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On Text Editing: My Colors

I grew up surrounded by books. Despite my mom’s best efforts to find room for critical necessities like furniture and open doorways, my dad has managed to pack an amazing number of books into every livingspace he’s ever called home. For eighteen years, those included mine.

And for many of those years, I considered his collections my personal library. Unlike so many readers I know, I never really developed a deep love for the public library, because I never needed to. I got the same benefits from a quick trip to the dining room.

Anyway, one of his books that caught my eye back in high school was Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber. When I asked him about it, he said, “It’s weird. You can read it if you want to — you’ll probably even like it, because you like things that are weird. But it’s weird.”

In fact, it was a deeply post-modern character-driven urban fantasy. (In other words, it would be amazingly popular if it were written and published in today’s market.) Among its charms was a cast of incredibly vivid characters, on the order of superheroes, caught up in a high-stakes game of politics.

Zelazny did an amazing job of branding these characters, giving them powerful personalities that were easy to recognize. Among other things, he gave each of the major characters a fixed color palette, reflected in their coats of arms, their portraiture, their upholstery choices, and — most prominently — all the clothes in their wardrobes.

It wasn’t a subtle device, either. The protagonist pointed it out bluntly halfway through the book. As a writer, I immediately filed it away as a fancy way of differentiating the vast array of characters he wanted his readers to keep up with…but the idea also appealed to me on a personal level. I liked the idea of crafting an image, a visual symbolism to represent me wherever I went.

And, being a teenager, radical expression of style just came perfectly naturally to me. I chose black, gray, and green as my official colors. I stopped wearing some of my favorite clothes if they didn’t match my new color scheme, I went shopping for new stuff as often as I could afford it, and over the course of about three months I completely swapped out my wardrobe. I took on a color scheme as though it was a persona, and I never looked back.

Well…not for fifteen years, anyway. A few months ago Julie and Carlos came to visit us, and Julie (who’s known me since way back in those high school days) walked into the living room and the first words out of her mouth were, “Ooh, look at you in a blue shirt.”

Carlos, lugging the luggage, followed far enough behind her that it was a complete coincidence when he caught sight of me, frowned, and said, “What are you wearing?”

As it happens, I told Trish a couple years ago that I was ready to diversify my wardrobe. I promised I’d wear anything she picked out for me (although I did ask her to keep it to solid colors or pretty simple patterns). In all that time, she’s only picked two shirts for me outside my color scheme.

I explained all that them, and Carlos wrinkled his nose and said, “I dunno, man. It’s just weird.”

Julie nodded, completely serious, and said, “You don’t look like you in blue.”

Honestly, radical expressions of style were never really my thing. I spent five years wanting to get an earring but unconvinced that I could “pull it off.” I never hesitated with the colors, though, and they served me well during some years when I needed something external to define who I was and what I was all about.

Getting to Know Your Notepad

It’s amazing how powerful colors can be as symbolic objects. We’ve all used colored highlighters to mark up text, flagging key ideas in distinct ways. Most word processors provide a vast array of color choices in their highlighter tools for the same purpose.

Programmers, too, frequently use color coding to keep track of everything “going on” in a given bit of text. They use a software feature called “syntax coloring” which automatically color-codes text on the screen as it’s typed, and it’s incredibly helpful for writing, reviewing, and editing code.

And, as I’ve pointed out several times over the last few months, technical writing tasks leave us wrestling with code more often than we’d like, and they often respond well to a little understanding of programming. So, for several reasons, I want to talk to you this week about one of the most powerful programming tools for a Tech Writer: Notepad.

No, really. Depending on the task, there are definitely times when a robust text editor can do more for you, faster, than a big bells-and-whistles word processor. Stick around, and I’ll tell you how.

6 Responses to “On Text Editing: My Colors”

  1. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Oooh, my colors are definitely red, black, and purple. Drama, drama, drama. 😉 Don’t you think there should be Amber tarot decks available for purchase?!?

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Actually…forget Amber tarot decks, let’s just steal his idea (as all good writers do).

      Consortium tarot! Julie can shoot the portraits, and you can paint from those. Got any ideas what a genuine Dworkin might look like?

      (It occurs to me that you should really recruit a painter or two, just so I stop dropping all the painting projects on you.)

      • Courtney Cantrell says:

        In my mind, I’ve already had the conversations convincing two particular painter friends to join us… One might say I’ve constructed their assimilation. ;o)

        I might have a few ideas on Dworkin…but the scene I picture would be him in his cell, drawing the lighthouse on the wall.

  2. Courtney Cantrell says:

    P.S. You just made me realize why I was 32 years old before I ever got a library card: My parents kept a library at home, so why should I ever need to go outside my own home to get books? 🙂

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Trish made me box up all my books to make room for…well, furniture and functional doorways.

      It occurs to me now that they’d probably all still be out on glorious display if I’d had any books on the shelves for her to read. I remember her browsing the collection a time or two looking for something interesting, but she always came up empty (and then headed to the library).

      Alas. Hindsight, and all that.

      • Courtney Cantrell says:

        Well, it’s not too late. You could still acquire some books that are to her taste, then put your library on display with Trish’s books strategically scattered throughout. 😉