The best writing tool for writers is in my opinion a text editor, as I explained in this post. And frankly, it doesn’t matter what text-editor.
But I am not sure how to progress from there. I am a fan of freewriting, and this practice produces a lot of .txt files. Finding a system that can help me order it in the best way so that it can give me an overview and search possibilities will probably be a life long quest.
For my daily writing I started some months ago with the Linux text editor Gedit. It’s a good looking text editor that, combined with its plugins, does a fine job for a writer. Especially with the session saver plugin activated it is easy to keep different chapters, notes or a todo list of a book you are writing, in one session. Very practical and efficient.
The open source program Zim-wiki (see this post for my introduction of Zim) does more or less the same, but has a more streamlined approach to sessions. This could well help to keep an overview of the many .txt files that I produce. Zim-wiki is not as allround as Gedit, but focuses on text writing. I tried both and wrote the following comparison:
First of all I must stress again that there is a big difference in the aim of both programs. Gedit can be used for many things, it is great for writing code for example, Zim-wiki is for writing text or at least notes.
My comparison only deals with those features that writers of text or notes would use.
- Zim .txt files are always gathered in so called notebooks, but stored as individual .txt files. The files of the current notebook show up in the sidepanel, where they can be moved around and new files can be added or created. New files can also easily be made in the txt file itself.
- The possibility of basic text formatting is nice for the eye and therefore a bit practical for writers, although a final more complicated layout should be done in a wordprocessor. Links can be added and the preferred application will open them. For example links to websites will open in your browser. Pictures can be added too (but I am not sure if that is a true advantage for a writer).
- All sorts of files can be imported into a Zim notebook, for example as an attachment. Txt files like for example from Gedit can be opened and entered into the system without a problem.
- The shortcut “” produces checkboxes that can be checked or unchecked. They are a bit fun and practical as Zim can gather all these  boxes from all pages in the notebook, so that they can be used as a todo list or as tags for other purposes.
- The calender plugin turns Zim into a journal or logbook. It stores the calender files in a year/month/day structure on the computer, which is practical.
- There are many keyboard shortcuts so that the hands can stay on the keyboard as long as possible.
- There is a search option giving quick access to search results of all files in a Zim-notebook. This is good way to go through a group of files.
- Zim is available for windows too.
And with all this Zim still produces just a gathering of .txt files, ready to use wherever you want. Although the Zim-wiki way of formatting will be replaced by its equivalent symbols (E.g. “a bold word” becomes “a **bold** word” in a standard .txt file).
- With the panel plugin Gedit can create an F9 sidepanel that shows all files in a folder using the computer’s file system . There is no interaction between the files from this panel (but they can be opened from there of course).
- One can create sessions with the session saver plugin, this reminds of Zim’s notebooks, but Gedit’s sessions is not much more than a quick way to open a number of files at once.
- The fact that Gedit can’t format text can certainly be seen as an advantage, as less possibilities should give less distraction.
- Just like Zim-Wiki, Gedit also has many plugins for writers, like “Documents Statistics”, “Spell checker” and “Snippets” (for entering often used text).
- It produces pure .txt files that can be opened as the are on any computer or other device regardless of the operating system or writing software installed.
- Gedit is optimized for much more than just writing .txt files, like for example coding and LaTex
While checking both programs I noticed that Gedit does a good job when the same file is open in both Zim and Gedit. Both notice that the same file is being updated on the harddisk, but Zim just saves its version or comes with a rather confusing error message, where as Gedit shows immediately a warning message stating that the file has been updated on the harddisk and gives the option to reload it.
As Zim focuses solemnly on writing text and notes it has extra features that are practical, like the many shortcuts, the search option within a notebook (a series of .txt files), the sidepanel with good overview of the files and its subfiles and the text formatting possibilities. The notebook system might be a good way to have some order in the may .txt files, so I will use Zim for my writing for now and see how it works out with large amounts of data.
Gedit will definitely be my preferred .txt application on my computer for all other purposes than my normal writing activities, as it is most practical in opening and editing a single .txt file. And of course it excels in writing and reading code.