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I'm quite interested in the LaTex/TeX system and am wondering if any other fellow writers use it frequently to write in.

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Take a look at tex.stackexchange.com –  Larry Smithmier Nov 22 '10 at 14:37
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What type of writing, science fiction? Scientific? Romance? The answer will vary based on the genre. –  Larry Smithmier Nov 22 '10 at 14:38
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LaTeX/TeX is really a typesetting program. I believe scientific and science fiction both would be more likely to include equations and other 'trick typesetting' as part of the story than romance novels. Poems, Mysteries, etc. would also be candidates. This is a gross generalization, but the question would be followed up with more specific questions about the typesetting required. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaTeX has a good overview with both source and output available for viewing. –  Larry Smithmier Nov 29 '10 at 2:25
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also see Lyx - it provides a WSYWYM interface to LaTeX lyx.org –  David Dec 1 '10 at 5:46
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In general, for fiction, it seems like most agents and editors prefer Word documents (rtf or doc). The author is usually not expected to worry about formatting beyond standard manuscript format. There may be exceptions for very special situations - if you're writing something like House of Leaves, for example. The publisher generally comes up with the layout and formatting used in the published book. –  sjohnston Dec 17 '10 at 21:29

14 Answers 14

up vote 34 down vote accepted

For longer pieces, especially those with figures, tables, contents, or internal references, or citations.

For shorter pieces (such as an essay) I'd do it in Word or OpenOffice, since I normally don't need the power of Latex and getting it laid out properly won't involve much work.

Any writing of decent size, I use latex because:

1) I only worry about content and not layout. If I'm writing a scientific paper, thesis, or dissertation, there is usually a latex style that I can apply once the content is there. If I need to apply a different layout (ie: change from two-column to one column), change figure titles, etc) this is as simple as applying a different style.

2: Managing internal references. Word does it but it's always been a pain personally to use. Latex handles it elegantly.

3: Citations. BibTex is awesome and works with pretty much every reference management software out there.

4: No mouse necessary. Latex has one hell of a learning curve. Making changes to layout can drive you to bang your head against a wall. However, once you've become comfortable with it, your output can speed up heavily. You stop thinking about formatting while you're writing. You don't worry about selecting the correct bullets, or making sure things are indented properly. You simply write text and put markers that define what that content is (chapter, section, caption, etc). Your style handles the rest.

5: Version control. Because Latex files are pure text, they go very easily with version controls and diff. Seeing changes between versions shows you exactly what changed.

6: Cross platform and repeatability. Because it's all text, you can edit it anywhere. Including vi through a shell. Latex will also always produce the exact same document, as a PDF if desired, so you don't have to worry about how someone is going to open it.

7: Equations. If you're writing equations, it really can't get much easier and much nicer output than Tex's math mode.

What I absolutely don't use it for:

Scriptwriting. Final Draft is much better suited to that task.

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+1 for version control. I see this as one of the biggest advantages of markup-style formats –  Ash Nov 22 '10 at 23:03
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+1 - Good job answering the unasked question: not only "who uses latex but why. –  Neil Fein Nov 23 '10 at 1:10
    
Sorry to dredge up an old topic, but if *TeX sounds like a good system to you but you aren't sure if there's 'an app for' your particular creative outlet, check out CTAN. For example, there is a fine scriptwriting package available (at least as I understand the term scriptwriting). It has really good-looking output, at least from an outsider's standpoint. –  Sean Allred Jul 12 '13 at 19:30

Yes.

I write everything in Vim with LaTeX, using the sffms package. As the name indicates, the sffms package was written for SF, but manuscript style is pretty much universal. I highly recommend it.

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does the Vim add-on take away some of the pain of entering the markup tags themselves? I looked at some TeX/LaTeX markup and it looked worse than XML, wrt having to type it all in –  Ash Nov 22 '10 at 23:04
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@Ash: Yes, (La)TeX has a steep learning curve, but when you eventually manage to learn the most important stuff, you can easily define your macros in a separate file and write the actual text in another, with only a few \commands, like \chap The first day's journey, and the first evening's adventures; with their consequences. and Present! think I was;\footnote{A remarkable instance of the prophetic force of Mr. Jingle's imagination; this dialogue occurring in the year 1827, and the Revolution in 1830.} fired a musket,---fired with an idea… –  Marcel Korpel Nov 22 '10 at 23:36
    
@Marcel: Thanks for the summary. It doesn't sound too bad when put like that. –  Ash Nov 23 '10 at 9:15

It seems there a significant bias in the responses - people who do use are much more likely to care about this question than people who don't.

I only use TeX when I'm writing something with lots of equations or figures (I'm a physics student/teacher, so I do that sometimes). Otherwise a word processor is easier for me.

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I looked at the markup required for TeX, and shuddered. –  Ash Nov 22 '10 at 23:02
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TeX is not that nice, as a raw format, but for LaTeX, I'd say that most of my "source" is body text, rather than commands. I don't actually have a breakdown, but can certainly try to get something, if people are interested. –  Vatine Nov 23 '10 at 12:56

Yes. I want my work look as good as possible and I've yet to find anything that even comes close to TeX. HTML is nice but printing it ...

