Last week I downloaded TiddlyWiki 5 — the latest version of the personal wiki software I've used to organize my last two writing projects — and set to work outlining my next book, The Palace of the Red Desert.
For those who missed it the first time, TiddlyWiki is a kind of freeform organizational system that runs in a Web browser. I opted to go with it over one of the more formally designed writer's-organization systems like Scrivener; I tried out Scrivener and found it way too closed-ended. The main complaint I had about it was how it tried to commandeer my entire workflow — not just the note-taking process, but the writing process as well. No thanks; I've got Microsoft Word and I'm not afraid to use it.
When faced with a new tool, there's always tension between the limits of one's existing workflow and the effort required to work with the new toolset. TW5 doesn't require a lot of retooling to use well, so it seemed a natural step forward. Most of what I already knew worked fine; I just had to figure out how to adjust the presentation to be a little more comfortable. (The original TW had a more compact if messier presentation.)
The other big change, and one I'm not fond of, is how TW5 in Chrome can't save back to its original file the way the previous version could in Firefox. That was, in fact, the only reason I was using Firefox at that point — for the sake of being able to save TW files! — and now I decided it was best to wean myself of Firefox as completely as possible. I may wind up using one of the dedicated applications for editing TW files, but for now I'm just doing things by hand: each "save" action generates and downloads a new file, and at the end of the day I take the most recent one of those and drop it back in the work directory where it belongs. Messy, but it gets the job done, and I can work out a more sophisticated workflow later on.
One thing I am learning to let go of is the need for the toolset to be perfectly incarnate before attempting to do the work. Writers of previous generations will remember needing to have all the pencils sharpened just so, and the music just so loud, and the cats finally asleep in the corner before finally being able to "be creative". A romantic trap. Any toolset will get you started. Yes, I'd rather type on Das Keyboard than the membrane of the ZX-81, but let's face it — there was a time when we had no choice but to make black marks on flattened dead trees. The technology is just an adjunct to the will to make something happen.
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Other Lives Of The Mind