Just. Kill. Me. Now.

I'm currently serving as Technical Editor for a book by one of my publisher's sister imprints. It's interesting work and I enjoy it. What I don't enjoy is working with Word and its clones.

This imprint insists on .doc files from their authors and then use those files for the entire production cycle. This makes a lot of sense for them. The book I'm working on is one of a series of similarly themed books and using Word allows them to use a style sheet to enforce the style of the series. It helps in production too. The copy editors, technical editors, and others make their changes directly to the file with tracking on. When it gets back to the author he can accept or reject each change just by clicking a button. When he's finished it goes to production for printing and they can simply export the file to PDF and send it to one of their vendors for printing.

As I've written elsewhere, I find it almost physically painful to use Word or any word processor. I keep thinking about how much I hate using the word processor instead of thinking about what I'm writing. Of course, that doesn't apply so much here because I'm just correcting technical errors and putting in notes to the author. Still, NeoOffice1, my Word clone of choice, insists on nagging me about things and fixing up what it thinks are my mistakes. Want to start a sentence with “IN is a …?” NeoOffice will decide you meant “In” and fix it for you. It tries to anticipate what word you're typing and helpfully puts its tentative completed word up for you to accept. That's great but then I have a hard time seeing what I've typed so far when it guesses wrong. Sometimes when I type -- it turns it into an em-dash; sometimes it doesn't and I can't figure out the rule. It appears to me that I'm typing something identical to the time it gave me an em-dash but I get two short dashes instead. And the worst, absolute worst, is dealing with lists. Word and its evil siblings just refuse to do what you want without major effort. It makes me want to stick a pencil in my eye.

I know, I know. You can turn this stuff off but it's not easy to figure out how. As far as I'm concerned, if there's not a button to do it, it's too hard to do. Life is way too short to spend any of it hunting through help files trying to figure out how to get your word processor to mind its own business and just do what you tell it. That's why I do my writing with Emacs and typeset it with Groff. It's all text and Emacs and Groff do exactly what I tell them to, not what they think is good for me.

My publisher probably wishes that everyone would use Word as it would make their production cycle much more efficient but happily they continue to indulge me and a few other curmudgeons by allowing us to send them PDF files. It means the copy editors have to break out their red pencils and mark up a paper copy but it makes me so much happier.


1 I'm not picking on NeoOffice here; all Word-like word processors exhibit the same sorts of pathological behavior.

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