Writing Platform Reviews – Libre Office – Introduction

I’ll be up front here: I’ve been a huge fan of Libre Office since its early days in the late 90s when it was called Star Office and then Open Office.  Over the versions and years, the application constantly improved, and today is a powerful suite of tools which is amazingly still free.

Nearly everything I’ve written has been in these apps, and I don’t think its usefulness will diminish any time soon.  Any time I send something our to try and publish, it first passes through this application.

The platform, however, is showing its age.  Without copying the files to dropbox or Google drive, it is quite difficult to access my writing on my phone.  I was increasingly limited to my laptop, worrying if the hard drive was about to blow without me doing a frequent backup.  Very little could be done on my phone despite the valiant efforts of the Libre Office Mobile App development team.

In addition, I have increasingly finding that version control on these files is key.  Folders on my laptop are stuffed with copies of files titled “second draft”, timestamped, or with alternate names when I came up with a better title.  Libre Office was increasingly a nice tool, and not an entire platform.

I could easily blame my natural disorganisation for this.  I know of many authors who use such a platform to write, and have great success with it.  For me, however, I found I was frequently losing ideas and drafts in the increasingly-large folders I was generating for each writing project.  In order for it to work, I would need to develop a very consistent and rigorous routine.  After years of trying, I finally came to the conclusion that such a thing wasn’t going to happen with me as I’m always drawn to trying different methods, and modifying my approach as I go.  The result is that eventually my files become a disorganised mess no matter how much I try.

In the end, LibreOffice is quickly becomming the tool that I use to put the final touches on something before I send it off to a publisher.  In that way, LibreOffice is key to my writing process, but not the entire journey.

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Writing Platform Reviews – Bitbucket – Final Thoughts

After using this setup, I can definitely say that it’s working very well.  Typing on the train isn’t ideal (I’d much rather type in a more scenic location), but with this setup I can get quite a lot done.   All it took was getting a wireless keyboard and a USB-C converter and I was good to go.

One additional benefit of this setup is that each change you make is saved and stored with a comment if you’re doing it right.  That way, you can always go back to previous versions or even create alternate versions called branches.

This is where the setup can get quite complicated.  You can merge versions, look at highlighted differences, go back to older versions, and even invite people to comment on your changes using things called “pull requests” but I won’t go down that road here.

  • Overall: 7/10
  • Ease of use: 3/10
  • Portability: 8/10
  • Version Tracking: 10/10
  • Available Tools: 5/10

So, I’ll almost definitely keep using this setup.  It’s too powerful not to, and it’s helped my productivity, especially with editing.  Some notable things like spell check and formatting make this setup not perfect.  Add to this the technical knowledge needed may make this too over-the-top for most writers.


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Writing Platform Reviews – Bitbucket – Taking Things Further

As the limitations of the simple usage detailed in my last post became apparent, I began to experiment with the setup.  So, I ignored the thought that told me to just leave things there, and began to search for another way (which is probably why I work in tech).  If technical things make you break out in a cold sweat, then this probably isn’t the solution for you.  Otherwise, keep reading, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Since interacting with Bitbucket could only be done on the web or by the CLI (command line interface), I needed to figure out how to get the CLI working on Android.  The first step was to install the app Terminux.  This gives me access to the command line, and the ability to interact with Bitbucket using a tool called git.   I followed the guide here to step me through the process.

Once in place I was able to clone my novel onto my phone.  I could then install the following:

Libre Office Viewer

Libre Office Viewer

  • LibreOffice Viewer – in development, but could open my odt files, and even edit them.  It crashed, however, when I tried to open my full novel.  It still gave me the ability to go over some of my older drafts which were smaller.  This might be an option for those who keep their chapters in separate documents.  Many comments said this was buggy, and it’s true, but I felt it was still good enough for what i needed.
  • Code Text Editor

    Code Text Editor

    Code Text Editor – Allows me to edit my chapters in my novel slightly better than the web view for Bitbucket.  I can increase the font size so it’s easier to read and edit, but still can’t do things like formatting unless I resort to HTML markup.  To me, however, revising is all about checking word choice, so this isn’t really an issue at this point.  In fact, I found that when using a word processor, formatting got in the way.  Here I could focus on wording and word choice and get everything else out of the way.  Because of this, having my novel in plain text was more helpful than hurtful.  The same problem existed as with the Bitbucket online editor: no spell check.

  • Adobe Photoshop Sketch – This app allowed me to create and edit drawings and doodles I made for the novel.  Now I had an easy way to look and edit things like maps or diagrams.  This turned out to be an extremely handy program!  Too bad I’m terrible at drawing.  If you doubt this, then look at my drawing below.  Horrible!

I now had all that I needed to properly revise, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was over-engineering this.  There was a lot of different applications I needed to use, and whenever I wanted to save what I’d done in the cloud, I needed to run the following commands in Terminux:

git add .
git commit -m "Brief description of changes I did."
git push
Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Needless to say, this is quite annoying, and probably a deal breaker for almost everyone out there who wants to write a novel.  Still, since I am used to doing this with my work, they don’t seem like such a big deal to me.

