Hardware, Software and Brainware

I was browsing the statistics for this site.  It’s amazing what information you can find, though I’m not sure how relevant some of it is.  For example, between the creation of Imagineer-ing, in March 2012, and the end of December, this site had a total of 651 hits.  So far, in January 2013, we’ve had a phenomenal 444 to 29th January!  This is further analysed to give an average of 2 visits per day in 2012 – but that doesn’t mean much as there’s a definite rise towards the end of the year.  Even the January 2013 average of 15 visits per day is deceptive, as the number of visits continues to rise.

The question of what software is of any real use to authors is raised by such online analytical data.  Personally, as an ex-statistician, I confess that I find some of it fascinating.  It doesn’t, however, contribute anything to writing, other than blogging.  Of more interest, perhaps, is the facilities available to authors.

Hardware

I use a desktop PC more than anything else.  I can, though, also use a netbook that is synchronised to the desktop.  The first uses Windows XP and the second uses a cut down Linux.  Apart from these, I could use my iPhone or iPod, though I find those less user friendly.  You could also use a notebook, a tablet or a laptop, if they are available to you.  Outside the realm of computers, there’s also the option of using a typewriter or even handwriting.  Your preference is exactly that – yours!  What should be noted, however, is that your manuscript (MS) must, at some time, be processed for publication.  A handwritten MS will be costly to have worked up into a typed/printed form, unless you’re willing to do it yourself.  Then, there’s the question of formatting.  From what I’ve seen, this varies surprisingly widely.  The one thing that is certain is that you will need your MS to be formatted to suit a publisher’s requirements – even if you self-publish.  You can, of course, write your MS in a word processing package on computer already formatted in the most common way.  That would certainly save some effort.  The matter of formatting is something where software can help.

Software

First and foremost, you’ll need some kind of word processing package.  Of course, many computers come with things like MS Word already installed.  If you don’t have that, then there are some excellent options that are free to download and use.  Probably the biggest, and most reliable, is OpenOffice.  A version of this is called Libre Office, but I confess I’ve found no differences between them.  Other options exist, such as AbiWord, and there are some packages specifically designed for authors, though the latter are not free software.  I, personally, would not recommend using software that produces Adobe PDF files.  I’ve experienced some annoying errors in ebooks that have been converted from PDF.

I use OpenOffice, coupled with the pay-for ebook creation package, Jutoh.  This allows me maximum freedom.  I can write on any device, with the files being shared between all devices, and then Jutoh will help me produce ebooks in a variety of common formats.  That saves me some huge headaches!  Personally, I think Jutoh is worth every penny.  These, together with various desktop eReader programs, mean that I can write, create an ebook in different formats, and check how they will look on eReaders like the Kindle, the Nook and the kobo.

Finally, I use Calibre to organise my collection of ebooks, including updating their metadata  and converting between formats where desired.

Brainware

Sound silly?  Well, perhaps it is, in a way.  What I mean, here, is the core of all writing activity.  It’s a plain fact that none of the above have any relevance if your Brainware isn’t what it needs to be.  It’s the home of creative thought, creating structures, and just plain dreaming.  If you mistreat it, you can be sure that your writing will reflect that.  I don’t say that it has to be perfect!  Some of the great writers were somewhat disturbed, mentally.  They are the “flawed geniuses” who create works of immense power and significance.  As for the majority of us, we need to place ourselves in a situation in which our Brainware can function comfortably, usually where distractions are minimised and you’re physically comfortable.  Whether you need a neat, tidy workspace or chaos, all that matters is that your Brainware will function for you.

~ Steve

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The perils of computers

Using a computer as a tool when writing holds very real dangers!  The other day, my PC decided that it couldn’t see its CD/DVD drive.  OK, so I take steps to try to sort that out.  The obvious thing to do is to insert the Windows XP installation CD and run the install-repair option.  Obvious, isn’t it?  Well, of course it enters an infinite loop, demanding a CD that simply doesn’t exist.  Off we go, on the netbook, to find advice on the internet.  Most of it is the same and works as well as a chocolate teapot!  Then I find something different.  The result?  Death of a computer!!  Fortunately, I had a brainwave and it worked – take the CD out of the drive!  That dumped the install session, though the PC proceeded to keep rebooting itself as it couldn’t find an operating system.  Fair enough, I’d probably crippled Windows by following that advice off the internet.  Problem: what was I supposed to do now?

Well, after wishing computers had never been invented and that I still had my trusty old manual typewriter (a massive beast that I probably wouldn’t have the strength to use any more!), and sitting with the blank screen staring at me accusingly, another brainwave.  If taking the CD out had dumped the installation process, then it should be safe to put the CD back in, provided I got into the BIOS and temporarily switched off the hard drive as a boot device.  Oh yeah!  It worked!  Now, I could tell Windows to reinstall.  OK, so it’s a process I hate, but it had become necessary by now.  Fortunately I have a very fast PC so it took far less time than the hours it had once taken, way back.

The horrible part of reinstalling the operating system, is putting everything else back on too.  And the worst part of that is trying to find the drivers for the system components, like the sound card and the Ethernet card.  Then, too, there are all those updates Windows demands… *sigh*  I’m still discovering software that I haven’t yet put back on.

While this was all going on, I still managed to finish a chapter of the novel, somehow.  That’s the best news of recent days.

Memories

Unlike most people, I have an enduring memory about the beginnings of learning to read. My dad had a huge (to me at age three) book full of fascinating things I would eventually learn were molecular diagrams and chemical formulae. These mysteries were so alluring that I tried extremely hard to learn to read that book. Of course, I was started on primers – especially early level “Ladybird” books. But I checked my progress against that book of dad’s!

Reading featured throughout childhood. I discovered that I had definite tastes. It was impossible to persuade me to read a book I had no interest in! Something which would be a real problem in high school, when these things called “book reviews” were required, usually for the most boring books (at that age) the education authorities could think of!

Interestingly, before that started, I was already accumulating quite a library! It was mostly science fiction, with an almost complete set of Tarzan books. I had also discovered a love of writing. I was writing whenever I wasn’t reading…

It was within a matter of months that I decided that I would be an author. There could be no doubting the fulfilment of my expectations…

I pursued that ambition for years. Indeed, I avowed that I was only working in other jobs to earn money, until my success came.

Eventually, marriage and then a young family override even that cherished ambition. The novels were stored away.

Occasionally, writing would return to the fore. In fact, it did so once so strongly that I actually finished a novel. The rest consisted of lots of starts and little else.

Part of the problem was that in those early years of writing I’d used a typewriter – one handed but with respectable speed. Later, the typewriter had died and all that remained was pen and paper – with the prospect of huge costs to get the longhand turned into proper manuscript. In time, the computer happened. The first serious computer was in a time when word processing software was pretty good already, but you could only fit maybe two or three chapters in a single file! Also, I just couldn’t relate to the computer the way I had the typewriter.

We arrive at today. I still couldn’t write if I only had the desktop computer! I’d struggle just as much with a laptop, with the weight and the ridiculous mouse. It might sound very strange, but the thing that has enabled my return to authorship dreams is my iPod! Small and light, with autospellchecking and predictive text, I can rattle along at a surprising pace!

I shouldn’t neglect one other factor. The blogging software “WordPress” offers an excellent development environment for the author. By keeping the “blog” private, security is ensured. With its clever structure, however, it’s possible to keep notes and were background references handy while using the standard posting aspect to allow the creation of the book chapter by chapter. Further, if you have others helping out, then they can be given only as much access as is needed.

I’m hoping that by this time next month I’ll have a netbook. Hopefully, using the WordPress app on that, I’ll have the perfect combination!