Watts (chipotle) wrote,

Word processors

I've discovered that my new room lets in a lot more light, particularly morning light, than my old room. This means it'll be a lot easier to wake up in the morning--whether I want to or not, of course. I got about five and a half hours of sleep last night. That means, though, I'm up early enough to keep pondering something I've been pondering for a while: word processors.

Earlier this week, most of the Mac news sites carried blurbs for "Ulysses," one of several word processors on the Mac that claim to be aimed at creative writers. All of them follow variants on the same philosophy, from what I can tell. They let you save multiple documents in one file, switching between them with a tabbed view (like sheets in Excel); some save separate notes with the file. None of them even attempt to be WYSIWYG. All of them have limited formatting capability. Really limited. So limited, in fact, that they can't produce a manuscript in a proper format. (I'm not sure any of them let you define your own headers, none of them can grok the idea that you might want a header from page 2 on rather than all or nothing, and some of them won't let you apply any formatting to your text at all, including underlining.)

Which of course leads me to wonder: are any of the guys doing these things actually writers--even unpublished hacks like me--or are they just making products that work the way they think writers write? On second thought, given that the screenshots for Ulysses have spelling errors in them, the question's clearly rhetorical.

What I'd like to see in a word processor is a hodge-podge of Nota Bene and WordStar features, along with a few new ones. Instead of tabbed documents, just let me save and open documents as a group. Give me quick keys for navigating through the document by more than just word and page. (NB had sentence, clause and paragraph motion keys, and allowed you to set invisible markers you could jump between.) Let me select with any of the motion keys, too (another NB-ism; instead of holding down [SHIFT] to select, [F2] toggled selection on and off). Let me do quick searches, ideally multiple document, that bring up results in a separate window. I could do spell-checking that way, too. Support revision marks. If I have two windows open, let me scroll the one I'm not in from the keyboard. (It might be my notes or a previous draft.)

And separating presentation from content is a great thing for focusing on writing--but for God's sake, let me do formatting when I need to. Switch between a draft view--single-spaced to fit more text on screen, an arbitrary font chosen for screen readability, but don't abandon all pretense of display formatting--and a true WYSIWYG one. Ideally, for WYSIWYG, I'd like to be able to drop in different "style sheets" that completely change the look of the document, so it's a couple clicks to go from proper manuscript format to a self-published chapbook, or to exporting InDesign markup. (Microsoft Word tries this with AutoFormat, but fails.)

So: Seriously. What would you like to see in a word processor?

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