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I've been married to my beautiful wife for almost 20 years. We have a 7-year-old daughter, and boy/girl twins now 9 months old. I enjoy many different things, too many to list here, but finding time to do them is hard. When I'm flying or on lunch, I try to work on my writing.

31 October 2011

LaTeX

I recently discovered LaTeX, a typesetting program, while searching for book templates for Microsoft Word.  I began writing a retrocomputing book on the Commodore 64 using Word, but had a hard time formatting the text exactly like I wanted.  I search for various templates and even considered switching to a desktop publishing program, but nothing seemed to work.

I found a few articles on LaTeX.  The Wikipedia definition is:


LATEX (play /ˈltɛk//ˈltɛx//ˈlɑːtɛx/, or /ˈlɑːtɛk/) is a document markup language and document preparation system for the TEXtypesetting program. Within the typesetting system, its name is styled as \LaTeX. The term LATEX refers only to the language in which documents are written, not to the editor used to write those documents. In order to create a document in LATEX, a .tex file must be created using some form of text editor. While most text editors can be used to create a LATEX document, a number of editors have been created specifically for working with LATEX.
LATEX is widely used in academia.[1][2] As a primary or intermediate format, e.g., translating DocBook and other XML-based formats toPDF, LATEX is used because of the high quality of typesetting achievable by TEX. The typesetting system offers programmable desktop publishing features and extensive facilities for automating most aspects of typesetting and desktop publishing, including numbering and cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout and bibliographies.
LATEX is intended to provide a high-level language that accesses the power of TEX. LATEX essentially comprises a collection of TEXmacros and a program to process LATEX documents. Because the TEX formatting commands are very low-level, it is usually much simpler for end-users to use LATEX.
LATEX was originally written in the early 1980s by Leslie Lamport at SRI International.[3] It has become an important method for using TEX.[citation needed] The current version is LATEX2e (styled \LaTeXe).
As it is distributed under the terms of the LATEX Project Public License (LPPL), LATEX is free software.


This turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.  In a single lunch hour, I was able to produce a document in LaTeX formatted very similarly to what I wanted.

The official website for LaTeX is here:

http://www.latex-project.org/

It says:


LaTeX is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. It is most often used for medium-to-large technical or scientific documents but it can be used for almost any form of publishing.
LaTeX is not a word processor! Instead, LaTeX encourages authors not to worry too much about the appearance of their documents but to concentrate on getting the right content. 



Here are some chapter style examples from the Memoir Class (a package available for LaTeX):

http://ctan.mackichan.com/info/MemoirChapStyles/MemoirChapStyles.pdf

The learning curve is a bit steep for LaTeX (at least for me).  I'd liken it to learning HTML.  You could learn the basics pretty quickly, but to be good at it will take some time and effort.  For me, this effort is worth it because the LaTeX system 1) produces professional-quality documents and 2) allows me to focus on writing rather than messing around with the formatting (a pitfall for procrastinators like me).  I've decided to move forward with my book using LaTeX.

There are some other attractive aspects to this system:

1.  LaTeX is available in a Mac distribution called MacTeX.  MacTeX contains (from the MacTeX Wiki):

MacTeX is the official release of the MacTeX Technical Working Group. A very Mac-like installation using the Apple installer, so the installation process will be very familiar to Mac users.
MacTeX includes the most recent official standard distribution of TeX Live (the modern TeX distribution standard of TUG) for the Mac, a front end, documentation and extras.
MacTeX 2010 was released 2010-09-08 and is approximately 1.6Gb [1] .
MacTeX 2008 was released 2008-09-01 and includes:
  • selected GUI Applications including:
  • TeX Live
  •  fonts in formats suitable for system-wide use:
Go to MacTeX to download.
See TeX Live for details of installation set-up and administration.

2.  Scrivener will export to LaTeX.  Scrivener is a Mac-based writing program (now also available for Windows).  http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php?show=features

Scrivener is payware, but it's a paltry $45 (US) for an excellent software program.  (And no, I'm not a compensated endorser for Scrivener -- it's just something I have found useful).

Below is from the Literature and Latte website (the creators/sellers of Scrivener) and shows some of the features of Scrivener...

Corkboard

The cork notice-board is one of the writer's most familiar organisational tools. Before Scrivener, though, the index cards were not connected to anything; any alterations made to the sequence of cards on the corkboard would have to be replicated manually in the draft. In Scrivener, every document is attached to a virtual index card onto which you can jot a synopsis; moving the cards on Scrivener’s corkboard rearranges their associated text in your draft. Mark common themes or content using labels; stack cards, grouping related documents together; or place cards anywhere on the board using freeform mode. Scrivener’s corkboard gives you all the flexibility of a real notice-board while automatically reflecting any changes you make in your manuscript.

Outliner

Prefer a more traditional planning environment? View and edit the synopses and meta-data of your documents in Scrivener’s powerful outliner. Organise your ideas using as many or few levels as you want and drag and drop to restructure your work. Check word counts, see what’s left to do using the Status column and create custom columns to store any information you need. Scrivener’s outliner is easy on the eyes, too, making it ideal for reading and revising an overview of a section, chapter or even the whole draft.