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I use it, but mainly because I hate Word. It's a little tricky to get started in, but in the long run you'll be happier. It's much easier to make things look professional, and there is no fighting with the stupid program.

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I'm a huge fan of LaTeX.

Though I usually write in something ultra-minimalist (markdown syntax in pyroom lately), before actually showing it to anyone, I'll convert to LaTeX for better formatting control.

I'm not sure that counts as "writing in" TeX or LaTeX -- I find anything other than a plain text editor too distracting to the "get this down on screen or paper" phase -- but LaTeX is at the heart of my "make this presentable" phase.

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Hmm... ... I remember reading that people usually start writing in LaTex instead of converting text within LaTex itself. –  JFW Nov 27 '10 at 6:17
    
I'm not sure what is usual, I just know what I do. :) –  HedgeMage Nov 27 '10 at 15:47
    
I recently started a new nonfiction writing project, and found myself writing directly in LaTeX (chosen simply because I know it better than TeX). There were too many figures and diagrams to make my usual ultra-minimalist approach work well. I am not finding it as distracting as I imagined. However, I'd still stick to my previously described method for fiction. –  HedgeMage Dec 5 '10 at 17:24

I love LaTex, but I do not use it anymore simply because every editor I know uses word. Every piece I have written has required multiple rounds of editing using Word's "Track Changes" feature. Sending editors a PDF and asking them to mark it up via text comments (e.g. "2nd graf: capitalize "John") slows down the entire editing process.

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If you're writing fiction, you're asking for trouble by using LaTeX. There are no real advantages to it, except perhaps that since it's only ASCII it will probably never fall into the same black hole as that .xyz file you created years ago in some word processor whose name you can't remember anymore.

For technical writing, especially if it includes equations and funky formatting requirements, it's a good tool. Even then, I'd try to use a GUI like LyX as the front end.

It's an intriguing and brilliant tool which makes some complex tasks simple, and provides a beautiful consistency. On the other hand, some simple things are nearly impossible, and other things require a degree and practical experience in programming to figure out.

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No.

La/TeX is a typesetting markup language. I wouldn't imagine ever actually writing in a TeX environment.

However, there are obviously lots of people above who do!

(I'm also voting to make this a CW since the answers are by natu highly subjective, unless someone cites an empirical study.)

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Matter of opinion and all that, but I prefer plain text with no formatting.

Writing and typesetting are separate activities that are not relevant to each other. When you're writing a story your focus should be the characters and the story, not what font you're using or whether your chapter titles should be centered. If you get wrapped up in text formatting while you're writing it's a distraction.

It can also be a trap. You can get into a thing of turning the formatting decisions into a major part of your creative effort. Then you might want to express something -- a mood, an atmosphere, an emotion -- and you'll slip up and express it using formatting rather than words because in that moment the formatting happens to be easier somehow, or more appealing.

I just stick with .txt. Of couse that means I can't use bold or italic. But C.S. Lewis said (somewhere) that a good writer has ways of indicating bold or italic using word choice and sentence structure.

This is regarding fiction -- if you're writing a scientific paper with equations that's another story.

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Yeah, I think there's a lot of bias in this community towards technical writing, since StackExchange seems to attract that type of community. However, the question isn't clear on the type of writing.

That being said, assuming you were writing fiction, you might want to consider a tool like Scrivener. Fiction writers, and even non-fiction writers, like it because it lets you write your story or article in sections or scenes and re-arranging your sections is a breeze. You can also easily keep notes within the same document.

And for those who still like LaTex/Tex, I believe there is an option for exporting your finished document to LaTex.

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Best way to write in LaTeX, in my opinion, is to bypass it and use Org-mode in Emacs (a text editor used most commonly by programmers).

Org-mode is a feature rich multi-use outline-based editor environment that can export directly to LaTeX/PDF, among other things. Essentially it lets you write using Org-mode's simple formatting and outline hierarchy, then the export automatically adds all of the tedious LaTeX markup for you. Org-mode is largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in Emacs over last few years. Read more here: http://orgmode.org

A decent second choice would be to use LyX. Not sure if anyone has mentioned LyX or whether you already know about it, but it essentially adds a layer over LaTex and lets you write your LaTeX document using a GUI application that's similar to a regular word processing app. http://www.lyx.org

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It might sound very Silly, but the best thing you can do is to use the notepad with a different font, so that you like it.

Formatting will be a big waste of time, and using conventional MS Word or others different than the usual notepad won't allow you to use version control .

The best control version is through TXT files!

After finishing your story, edited, corrected, applied version control. Then you can use latex, Word, Libre Office, whatever you need to create a great formatting, or simply deal with the publisher.

Remember, the most important thing is the content, not the format.

And if you are worried about the format, you can do it with latex in a very easy way, just check this templates https://www.sharelatex.com/templates/books

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No.

I write books. The reading experience of a book comes not only from the abstract content of the text, but from its visual appearance as well. Text has a surface.

When I write, I need to see the text as it will appear on the printed page, otherwise I am unable to compose its visual rhythm and structure.

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