How to write Tools Writing tools

Is WYSIWYG good for writing? Perhaps it’s time to ditch Word altogether.

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Screenshot of VIM

Novelist and geek-hero Charlie Stross writes about the drawbacks of using what-you-see-is-what-you-get word processors to write novels:

  • Changing file formats
  • Proprietary file formats
  • WYSIWYG “conflates document content with presentation”
  • Heavily marked-up text isn’t suitable for use online
  • Word mixes inline and style-sheet formatting

His solution is (sometimes) to use hardcore programmer’s editing tools:

Given my general aversion to Word, you probably won't be surprised to know that I prefer to use a programmer's text editor and a simple macro-based language for formatting text. Back in the day, I wrote several novels using: Vim as my editor (vi keystrokes are hardwired into my fingertips — I've been using it since 1989), POD macros (Perl's Plain Old Documentation format), a Makefile to generate up-to-date output formats such as RTF, PDF, and HTML from the podfiles, and rcs to track changes. (With an entire novel occupying a single file, rcs is more than adequate for the task.)

I used to like using More, a Mac outlining tool, to compose essays in college. Used properly, they help construct compelling arguments, in the style of Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle.

Screen shot of More

(Amazing to find that More is still available nearly 20 years later, albeit in an abandonware format. Another interesting discovery is that Dave Winer, ur-blogger, was a major contributor to the program.)

I’ve also tried, without much lasting success, to use distraction-free editors to write. Other people have more success with them but my problem is, after testing, that I can find plenty of other things to distract besides the familiar icons and desktop of my PC.

I use Word. But I’d love to find something better. What do you use to write?

Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.