Writing Tools

It is unusual for me to be (mostly) caught up on grading during finals week. I have been able to chip away at my book project during the evenings. A workflow has developed over the past week. One of the main decisions I had to make was what software to use for my writing. Here is what I am using at the moment.

Outline and Notes – OneNote

I am currently working on the outline of the book. At the same time, I am researching teaching programming. The tool I use to keep both the outline and research is OneNote from Microsoft.

OneNote is Microsoft’s best software, after Outlook. The fact that it is a free app for Windows, Android, and the web means I can sync my notes across multiple devices. The formatting is impressive in OneNote. I can tag todo items as well, meaning I can use OneNote to keep track of my writing progress.

Main Writing Computer – Linux Mint

My personal computer is running Linux Mint. I am very comfortable working on Linux. It lets me use, or reuse, older computers efficiently.

GNU/Linux is an open source operating system. I have used it for years, going back to Red Hat 5.1. When I was in graduate school, I built three separate Beowulf clusters for parallel processing. My Ph.D. dissertation was written on Linux.

I have set up a computer for writing and other work that is away from the common areas in my house. This computer was rescued from an electronics recycling program at my college. For fun, I take the useable computers home and upgrade them if possible. I wipe the hard drives and install Linux.

Of the many Linux distributions I have tried, Linux Mint hits the sweet spot between ease of use and stability. I have never had a problem with it crashing or failing to boot. Since Mint is based on the popular Ubuntu distribution, there are many packages available for download. I have found Ubuntu to be usable, but unstable.

Writing Software – LaTeX

Since my book will feature many equations, it will be written using the typesetting package \LaTeX. Like Linux, I have been using \LaTeX in my work for decades. \LaTeX is supported by the publishers to whom I intend to submit my writing. It is not easy to work with \LaTeX at first. Once you get the hang of it, \LaTeX is a powerful tool for authors.

\LaTeX is a standard in the mathematics community for typing mathematics. My Ph.D. dissertation was written in \LaTeX. I also used it in my teaching in graduate school. One of the reasons I chose WordPress for hosting my blog is that \LaTeX support is built-in. I have used it three times in this paragraph alone.

When researching submission requirements for various publishers, I found that almost all want manuscripts submitted in PDF format. That means I could use \LaTeX or Microsoft Word. When I discovered that Wiley provide a book template for \LaTeX, that was the deciding factor.

A document in \LaTeX starts as a plain text file and is then compiled into a PDF document or some other format. This may seem like a lot of work when compared to Microsoft Word. However, if you need to change the formatting of one aspect of the document, like the headings, then recompiling the document ensures that the changes are applied correctly.

The other advantage of \LaTeX is that is keeps track of the table of contents, bibliographic references, and index. The steps in tracking these references can be automated using a Makefile in the same way that compiling a program is automated. This is not for all authors, but it works just fine for me.

The project is moving forward. The software seems to be helping and not getting in the way. I will report back on how the tools are working as I get further down the road.

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