Scrivenings

Scrivener’s innovative “Scrivenings” mode allows you to move smoothly between editing your document one piece at a time or together as a whole. It’s up to you how small—or large—you want to make the individual sections of your manuscript: novelists can write each scene in a separate document or whole chapters as one; scriptwriters can work scene-by-scene or act-by-act; academics can break down their ideas into individual arguments. However finely you break up your work, Scrivenings mode allows you to collect the constituent components into a single editor, so that you can edit them as though they were all part of one document: in Scrivener, you’re only ever a click away from seeing the forest or the trees.

Text Editing

Who said WYSIWYG is always best?

Scrivener provides access to all the features of the OS X text system: add tables, bullet points and images and format your text however you want using the format bar at the top of the page. Add footnotes and comments in the inspector and choose how they should be laid out when you export or print. Enter page layout view to see your words on virtual pages, which can be set up to mimic your printer settings or the pages of a book. And because the font and style you find most comfortable for writing and editing may not be the same as those required in your final document, Scrivener’s advanced Compile settings optionally allow you to print or export your work in a completely different format.

Tools for Writing Non-Fiction

MathType equationsScrivener isn’t just for writing novels and other forms of fiction. You will find a number of useful academic templates for writing papers, essays, and dissertations in common style formats, including Chicago style essay format, APA & MLA papers, Undergraduate Humanities essay format, as well as general non-fiction, technical writing and research proposals. Integrate your preferred bibliography management software into Scrivener’s menu system for easy on-demand access to your library of references. Using MultiMarkdown, you can create LaTeX documents with a great degree of flexibility. As of version 2.1, you can include beautifully typeset editable MathType equations in your work. Those working with gigantic libraries of reference material in PDF and other formats will appreciate the ability to link to original files rather than importing them into the project, giving you the best of both worlds: Scrivener’s built-in split viewing and full Binder organisation, without the overhead of storing gigabytes of research data in your projects.
Watch the MathType video ●

Scriptwriting

Draft the next blockbuster

While Scrivener is not intended to replace dedicated screenplay software, its familiar scriptwriting features make formatting a script straightforward. So you can draft your script inside Scrivener using the unique research and structural tools and then export it to industry-standard scriptwriting software such as Final Draft. And because you can mix up script formatting with regular text, it makes writing treatments easier than ever.

Statistics and Targets

A live word and character count of the current section is always in view at the bottom of the screen, and you can set a word or character count target for each section. For a wider perspective, though, Scrivener’s Project Statistics panel allows you to check the word, character and page counts of your manuscript so far, and the Project Targets let you set the number of words, characters or pages you aim to achieve for the whole draft or just for the current session. Call up the targets panel to see your progress reflected in the coloured bars as you write.

Snapshots

Never be afraid to make mistakes. Scrivener's "snapshot" feature makes it easy to return to an earlier version of your text. Before embarking on a major edit, take a snapshot and you’ll be able to return to the current version any time you want. Not sure about the changes you’ve made? Just call up your snapshots in the inspector to compare previous edits or restore an older version of the text.
Watch the video ●

Full Screen—Evolved

Because sometimes you want to blank out the rest of the world while you write—or at least the rest of the screen. One click in Scrivener’s toolbar and you can leave the rest of your desktop behind. Fade the background in and out, choose the width of the "paper" and get writing. Prefer an old-school green-text-on-black look or your favourite countryside scene as a backdrop? No problem. Flexible preferences mean you can set up the full-screen mode as you please. Change documents, refer to your notes, apply keywords—or most importantly, just write—in one of the most beautiful distraction-free modes available.


I've used Scrivner to author several short stories and I'm using it for my novel.  Now, I can use it to write my retro book also.

Within Scrivener, some of the formatting for LaTeX can be passed via Multimarkdown.

The Multimarkdown website at http://fletcherpenney.net/multimarkdown/ defines it as:

What is MultiMarkdown?
MultiMarkdown, or MMD, is a tool to help turn minimally marked-up plain text into well formatted documents, including HTML, PDF (by way of LaTeX),OPML, or OpenDocument (specifically, Flat OpenDocument or ‘.fodt’, which can in turn be converted into RTF, Microsoft Word, or virtually any other word-processing format).
MMD is a superset of the Markdown syntax, originally created by John Gruber. It adds multiple syntax features (tables, footnotes, and citations, to name a few), in addition to the various output formats listed above (Markdown only creates HTML). Additionally, it builds in “smart” typography for various languages (proper left- and right-sided quotes, for example).


3.  LaTeX is free.

Although Scrivener is payware, everything else I mentioned here is free -- LaTeX (MacTeX distribution) and MMD3 (Scrivener ships with MMD2, but MMD3 can be installed so that Scrivener "sees" it).

I plan to document my journey into learning LaTeX / MMD / Scrivener as I write my book.  So far, I've been really pleased with the results I've obtained with the workflow, but it will be some time before I really learn how to use LaTeX to its fullest and ultimately format my book with it.

More to follow...

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