Authoring Tools from Alpha Geeks

Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) has posted a nice article covering some of the tools he’s built or borrowed to make his writing life more manageable. I’m especially intrigued by the Flashbake project, which augments simple use of version control (something many of our authors have been using for years, and which we use extensively in our production toolchain) to automatically capture contemporaneous data about the writing process:

Now, this may be of use to some notional scholar who wants to study my work in a hundred years, but I’m more interested in the immediate uses I’ll be able to put it to — for example, summarizing all the typos I’ve caught and corrected between printings of my books. Flashbake also means that I’m extremely backed up (Git is designed to replicate its database to other servers, in order to allow multiple programmers to work on the same file). And more importantly, I’m keen to see what insights this brings to light for me about my own process. I know that there are days when the prose really flows, and there are days when I have to squeeze out each word. What I don’t know is what external factors may bear on this.

Thinking about content like code opens up a wealth of tools and techniques for managing that content. After all, programmers spend more time than just about anyone doing what can very easily be called “creative writing” with text, so it’s no surprise they’ve built tools to make their lives easier and more productive. We’re getting ready to announce a new project over at O’Reilly Labs, one also built on top of version control (Subversion in our case) and another example of using software tools to improve the writing (and in this case reading) experience.

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