It can not be this difficult to paginate a document in sections without Word. It just can’t.
— Christopher A. Kess (@kesschristopher) July 30, 2018
Actually, it was.
I am a staunch defender of the Chromebook. I use mine every single day. I compose much of my written work on mine. The plays I’m writing. Poems, now that I’ve suddenly been writing them again. Bios to accompany this work when I submit. I use it for a whole host of other tasks, too. Originally, when Chromebooks came onto the market, they were pretty much good for web surfing and using a few web services, which were not nearly as mature as they are now. As time has progressed, Chromebooks have become much more capable and as more models begin to run Android and Linux apps natively, the platform will only grow more.
However, in the meantime, I ran into a serious need and the Chromebook was not ready.
However, it was not the Chromebook’s fault, per se, but one of the device’s selling points: Google Docs.
I was in the middle of preparing a micro-chapbook manuscript, close to the submissions deadline. I’d composed first drafts of all the poems on my Chromebook, using Evernote. I’d done all of my revisions using Google Docs, which has versioning. I had to go out of town for a couple of days, during which time the deadline would pass. I still needed to write my bio and do the final formatting. And without doing any research, without finding out whether I had misplaced faith, I decided that I’d wait until I was away to complete my bio, format the final manuscript, and send it off. That meant using my Chromebook and Google Docs to finish the document.
But, thinking myself to be perhaps more clever than I was, I decided that in order to hedge my bets in case Google Docs might not be up to the task, I was going to pack my netbook. I still have my little Acer Aspire One netbook going after all these years. Instead of Windows Vista, which came installed, or Windows 7, which I installed later, the little thing runs Linux Mint. Mint comes with LibreOffice already installed, so that became the backup plan, if I ran into a dire situation. I did not need to carry my Windows laptop, which is bigger than both of the other two machines and yet slightly heavier than the two of the other machines combined (to me).
Off I go.
Late Sunday night, July 29.
I’m away and working on the document. The plan is to add page numbers and then, when I’m done with the bio, add it in, then I’m ready to go.
I insert the page numbers into the document inside of Google Docs.
Cover page was numbered 1, bio page was numbered 2, and all the poems, 3-10.
Okay. Now for the next part, I think.
I go to look for some place where I can place the cover page into its own section, the bio page into its own section, and the poems into their own section, just like I would inside of Microsoft Word. No such functionality was there to be found. Sure, I could hide the header on page 1, just like in Word, but the bio page was still numbered 2, when not just did I need it numbered 1, I needed it numbered I.
Going further down the hole, I googled the problem to perhaps find a solution. There were workarounds inside of web pages and YouTube videos, but the overall answer was still that what I needed Docs to do, it wasn’t going to do, let alone easily. And I could spend lots of time on these workarounds or I could just go to my backup plan.
I downloaded a Word version of the full script and copied it over to Dropbox, which I rarely even use anymore, but I had to in this case because the easiest way to get documents to and from my Aspire was to set up direct access to Dropbox inside of the file manger in Mint. Document copied over. I pulled out the netbook, booted, and there the manuscript was, waiting to be finished off with page numbers.
It was getting later and late, but the light was close by. Or so I hoped.
LibreOffice can indeed paginate documents via section. The only problem was that was it was so complicated. To make it work, I had to make a style. Really? Just to make a section of text just like the previous section of text, but with the only difference being page numbers? The style inside of LibreOffice had all kinds of settings to change for fonts, images, etc. And all I needed was to paginate the document differently. Which I did find and when I turned it on, it seemed to work. Except it didn’t. It kept wanting to paginate the pages in the section consecutively from the one previous to it.
I fought it and fought it. I changed all kinds of settings in the style section. Nothing. It just refused to paginate the document the way I needed.
I gave up. I was tired. I figured I’d get back to it in the evening on Monday. There was plenty of time until Tuesday at midnight.
Late Monday night, July 30.
