Zotero is one of the best bibliography managers out there, especially as more and more of our reading shifts to a digital format. This is the “standalone” product, not the FireFox plugin. It’s the first update since the alpha release in February. Get it while it’s hot!
Tag: word processing
This article from Slashdot caught my eye. He argues that “less is more” when it comes to computers and writing. There are a lot of distractions when one writes. Never mind the environmental distractions of telephones, interruptions and surfing the web. Word processors have just too much eye candy and tempt the writer from doing his job: putting down words in a row.
So he gave up the fancy WYSIWYG word processor with the spell checker, justified text, pagination, fonts and all the other features, and went back 20 years in Unix history and chose vi, the Unix programmer’s text editor. 1 That was in 2003. Now this writer is considering taking a further step back in the history of text editors and abandoning vi for ed, a line-oriented editor where vi is screen-oriented.
The writer is now a novelist with a driving need to grind out text. His creativity has become narrowly focused and so his text editing needs have become similarly focused. Some of the Slashdot folk accused him of being a romantic, which I do not find to be a flaw in a creative writer. But other kinds of writing—such as essays, monographs and other non-fiction genres—do not lend themselves so well to narrow focus. At least, that has been my experience.
Writing an academic paper or journal article requires careful attention to the flow of thought, evidence and logic. One must be careful to appropriately cite authorities and sources. Sometimes writing text prompts thoughts about something written earlier that needs amendment. I find myself reviewing what I’ve written ever so often in order to push the text on to the next step, kind of like making the run up to a broad jump. A screen-oriented text editor like vi is minimally necessary for such a writing task; a modern WYSIWYG word processor such as LibreOffice 2 has many useful features. It also has many distracting features.
My own preferred means of writing is with a text editor. vi or emacs works for me. This is because I have found the most powerful word processing is done by TeX and friends, a typesetting system that takes care of the formatting at a later stage in the process of writing. Since I work with languages my text editor (or word processor, for that matter) must be Unicode compliant.
There is an important lesson here for writers. Writing is hard. It takes commitment and focus. One must set time aside and one must set a concrete empirical goal—word count, for example–for each session of writing. When one is writing the first draft, the focus should be on new text; leave the reviewing for later. Yes, yes, yes! When extraneous thoughts occur to you, write them down and get them off your mind. But come quickly back to the task of putting new words down. You can even use a powerful word processor by reducing the distractions: using the viewing options, remove the tool– and scrollbars, status information and using the “full-screen” option. You will get as minimalist an experience as with any text editor.