Top ten reasons GitHub is a great tool for creative writers
Even if you don’t know the first thing about version control
Yesterday I read about showing up right here in Medium and today Jeff Siarto is talking about explaining version control in higher education. Besides, yesterday was Towel Day and I had to show my inner geek, so I have decided to start writing an open novel, Hoborg, in GitHub. And here are the reasons why I have done it.
- When writing you always have to keep a backup, just in case your laptop gets stolen, or, more probably, crashes. GitHub and other version control systems teach you the habit of committing and pushing changes after each bout of writing.
- Besides, every time you make a change you must comment why you do it or what kind of change it has. It can be used to keep a writing diary that will, later on, help you with editing or with finding out why the hell that character suddenly disappeared in chapter 5. People following your work (who knows, there might be somebody interested or maybe just your editor or your mother if you are an Indie writer) can comment on the change and voice their opinion. Which leads me to reason number.
- GitHub is a platform for open development (better scratch that) writing. So what you are doing is seen by anybody who cares about it: instant crowdsourced editing!
- Since it is open, it forces you to really make your writing open: you select a Creative Commons license from the get go. If this license allows derivative works (it should), here you go, instant fan fiction! Or rather instant forks!
- GitHub makes incredibly easy to collaborate with other people. You can engage them in your same project by adding them as collaborators (they only need to have a free account in GitHub), but for occasional collaboration they can fork (basically, copy all the stuff to their own account) and, after that, they can contribute their changes back to the basic core work.
- GitHub is full of incredibly creative guys that will help you to do whatever you want with your novel. Do you need a continuous conversion from the text to ten thousand formats? You can use something called continuous integration to do it automatically every time you commit a change. Do you need to publish it automatically? Check. Automatically extract a character index? Check. Remember, eBooks are neither E. nor books, they are much more than that.
- Plus Git is easy to use. Just download your Mac client (you are creative, so you use a Mac, don’t you) and play with it for a while, you’ll get the gist of it pretty quickly. If you don’t care about that, you can use GitHub directly in the Zen writing mode.
- You can check your progress easily: how many lines did you write last week? And last month? Gamify yourself! And measure yourself against your fellow writers!
- Not sure whether a particular plotline or character might work? Create a branch! You can pursue it while you do some other stuff on the main (or master) line and then, eventually, merge it if it works. And if master and branch both work, you get two novels for the price of one!
- It’s just cool. Which can’t hurt your sales, even if you are not able to come up with a novel called “42 shades of Da Vinci” that shoots you up to the non-Indie writer pantheon.
So here is Hoborg (don’t like the title? Raise an issue!) which is written in a simplified language called Markdown (but also converted automatically to HTML, see reason #2 above) and in English, which you may have already realized is not my mother tongue (found any typos or grammar errors in the manuscript? Send me an issue!) but I am afraid that the amount of Spanish creative writers who know Git is pretty nearly zero. That’s probably also the amount of English-speaking creative writers that know or care about Git and care about paying any attention to what some Spaniard is doing (Spain? Isn’t that the bankrupt country that’s just below, or inside, Mexico?), but, hey, I had to give it a shoot.
So, since yesterday, I’m committing myself to commit (get the pun?) a non-zero amount of lines a day. Commits that you can also follow in Twitter, since GitHub can also be configured to post changes to Twitter. You see? Just cool.
Update: You can also read about these on Open Source Writing using git, which even mentions a tool, git-scribe,that combines an editor and a source control system; this one is even older, 10 ways git version control can streamline your writing project, that is rather a set of tips for technical writers but has the same number of bullet points and intent.