Writing Tools – NoteTab (NB: not NotePad)

One of the most useful writing tools I know of is NoteTab (std or pro), which is a “plain ASCII” editor. That is, it lets you enter printable standard characters, without any invisible formatting codes and other technical kaka that so often ends up polluting a manuscript when design time rolls around.

I design books in Adobe InDesign, which means that all the formatting for body text, chapter titles, headings, etc., are managed there. Importing text from some other formatting word processor (Word, Pages, etc.) always involves cleaning out the other apps’ formatting so it doesn’t conflict with my new design. For this reason alone, it’s worth considering doing all one’s original writing—the text generation effort—in a simple, non-formatting editor.

In other words, write and edit in an editor app, and design and format in a design app.

What’s most appealing about NoteTab is that it’s a fast, powerful little editing
package that never embeds weird, secret, unprintable codes—but it provides enough additional features to serve the majority of basic writing tasks quite nicely.

One feature I especially like is NoteTab “outline” documents. These docs are still plain text, but NoteTab displays them as a column of headings with a full editing pane for each heading. It’s easier to show than to describe:

Whole documents are listed on tabs across the top. Within an "outline" document, headings down the left provide structure.

Whole documents are listed on tabs across the top. Within an “outline” document, headings down the left provide structure.

Many separate document files can be open at once: these are arranged across the top as tabs (hence the app’s name). With these two levels of hierarchy (files and outline sections) I find that most of my writer’s notes can be managed very effectively. When it gets more complicated, and when I’m closer to producing readable versions, I move the text into Scrivener.

Another likable quality of NoteTab is that the program itself is very small (about 2.5MB), and the documents are no bigger than the character count of the text they contain. By contrast, a Word or InDesign document embeds so much additional hidden code that it’s likely to be much larger. A Word doc containing just “one word” is about 10,000 bytes on disc; an InDesign doc containing “one word” is 860,000 bytes on disc. This doesn’t matter on your main computer, with drives holding many gigabytes (1,000 megabytes), but it makes a difference when you’re fiddling with text on a cellphone or a tablet, emailing long drafts, or storing documents on a thumb drive. What’s more, since these documents are plain text, they can be opened and edited in any other plain text editor, from NotePad on up.

For more technically minded writers, NoteTab contains powerful automation features that can make short work of repetitive tasks. But its main focus is simplicity and efficiency. NoteTab’s performance would be quite snappy and responsive on even the oldest personal computer you can find that’s still working.

NoteTab is available only on the Windows platforms, and not on Macs unless you’re using an emulation mode.

I’ll post a description of Scrivener soon.



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