I do technical writing everyday, and have done it first with Word for Mac (4, 5.1), then with PageMaker, then again with FrameMaker. When FrameMaker for Mac was demised I started using the Windows version in Parallels and VirtualBox. The Windows version of FrameMaker is far from the one for Mac, with less and less logical shortcuts, several bugs, bad PDF output. In addition, entering characters out of the stardard English set is a hassle (I usually write them in Mac, and copy/paste them in Windows).
Recently, I’ve started switching to InDesign. InDesign (CS6) is good with shorter works, but is proving awful with my typical long book (between 300 and 500 A4-format pages, split into 100~150-page chapters). Cross-references and change in pagination forcing background opening of target files, the spinning ball is your most seen working companion. Even typing a few characters may (and probably will) make it appear.
One of the solutions I tried was writing everything in an external text editor, then do the final layout in InDesign. Unfortunately, my proofreaders pretend to see the finished work early, compliant with the printed version (we are still doing printed books). So, I have to switch to InDesign very soon. I hope this will come to an end when I can move my work to a liquid format, and abandon the book form (frankly a bit obsolete for modern technical references).
As for the external editor, I tried first with Scrivener. There should be a report somewhere in the forum, but I cannot locate it. Working in Scrivener was great, but then there were two major problems for interfacing with InDesign:
- no paragraph and character styles (for RTF exchange);
- no preview for markdown (for exchange in MD).
As for the first issue, one could think to go through Nisus, and use its advanced selection features to apply paragraph and character styles to text formatted with Scrivener’s Formatting Presets. However, this proved to be a long and troublesome process.
Previews of markdowns could be done with an external app like Marked, but working by looking my typed text with the left eye, the formatting preview with the right one, is not my preferred solution. I’m thinking to try with Ulysses III, but even in this case I’m not sure all required characters styles could be simulated with markdown.
The return of FrameMaker for Mac, or a (not likely) improvement of InDesign long document features would be a headache-solver for technical writers.
I should also refer to Flare (also under Windows only), but I’m not happy of its page layout features and general look. It seems to be conceived for old-school manuals and Windows help, while I’m leaning toward more modern supports.