Text Editors vs. Word Processors

Two things I read yesterday converged in that wonderful sort of way where your mind starts buzzing on a topic and won’t stop until you get your thoughts down.  The first was a tweet by Amanda (Fucking) Palmer:

While the second was distinctly more long-form: an interview with a copyeditor (here).  In the interview, the copyeditor is asked about the idea of “house style” being in some ways destructive to the artistry of creative writing–the idea that at some point a writer must cleave to the style guide used by their publisher at the expense of more creative use of language.  In asking that question, a letter is quoted mentioning spellcheck and autocorrect, and that, along with AFP’s tweet, really got me thinking about the way that I write (specifically the tools I use to get a first draft out of my brain and onto the page).

All through college, I used LibreOffice Writer, a free word processor that, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty much equivalent to Microsoft Word.  It has all the wavy lines and autocorrect (though at the time no grammar checker) that you would expect from such a software package.  When I was in the middle of writing a paper, I would often turn the spellcheck off, but even so, it was a pretty distracting environment when all I needed to be focused on was the work at hand.

After school, I found FocusWriter (thanks to the tech forums associated with NaNoWriMo).  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, FocusWriter is designed as a distraction-free writing environment.  When you’re typing, it’s just you and your words, with all the toolbars, and even your mouse, hidden away.  Of course, you can still turn on an automatic spellcheck feature that will highlight misspelled words for you, but that’s turned off by default, and I don’t see why you’d want to turn it on.  FocusWriter isn’t a great tool to use when you’re editing or formatting your work, but it’s not meant to be.  About the fanciest you can get with it is putting in bold, underline, and italic text.

Recently, though, I’ve been doing a fair bit of my writing not in Writer or FocusWriter, but in Vim or on an old Alphasmart 2000.  Why?  Simplicity.  All I need is a text editor when I’m writing a story.  Anything else has a greater potential to distract me, and, productivity aside, I find it more freeing.  Having the most minimal interface (short of a pen and paper) gives me a sort of permission to try whatever I want, knowing that if it’s really crap, I can get it later in the editing passes.  (Also, for those times when I do allow myself to backtrack to change something in the middle of working, Vim is absolutely magical, provided you know the right incantations.)

I doubt that I’ll ever stop using a word processor altogether–they have some really useful functions after all–but I don’t see myself going back to them as a tool for primary composition.

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About Hilary B. Bisenieks

Hilary B. Bisenieks (Biss-en-yex) n. 1. An author of fact, fancy, and opinion based out of Philadelphia. 2, A recent graduate of the Creative Writing program at Warren Wilson college. 3. A man often found wearing a kilt and a top hat, regardless of all but the most extreme weather. View all posts by Hilary B. Bisenieks

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