Hacking free software for creative writing

Creative Writing

© Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

© Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

Article from Issue 242/2021
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Some tools designed for programming can also be very helpful for writing fiction. A few to look at include personal wikis, random word generators, and version control tools.

One of the most important lessons I have learned from using free software is the ability to improvise. Although I am not a developer, I long ago learned to hunt for useful scripts and adapt them for my own purposes. However, it is only recently that I realized that, with a little improvisation, tools designed for programming can be made useful for writing fiction.

Some free software, of course, is already designed for use by writers. Although a sadly high number of users have yet to learn that, as Robin Williams said in the title of her book, The PC is Not A Typewriter [1], LibreOffice is designed for writers of long documents. Similarly, Calc, like any spreadsheet, is ideal for outlining scenes and for keeping track of more abstract elements of storytelling, such as the phases of the moon or the course of a character's illness. However, the repositories of free software also contain some less obvious tools that are useful for writers, including those detailed below.

Personal Wikis

Wikis are popular for free software projects. However, individuals also find them useful for many other purposes, which is why the personal wiki has become common. For writers, personal wiki files are useful because they can be linked and lightly formatted, which is a more reliable way to organize background information like the biography of characters than relying on directory and subdirectory structures. Countless personal wikis are available, but VimWiki [2] is a command-line option that is easy to learn, while Zim [3] offers the same advantage on the desktop (Figure 1).

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