12 March 2011

Using OpenOffice Writer for drafting

I have just finished drafting a new novel. It was composed using OpenOffice Writer running under Linux, and has now migrated to Microsoft Word on a Mac for further formatting.

OpenOffice uses a much more compact file-format than Word. The finished book occupies 305 Kb in odt format and 1.5 Mb in doc format. At the end of every working day during the drafting period, I saved what I had written so far with a name like “101103.odt” (being the saved file for 3 November, 2010). The result is a directory containing 121 cumulative versions of the book, totalling 16.7 Mb.

Thus I have a permanent record of the drafting process, complete with all the errors, cul-de-sacs and general groping for direction that accompanies the construction of any novel, no matter how well planned it may be – and on this project I dispensed with my usual synopsis and flew by the seat of my pants.

I am making this post for the benefit of other authors. Such a record might prove instructive long after composition. It retains ideas and passages that, even if at first rejected, you may decide to use later. Finally, it provides incontrovertible proof of authorship, should there ever (heaven forfend!) be a need to produce it.

OpenOffice has become very stable and sophisticated, and if you haven’t checked it out recently or at all I recommend that you do. It crashed three times during perhaps 500 instantiations, which beats Word on the Mac hands down; and only crashed at all when I was doing unusual things. The autosave feature is configurable. Very little is lost even if a crash occurs. The flavour of Linux I used is Linux Mint, which is an Ubuntu derivative I can also recommend.

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