Writers: start using GitHub now

A gentle introduction to the use of this social network of people who do stuff

You probably don’t agree with the fact that writing is incredibly similar to developing software, even if collectives like Wu Ming (and, more modestly, YT) have proved it over, so you have not really been moved to use GitHub even if I can give you many reasons why it is a great tool for creative writers. Because many of the reasons include invoking arcane powers like the hex called command-line and committing yourself to do stuff in things with non-skeuomorphic interface.

No worry. Here I am to show you, from scratch, how to start using and loving GitHub for writing your own novels, even if you can’t convince anybody to do it for you, I mean, to collaborate you with that. I’ll be doing it in Windows, but the Mac way of doing is is much more zen but not all that different. 

When you download GitHub for Windows you are shown a screen as above. It behooves you to get an account. Why would you need that? Check out again the ten reasons, but don’t worry about that by now. Let’s just say GitHub is like a geekier Dropbox. You know Dropbox, right? That thing you eventually managed your editor to use to avoid clogging your mailbox. 

So just do it. You want it free, right? Click there and you’re done; please take down your username and password, you’ll need it for later. Now flip back to GitHub (alt-tab until you get back to the login screen) and use it for login! You’ll get here

You can now panic, since they are no repositories. Or rather, don’t do it! Just add a repository, which is something like a folder for your writing project, to keep everything related to the project together. Or you can have one called “Scraps” to put it all. It really does not matter, other than the fact that each repository will have its own folder that can be anywhere you want on the hard disk. 

You see it’s politely asking if you want to create one. Just do it:

Eventually clicking on “Create” and you’ve got it. Easy-peasy, right? 

Now comes the hard part. Not too hard, but a bit hard. Hard as in files with funny names and doing stuff with funnier names. But never mind them for the time being. However, you know that Dropbox just allow you to drop stuff in a folder and have it synced with the server and the folders, right? GitHub is a bit like that, but being the geekish thing that it is, asks you why you have either created new files (the one with the funny names) or changed them. So you have to commit them and say why you do that writing a commit message like “I love you even if I don’t understand you” or “It’s not you, it’s me”. So click on the arrow by the side of the repository, project, whatever, you have created and you’ll arrive here (modulo you are not hoborgist and your repo is not called HubLove)

GitHub will be holding your hand as you do this. Since you are committing, just click on the commit button. That’s it. No exposition to arcane command line for the time being, right?

What have you done so far? Nothing much, really. Just created a repo with two files and told GitHub you care about them, you are committed about them, they are your files (queer files with funny stuff in them, but yours anyways), part of your repository (which is like your offspring). But it’s not been published yet. All writers are looking to get published, so you have to click in publish to the right hand side of the repo name. That will really show the world what you’re doing (which is, for the time being, not much) plus will present you with a screen like this one:

That’s also called pushing the repo for no better reason than updating your repository from the website it’s in is called pulling. And that’s when you’re really dropboxing the thing. Now it’s in your diskdrive, and also in GitHub. Just go there to and see what you have just done. 

Don’t leave yet! There’s one more thing, like, actually, writing a story, novel, stanza, something. Well, just go to the folder where you’ve created the repo:

GitHub is great for text. Which is good, since that is what you produce when you write. But you’re probably used to your word processor, which has lots of stuff that just get in the way. Go back one step to your trusty text editor, Notepad for instance, or download one that actually works and helps you out like SublimeText

It’s not free, but it’s great and since you’ll get rich writing, you have to share, right? SublimeText is not the only one: checkout TextMate, for instance, which is open source or any one, really, as long as it is a text editor. 

And then comes the moment of truth: create the file (right-click and slide down to New -> Text Document. And start typing away a great story like this one

 Save it any ways you want, but if you use funny things will happen on GitHub, you’ll see. After saving, just go back to GitHub and you’ll find that, same way as you did after creating the repo, there are uncommitted changes. Of course! You’ve done great writing today, so there’s a new file and your whole life has changed in amusing ways. But you’ve got to tell everybody by Doing The Commit and then Sync’ing. Which will get you something like this:

That’s the end of the story. Story created and published for the whole wide world to see. Any more changes? Commit and sync, commit and sync. Instant backup, instant publication. Easy-peasy.

In fact, you’ve published that story yourself so you can call yourself an indie author and it’s in the open, right there for everyone to see, so you might go the whole nine yards and give it a Creative Commons license. Remember, writing is quite similar to software development and software is best born free, so you might as well do the same with anything you write. 

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