Integrated Writing Environment

My post about information buckets got me thinking, thanks to some other things that have filtered through my awareness in the last few weeks, about integrated development environments.

See, a couple years ago, I used everything buckets like mad, they were the application of the future, the software that seemed to just scratch every itch. I don't know that I used them as general databases for everything but I did all of my writing and research-related tasks in them, and it was great.

The articles I read where there, along with the notes that I made, along with citation information, along with the final paper. Along with all of my previous papers and articles. I never had to go look for things again, it was all there.

This is similar to an IDE, or integrated development environment, which is a class of applications that have some measure of popularity amongst computer programmers. IDE's generally (and I'm not clear on this, as I've never used one) provide tools for managing large projects and integrate with code-compilers, debugging tools, version control tools, multi-file project managers, and code browsers which allow you to find related parts of code across an entire project without scrolling through a lot of files. I think there's probably some debate on weather these are good things for programmers (objections would include that they make for lazy/poor practices, and that IDE components do lots of things poorly) but generally I suspect they are good things. And as it turns out most of our beloved text-editors have a lot of IDE-like functionality anyway.

In a way, the information bucket provides an IDE-like environment for the information worker or writer. And that's sort of a cool way of looking at this. Indeed, I think writers need better integrated environments, there are a lot of tools that I think we could benefit from. While I've been working on these posts, I've also been working on posts about the emacs org-mode, and while they're ultimately not directly connected, I think something like org-mode is a great boon to writers and information workers. Integrated systems that manage citations, references, and notes are essential, as well as other helpful features that might include managing output, structure, and version control.

I hack most of these features together in emacs with some help from LaTeX, git, and BibTeX, but I recognize that this isn't ideal or for everyone. There are other applications that aren't "information buckets," but provide writing environments that aren't hacked from programing tools (emacs) or desktop publishing tools (MS Word). For example: Scrivener that provides a clever way to write longer form documents with structure, and Celtex that provides all sorts of screenplay writing tools (outlines, storyboards, character databases) and script management tools. Celtex even calls itself an "Integrated Media Pre-production" tool.

I'm not sure that these are the ideal tools for this task. Any of them. I'm partial to my solution, but I end up having to do a lot of informal organization to make it all stick together. So I wonder, what kind of software do other writers to keep all their ducks in a row?

More later. Of course.

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