Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Results: Linux Experiment using OpenOffice

Introduction: So yesterday I posted that I wanted to go a day in Ubuntu to see what it would like to do my writing activities such as editing/creating new work using a free tool such as OpenOffice's Writer application.

For my editing work today I plan to make a copy of my current manuscript and turn on the apply changes. That way if I jump back to Windows I see the changes I made, but its not a hot mess of formatting changes. The point of this project is not to set back my work but to see what I can do with OpenOffice 3.1 and other tools in Ubuntu.

Part I - Setup
Its been a while since I've used Ubuntu so I had to update the system first. That wasn't the problem though. My current version makes the process quite pain-free. My first problem actually came with the network. My files are not on my laptop hard drive. I don't trust my machine. This puppy could crash at any time and then I'd be stuck yanking out the hard drive to fish the files out. So I use a machine on my network to save my files. Initially, I had no idea how to connect to it since its a Windows box that shares files. (Not a server.) But I figured out I needed smb://INSERT_LOCAL_IPADDRESS to connect to my windows machine. Once I had that done I was ready to rock!

Now I'm ready to apply edits from a crit group from a previous night. Let's see. First I need to be able to jump to Chapter 18.

Using a Document Map:
In MS Word you can use a document map for headings, etc. I use it to jump to different points of my manuscript like chapter 10. I could do a search for a particular word, but with a few clicks I can bring up the document map and I'm there. In OpenOffice you access the document map using the navigator:

Choose the View menu item.

View | Navigator

From there I saw all my chapter headings and I can jump around.

Tracking Changes:
Now its time for me to enable track changes to edit my manuscript. I had no idea where to look. Eventually I had to consult help. (For this experiment I'm trying not using the web. I'd only hope the Help gets me where I need to be.)

To start tracking changes go to the Edit menu item.

Edit | Changes | Record

Okay, that sounds easy enough. Now any changes I make will show up for later. I need to insert a comment for myself. After a brief search I learned in OpenOffice this is called a note. To insert a note, like Adding in a Comment in MS Word, I went to:

Insert | Note

Now if I want to add a box I just need to remember I'm adding a note instead.

What Looks Different:
Some of my headings don't look right. To test, I opened other word documents from other authors and for some of them the formatted remained the same. Since I use a special format to introduce space between my first paragraph (Heading 2) and my chapter heading (Heading 1), I guess I should expect a few issues. Without the Heading 2 gaffe everything would've lined up fine. Matter of fact, it was weird to see a few chapters didn't have the strange effects.

Starting a New Document:
The final part of my experiment related to creating a new document and preparing it in manuscript format. I know there are templates out there for manuscripts. (Even OpenOffice) But I am picky about how I want mine to look. So I started fresh. I added in a header first. Sounds easy enough:

Insert | Header | Default

Now the page number:

Insert | Fields | Page Number

With that done, I added in the rest of the elements for the front page, the title and word count. I used CTRL+Enter to jump down to the next page to enter Chapter One. I used Heading 1 to format it. Of course then I realized my page 1 sound be my page 0. I do want chapter 1 to be on page 1. I followed the directions on a website which seemed logical but I couldn't get it to work. So after a few tries I moved on...

Now I want to get rid of the first page header. I had to hunt this information down as well. First of all, place the cursor in the Header section of the first page.

Format | Styles & Formatting

A window popped up. I then selected the Page Styles icon (See picture). From there another listed showed in the same window with First Page as an option.

Part II - The Aftermath

I took my edited manuscript and headed back to the comfort of MS Word. Only to find things didn't look the same way I found them...

Word Count differences:
OpenOffice said I had 82,000 words while MS Word said I had 81,000... Ok, that is interesting.

Changes Made:
The formatting of my headings had been altered when I opened it in OpenOffice. I can see this carried over when I opened it back up in MS Word. :( That means I would have to go into each of my headings and change them back to a proper format.

The comments look good and any changes I have made have transferred over as changes I can approve. Which is okay.

Splitting up the Windows:
When I apply suggestions from another copy with comments in it, I like to have the other window open along with my main document. In MS Word I would have simply split the window and then had the other one follow along while I worked. Unfortunately, OpenOffice doesn't do this, so I had to do it the old fashion way and line up the windows by hand.