While watching the box, I complete my bio on the Chromebook. That was a venture in and of itself as I don’t like talking tooting my horn (something I need to work on) and I’m not pretty good at it (working on this as well). It took looking at several websites and thinking of cool things to say about myself, yet I got it done and I was surprisingly pleased with the final outcome. I put it into a separate document in Google Docs, then put it into the proper place in the manuscript. The still improperly paginated document.
I muster the energy I have, to go back to LibreOffice. And to YouTube. And to web pages.
That lasted all of a few minutes. I just couldn’t believe this process took so many steps. And it wasn’t working for me. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. My coworkers, for the last 10 years, have had me to call on in such situations in the office and there I was, wanting another me that I could call and figure this out. I’d share my screen with this other me, give them (myself) control, and then I’d end up with a properly formatted manuscript, perhaps while I ate a few Cheez-Its or Vanilla flavored wafer cookies (I got them from the dollar store, so I guess it wouldn’t be right to use the trade name of that popular brand of the similar type of cookie).
But no, I was on my own and trying to either figure it out or calm my ego. And things weren’t working out.
As it got later, I decided I’d had enough. The manuscript was due on the 31st. I still had time. I was going to figure this out and get the submission sent. Just not right then. I needed to go to sleep.
Prime time, 8PM, July 31.
Back at it. Several hours until deadline.
In the morning, I’d tried again. No dice.
By this time, I decided if this thing wasn’t done by 9, I was giving up on LibreOffice.
And when 9 PM came and I didn’t have a formatted document, I indeed gave up.
I’d had an idea to try other apps to see if I could get any satisfaction. I fired up the Chromebook again.
I had gotten the idea earlier in the day to try Zoho Writer. I think I’d seen an email from them and remembered they had an online word processor. Maybe that could be the answer.
Well, it could paginate, but not in sections, so whatever. Took me about 30 minutes to figure that out. It does some cool looking formatting, but section pagination wasn’t part of the offering. And forget even doing anything with the page breaks and columns from my original document. I almost gave up on using columns in the document for my address info.
Next, I tried the browser based version of Word. Whatever. Word’s failure was the most disappointing. Word as a Windows app is the standard for such things and its poor web based cousin seemed to barely want to paginate the document at all. Nor could it remove any of the page breaks from the original document so I could add new ones.
As it got later, I did manage to get my hands on a copy of the Windows app version of Word. The real version. 30 minutes later, I had a properly formatted manuscript document ready to upload into Submittable. And with an hour to spare.
After I did send the document along, I tried out iCloud version of Pages. It could create different sections with their own page numbering, but I probably would have to have started the document inside of Pages as it could do nothing with the existing page breaks in the document.
There was a time when this might not have been a thing. When Word and WordPerfect each had their own format, but could readily read the other one. I remember some folks feeling perhaps that their machines might be inferior if they’d come with WordPerfect instead of Word, but when you had one or the other, it seemed like you could get done almost any word processing task you had. And if you’d started with one, you could finish with the other. These days, it’s easier to have access to a word processor, but sometimes, it might not be as easy to get done everything you want to get done. Certainly not going through the browser.
That, unfortunately exposes a problem with having a platform like the Chromebook that works primarily in the cloud. I wasn’t formatting a thesis or dissertation or guidebook or something, but couldn’t get a manuscript for 8 poems done easily. This is not a notch in the belt for the platform or the basic concept of it. Web based word processors have matured, but it seems they do have a ways to go before they’re truly ready to fully compete with their full application cousins. I peeked at Word on iOS, but it felt even further away than the web-based version.
I’m going to have to give LibreOffice another try. See if it was just me or this process was unnecessarily complicated or it’s something that can be picked up once you’ve used it and gotten more used to it. I’m going to download Abiword to my netbook and give it a try as well.
In the meantime, my workflow will stay the same as it is. I usually come up with ideas and do initial composition inside of Evernote, just like I did with this post. Once I’m ready to add and edit, I go into Google Docs because of versioning. And once I’m ready to clean up and make a formal manuscript, I jump into Word. The big change I’ll have to make is watching my schedule so that I’m around my Windows machine at these deadlines and not out travelling when I need to send out formal documents.