Writing In Public: Year 1, Month 1, Day 17

Another Monday

The heat wave has finally passed, so that’s nice. It’s another week of trying to balance productivity with having my daughter here during the day, and I still want her to know she’s the most important thing to me, so there’s that. Anyway, we’ll see what can be done.

For some reason, I had the idea again today that I should have my work implemented and organized such that I am able to pick up my work uninterrupted from another computer, even one like my cell phone. You may recall that little over a week ago I spent time exploring a move to the OpenDocument format and LibreOffice for similar reasons, resulting in me wishing I would stop wasting time in such pursuits. Still, it seems like the capability to work everywhere and anywhere like that would be liberating.

Last week I reached a dead end as far as the OpenDocument format was concerned, and that hasn’t changed. However, my exploration reaffirmed that plain text formats work great everywhere, especially the Markdown format, because it is so lightweight and aimed toward HTML output, which is the path my files follow anyway. The export problems that stymied me last week were unique to my current format, and Markdown was a solution, not part of the problem. For long-term use of files, plain text is still about the only sure option, and Markdown may be the best choice for that because it is designed to be plain and self-evident.

So on Monday, I found myself wondering again if Markdown would be a better format for me. I already modified my tools to support it last year, and it is simpler, more straightforward, and more self-contained than my current format, which gets more complicated and difficult all the time. Plus, if the OpenDocument becomes more viable in the future, Markdown was already the format I found was the best migration path to that.

I was (and am) very leery of wasting time, but if I only did things of which success was certain I’d never do anything at all.

Writing

It was another day plodding away at Taxi Adventure. This rewriting is difficult and un-fun and I hope not to do it again. By the time I called it a day late at night, the count for the book had only gone up 1100 words, but at least another thousand were written to replace a slightly different thousand taken out. I will be very happy when this is done.

Topic of the day: Revising Again

I can’t say enough how much my experience with this project reaffirms the Heinlein/Smith workflow of writing, completing, and not revising. I still see articles all the time talking about how critical rewriting is, and it’s harder to believe all the time, precisely because most of what they are saying is true: the end of the revision process is a book that is different, usually markedly different, than the original book. The authors of these articles see this as proof that the second version is better, but that conclusion is neither supported by simple logic nor my own experience.

From my own experience, I know that revision tends to remove the more risky parts of the prose, written in a place where judgment was temporarily suspended. Taking these out may make the work less dangerous to the author or offensive to the reader, but nobody remembers the roller coasters that didn’t scare anybody.

Another argument I see is that it is “liberating” to write a first draft in the knowledge that later drafts will come through and fix everything. It may well be liberating, but is it an effective way of producing something really good?

Consider the analogy of building a house. If you start with the idea that every house can be unique, that there is no one right way to build one, and that you can do whatever you want because everything can be cleaned up in later revisions, would that be efficient? No. For one, doing a sloppy first draft would result in a house that leaked when it rained, that wasn’t comfortable to sit in, and had structural supports in the wrong places. When the builder worked to “revise” it into a good house, the project would be much harder with the added difficulty of working in a sloppy house. Building a beautiful kitchen is one thing, but building a beautiful kitchen out of a similar but different kitchen, in the middle of a house with uneven floors and a leaky roof, is a task much harder than it has to be. And even after you were done, the final version of the house would probably have vestiges of its shabby original self running through it. Could the builder ever be sure none were left showing? Even then, isn’t that a terribly inefficient structure? That would be a horrible plan to building a house.

It would be so much more efficient to learn what makes a structurally sound, visually appealing, efficient and effictive house, then to build it right the first time through. And after you’ve done that, there is sometimes but rarely ever a point in taking the rooms apart and reassembling them into a different house, because the first house was perfectly good.

Writing books is not that different.

Of course, I’m not opposed to other people wasting their time in whatever way suits them when they aren’t hurting anyone but themselves. But for me, my time is too precious to waste like that.