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Topics - brownstudy [ switch to compact view ]

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Living Room / Wikis, word processors, and the writing process
« on: July 30, 2008, 11:18 PM »
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.


[2] https://www.donation...9158&topic=12093
[4] https://brownstudy.p.../f/mikestipsheet.pdf

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