Testing 1, 2, 3…

This latest post started out as a journal entry that I didn’t write while I was testing the programs listed below because I was too busy writing about other things like the tendency of fairytale writers to make fathers marked men (Have you noticed that in the well-known fairytales with female protagonists, all of their dads are dead or dying?) and Patrice O’Neal’s “Black Phillip Show”.  I guess it’s like Hemingway being able to write about life in the Midwest because in Europe, he was far enough away from it to see it with any clarity.  Anyway, enjoy the run down of what I think are some really good Mac-centric word processing and project management tools. —Letita

About 97% of my weekend was spent learning programs. Yeah, I said it. I spent damn near most of my waking 30-something hours learning WriteRoom, NoteBook, Pages, Scrivener and Bean, all word processing programs with different levels of power and functionality, designed to make me a leaner, meaner writing machine. Did I get any writing done for any particular project? No, but that wasn’t the point. The goal was to learn how each program would aid me in my writing and to figure out which program to call on when I needed to complete a specific task or project. For instance, if I simply wanted to journal or to get as many words out about a subject as I could, I’d turn to WriteRoom ($24.95), an old-school green-on-black text editor that fills up the entire computer screen, rendering the program completely distraction free. WriteRoom is all about letting the words come pouring out. I can’t seen them all, so I can’t edit them as I go, which is great ’cause it makes it that much harder for my little bitty hater to pull out the red correction pen of death. Now, if I wanted to compile research and have everything related to a project in one place, I’d crack open a fresh file in NoteBook. Once I’m ready to start comparing that research and tearing it down into its components, Scrivener comes out to play. I can write there if I want to as well, but I’m not sure about that yet. Transcribing from there is going to be great since I’ll have access to MP3 recordings and a text editor in one place. But actual writing may take place here or in Bean and will be finalized with electronic annotation in Pages, followed by a track changes review in Word, which would then be followed by a broad formatting overview in PDF just to make sure the forest is shaped up the way it’s supposed to be. As Lester Freamon would say, all the pieces matter.

I’m kind of mad at myself for not learning Pages ($79, bundled with Keynote and Numbers in iWork ‘09) sooner. Sh’Aaron told me she used it in lieu of Word and that it really was the superior program, but I didn’t believe her. She was right. Man, was she right. An all-in-one word processor and graphic design program that exports to .rtf, .pdf, and .doc and handles tables well, too? That’s pretty fantabulous in my book. It even lets you insert comments, view thumbnails of pages as you work on them—something I just learned Word was capable of as well, but the functionality is hidden in a submenu—and highlight text but only as paragraph fill which is basically the same thing InDesign does with paragraph rules. These Lynda.com classes have been better than I could’ve imagined; they’re really turning my curiosity on in a big way. I’m sure the Pages program boxed with iWork ’09 is even more powerful, but I’ll stick with what I’ve got until I’m forced to upgrade. Just keep in mind that once you export a file, there’s no bringing it back in since the file converter in iWork ’06 (the version I have) tends to crash.

NoteBook ($49.95) is much more powerful than I thought it was as well, but unfortunately it’s not very liquid. Maybe there’s a way to get shapes and arrows to flow with text when the window is resized in a writing page, but that doesn’t seem to work too well with notes pages. But NoteBook does well with photos, .pdf and .rtfd files. Word files, not so much. They’ve got too much going on and I think there’s something with some COCOA something or other program language that makes them fight. At the end of the day, the less you import .doc and .docx files into NoteBook, the better. I learned that NoteBook covers can be customized, as can tabs, divider pages, and paper colors. Hell, line and margin colors can be manipulated as well. The Inspector keeps track of when cells are added in note pages, but you can do the same thing on writing pages by adding a time/date stamp from a drop-down menu. The scissors icons next to clippings will take you back to the web page you clipped the information from via snap back or URL, right down to the exact passage or picture. Importing PDF files for annotation in NoteBook is a great boon to me because it allows me to look at the structure of the file rather than the content. Interestingly enough, it’s seeing the structure that allows me to catch flaws in the content. How’s that for craziness?

Bean (free ninety-nine), bless it’s heart, is just Bean. It’s what Word would be if it wasn’t trying so hard. Like Word, Bean isn’t the best at handling graphics and photos, but it can save in plenty of file formats, is amazing looking (i.e., clean), and it plays well with Scrivener, NoteBook, Pages and Gmail. That’s one of the most awesome things I learned about Bean: if I ever want to write a well-formatted email and I want that formatting to keep when I bring it over to Gmail, I can type it up in Bean first so that I know exactly what it will look like. It’ll look just like that, fonts, spacing and all, when you press command + v.

The only program I didn’t leave the weekend with an in-depth understanding of was Scrivener ($39.95). I think that’s because I’m waiting to get an actual project going there. I’ve got something I could be working on now, but I haven’t compiled all the pieces yet and won’t be able to until after the first of the year. Meh, I could play with a pretend project, but knowing me, it’ll turn into a real project and distract me from the project I should actually be working on this week. That’s OK, though. I’ll get the opportunity to shake hands with Scrivener soon enough.

Anybody else use a variety of word processors to crank out projects or use any of the afore mentioned programs in a different, more streamlined way? I wanna hear all about it, so deposit your five cents in the comments section below.

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