LibreOffice as an Outlining Tool

Every time I read an article about specialized novel-writing software, I wonder what it does that free software like LibreOffice can’t.

One thing that LibreOffice does really well is outline documents.

Here’s how I use it.

LibreOffice is built around styles, which seemed restrictive when I started using them.

My philosophy is write first, format second. Styles force you to format as you write. I don’t like that. But styles can be useful too.

I use paragraph styles for outlining. There are also page, character, frame, and list styles, none of which I use for outlining.

What I do normally is highlight text I want to apply a paragraph style to, then choose the style from the drop down menu in the tool bar. The paragraph styles menu has items like “Default style,” “Header 1,” “Header 2,” and so on. Another way to access styles is by pressing F11 to bring up the styles dialog box.

Now, lets say you have a document that looks like this:

Chapter 1

Blah, blah, blah.

Chapter 2

More blah, blah, blah.

Highlight Chapter 1 and choose “Header 1” for the style. Do the same for Chapter 2. Now your document looks like this:

Chapter 1

Blah, blah, blah.

Chapter 2

More blah, blah, blah.

Notice you don’t have to highlight the content of Chapter 1, just the first line.

Hit F5 to bring up the Navigator. In the list of ways you can navigate your document, you will see “Headings.” It should be at the top of the list. Open it up and you will see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 listed.

Now we get to the point of all this.

Click on Chapter 1, then click on the down arrows in the tool bar at the top of the Navigator. Chapter 2 will now be first, and Chapter 1 second. The associated content was moved with Chapter 1.

Neat trick, huh?

But there’s more.

There are 10 header levels, each higher number level with a lower priority. So you can set up your document like this:

Chapter 1

Section 1

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Section 2

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Section 3

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Apply Header 1 style to chapters, Header 2 style to sections, and Header 3 style to paragraphs. You can outline a twenty chapter novel like this and move everything around in the navigator as you wish, either before or during writing.

Give descriptive names to things so you know what you’re moving. “Protagonist character description paragraph,” “Big battle,” “Licking wounds and assessing next move in the cave,” and so on.

I hope this doesn’t look complicated. It’s not. It’s a great way to shuffle things around in your outline until they’re where you want them.

Thoughts on Vim as a Writing Tool while Waiting for my First Novel to Finish Itself

I know. I should be writing, not worrying about tools.

I’ll write later this morning. I promise.

I wanted to post about vim, my text editor of choice.

Vim is documented elsewhere.

This won’t be a “hit this key to do that” post.

Instead, these are my impressions of vim as a text editor for writers.

I’ve used vim for well over 10 years, so this is not a, “Hey! Check this new program out! I just tried it and it’s wonderful!” post either.

Who vim is for and not for

Vim is for you if you

  • are a good touch typist
  • make a lot of edits
  • don’t mind struggling through a bit of a learning curve
  • are willing to format your document in another editor

Vim is not for you, or at least you won’t see much advantage,  if you

  • are not a good touch typist
  • don’t make lots of edits

Those are general rules, with lots of exceptions.

Editing in vim

Editing is where vim shines. I mean, really shines.

I mean, shines as in, “I can’t believe how cool this is!”

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Editing still sucks. But vim makes editing easier than any other tool I’ve used.

I’ve promised a “no keystroke” post, so let me explain conceptually.

Vim works in modes. When you type in vim, what the keys tell the program to do depends on what mode vim is in.

“Insert mode” inserts text in the document as you type. This is the default mode of most word processors.

“Normal mode” maps the keyboard to commands. You no longer insert text, but execute commands to move , copy, and paste text.

Normal mode is more efficient than a mouse for editing text. Vim knows what units of text like a word, sentence and paragraph are. With a few keystrokes you can tell vim, “delete the next three sentences and insert them before the next paragraph.” It’s like magic.

Every now and then I get frustrated with vim’s drawbacks and use a word processor. After a day I’m back to vim. Once the vim commands are in your muscle memory, there’s no leaving.  Editing in a word processor is like trying to run across hot tar in sneakers.

Vim’s drawbacks

The biggest drawback to vim is that it does not format text.

You can finesse this a little bit, but don’t try.

After you write in vim, format in another editor.

You can import into LibreOffice, or if you don’t mind delving into text processing a little more, use groff or Latex to edit the document.

Vim doesn’t use curly quotes. Latex and groff insert them automatically. In LibreOffice or Word, use regular expressions to change all of them at once.

Ninja vim

Documents are easy to organize using folds.

You can use ex: mode to make more sophisticated changes to your document like removing blank lines and inserting line numbers.

You can set up a distraction free environment.

You can insert text from supporting documents anywhere inside a master document with just a few keystrokes.

Vim was designed as a coding editor, so it is infinitely configurable.

But the best reason to use vim, the one killer feature, is fast editing.