No Trees Were Harmed In the Writing of This Novel

As an experiment, I’ve decided to write The Book entirely on my computer. This might not be a revolutionary move for some people, but it’s a revolutionary move for me. Ordinarily when I write, I have all sorts of paper flotsam — notes from interviews, printed-out specs with more notes from meetings, sketches, and so on. However, for The Book I’m trying to do everything in software.

On the face of it, this is a pretty stupid idea.

iBook vs. Pencil and Paper
Characteristic 12″ iBook Pencil and Paper
Cost $999 $1.79
Weight 4.9 pounds 5 ounces
Battery Life 5 hours Infinite
Resolution 1024 x 768 @ 106 dpi 600+ dpi at typical viewing distances
Uptime 99.99% 99.999% (with hot-swappable backup pencil)
Operating Temperature 50 to 95 F -459 to 451 F

But despite the obvious advantages of paper, I am trying to do everything on the iBook anyway.[1], [2] The main reasons are:

  • Backups and archiving.

  • Organizing. (I have a much easier time keeping virtual things organized than paper things.)

  • Hyperlinking.

  • Searching.

In particular, I think the first and fourth items are what will make the effort worthwhile. And there is, I believe, a qualitative change between going 99% digital and 100% digital. It’s the difference between knowing that everything related to The Book is archived, versus “everything except for my story maps, and those scribbled notes from the coffee shop last October, and …”

Of course even if you buy all that, there are still major tradeoffs to consider. One drawback is that you lose some spontaneity, because you have to have your laptop to write. This would be a huge pain for writers whose modus operandi is to scribble huge piles of notes whenever inspiration strikes. Unless you’re a whiz with your PDA or smartphone, you’d have to resign yourself to a lot of transcription.

Another drawback is that certain writing techniques don’t translate all that well over to the digital world. For example, I find that while storymapping can be very useful when using pen and paper, it basically sucks on the computer. In my next post, I’ll describe a couple of things I tried to make storymapping on the computer suck a little less. At least on Macintoshes. As for making things suck less on other platforms, I wouldn’t really know where to start.

1. Despite the title of this entry, I am not actually doing this to “save trees.” At this point in my career, I’ve killed far too many trees for me to start worrying about them now. See, the first time you print out a huge manual only to discover that the global template was screwed up and you have to junk the whole thing — yes, yes, you feel horribly guilty. The second time this happens — you still feel pretty guilty. But by the seventeenth time, you feel nothing but cool professional detachment. Presumably, contract killers progress psychologically in much the same way.

2. And lest you dismiss the whole enterprise as the gimmick project of an effete, technology-obsessed Silicon Valley man-child, I should state for the record that I cannot possibly be any of these things, as I do not own a cell phone or even a working[3] television set. So there.

3. The key word being “working”. I actually do own a TV, but I have no cable subscription, and the antenna reception is awful, so the television sits unplugged in the corner of my office, serving as an ugly and not very practical end table. I keep it around mostly because I think that at some point in the future, I might want a TV. That’s the theory, anyway. Unfortunately, the truth is that I am, in fact, an effete, technology-obsessed Silicon Valley man-child… and so when the time comes, I know quite well that I will go out and get a fancy super-thin high-definition whizbang TV, and my current TV will remain an ugly and impractical end table.

Creative Commons

I discovered the other day that Yahoo! has launched a Creative Commons Search. Nifty stuff! I am pleased to note that the HTML 4.01 Tutorial is currently the #2 result for the search “html tutorial”. This despite the fact that the tutorial isn’t finished, and was mostly written before I understood the difference between “tags” and “elements”. Hmmmm. I think the tutorial could use some spiffing up…

In other Creative Commons-related news: via Tim Bray I discovered a curious statement from Bob Wyman, who claims that the Creative Commons “non-commercial” license does not actually do anything to prevent commercial use. Wyman’s reasoning is:

Given the notes on the Creative Commons site, and a closer reading of the Creative Commons licenses themselves, it seems like what is being said by the CC “NonCommercial” license is not that commercial use is denied, but rather that non-commercial use is permitted. The focus is on what is permitted, not what is denied.

First, as far as I can tell, the text of the NonCommercial License explicitly states that commercial usage is prohibited: “Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.” Legal jargon is tricky, and designed to trip up non-lawyers and rubes such as ourselves. That said, I am not sure how a “closer reading” would come to some other conclusion.

Second, let’s imagine we live in a universe where the NonCommercial license didn’t say “you may not use this work for commercial purposes.” Let’s say it said, “You may use this work for non-commercial purposes” instead. I don’t see how this would make any difference. By default, you cannot take my copyrighted material without my permission and use it for either A) non-commercial or B) commercial purposes (modulo fair use and parody considerations). If I then subsequently grant you permission to use some of my copyrighted material for A), that doesn’t mean you are suddenly granted permission to use it for B) also. Unless B) is a subset of A). Which it isn’t, at least if I understand the English prefix, “non-“.

Or am I missing something? I am not a lawyer. Then again, as far as I can tell, neither is Bob. Creative Commons licenses might have other structural problems, but I don’t see how this particular issue is one of them.