Back to Word

Plates have been spinning here over the past week, so I’ve been neglecting my little blog. Sorry to that handful of sitecrawlers and Viagra peddlers that frequent this front page! I’ve had a lot of deadlines lately, of many varieties. But enough excuses!  Procrastination is its own reward.

I posted earlier about how I’d decided to try and use Google Docs to write all my manuscripts and store them on Google Drive. (Them clouds are all the rage with the teenyboppers!)  While I will continue using Drive, which has proven invaluable, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and return to that old, abusive relationship with Word. Hey, it’s easy to cap on both Microsoft and Word itself. It’s a favored target of hip writer types in particular, and I’m no exception. I have to admit, however, that Word 2013 is a vast improvement over its predecessors. While certainly not perfect, M$ has addressed many of the things that made the program a chore to use in previous versions: the dreaded ribbon can be turned off or reconfigured, the spelling and grammar tools are much improved and there’s nary a spunky animated paperclip in sight.  And the switch from editing to reading mode is downright spiffy.

So, adios for now, Google Docs. It’s still a perfectly acceptable tool for composing a resume or dashing off a letter to your landlord. Improvements have been made, but it’s still not quite up to the task of revising and editing a full manuscript. It’s fine for getting words down and committed, but outright chokes on the finer points of tuning a doc to Arcane Publisher Specification #617 (“We only accept documents in Lucida Console 11-point font, 1.5-linespaced with your name and SSN on every third page header.”) Beyond that, I’ve been a bit spooked by the recent canning of Google Reader, a reminder that Google remains quite capricious with its free software.

I’ll still be using Drive to store docs in that magical rainbow cloud, because it’s too damned convenient.  My usage, though,  tends to be quite the opposite of the advertised method: I use docs from Drive for ease of daily use and then also store them on my own portable drive as a backup. You never know when Internet Corp. du Jour will experience a catastrophic failure or suddenly change their Terms of Use to your detriment. It happens, folks, even with Google.

So that’s what I’m using this week. We’ll see about next.

Don’t count on it

Last night I wound up shaving some words off a chunky short story in order to meet the 5k word limit for submission to a magazine. Obviously, when you’re operating with a tiny margin of error, precision becomes more important than when you simply need a ballpark figure for your own edification.  While checking the manuscript in several programs and webapps, I discovered something curious that led me to conduct a little experiment. As a test, I copied and pasted the same manuscript into a half dozen applications that determine word count, among other statistics.

Here’s the word count total as determined by Microsoft Word 2010: wordcount_word

Here are the same words pasted into Google Docs:wordcount_docs

OK, not exactly the same but close. How about a few webapps?

The word count from

And from


And, finally, from

So, we’re talking about a variation of 224 words across six different tools.  This file was in standard manuscript format, with no diacritical marks or other funky special characters. One explanation I can think of is that, because a few italicized passages are underlined, some parsers do not consider an underline as a word break.  However, this is the standard manuscript specification, so you’d think a word count tool would take that into account.  And I still find it curious that no two applications returned the same word count.  Clearly not all parsers are created equal; in fact, it would appear that none of them are!

Caveat scriptorus!  Especially if you’re skating on the edge of a word count limit.

Google Docs revisited

In my continued quest for the perfect setup, I’ve tried just about every writing program available.  I tend to try them out for a while, discover some deal breaking feature (or lack thereof) and eventually return to using Word.  It gets the job done, and spits out everything in all the industry standard formats without complaint.  But it often feels like the UI can’t get out of its own way.  I’ve never liked the whole “ribbon” concept.  Why does the ribbon always seem to display every icon except for the one I need at any given time?

This time my software wanderlust has led me to give Google Docs a shot again.  I’d tried it a couple of years back, and found it to be a competent letter writer but way too basic for any serious manuscript editing.  Suffice it to say that Google has improved the hell out of their whole suite of productivity apps.  The biggest change for the better is that it’s now merged with Drive, Google’s {buzzword} cloud {/buzzword} storage system.  This is terrific, as I can now read and edit manuscripts in one location, from any available computer.  This includes my phone and Android tablet.  The word processor is still about as spartan as they come, but it’s no longer missing any major features that are needed when working in standard manuscript format.  Google continues to err on the side of business users while not providing much customization for formatting novels and short stories (such as the dreaded “no page number on the first page” conundrum).  Still, the whole “write once, edit anywhere” setup trumps the other concerns.

For now.  We’ll see in a few weeks.