Writing without distractions


Spotty posting is a clear symptom of either being sick with internet or just too busy in real life. In my case is mostly the second; this is the time when I have overlapping teaching of regression modelling and introduction to tree breeding. The other thing I have been doing is completing project reports (two gone!) and playing with some data for a journal manuscript. Overall, esophagitis I have written more this month than at any other time that I can remember.

On the contrary, I have been posting very little to this site and a few posts to http://trendecarga.com. Stating the obvious, the more I write offline the less I write online; and I have been feeling the urge to complete a series of pending writing projects.

A few weeks ago I submitted a paper that has been in that limbo-like close-to-finish for three years. As soon as I finish teaching in three weeks time, I will complete a second paper and start writing a third one. This will take a toll on this site, but one does not get brownie points for blogging or playing with HTML.

There will certainly be some updates to this site (although most likely not in the blog part) as well as a new design for http://plustree.com. On the latter I have been slowly working in a new template and CSS file, aiming for a cleaner and simpler look.

Re-stating the obvious, real life has much wider significance, it is richer and more meaningful than any web site. Do not let anybody convince you of the opposite.
There has been a proliferation of writing software, approved
with many of the packages striving for recapturing simplicity lost long ago. We complain about distractions, pfizer
but use tools that are designed to do many different (and non-essential) things at the same time. If I go back at my DOS times (second half of the 1980s), cardiology
a computer would do one thing at the time: if I needed to write a document I would use Wordperfect, for a spreadsheet Quattro Pro, etc. It was not possible to use both simultaneously. There was no email, internet connection or music at the same time.

We are now like spoiled children: there are too many things claiming for our attention, but we can not turn them off. We are hooked into a permanent attention deficit disorder because we choose so. Then, we long for a tool that will fix our distraction but, maybe, we could just use programs maximising the windows (to fully occupy the screen) and, to avoid temptation, turn off our network connection.

On writing software

A big component of my work is writing documents. In my mind there is a clear distinction between the solitary endeavour (where I can use whatever software I like) and the shared document (with a large number of compromises). I do not have problems with Word as bloated software, because I use many of the non-basic (aka bloat) features: equations, footnotes, crossreferences, citing using referencing software (like Endnote), table of contents, tables, indexing, tracking changes, etc. However, I do have issues with stability (or lack of it), particularly when dealing with long documents.

I have had a look at several alternative programs, but none of them have enough mind share as to make it a reasonably popular alternative. Using something like LaTeX would probably cover most (if not all) of my needs. However, I do not work with anybody that has a clue about using LaTeX, and nobody has the time and inclination to learn about it. Yes, it has the advantage of working with plain text files, but it is huge (larger than Word) and there is no standard way of dealing with the revision process, short of installing a versioning system.

Other wordprocessing systems that do what I need are equally ‘bloated’: OpenOffice and Mellel have all the ‘distractions’ and, again, they are not perfectly compatible with the standard. Then, their only advantage is that they are cheaper than Word. Nevertheless, most people already paid for Word, so it is a sunk cost. Thus, the sad reality is that Word is a de facto standard.

At the end of the day, Word is good enough and there are no compelling alternatives. However, I do use other tools for writing early drafts to get the ball rolling. Once I have the basics I move the text to Word. So, what are the basic tools? Some times I use TextWrangler (free) or Journler, depending if I want to store the information in an individual file or don’t worry about that and leave it in a database.

I guess that if one is motivated enough, one can find nirvana even in Word — granted, with some work involved.

Filed in productivity, software, writing

There is 1 comment in this article:

  1. 31/10/2008Quantum Forest / Status on writing tools say:

    [...] MarsEdit, which is an excellent simple editor. I used MS Word for quite a few papers because I am working with LaTeX-unaware students and colleagues. However, I have also bee using LaTeX for all my lecture notes and a number [...]

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