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Wikis, word processors, and the writing process


Through the miracle of Firefox's Readeroo extension [1] (which I've set to display to-be-read links at random) I finally got around to reading the DC discussion in the General Software area from Feb-08 on the above topic. [2] I was going to post this reply there, but the forum software suggested starting a new topic instead.

The OP opined that he didn't get wikis (though i think he was trying Wikidpad) and he was just looking for a way to draft and organize reports and then output them into a straightforward linear document. He was wondering what he was missing about wikis that made them good for this purpose. Mouser and others replied that wikis really made sense when there were multiple contributors/editors and that a simple word processor worked fine, though another poster did use Wikidpad successfully for writing a report.

A few disconnected thoughts bubbled to mind when I read the post:

* Separating technology from the creation process is always a good thing, until the technology is as simple for you to use as a pencil. We have a guy at work who's so skilled at Photoshop, the interface is almost invisible to him. Msft Word is like that for me, simply because I've been using it since the mid-90s. But if you're wrestling with the technology while you're sketching out ideas, you will lose.
* I have also not "gotten" wikis, though I think they're awfully simple technology and useful for group projects. Our sysadmin uses a Twiki to store all the little procedures and problems he solves, and he's built up a good store of info so that it's become valuable to him. My problem is that I could put in the info easily enough, but I'd forget the name of a related page, or I'd forget I'd started a similar page 2 months ago, and so it never proved terribly useful to me. I would spend so much time maintaining the wiki so that I could browse my holdings, that the value would not repay the effort. (I used both Pbwiki and, on my Clie, Notestudio, and auditioned other programs.) One of my problems was that I was trying to use the wikis as universal inboxes and I overloaded myself with stuff.
* Merlin Mann recommends, in the productivity arena, that any tool you use should stop just short of being fun to play with. I would extend that to other types of software. I love playing with wikis but found myself playing with them more than using them.
* The problem the OP described was more nearly a problem of process rather than software, I think. A rather simple writing algorithm that is technology-neutral would be "collect, connect, correct." If you're writing something, just write stuff down as it comes to you, then go back later and group like paragraphs together, and then start revising, and repeat the sequence as needed. Just because you read the text linearly doesn't mean you have to write it that way. And you can use this approach whether you're writing by hand, with a word processor, index cards, a wiki, whatever. Although I'm not a programmer, I don't think you start with line 1 and write straight through to line 1000; you probably build up routines and functions, and the tying it all together happens later in the process. Very few creative products, even boring old reports for work, fall out whole cloth; they're assembled.
* Following on that point: there's a book called Thinking on Paper [5] that describes a very sane process for student writers that I think anyone could benefit from. I used that book's method to create a speech and documented my progress using the system [3]; the PDF I created as a handout that summarizes the book's approach is here [4], along with other writing tips I cadged from here and]
This has been a very off-topic post but I hope some may find it useful. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to make the URLs inline with the text.



Thanks for the post, I like the cheat sheet.  It has a lot of stuff that I've always known, read in books and then forgotten to use and dont have time to reread the book, a couple of pages is a great tool.  :Thmbsup:

Very nice thoughts mike..

I really like your idea of focusing on:
"collect, connect, correct." If you're writing something, just write stuff down as it comes to you, then go back later and group like paragraphs together, and then start revising, and repeat the sequence as needed. Just because you read the text linearly doesn't mean you have to write it that way.
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i'd love to see a simple note taking application that was focused on facilitating that workflow.

i'd love to see a simple note taking application that was focused on facilitating that workflow.
-mouser (July 31, 2008, 10:14 AM)
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You might want to look at The Literary Machine

From the website:

What The Literary Machine can do for you

Creativity is not "connecting the dots" with a graphic program that weaves a web among them all over your computer screen. Creativity is seeing which dots are connected. In groundbreaking, ingenious ways, LM helps you do that. What makes LM different from other idea-generators? It doesn't pass off rote as thinking. Instead of showing you a generic list of logical formulas to wade through in hopes that one accidentally manipulates your ideas in some meaningful way, it works with your mind, illuminating connections and stimulating insight.

The Literary Machine is a dynamic archive and an idea management tool aimed at creative thinking — built especially with the writer in mind. It is packed with indexing and display techniques so general and potent that you will use it as an intelligence center. In a class by itself, it is virtually an extension of your brain. So, write in it. Collect and sort information and ideas in it. Make it your treasure chest of random notes and ideas for analysis and future reference. For, it will serve you well as the substance, catalyst, and processor for relating or reusing them in creative combinations.

LM is designed to fulfill needs, not fancy. So it does not fool around with features that your conventional word processor and email client already do well and more efficiently than a database could. Instead, LM teams with your other programs to accomplish what, till now, was possible only in your dreams.
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Minor hyperbole aside, it does pretty much do what it says. If you can work with it.

The major problem with "thought processors" is that each has a process style and philosophy (or a "strategy" if you're an NLP fan). If that doesn't match your way of thinking or working, and you can't adapt or learn the app's methodology, then you're out of luck no matter how good it is. I've run into that with IdeaFisher. People whose opinions I respect have raved about it. I found its methodology unworkable. I do like Dramatica Pro. I use it to vet my story structures. I think it's great and easy to use. Almost everybody else I've talked to thinks it falls somewhere between cumbersome and flat-out useless.

There is also the problem of the learning curve. The Lit Machine is very up front about this, perhaps because that's the chief criticism leveled against it.

A word about the learning curve:

LM's core database features are highly intuitive and easy to learn. But learning to use all the program's capabilities is another matter. LM has such extraordinary capabilities because it is an unusual program. Consequently, it takes time to learn.

Such power always comes at a price. To make a powerful program do what you want, you often must learn techniques and procedures, not just where to find this or that command. (If you are familiar with high-end graphics software like Adobe™ Photoshop, you immediately see what we mean.) Don't worry: LM's learning curve is nowhere near as steep as that of high-end graphics software. But it is steeper than that of most freeware and shareware. So, be forewarned: you probably cannot master LM's Project window in a day.

Therefore, we do not recommend this program as a solution for an important project that now has you up against a deadline. Especially if you're not technically savvy and have never worked with a sophisticated database before. And we do not recommend LM for people unwilling to read the documentation, view the slide-show animations, and study the tutorials. Also, we suggest that you establish a second instance of the program on your machine to serve as a practice database. You'll learn faster, because you'll experiment more — knowing that your main installation and its important data are safe from a beginner's mistakes.

If you plan to buy the Professional version, it is a good idea to try LM2000 first. We can help LM Pro users with individual mail support, but we cannot guarantee that everybody really likes the basic ideas in the LM program design.
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So there you have it. A very interesting application with a version free for the download.


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