Bright, Shiny Tools for Writing

Sometimes the tools that you use shape the kinds of things that you create. If you work with a hammer, you will build things that need hammering. If you have a saw, you will build things by shaping them with your saw.

I am much more conversant with the tools of the writers trade than I am with the actual craft of writing. I know how to construct sentences. I am good at typing. I have even gotten fairly good at writing in longhand with a fountain pen.

I write my blog post with the in-app editor of WordPress. It is very functional. It helps me format my post without having to manually add all the html and css mark up. It even has specialized tools for creating tables and formatting snippets of code.

It makes it easy to tag my posts with hashtags indicating the topics that are talked about in them. That makes it easier for people to find my blog posts when they are looking for blogs they would enjoy reading. I hope my blog is something that some people would like to read.

I write my journal with a web site called It keeps track of my word count, it counts how many days in a row I’ve written more than 750 words a day, and it analyzes my prose for the tone of the words that I write. It is all very objective. It’s a program, not a human, after all.

I have used Scrivener to write on a couple of occasions. It has a lot of tools for such things as keeping track of your research, posting summary cards for each scene so that you can experiment with reorganizing your story by arranging the cards in a different order. I can see how it might help you think of variations on the story if you stall out while writing it.

I’ve also written with Atom and emacs, two different yet similar text editors that are used by lots of programmers. I’ve never written much prose with vim, another popular programmer’s editor. I can barely write code with it, much less regular prose.

I have written with both Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages. They both distract me too much. I tend to pay more attention to formatting what I’ve written and much less attention to what I am writing. I prefer a plain text editor any day.

I’ve taken notes with notepad++. I’ve written code with it. But, I haven’t ever written prose with it, aside from short snippets of comments in between the programming sections.

I used to draw pictures of my software designs. I often used Microsoft Word to keep my familiarity with it current. It is bound to serve some purpose in the future. I have also used Open Office and Office Libre. I don’t know if they are two different programs, two different frontends on a common backend, or if maybe one of them was forked from the other.

I am enjoying pen and paper a lot lately. It is a very free form medium. I need to start writing in a paper journal some of the time. Given how I struggle with thinking of things to write about, I’m not sure how successful that would be.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Keeping Your Focus on the Task at Hand

A friend of mine commented on the post about fiddling with formats that I wrote several days ago. He said that he just used HTML when he wanted to get a page to look the way he wanted. I understand that I always have that option but I view it kind of like I do writing a program.

When it comes right down to it, I can always write my programs in machine language. Then I can get the machine to do exactly what I want. Only I can’t really do that any more. The programs that I want to write have become too complicated for me to write them in machine language. It would make a task that I would spend an hour on in a high level language take days. And tasks that I might spend a week on in Python might take months to get right in machine language.

Not only is there the issue of sheer effort but there is also the fact that because it takes so long to solve a problem at all in machine language, I would be way less likely to spend the time on tweaking it and refining it than I would if it were written in a higher level language.

And finally, there is the heart of the matter. I’m not really looking for the most efficient solution, I’m looking for an adequate solution. I want to think about the problem domain not the intricacies of mapping the problem domain onto the bare metal of the computer. I like my abstractions, thank you.

What this means when it comes to the analogy with WordPress is concerned is that WordPress gives me a consistent layout and lets me concentrate on writing. I am as adept with HTML and CSS and jQuery and JavaScript and all the various mechanisms used to render the incredible web content that we have all come to take for granted. But developing web content that way is hard work. And when I sit down to write a blog post, I want to expend the bulk of my effort on writing.

Hence, I use WordPress. I could embed raw html to achieve my layout goals within WordPress. But then I would have to remember how I did it every time and I would, in all likeliness, not achieve the consistence of layout that I am striving for. I’d rather find a consistent solution that someone else has written that is 80% of what I’m looking for than to have to implement it myself.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.