Learnlets
Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

2 December 2013

Leveraging Technology

Clark @ 6:33 am

Technology is supposed to support our goals, and, when well-written, it does.  So for instance, when I write, I use particular features to make my writing process better aligned with my thinking.  I’m working on a book (as you’ve seen hints of and some resultant interim thoughts), and I’m finding that now that it’s time to deliver, I’ve got a conflict.  Let me explain.

My writing is not just a process of sitting down and having the prose flow.  At some point it is, but even with my first book that had gestated for years, I had a structure.  Subsequent exercises in screed generation have really relied on my creating an overarching structure, that lets me tell a story that incorporates the things I need to cover.   And I use outlines as my structuring tool.

Even this isn’t linear: structure and then write.  As I write, I have ideas that I will either put later in the structure, or go back and add into the prose.  One of the things that regularly happens is that, as I write, I find things flowing in a different way than I originally expected, and I rearrange the outline to achieve a structure that captures the new flow.

To do this, I use the outline feature hugely. I don’t just restructure, but move chunks to different places using these capabilities.  While I have not been a fan of Microsoft in general, I learned Word to write my PhD thesis, and have used it consistently ever since.  For instance, while I love Keynote, I haven’t been able to adopt Pages because it hasn’t had industrial-strength outlining.  This also means I inherently use styles.  I like styles. A lot.  For instance, it makes me crazy when people format by hand on something that might need to be reformatted.

The reason I mention this is because I’m now faced with an externally-induced dilemma. Having a deadline, and finally having crafted my prose, I now look at their submission requirements.  And they’re antiquated.  Here’s the requirement from my publisher:

Our production process requires minimal file formatting; do not use formatting such as fields and links, styles, page headers or footers, boxed text, and so on.

No auto-indexing, no auto-table of contents, nothing. And yes, I faced this before, but it’s still hugely frustrating.  The dilemma I’m in: I’ve had to use styes to write a well-structured book.  Now I’m faced with the onerous task of removing all the file formatting created by the outline styles that I needed to use to give my best effort.  And I have to do it by hand, as there’s no way to systematically go through and manually format all the headings.

This is nuts!  I mean, it is almost 2014, and they still need me to use hand-formatting.  Um, people, this is why we have technology: to support us in working smarter, not to go to a last-century (or worse) manual process.  These instructions are essentially unchanged since 2005, when I wrote my first tome! (Ok, they no longer require a floppy disk version, and I talked them out of the 3 paper copies. Ahem.) I managed to create camera-ready material for my thesis (with library restrictions where they’ll take out the ruler to make sure the measurements meet the criteria) in Word back in 1989; I bet I could create camera-ready page-proofs to meet their requirements today.  As you can infer, I’m frustrated (and dreading the chore).   The irony of using last century production processes to tout moving L&D into the 21st Century is not lost on me.

Please, if your processes are still like this, let’s have a conversation. I will be having a fight with my publisher (which I will lose; they can’t change that fast), but I hope you can do better.

4 Comments »

  1. I totally feel your pain. Will saving in RTF not create the formats manually?

    Comment by Rebecca — 2 December 2013 @ 7:57 am

  2. Rebecca, you’re the second person to suggest that, and definitely in my experiment plans this morning, thanks! They want .doc, and afraid if I go back from RTF to doc, I’ll get my styles back. Fingers crossed.

    Comment by Clark — 2 December 2013 @ 9:14 am

  3. And, as a follow on, with thanks to Rebecca and a colleague, I managed. *After* redoing all the styles *and* using find/replace to put tabs at the beginning of every paragraph, the process involved: cutting out each file component (e.g. a chapter), pasting into a new file, redoing the double spacing, saving as rtf, taking that file and opening in TextEdit (Word will still remember the styles), saving again, then opening again in Word, and saving as a .doc. Phew! Still better than hand-replacing all the formatting, but not really using technology to it’s utmost.

    I also had to generate a Table of Contents, then manage to save as text, and repaste in. I didn’t manage to number the pages, since I couldn’t use headers/footers. I asked, but….

    Just silliness. Should be easy enough to write the macros once to port Word into whatever Byzantine software they use for publishing. And I think that you could manage to get Word to create camera-ready output (and why camera ready? Why not digital printing, and….?). C’est la vie.

    Comment by Clark — 3 December 2013 @ 8:22 am

  4. Clark, why not supply the publishers with two doc.doc files? The first is your original with styles. The second document is the same but you have copied and pasted as unformatted text. That way, you get to work as you want, and perhaps the publishers will see the benefit for a document with all the attributes of the 21st century.

    Comment by Ara Ohanian — 11 December 2013 @ 6:58 am

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