Fiddling with tools

Posted by Chris Rosser on Tue 02 July 2019
Hello! This site is archived and no longer maintained. For Chris' main site go to

I'm itching to do something different. No doubt it's because I'm between drafts at the moment, and naturally my inner nerd wants to upset my life again by distracting me with shiny code to play with.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I've been toying with a skunkworks project. The aim is to develop a...solution for my world-building efforts that's both easy to use, and outputs multiple formats (web, PDF, ebook). My hope is that I can consolidate, manage and improve upon the enormous amount of material I've written over the years as I've created my fantasy setting.

I've teased my progress on social media. Going from this:

Location template
Location template

To this:

Styled location template
Styled location template

And most recently, this improvement to the location template's sidebar:

Data-driven sidebar
Data-driven sidebar

The project is reasonably technical, and builds on the work I did last year to create a location sheet for my subscribers. So, far I'm quite pleased with how it's turning out. The system is robust, flexible and certainly looks the business. It works across platforms, using only open-source components, and the whole project is stored on GitHub.

There is a drawback however, and the workflow is not especially iOS friendly. Since I use iOS a lot, this is somewhat concerning. Yes, I can work around the issue by buying a couple of apps and hacking together workflows in Siri Shortcuts -- that's fun and all, but then I know at some point I'll grow tired of maintaining it and will fall into my old bad habits.

The alternative is to use Scrivener, which I already use for writing on macOS and iOS. Scrivener 3, while flexible, isn't as a malleable as manipulating plain-text files with Python. I will run into technical limits, certain layouts will prove more difficult to achieve, and it will be (much) harder to turn my content into a functional website. That said, Scrivener is certainly a better place to write such content, and the workflow between macOS and iOS is very robust.

Hmmm...the rusty cogs in my skull are turning.

There's no one-size fits all solution, and I have a lot of mandatory requirements in my list that I must satisfy before I'm prepared to commit. It's unfair to expect any app, service or workflow to do everything, and so I have to accept limitations, or be prepared to do a lot of hacking.

If you're a fellow writer reading this, I'd love to hear how you manage your world-building material. What are your must haves and dealbreakers?

Oh, and someone please give me a prod and tell me to get back to writing!

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