, I found an extension called Writer2xhtml that does export to ePub. And when I tested it, it did exactly what I wanted.




I wound up spending the daytime hours exploring and analyzing my Scalzi-inspired options, and I didn’t get back to Taxi Adventure until after midnight. When I did, I went through the book and removed all the false-starts, dead-ends, and re-written duplicates, then I arranged the remaining pieces into what looks like the final flow for the book. I will still need to modify some of the transitions to match their final locations in the narrative, but what seems to remain is merely a series of holes to be filled in. That’s a pretty good milestone to hit, even though I only added a hundred new words or so.