As a ease-of-use verdict, this setup is way too tech-intensive for the non-techy novelist.  Ideally, there would be a program that would do all of this for me, but I haven’t found it yet.  I might, however, when I check out some of the other potential platforms in posts down the line.  In the mean time, this is (so far) the closest to what I want when writing and revising novels.  I found it very useful.

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Writing Platform Reviews – Bitbucket – Usage on a Smart Phone

The first test I give any writing system is how well I can write on the go.  Laptops or computers are great for writing, but can be bulky and heavy (even the thin models) and you can’t beat the convenience of a phone.  Personally, my setup is an Android Phone: the Google Pixel.  I don’t know how this setup works on other OS’s such as the iPhone’s iOS, but I imagine it would react similarly.

With bitbucket, there aren’t very many ways to connect using a phone.  There is an android app called Bitbeaker, but I could find no way to edit files with the interface, and so I was stuck using the web version to edit files.  The web version was pretty easy to use thankfully, but with a few caveats.

  • Word wrap is turned off, making paragraphs insanely long at times which forced me to scroll left and right in order to read the paragraph.   Thankfully if I went into edit mode, there was a word wrap option at the bottom that made this much better.  I just wish there was a similar option in the reading view
  • Occasionally, when typing, the cursor would inexplicably jump to the previous sentence.  I’m not sure why this is, but I imagine it is related to its programming background.  This was not designed with novel-writing in mind.
  • Needless to say, formatting is not available.  If you’re tech-savvy, however, there’s nothing stopping you from writing your novels in, say, HTML which would get around this issue.
  • There is no autosave feature when editing.  Saving is done when you “commit” your changes by pressing a button at the bottom of the screen.  This, again, shouldn’t be unexpected as I’m abusing a system designed for something else.
  • Due to this setup’s coding focus, spell check is not available.
  • The text was a bit hard to highlight and scroll on the phone’s screen, but not unusable.

Even with all of these issues, I still was able to quickly do edits on the train with minimal frustrations.  Where bitbucket shone was how it handled my version history.  I could easily go back in time, compare versions of a document (red being old, green being new), and even spin off edits out into branches that could eventually be merged back into the main novel if I felt they were good enough or scrapped if not.  The power of this is what made me consider using this as a revision tool to begin with.

Overall, the experience is not great unless I get a bit more techy…

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Writing Platform Reviews – Bitbucket – Setup

I’ve been searching for a writing application that can do everything that I want when writing a novel.  Being sick of Microsoft Word’s limitations, I decided to explore the different options available currently.   The main conditions I have:

  1. Inexpensive – The typical writer doesn’t have a lot of money
  2. Versioning – The application has to be able to show me a history of edits and be able to recover between them
  3. Availability – My writing should be available on my laptop, phone, or wherever I go.
  4. Expandable – Ideally, I’d be able to store notes, charts, diagrams, and other drawings as well as organise them in a sensible way so I can refer back to them easily
  5. Easy to Use – The system needs to get out of my way and let me write.  Little annoyances with a setup can quickly get in the way of my writing.

Keeping these things in mind, I’ll start with my first test: Bitbucket.   For those who haven’t heard of it before, Bitbucket is a website (https://bitbucket.org) that is typically used to store code for programs and websites.  It almost definitely isn’t what most people think of when writing novels.

As a developer, I use such programs often in my work, and so I can see the benefits of such a system, and decided to try it out in helping me revise my novel.  While this may be too complex for most writers out there, it may be a perfect fit for some.  Signing up for the service was free, and I created a private repository for my novel.  Uploading the chapters was easy, and soon I was looking at a nice list of my chapters.

Each chapter was split into a separate file to keep things simple, and they were saved as text files so I could easily edit them.  I tried uploading ODT (libreoffice) files, but bitbucket (expectedly) couldn’t deal with opening and versioning these files.   Since my main goal was just revising sentence-level stuff, this didn’t bother me so much.  Formatting would come later.

Now that it’s setup, I’m going to edit my novel using this method for a week to see if it meets my needs.  I’ll report back with my findings as I go along.  Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how this setup worked on my phone for writing.

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Election Thoughts

Back in November of 2016, I responded to another newspaper article that asked for community input.  I’m not necessarily part of “the community” anymore, but my parents are still there.  He included part of his response in his article.


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Thinking About Home

I wrote a newspaper column about my hometown as seen from someone now living over seas.   It can be found here:


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After changing jobs in April, and unexpectedly again in June, I needed a little more excitement in my life and decided to join PitchWars, a novel-pitching contest.  I’ve been sitting on a novel for a few years, not really doing much with it anyway.

