Monthly archives: April 2013

Process, again

Best ways to understand something is to explain it to someone else.

So, I have a very limited amount of time to write every day. On a good day, it is an hour, most days it is a bit less. So, after waking the wife, walking the dogs, feeding the kid, and then getting the kid & her mother out the door, I have a few moments to myself. I need to fill as much of this hour with focused, balls-to-the-wall, non-stop writing as possible.

To do this I have tried various method: no distraction apps; pens, pencils, markers, crayons and all sorts of writing devices; notebooks of all sorts, sizes, colors and paper types; and even a tablet. Computers are all too distracting. Tablets are crap for typing. And my handwriting is illegible, at best.

So, after much trial and error, I have arrived at this process. Nothing is permanent, but I expect it will work for a while and then I will try something else. It may seem overly complex, but it gives me the focus and speed I need to get the ideas out and down. Especially, in the constrained time that i have.

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Write

That is my beast. Anna-Sophia has named him Typie. It is a 1970s vintage Hermes 3000. Yep, a typewriter. No internet here, no disctractions. No handwriting to puzzle over while trying to decipher later. It is a old school solution, but it works for me.

And in the background you might see Typie, Jr., my portable typewriter, though he sees less action. I don’t get a lot written on vacation, sadly.

And you might see my date stamper there as well. I used to not date all of the pages, but I kept loosing track of where the pages went after I was done with them. I have to keep them in order, they will need something for my papers to publish after I am dead, right?

But, there is one little problem with this solution. Paper is the ultimate analog format, and we live in a digital world. I need to get the typed pages into the computer, somehow. And, honestly, I don’t feel like re-typing shit. So, I need a different solution.

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Scanner

So, I scan it all in and run OCR (optical character recognition) on the result. No cute name for this one, just a little Brother all-in-one that has a sheet feeder. Pretty quick, and does not jam. Used to be our printer, but got a laster printer for that now.

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Scan

Apple provides this great app for reading PDFs and looking at pictures called Preview. It also does scanning. Preview scans all my pages into PDF files. Which rocks. This makes them portable and great for referencing later, if needed. At this point, I start saving everything into Dropbox, of course.

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OCR

I have tried out all of the OCR packages I can get my hands on and generally they suck. The current one I use is called OCRFeeder, which is really not an OCR package, but a GUI frontend on top of a bunch of open-source projects including the Tesseract. Tesseract is an OCR engine, now supported by Google, which does most of the heavy lifting. I would say I see somewhere in the 75-85% success rates with Tesseract/OCRFeeder, and I am sure I could get better if I read up on how to tweak/train the Tesseract engine.

On this step we go from a PDF file to a txt file and the first wave of spell check is done.

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Format

Now, the OCR is done, but the txt file is formatted like crap. It is formatted like the original page and not continuous lines of text. So, I open up the txt file in the built in editor for the Mac called TextEdit. From there I do another spell check and remove a ton of line breaks.

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Edit

And finally, we reach where the work will spend the rest of its time. If Typie is where the magic starts, this is where the hard work happens. I take the txt file and bring it into Scrivener. At each step, I tweak and touch and move and work on the story, but here is where I really get started on making it not suck.

Scrivener is a application (now on mac and pc), that lets you edit a work as individual pieces and then compile it into a manuscript. So, instead of having a word file that you edit and has all sorts of strange formatting issues as you add and edit the file. With Scrivener you can edit each chapter, or section of a chapter as a separate document, and then when you need to send it out, assemble it into a whole. For you devs out there, it is an IDE for written works.

I am a vomit writer, this means I work best if I get the work as quickly as possible, capture it all, clean it up and then edit the heck out of it. But, this leaves me with a ton of writing that, well, sucks. I spend a lot of time working the initial writing I do, a lot of time editing. And a lot of what I write hits the cutting room floor, though this is getting better (used to be about 50% of what I wrote would be worthless, not it is more like 15%).

Anyway, my usual process here, is to read the document. Then run spell check and grammar check. And then read it out loud, or have the computer read it out loud to me. And then rinse and repeat until I hate what I have written. Then I stash it away and work on something else. I let some time go by, and then revisit the piece. And repeat until I send it out for review. And hopefully some day out to published…

links:
1. hermes 2000
2. brother mfc-j410w
3. preview for scanning
4. dropbox
5. ocrfeeder
6. tesseract
7. textedit application
8. scrivener

-luke