Tag Archives: Writing

Writing Software for Writers

This is especially for writers of big things. If you write small things, like blog posts or short articles, your best tool is probably a text editor you like and a way to handle markdown language. Chances are you use a word processor like MS Word or LibreOffice, and that is both overkill and problematic for other reasons, but if it floats your boat, happy sailing. But really, the simpler the better for basic writing and composition and file management. If you have an editor or publisher that requires that you only exchange documents in Word format, you can shoot your text file with markdown into a Word document format easily, or just copy and paste into your word processor and fiddle.

(And yes, a “text editor” and a “word processor” are not the same thing.)

But if you have larger documents, such as a book, to work on, then you may have additional problems that require somewhat heroic solutions. For example, you will need to manage sections of text in a large setting, moving things around, and leaving large undone sections, and finally settling on a format for headings, chapters, parts, sections, etc. after trying out various alternative structures.

You will want to do this effectively, without the necessary fiddling taking too much time, or ruining your project if something goes wrong. Try moving a dozen different sections around in an 80,000 word document file. Not easy. Or, if you divide your document into many small files, how do you keep them in order? There are ways, but most of the ways are clunky and some may be unreliable.

If you use Windows (I don’t) or a Mac (I do sometimes) then you should check out Scrivener. You may have heard about it before, and we have discussed it here. But you may not know that there is a new version and it has some cool features added to all the other cool features it already had.

The most important feature of Scrivener is that it has a tree that holds, as its branches, what amount to individual text files (with formatting and all, don’t worry about that) which you can freely move around. The tree can have multiple hierarchical levels, in case you want a large scale structure that is complex, like multiple books each with several parts containing multiple chapters each with one or more than one scene. No problem.

Imagine the best outlining program you’ve ever used. Now, improve it so it is better than that. Then blend it with an excellent word processing system so you can do all your writing in it.

Then, add features. There are all sorts of features that allow you to track things, like how far along the various chapters or sections are, or which chapters hold which subplots, etc. Color coding. Tags. Places to take notes. Metadata, metadata, metadata. A recent addition is a “linguistic focus” which allows you to chose a particular construct such as “nouns” or “verbs” or dialog (stuff in quotation marks) and make it all highlighted in a particular subdocument.

People will tell you that the index card and cork board feature is the coolest. It is cool, but I like the other stuff better, and rarely use the index cards on the cork board feature myself. But it is cool.

The only thing negative about all these features is that there are so many of them that there will be a period of distraction as you figure out which way to have fun using them.

Unfortunately for me, I like to work in Linux, and my main computer is, these days, a home built Linux box that blows the nearby iMac out of the water on speed and such. I still use the iMac to write, and I’ve stripped most of the other functionality away from that computer, to make that work better. So, when I’m using Scrivener, I’m not getting notices from twitter or Facebook or other distractions. But I’d love to have Scrivener on Linux.

If you are a Linux user and like Scrivener let them know that you’d buy Scrivener for Linux if if was avaialable! There was a beta version of Scrivener for Linux for a while, but it stopped being developed, then stopped being maintained, and now it is dead.

In an effort to have something like Scrivener on my Linux machine, I searched around for alternatives. I did not find THE answer, but I found some things of interest.

I looked at Kit Scenarist, but it was freemium which I will not go near. I like OpenSource projects the best, but if they don’t exist and there is a reasonable paid alternative, I’ll pay (like Scrivener, it has a modest price tag, and is worth it) . Bibisco is an entirely web based thing. I don’t want my writing on somebody’s web cloud.

yWriter looks interesting and you should look into it (here). It isn’t really available for Linux, but is said to work on Mono, which I take to be like Wine. So, I didn’t bother, but I’m noting it here in case you want to.

oStorybook is java based and violated a key rule I maintain. When software is installed on my computer, there has to be a way to start it up, like telling me the name of the software, or putting it on the menu or something. I think Java based software is often like this. Anyway, I didn’t like its old fashioned menus and I’m not sure how well maintained it is.

Writers Cafe is fun to look at and could be perfect for some writers. It is like yWrite in that it is a set of solutions someone thought would be good. I tried several of the tools and found that some did not work so well. It cost money (but to try is free) and isn’t quite up to it, in my opinion, but it is worth a look just to see for yourself.