It’s strange to think that I first had the idea in 2005, was only able to complete the first draft of the novel ten years later in 2015, and then promptly left it alone.  I’ve only been able to complete a half-draft on it before June (in January with the RAD table writing group I joined), my progress fizzled out as my employment took a hit.

Now that I’m gainfully employed again, July saw me able to (nearly) complete 2 revisions on it in short succession.  It really pays to have people’s eyes on something offering advice and encouragement.  It’s been a nice distraction from other events, and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity.  All of this work has given me hope that maybe one day some one else will read it besides me and my closest friends.   Either way, it’s been fun!

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Guest Blog on Exit Teaching Blog

I wrote up an entry on the Exit Teaching blog to talk about my time as a teacher.

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Happy New Year 2016!

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions.  Instead, I try to do a more regular challenge to myself so that I don’t have to build up all of the things I want to do until January.    It is much easier for me, after all, to get something done if it isn’t made into some big ordeal.  Even so, I set myself two resolutions at the end of last year.

Swimming Challenge

I wanted to enter a swimming race of some sort again, and so vowed to do the best I could to enter Masters Swimming again.  It’s not easy to find clubs that were easy to get to.   In my local area, the swimming pool was being reconstructed/refurbished and so the local group practised at the local girls’ grammar school.    They let me take part in a few practises and they were all very welcoming and helpful, but in the end I decided that it was too late at night for me to continue.   I decided instead to continue my daily lunch-time swim, not affiliated with the Masters, near where I work.

The problem was that no one is allowed to compete in a Master’s swimming competition without being part of a swim team.   I decided to give up on this goal as lack of time and money didn’t allow me to dedicate myself enough to take part.  Instead, I decided to join Swimathon.   This isn’t a race, but a charity swim instead.  I told myself that 100 lengths in a pool would be enough to satisfy the requirement of this resolution.

I enjoyed the swim much more than I originally thought I would.   It didn’t involve a massive change as I already swam every day.  Instead, it involved a slow ramping up of the distance that I do.  In the end, I was able to finish the event in 45 minutes.   I’m already looking forward to this year to see if I can get a better time.

Writing Challenge

I thought it would be a good challenge to try and get some of my writing published somewhere.   While I failed miserably on this challenge, I did learn some valuable things.  First, getting published takes time and a lot more effort than I originally thought.  I did have some very good comments from some publishers (but mostly silence in response to my submissions).  In the end, however, I felt that if I was going to try and put a lot of effort into my writing, it wouldn’t be a short story.

I started to write a novel back in April, and was able to complete the first draft in September.  I was under no illusion that I would be able to publish it by the end of the year, but instead I shifted the end target from the end of 2015 to “eventually” to buy some time.  I’m in the middle of my second draft now, and I am glad that I changed this goal to writing a novel.  That may be cheating to change a New Year’s resolution, but I’m glad that I did it.  It’s been good fun.

Resolutions for 2016

I don’t think that I will set any goals for 2016 other than to carry on.  I want to try and finish a few drafts of my novel and maybe send it off to a publisher if I think its ready.   I also want to continue my swimming, and am considering entering the swimathon again to see if I can beat my time from last year.

I might be more political against my better judgement due to the elections in the USA, but I have a feeling that things will end badly over there this year, and I’m not sure how much impact I’ll have other than getting in a few arguments with family members and random people on the Internet.

One thing I will say about 2015, is that it was the first year that I could put my former teaching career behind me.  I was able to fully realise my role at my new employment, and find that I enjoy it quite a lot.  There are even a few people I’ve been able to give some lessons on computer programming to, but at work it seems more purposeful.

I wonder, sometimes, if there were a way to change education a little to make it so that what students learn in lessons could directly impact their life at school so that they’re not learning just to learn, but instead seeing the impact of their lessons and work on a daily basis.   I’m not sure how that would work in reality, but the one thing that is beneficial of a life outside the education system is that you can much more easily see the results of your efforts.

Often in schools, you put everything you have into helping students progress, only to have them move on the next year and you rarely get to see them afterwards to see if anything you did had an impact.   Occasionally a student will come back to visit you again, but this only if you don’t move around that much.  I moved around way too much during my teaching career.   There were reasons, always, for moving on and looking for the next school (tragedy, arguments with management, moving house, etc), but it is easy to look back and wonder how much of an impact I had, and if it was all worth it.

The only measure I have to go on is that the parents at my last school got together and invited me back to my former student’s graduation ceremony from primary school even after I vowed to myself to never return.  I’m glad that I did return as it remains one of the most memorable and unexpected things in my life.

To any teacher out there who is giving it their all, you are having an impact even if you don’t feel that you are.  It is a rare thing to be in a situation where students feel willing and comfortable to say thank you, and I was lucky enough to get that in a very unexpectedly loud and public manner.  It remains a feeling that I wish I could share with each and every teacher out there, especially the many amazing teachers who I worked with in the past who are still giving it their all even now.   I am glad that there are still many people out there who can do what I could not.

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