Power Tools

I'm currently developing an organization tool for writers and other creative folks, a Python-based replacement for TiddlyWiki. Someone who didn't really understand the project asked me if it was like Scrivener or Granthika. I knew of the first but not the second, so I had to go look it up (by way of a WIRED article about its creator). The short answer is no, and so now I wonder if what I'm coming up with is going to be that useful. I believe it is, so long as people know what they are getting.

Scrivener and Granthika are ambitious projects. They include not only an editor for the manuscript, but a system for organizing all the metadata around it — all the scenes a character shows up in, the timeline for the story, etc. The drawback is that the editor and the organizer are the same program — if you habitually use Word, as I do, you can't really use them effectively, since they require the document be tracked inside the program itself.

My whole reason for using TiddlyWiki was to have the freedom to use your own word processor and the freedom to impose your own structure on the organization as you went along. All that comes at the cost of integration: you have to manage two documents instead of one. If I want to reorder scenes, I have to change the Word document, then edit my wiki to reflect that change.

On the other hand, my work habits tend to have those kinds of changes in stages. If I realize I need to move a scene around, I make a note of it as something to do in the next draft. When next-draft time comes, then that change becomes its own specific assignment, and so it isn't something that just happens any old time.

The tools we use mold our work habits as much as they support them. I'm convinced one of the things that helped make "serious" fiction wordier was the invention of the electric typewriter and later the word processor (although I think the real motive is the misconceived idea that singular works of serious fiction are models to emulate [e.g., Ulysses]). You have to be conscious of how the tool uses you in return.

With this tool, whatever name it gets (I still haven't figured that out yet; the two hardest problems in computer science are cache eviction and naming things), I don't want to create something that forces people to work a specific way, even if that comes at the cost of integration. The more I think about it, many of the benefits of integration can come from good work habits, like the reorder-on-revision practice I described earlier. A tool can support good work habits, but only if you develop them to begin with. It can enforce good work habits, but at the cost of the habit only being enforced in the context of the tool's use.

Some people will want the tool that does everything. I know folks who use Scrivener and get a lot out of it; I know others (myself included) who tried it and passed because they didn't like how top-down it was. In my own case, I felt like it wasn't giving me anything I couldn't already do on my own with a little care. Not everyone's that self-guided, though.

Creative people have wildly varying thresholds of patience and self-guidance. Some people want a tool like Scrivener because it gives them one less thing to think about. Those folks aren't fools; they're trying to focus their work on the things that matter and not clutter it up with the things that don't. They haven't the time or patience to assemble a custom toolbox.

Other folks, though (like yrs trly), want to take at least some time to build, or at least gather, the tools they need. I wouldn't write my own word processor, because Word does far more (and far better) than anything I could come up with on my lonesome. But TiddlyWiki is another story — it's a far smaller, more focused app, and my skillset can handle it. The blogging software I am writing this on, also my own creation, is far more complex. I figured the wise thing to do is build the tool that works for my use case, then see if there are other people who have the same use case. Odds on there are.

Tags: Granthika  Python  Scrivener  TiddlyWiki  software  tools  writing 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2020/02/10 08:00.

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