Thursday, April 10, 2008

Workspace - The Final Frontier

Yeah, yeah, I know we've moved on from the "what's my writing space look like" theme, but I'm not quite ready to let it go yet.

Now even if my meatspace doesn't seem like the ideal to anyone with a sense of aesthetics outside of an aerobically-obsessed MC Escher, my virtual workspace is where I compensate. Or overcompensate. I may be hunched on the floor in a corner with a five year old laptop perched on my knees, but my virtual office has never been larger.

Based on what other writers I've talked to say, every writer needs at least a word processing program to put story to pixels. Most, however, find that a little more than your basic word processor can increase productivity while simultaneously feeding the creative, needing-to-play parts of the writer's brain. Let's take a look at 'em now:

Multitasking has gone from a talent to a necessity, and productivity software apps have followed the trend. While a simple word processor is all you need to create manuscripts electronically, it doesn't much help out your creative process. Twelve years ago when I started actively pursuing publication, I could sift through back articles of the RWR or Writer's Digest and find all sorts of nuggets on making notecards work as a plotting tool, using large rolls of meat paper to chart out timelines, or using post-it notes to create visual storyboards of your story's plot. Fantabulous tools and techniques, all, but when it came to translating those into an electronic medium, not even the electronic version of sticky notes could do much to compare with good ol' meatspace tools.

But over in the business world, tools like Visio were coming into greater use. Powerpoint has been ubiquitous for some time and the notion that visual tools had a place in a writer's arsenal began to seep into the ether, and now you can find classes on using graphics applications to create digital collages and tap into your visual brain for novel fodder. Spreadsheets have served us well in tracking the numbers for the local RWA chapter's incomes and outgoes, and some enterprising souls started using them to track manuscript incomes and outgoes as well--this is a business, after all, as well as an art. Spreadsheets continue to pop up on the radar as tools to keep track of story elements as well. We writers are an enterprising lot when it comes to turning anything we can find into a writing tool we can't live without.

But the enterprising writer being the social animal she is, even in her reclusivity, she attracts some of the other symbiotic life forms around the internet, namely that of the software coder. Invariably there would be the merging of the two at some point, in some individual, or some close group, and the Writer's Software Package would be born.

Imagine a software app that did all the things you do in the course of your writing without forcing you to use hammed-together hacks, and monkeying about with apps so that you can use them for exactly what they weren't intended for. A word processor, visual thought organizer, graphics capability, and tracking functions. Maybe even an easter egg or two to relax you or amuse you for a few minutes while you break from the sea of words.

Yeah. I'm talking about the Writing Software App. The one that understands why you want to apply all the weird style formatting to every page, and why you're obsessed with fitting exactly 250 words onto 25 lines in a page, and why blank lines, lines with three asterisks or hash marks, and widows and orphans make you want to grind your teeth down to dust on the back of your tongue. The app that lets you open a pop-up and log a title, an editor's name, and the date you mailed it, and will spit back out the times and editors you previously logged for the manuscript. The one that handles digital scrapbooking jpegs and understands that you want to layer them as objects. The one that handles tiny files for scraps and snippets of information including stream of consciousness ramblings, obscure web links, and maybe even snippets of song and will cheerfully provide a friendly, speedy interface with which you can arrange them, fling them from one side of the screen to the other, draw lines between them, tag them, and transfer them from one snippet to the other. And the app that, after all this is done, will spit to your printer a perfectly dull, courier 12 pt, black and white text document that goes through ink and paper with the same destructive cheer as Godzilla passing through Tokyo.

I might be on the floor in the corner, covered in toys and play-doh, but my desktop--it's a streamlined panther of writing-app power, mixing right-brain and left-brain tasks into one glorious jumble of creativity that barely restrains the awesome power of Workspace--The Final Frontier.

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