Rockford Lhotka

 Sunday, February 12, 2006
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Every now and then someone asks what tools I use to write books and articles.

 

I write in Word. Typically the publisher provides a specific template with styles that are to be used, so when they get to the last stage and need to do layout they can easily change the styles to get the proper appearance on the printed page.

 

Graphics, figures and screen-shots are, I find, the most frustrating part of the process in many ways. I use Snagit for capturing screen images into TIFF files, which isn’t too bad. But for creating other graphics I use a combination of Visio, PowerPoint, Corel Draw, MS Paint, screen shots and Snagit – along with Acrobat and (more recently) PDF Converter to generate PDF docs containing the figures. Not being graphically oriented, I find the whole process arcane and frustrating – especially as I’ve often had to redo figures a couple times because they are “blurry” or something – typically due to various resolution issues.

 

As an aside, this is what scares me about WPF (Avalon), since all of us programmers are going to be forced to learn all this arcane graphics stuff just to be competent at even basic application development. Personally I think that this could derail WPF adoption overall – at least until a large set of stock, good-looking, controls come into being from either Microsoft or third parties.

 

Microsoft seems to have this deluded idea that business sponsors are going to pay for graphic designers to build the UI – which I think is highly unlikely, given that they typically won’t even pay for decent testing… Who’d pay to make it pretty when they won’t even pay to make sure it actually works?!?

 

But back to the tools.

 

All the writing is done in Word. The final stage of reviewing however, occurs in PDF form. The publisher does the final layout, resulting in a PDF which will ultimately be sent to the printer. But I have to go through each chapter in PDF form to catch any final issues (typos, graphics issues, etc). I annotate the PDF files and send them back, so the layout people can make the changes and recreate the PDF.

 

I also use Microsoft Project. Not for the writing itself, but to schedule the process. Before committing to a writing schedule I create a project of my life. I put fixed-date tasks for all my travel, client commitments, vacations and anything else that I know will consume time during the writing process. Then I put in floating tasks for every chapter and have Project level my life (so to speak). This gives me at least a reasonable projection of how many calendar days it will take to do each chapter.

 

That’s pretty much it :)