Plume Creator is apparently loved by many, and is actually in many Linux distros. I played around with it for a while. I didn’t like the menu system (disappearing menus are not my thing at all) and the interface is a bit quirky and not intuitive. But I think it does have some good features and I recommend looking at it closely.

The best of the lot seems to be Manuskript. It is in Beta form but seems to work well. It is essentially a Scrivener clone, more or less, and works in a similar way with many features. In terms of overall slickness and oomph, Manuskript is maybe one tenth or one fifth of Scrivener (in my subjective opinion) but is heading in that direction. And, if your main goal is simply to have a hierarchy of scenes and chapters and such that you can move around in a word processor, then you are there. I don’t like the way the in line spell checker works but it does exist and it does work. This software is good enough that I will use it for a project (already started) and I do have hope for it.

Using Scrivener on Linux the Other Way.

There is of course a way to use Scrivener on Linux, if you have a Mac laying around, and I do this for some projects. Scrivener has a mode that allows for storing the sub documents in your projects as text files that you can access directly and edit with a text editor. If you keep these in Dropbox, you can use emacs (or whatever) on Linux to do your writing and such, and Scrivener on the Mac to organize the larger document. Sounds clunky, is dangerous, but it actually works pretty well for certain projects.

Scrivener can look like this.

Books of interest currently cheap; fermenting, writing, history, atheism

These are all $1.99 in Kindle form, presumably for a limited time only, so act now!

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century is a book by Stephen Pinker in which he explains to everyone else why they are such bad writers.

Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing—and why should we care? From the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature and the forthcoming Enlightenment Now

In this entertaining and eminently practical book, the cognitive scientist, dictionary consultant, and New York Times–bestselling author Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century. Using examples of great and gruesome modern prose while avoiding the scolding tone and Spartan tastes of the classic manuals, he shows how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right. The Sense of Style is for writers of all kinds, and for readers who are interested in letters and literature and are curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods (Idiot’s Guides) by Wardeh Harmon is science applied to making stuff you can eat.

Continue reading Books of interest currently cheap; fermenting, writing, history, atheism

In homage to Carrie Fisher: Read a book

You have already heard the sad news that Carrie Fisher had died, at a young age, after suffering one or more heart attacks.

To honor her, you are probably going to go watch some old Star Wars movies. But I have a different suggestion. The woman was a prolific and accomplished author (and more) and there is a good chance that she’s written at least one book you’ve not read, if not several.

That’s what I’m going to do. I’ll make a list of her books, pick one, and read it. But, since I’m a blogger, I figure, why not let you benefit from my efforts and see the list? If I’ve left anything off or made any sort of error, let me know in the comments.

I’ve added commentary form the jacket/publisher/wherever to help identify the book.

The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s intimate, hilarious and revealing recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie. Named a PEOPLE Magazine Best Book of Fall 2016.

Wishful Drinking

Finally, after four hit novels, Carrie Fisher comes clean (well, sort of ) with the crazy truth that is her life in her first-ever memoir.

In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of “Hollywood in-breeding,” come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.

Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty…


This memoir from the bestselling author of Postcards from the Edge and Wishful Drinking gives you an intimate, gossip-filled look at what it’s like to be the daughter of Hollywood royalty.

Told with the same intimate style, brutal honesty, and uproarious wisdom that locked Wishful Drinking on the New York Times bestseller list for months, Shockaholic is the juicy account of Carrie Fisher’s life. Covering a broad range of topics—from never-before-heard tales of Hollywood gossip to outrageous moments of celebrity desperation; from alcoholism to illegal drug use; from the familial relationships of Hollywood royalty to scandalous run-ins with noteworthy politicians; from shock therapy to talk therapy—Carrie Fisher gives an intimate portrait of herself, and she’s one of the most indelible and powerful forces in culture at large today. Just as she has said of playing Princess Leia…

Postcards from the Edge

This bestselling Hollywood novel by the witty author of Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic that was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.

When we first meet the extraordinary young actress Suzanne Vale, she’s feeling like “something on the bottom of someone’s shoe, and not even someone interesting.” Suzanne is in the harrowing and hilarious throes of drug rehabilitation, trying to understand what happened to her life and how she managed to land in a “drug hospital.”

