Saturday, November 24, 2007

Concentrating on Writing, not Styling

People who know me know that I'm writing a book (I cringe as I say that, hating the person like me who is always writing a book but never finishing one). Actually, I'm writing two books right now, with two more started but shelved for the time being. I have written over 800 pages between the four books. These are non-fiction, not novels.

I didn't use to be so prolific. I spent all my time farting around with my word processor, making my writing look the way I wanted it to. I wished I could stop fiddling, but I couldn't.

Then I discovered Latex. Latex is touted as a great way for the writer to focus on writing. It looks like this:

\title{Making the Network More Secure}
\author{Daeng Bo}%



% \usepackage[Lenny]{fncychap}

In reality, Latex just shifted my concern from styling to programming. I'd spend too much time trying to figure out how to create a special kind of float or other such nonsense. True, I was more productive than I had been before. My drafts definitely looked great. I mean, they looked like books, not letters bashed out in a word processor. I still felt I was wasting too much time, though.

Then I discovered Lyx, a What You See Is What You Mean (WYSIWYM) front-end for Latex. Well, honestly, I'd tried to use Lyx a few times before, but it hadn't worked out well because I had been stuck in a word-processor mentality, trying to use a crowbar to make everything work the way I wanted it to. My time with Latex broke me of that habit, and moving to Lyx just freed up my mind to concentrate on writing.

I can't style. There's no way to do it. Idon't have to remember commands. They're generated for me. I just type. On a good day (once or twice a month), I can produce 20-30 unedited pages. Most days I write much less, but I do it in my spare time when I get motivated. I end up with great-looking stuff. My only complaint is that it isn't a Gnome application, so it doesn't mesh seamlessly with Ubuntu.

Because I use about a hundred books in my research, keeping bibliographies used to be a pain. Once I started using Pybliographer to keep my collection in a Bibtex database (usable by Latex), I had many fewer problems. Just the other day, though, I ran into a problem with Pybliographer and couldn't overcome it. I was again spending my time with my tools instead of writing. I found Referencer, and am amazed by how much more it does. It's perfect for me since 90% of my refence books are electronic. It also looks up journal articles and automatically fills in the bibliographic information for me. My PDFs even get a preview icon so that I can identify them visually. The only thing it doesn't do is automatically insert the reference into Lyx at the point I'm typing. I can easily work around that. Cut and Paste is my friend! It even tags my documents for when the list gets too long.

Writing with Lyx is too easy. If you write for a living or a hobby, you should look it over.

Install Lyx : This will give you Lyx and the Latex environment
Install texlive-latex-recommended : You will have more Latex options for templates
Install texlive-fonts-recommended : You need extra, typeset fonts
Install referencer

Open the Lyx Introduction and Tutorial under the help menu.
Import your e-books into Referencer.
Start typing.

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