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How I use Ideamason - and why

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Posted by Franz Grieser
Oct 16, 2006 at 06:44 PM



A few days ago, Stephen Zeoli asked for a review of Ideamason.

Here is how I use the application (this is no real review but I think it shows the potential of the software):

Ideamason 2.2 is an essential part of the environment I use for writing a novel. In addition to Ideamason I use

* OpenOffice.org Writer plus the German Duden spellchecker for writing (the editing features in Ideamason are rudimentary, and I have Writer set up the way I need it)
* Infoselect 9 for storing background material (snippets e.g. from the Internet, notes)
* SKBackup for automatically creating a backup of all files that I work in to a different hard disk every 10 minutes (this also works for opened files).

Ideamason is the place where everything is put together: I keep notes, ideas/thoughts on the novel, on the characters, dialog, and the current version of each scenes inside Ideamason.

I write the scenes in Writer, each scene is in a file of its own; usually, there are several versions of a scene - I save the files regularly under a new name (“Max meets Anna 01”, ...02, ...03, etc.). Before I close a scene file in Writer, I copy the text to Ideamason (thus I always have the current version of each scene in Ideamason). I keep each scene in a separate item (“Idea” as it is called in Ideamason). This way I can easily change the sequence by dragging the scene to its position in the outline. All scenes are assigned the “Scenes” category (I created this category plus categories for my characters, for ideas, etc.). Ideamason automatically creates a folder for each category in the Portfolio Explorer and puts links to the items into these folders. As you can assign several categories to an item, an item can show up in several of these folders.

As soon as the first draft is finished, I will export the text of all the scenes to a Word file: Create a new Composition, open the “Scenes” folder, select all items and drag them into the Composition window, save the composition and export the draft to Word. In Word, I’ll save it and open it in Writer for editing.

If you prefer to write all the scenes in one big word processor file, you can create an outline in Ideamason first and export it as an outline to Word. But that’s not the way I work.

I also use the composition feature to create backups of my notes (by exporting them to Word).

At the moment, I keep all my notes both in Ideamason and in Infoselect. That has historical reasons and a practical one: The Search feature in Infoselect is much better than the one in Ideamason 2.2. The new Search feature in vs3, however, looks very promising - I will give it a try in my next book project and keep all the notes only in Ideamason.

As I wrote in earlier posts, there are a few things that I miss in vs2.2. The most important feature that is missing (but will be added in vs3) is keyboard shortcuts for commands I constantly use, e.g. for “New Idea” (to create a new scene or note). As soon as Masonware told me they skipped vs2.5 that was planned for September and should bring the keyboard shortcuts, I decided to use the scripting tool AutoHotkey to define the shortcuts by myself. The people at Masonware were so kind as to tell me the shortcuts they plan to use so I could already use them in AutoHotkey.

The features in Ideamason I do not use:

- Sourced Material, i.e. the bibliographic tool - I simply do not need it in my novel (I will surely use it in the next non-fiction project).
- Footnotes/Endnotes - I do not need them now

I found Ideamason to be very stable: It only crashed once in the last months - and I couldn’t reproduce the failure.

*** Why I chose Ideamason ***

Caution: That’s a long story.
In my daytime job I work mainly on Windows computers (I write articles and books on Windows, software and hardware). I decided to use a different platform for writing my novel - I chose Mac OS X because of the huge choice of interesting software (and because I wanted to give Apple it a try). I bought a number of apps (Ulysses, Tinderbox, Devonthink Pro), which turned out to be a waste of money in the end:

* Ulysses does not work for me: Managing the scenes the way I do is not possible (there are no folders, they are just implementing a kind of filtering system in vs1.5) - and I do not see why I should change my way of working to adapt to their software. What is more: I have no need for their often praised full-screen mode as I usually have other apps (Ideamason/Infoselect now) or windows open for reference, and when I am writing I do not let other things on the screen distract me.
* Learning Tinderbox would have cost me a lot of time - time I wanted to spend writing. I started several times but never really got into it.
* Other writer’s editors such as Jer’s Novel Writer and Scrivener are nice, Scrivener might develop into something that fits to my way of working, but it’s not there, yet. NeoOffice (OK, no real writer’s editor) is just now getting usable in Mac OS X - but there is no real advantage over my OpenOffice.org on Windows.
* Devonthink was a worthwile investment, it is comparable to Infoselect.

Switching to the Mac for writing turned out to be a dead-end street for me. It may sound strange but I did not feel at home there. It always felt like driving with the handbrake pulled. And I didn’t have my ergonomic keyboard :-). I know in the end I might have learnt to work on my Mac but why spend the time?

So I decided to go back to Windows and stumbled over Ideamason at that moment. Here, I have everything in one place - scenes, notes, the outline (if I want to). I can use the tools I am familiar with. I find myself writing again instead of being stuck.