Just as Fisher’s first film role—the precocious teenager in Shampoo—echoed her own Beverly Hills …

The Best Awful: A Novel

This sequel to the bestselling Postcards from the Edge contains Carrie’s Fisher’s trademark intelligence and wit that brought Postcards to the Hollywood movie screen.

When we left Suzanne Vale at the end of Carrie Fisher’s bestselling Postcards from the Edge, she had survived drug abuse, rehab, and Hollywood celebrity. The Best Awful takes Suzanne back to the edge with a new set of troubles—not the least of which is that her studio executive husband turned out to be gay and has left her for a man.

Lonely for a man herself, Suzanne decides that her medication is cramping her style, and she goes …

Delusions Of Grandma

Pregnant screenwriter Cora has taken to writing lengthy letters to her unborn child, and it’s small wonder why.

For that age-old script family values is looking like it needs a complete rewrite.

Surrender the Pink

The author of Postcards from the Edge turns to the subject of modern romance in this hilarious saga of one woman’s sexual awakening. 2 cassettes.

16 common grammatical mistakes or problems

Certain things that come across one’s desktop, on the internet, are hard to turn away from. Train wrecks, for example. For me, this list includes commentary about grammatical errors and proper language use.

I find this sort of discussion interesting because I’m an anthropologist, and probably also because I’ve spend a lot of time 100% immersed in a language or two other than my native English. This training and this experience each make me think about how we make meaning linguistically. Also, as a parent, I have observed how a child goes through the process of first, and quickly, learning how to use language properly, then spends the next several years learning how to use it wrong by following our arcane rules. And, as a writer – well, you can imagine.

Today I was inspired to write my own version of one of those posts on grammatical errors and quirks. I came across Bill Murphey Jr’s post “17 Grammar Mistakes You Really Need to Stop Correcting, Like Now” via Stumble Upon. Bill’s main point is to cool off the conversation a bit and tell people to lighten up on the grammar correcting.

I’m not too concerned about that. Excessive grammar correcting certainly is annoying, but my main interest in this topic is not the nature of language policing so much as it is the nature of language, as well as simply knowing what is considered righter vs. wronger. As it were.

So, I took Bill’s list of grammar issues, deleted a few, and created my own commentary on them. And resorted them. And here goes:

Further versus farther

Futher is a word’s word. It works with concepts, or as a marker for where the thing you are saying is going. Farther is about physical distance. This is easy to remember. “Farther” has “far” in it. “Those who go farther have indeed gone far.” Not, “Those who have gone further have indeed gone fur.” Meanwhile, we use the word “furthermore,” derived from “further” but there is no such thing as “farthermore.” Not yet, anyway.

(Actually, “farthermore” was a word at one time, but our language has moved further along and it no longer is.)

dot dot dot vs em-dash

Don’t use “…” to break up sentences. Use a long dash (an em-dash). An ellipsis is a part of quoted text that is left out. The same word, ellipsis, is also used to refer to the three dots that we put in the ellipsis. So, if you type dot-dot-dot make sure that something is truly missing there.

Double negatives

It is not uncommon for people to use double negatives when they are trying to look like they are not uneducated. Outside of certain contexts, this is always bad. If a logic algorithm has to be applied to your sentence to understand what it means, you messed up. Don’t do that.

That is the “proper” double negative I’m recommending against. The hauty tauty classist double negative. The other kind is the kind that just makes things wrong, but in a way, it is more linguistically acceptable even if grammatically the equivalent of crushing baby kittens.

I ain’t never going to do that. Or, even, a term like “irregardless,” where afixes or words conflict with each other in a way that seems to cancel out. In language, we often add bits to a word or phrase to add emphasis or, perhaps absurdly, underscore something by negating it. Irregard, if it was a word, would be without regard. Regardless is without regard. So, if we really want to make the point that there is very little regard, we say it both ways at the same time: irregardless of grammatical proscription! This would be a sort of double negative you should avoid in proper and clear writing, and keep in your toolkit for dialog or ironic phrasing.

i.e. versus e.g.

i.e. stands for the latin id est.

e.g. stands for the latin exempl? gr?ti?

