Tools to Go from Text to Book Part 1

Feb 25, 2022

Nerd warning – this gets pretty wonky in the details of text editors, open standards, etc. If you dont find that kind of thing interesting, you might not find this interesting either.

The long personal story that comes before the recipe

(skip this is if you just want to see the tools)

I say that it took ten years to write Conceptual Labor, which is wrong in both directions. I was working or thinking seriously about the ideas in it well before that, but I also only knew I was writing a book about this for about five or six years. Wherever you draw the line, I worked on this long enough that the tools I used to write it had plenty of time to evolve and adapt as I refined my model of the hyperobject of work that was “Write the Book”.

How my tools and methods got to where they ended up reminds of me an experience I had that became a personal archetype about the efficiency of messy work and simple rules. I was 20, living in Portland Oregon, and completely jacked on coffee at sidewalk table outside a cafe in Southeast, looking West. I looked up from my book and was struck by the expanse of forest in the West Hills, across the river. Portland is home to Forest Park – one of the larger parks within city limits in America. I’d been there – what hit me in that moment was that there was a stretch of forest nearly the same size of forest park on the other side of downtown. (Forest Park roughly begins at the division between north and south in Portland – Burnside street – and continues north. What I was looking at was all on the south side – a combination of Washington Park and the lesser-known Marquam Nature Area. This happened many years before the advent of Google Maps or smartphones.)

Being young, relatively without obligations, and posessed of a mountain bike in good condition, I decided to get into that forest. Once I got across the river to the foot of the hills, I set two rules for myself – I could only bike uphill and only south-west. This sent me through some yards and other private property I could and should have avoided. It was a small but wonderful adventure, and by the time the caffiene and my enthusiasm wore off, I ended up at a park I had never heard of that had a fantastic view of the city, looking out in the direction of the the cafe where I had started.

Later, I learned that I had found Council Crest park, the highest point in Portland. My two rules turned out to be very effective, as long as I stuck to them.

What does this have to do with writing Conceptual Labor? Well, the last time I felt that archetype activated in my brain, like a power-up in a video game, was when I found this excellent article about Sustainable Authorship. It described, with a much more considered and intentional line of reasoning, almost the entire suite of tools I had come to rely on for writing and publishing the Theory, covering the rest of my tools in another article.{:target=”blank”}

The tools I use to write

  • All my text lives in markdown files.
  • I use Obsidain, Folding Text, Ghost, or Sublime Text to write, depending on the device I’m on or the thing I’m writing.
  • For the print and e-book, I used pandoc to export an .icml document that preserved format and structure that InDesign could read.

    This was truly magical. The relatively-semantic structure that pandoc inferred from my markdown translated into a set of text and paragraph styles that InDesign recognized. This allowed me to set typography in detail for the whole 40,000 word text, in a structured, automated way instead of manually setting headlines, italics, and so on, line by line.

  • For review editions, I used pandoc to export directly to .pdf
  • This site runs on Jekyll, using the Ed. theme.
    • To publish blog posts like these, I can copy the markdown directly to a file in the site directory or use the admin plugin I run for convenience.
    • To publish the book on the site, I maintain a canonical version of the text which I broke up into individual markdown files for the convenience of readers.

      I wrote a simple php script to re-number footnotes in the order they appear, for al the missing citations I caught while editing, and to make things easier on online-readers.

  • The bibliography is a work-in-progress, as I only started using Zotero when I began editing, and have some grooming to do before I can take advantage of the portability of citations and auto-generation of bibliographies that Zotero can offer as part of this toolset.

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