It sounds basic and simple and obvious and worth repeating until you have created the perfect definition of redundant, but one of the most frustrating parts of getting The Randy Scuffle Papers together had to do with the writing platform I used. Or should I say “platforms,” since that is the root cause of the agony. The book is a series of letters, and I wrote them over many years. For some, I used Microsoft Word, for others, I used Apple’s Pages. Many others were written as emails to myself or to my wife, a method I used when I had to get the idea out and saved without losing it in five layers of folders. I like folders and I like structure but sometimes I forget what I called it all.
When you write in Word or Pages exclusively, there are few problems with formatting. And when you open a Pages file using Word, it generally works, but you start to lose little formatting tidbits, or there will be a font incompatibility. Same is true the other way around. Both can be used to write, but underneath the words on your screen live proprietary methods that play together just enough to lure you into an ill-advised happy zone. I can live with most of it however. The real trouble came when I tried to recover and convert all the letters I had written using email. Over the years I’ve used Outlook, Apple, and Pegasus that I can recall. When you try to import email text into a word processor, you end up with a mess. Line feeds and returns are not always consistent. What looks like a tab is really five spaces (or more or less, depending), and words get mashed together.
It took a lot of work and patience to bring all that together into a usable format. Lesson learned: stay consistent, stay away from email as a source for your copy. Oh sure, it looks like you can copy and paste it into your document, and you can. It’s just that you’ll spend more time reformatting and trying to rid yourself of weird hidden character codes than you’ll ever want to endure. In my revised version of Inferno, I’ll reserve one circle of hell for a special group, and their task will be to reformat text from incompatible systems. Search and replace won’t solve all the problems I will throw at them. That circle will be adjacent to the one I reserve for the guys who invented clamshell and compact disc packaging. There will be an endless pile of CDs to open, and there will be no scissors available, because they will be trapped in a clamshell package that cannot be opened without its contents. – Phil Reebius