Id est means “that is.” Use i.e. to prefix an example of something that elaborates a term or phrase. The Doctor’s time travel machine, i.e., the Tardis.

Exempl? gr?ti? means “for example.” Just like it sounds.

Time machines, e.g., The Doctor’s Tardis, or Dr. Emmett Brown’s DeLorean.

See the difference? Not much of a difference. But there is a difference.

E.g. is usually followed by a comma, just as you might say, “I would like dessert, for example, ice cream” = “I would like dessert, e.g., ice cream.”

I like to think of e.g. as plural, in a sense. Examples.

I.e. can be thought of as “in other words.” So, I might say, “I don’t like desserts like flan, i.e. slimy icky stuff.”

In writing, if you find yourself saying “in other words” a lot, you should revise and perhaps use the “other words” that were your afterthought as your actual words. So, perhaps, if you find yourself using “i.e.” you should revise as well. Either way, if someone complains to you about your use of i.e. vs e.g. you could probably make a case that your word choice was correct no matter what you did.

Incomplete comparisons

Incomplete comparisons are less annoying.

Than what??? Less annoying than what????

A sentence that is an incomplete comparison may not be incomplete at all if the larger context keys the reader in to what is being compared. The Prius and the Smart Car get great gas mileage. The Chevy Volt gets better gas mileage. This is less of a grammatical problem than a marketing problem. Out of context incomplete comparisons reflect incomplete thinking.

(By the way, we’re not talking about semicolons here, but that would have been a great place to use one: “The Prius and the Smart Car get great gas mileage; the Chevy Volt gets better gas mileage.”)

Into versus “in to”

This one can be tricky. “Into” is a preposition. Note that the word “position” is in “preposition.” “Into” pretty much only means that something is moving from and to particular positions. The words “to” and “in” do a lot more work than the prepositional. Generally, if “in to” and “into” both seem right, you want “into.”

There are some odd exceptions. “He walked into the room” is correct. But if he is a burglar and he gets there by force, he broke in. So, you would not say “He broke into the room,” but rather, “he broke in to the room.” He did, however, burgle his way into the room.

Also, the “to” can be possessed by a verb following the term, demanding “in to” instead of “into.” He went into the room where he left his wallet. He opened the door of the room and went in to get his wallet.

Prepositions are not always about space, in the usual sense, so of course, “into” is also used for other kinds of transitions. If life gives you lemons, make them into lemonade.


Regardless of what people tell you, irregardless is a word. But, it is a word that even the dictionary says should be avoided. Instead of sneaking quietly into speech and becoming a normal word that means the same thing as “regardless” it annoyed grammar experts early on (as far back as the 1920s) and was stigmatized. So, now, “irregardless” is a signal that you don’t care about the quality of your spoken or written word. In good writing, “irregardless” should be confined to dialog spoken by characters that you want to look a little careless or poorly educated.

Leaving off the “ly” ending for adverbs

If you want to use an adverb, a word that modifies a verb, you generally need the “ly”. But if you are using a lot of adverbs in your writing, you probably want to delete some of them. A well chosen verb hardly needs such help in eloquently written verbiage. After you’ve written something, go on a ly-hunt. Search for the string “ly_” (note the space) and revise as appropriately. I mean, appropriate.

In the old days you could leave off the -ly to make more impactful text. Bill gives the example of an Apple marketing campaign that used “Think different” instead of “Think differently.”

This method of catching our attention was overused and that ship has sailed.

Me versus I

This is one of those important distinctions that is very easy in certain circumstances and very hard in other circumstances. So, the way to get it right is to restate a sentence in such a way as to make the distinction unambiguous, then revise as if necessary.

For example, you can see that “I wrote a blog post” is correct and “Me wrote a blog post” is Tarzan-talk.

The confusion comes when the simple “I/me” part of the sentence is joined with others.

Jose and I/me went to the movies.

Jose took Jasper and I/me to the movies.

Simply picking the “I” over the “me” in these sentences might sound to some to be “better” because culturally we have come to expect to be corrected more often when misusing “me.” In other words, always opting for “I” is a way to sound like you are not uneducated.

In most cases, the way to figure this out is to remove the second person, the one that is a name and not a pronoun, and see how it sounds.