Like any new program, a few things flowed easily. But I also had to consult help for other things. I wish it was easier to change the starting number of a page. Overall, if I had to use OpenOffice for my work I would. The transition wasn't that hard and searching online for help was simple. If I needed a free option to do my work I'd use OpenOffice.

Ok, next I'll post how things worked out in using other goodies I found.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Linux Experiment - Using Free Tools for Authors

What if I didn't have access to Microsoft Windows anymore to write?

I am a heavy MS Windows user. I use it to code and write. But tomorrow I'm doing something different. I plan to spend the whole day in Ubuntu. For those who aren't inclined since I threw on my geek hat, Ubuntu is an open source distribution of Linux. Its supported by an army of coders who keep it up to date so folks out there can run various software. (Open source and otherwise.) My laptop is a dual boot system so I plan to use this opportunity to see if I can thrive on the other side of the fence using free tools to do my writing.

What is the purpose of this experiment? Well, I have a few goals:
  • What free tools I can use as author on Ubuntu (i.e. OpenOffice) that would be practical for my day-to-day work writing, editing, and plotting.
  • What are the pitfalls I'll encounter? (I know I'll be screaming...)
  • Will OpenOffice support the track changes and comments from Word? Will there be a document map for me to jump between chapters? Will the formatting differences be a problem? How long will it take me to start a fresh document with page numbering, header, footer, etc.
  • Will any of the popular Windows tools work in Linux well? (i.e. yWriter)
  • Will the final product of work, meaning adding/editing a large manuscript, transition well back to Windows?
I'm sure there are writers out there who exclusively use the various Linux distributions (CentOS, Fedora, Debian, Linspire). (Even Mac exists as well, but that's not free to use. You have to pay for the license.) I haven't found any blog posts that go in-depth on getting started and show what will happen if you use Linux for writing fiction.

With the economy making it hard to pay for the tools of the trade, I'm curious how things will go when I use OpenOffice/Ubuntu. (I've used Google Apps before and that's another post waiting to happen...) I don't use the software that often so this will definitely be a newbie experience to see the differences.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Muse Monday

Well, for those who've seen my writing process before you know I tend to write hard core when the Muse shows up. Well, she hasn't showed up yet, but I'm trying my best to plow forward. For the last month I've been editing my next book to head out on submission, HOARDING YOUR HOWLS. It's another paranormal chick lit book about a hoarding werewolf. I had so much fun writing it as well as researching it.

But now after a month of writing vacation I need to starting plotting and researching again. And coming up with another title, (thanks Sarah Bromley). I'm one of those writers that comes up with horrible titles. But in order to feel good about moving forward I need one.

Without the drive to write, ending my vacation has been painful. To be honest I'm one of those writers that needs that final push to send me over the edge and go nuts with writing. If the mojo isn't there, I don't produce hardly anything but a trickle. (But my house sure does look clean!) Does it mean my heart isn't in the story? No, I don't start anything I don't truly feel passionate about. Its just the motivation to fall down the rabbit hole is the hardest. I'm not an every day writer. (Took me a while to learn that one.) But I can tell right now I'm getting hungry. So I'll continue to tap my fingers and wait for the Muse to show up. In the mean time, I'll work on editing my werewolf book and getting another manuscript converted from 3rd to 1st person (one of my urban fantasy manuscripts).

As of last night, I wrote one page in the next WIP! It was hard, but I did it! :) I have other projects I'm dabbling with in YA futuristic fantasy and even a paranormal manuscript where the male protagonist is in college (from a horrific plot bunny attack). (If you want to see more about college-aged protagonists Amanda Brice wrote a great post about it on The Fictionistias.)

Hope your Muse is cooperating today. :D

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jumping Back on the Horse... I think...

Well, I've been out on a mini writing vacation. I've written a bit, but nothing crazy like my usual antics where I write, write, and write. Vacations are good and sometimes they give the muse a much needed break so I can chew on new ideas.

Little did I know I'd get sick this month. I'm actually glad I didn't have any deadlines or manuscripts begging for my attention these past couple of weeks. It's amazing how not feeling well can turn a brain which was a well-oiled machine into a blog of gray mass with about as much focus as a camera with a spear through the lens. But now I'm feeling a bit better and I hope this upward turn means I can start planning my next top sekret projet. *rubs hands together* Ready, set, plot!