“Jose and me went to the movies” does not sound a lot different than “Jose and I went to the movies” but the difference becomes clear when we ask Jose to leave the sentence. Compare “Me went to the movies” with “I went to the movies.” I am the subject of the sentence, so I get to be I, not me.

“Jose took Jasper and I to the movies” and “Jose took Jasper and me to the movies” also don’t sound all that different, but compare “Jose took I to the movies” with “Jose took me to the movies.” I am the object of the sentence, and so “me” is correct, and when we parse it out this way, “me” sounds correct.

Me can forgive Tarzan for getting this wrong.

One or two spaces after a period

In the old days, you put two pieces of lead after the period in order to make sentences look normal. This practice continued with non-proportional typefaces on typewriters and other machines.

People will tell you that modern fonts don’t require this, so you should not do it. However, there is a missing part of the story often conveniently ignored.

In the less old days, people who used computing technology to manipulate text could use a .__ (a period and two spaces) as distinct from ._ (period and one space) to tell the difference between the end of a sentence (with a full stop period) and an abbreviation.

Had we continued, as a society, to use period-space-space, this convenience could have been preserved. But we din’t. So that was ruined.

Now, of course, when you are fingering your smart device and hit the space twice, the app automatically puts in a period.


You can tell me again and again to use only one space after a period. But my thumb will ignore you.

Split infinitives

An infinitive is a form of a verb that has the “to” attached. In some languages the “to” is so attached to the word that you can’t fit any other words in there. E.g., in upcountry Swahili, “ku” is “to” and “do” is “fanya” so “to do” is kufanya. One word. I imagine that the fact that many languages have infinitives that are pre-stuck together had led to the convention that one does not split them by adding extra words between the “to” and the “verb.”

(There is actually quite a bit of ink spilt over the history of this rule.)

In my view, the ability to split infinitives is really cool feature of English and there should be no rule against it. However, since we often split our infinitives with adverbs, and adverbs are overly used, hunt for split infinitives not so much to unsplit them but to identify adverb overuse.

That versus which

After you’ve written your text, go on a which hunt and change the whiches to thats. But, you can leave the whiches that start independant clauses. In other words, if the part of the sentence that stats with which could more or less be a separate sentence, and/or if you can remove it from the sentence and still have a sentence, it is probably OK.

I think that for a time the word “that” sounded more pedestrian than the word “which,” which is a guess on my part, I’m not sure, so people who wanted to write good seeded their sentences with random whiches. Never trust a random which.

The Oxford comma

Also known as the Harvard comma or, perhaps most correctly, the serial comma. In fact, I’m rather shocked that which of these terms to use is not itself a major battle among language mavens.

The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list, before the last item and before the “and” that separates out the last item. Always use this comma. Often, it is not necessary, but when it is necessary, it is sometimes really necessary. So just use it all the time and avoid certain embarrassing, though often hilarious, mistakes.

From here:

I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.


I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.

They or Their as a gender neutral term, instead of the singular Him, her, his, hers.

English lacks a gender-neutral singular possessive term. Also, English lacks (in common use) a term that is not so strictly gender binary.

Using the plural as a gender neutral is natural, since there is a kind of plurality (his’s, hers’s, or neithers’s).

New terms and new uses tend to grate, but a new term is less likely to be accepted and more likely to bother people than a re-use of an existing term. What needs to happen here, probably, is that the purveyors of proper language (elementary school teachers and the like) need to not correct students who use the plural form as a gender non-specific one.

Who versus that

This is simple. “Who” is about people, “That” is about things. More obviously incorrect and underscoring the point that who is people is the substitution of “The people who do that” with “The people what do that.”

So when it comes to referring to people as that or what, who would do that?

Less versus fewer

Less and more refer to changing amounts of something you don’t count in whole numbers. More or less rain, love, or apple cider. Fewer and more refer to things counted in whole numbers.

The fact that “more” is in both of these sets may be the cause of confusion between “Fewer” and “Less.”

Fewer trains pass by my house these days, so we have less noise around here. Not, less trains pass by my house these days, so we have fewer noise around here. But, we do have less train traffic these days, so we have fewer instances of annoying noise events.