MaxBarry.com
writes things for cash

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Wed 05
Oct
2011

Nuts and Bolts

Machine Man I’m a little nervous about this, but here is the nerdiest thing I have ever done. You realize that bar is already pretty high. I have programmed web games. I have considered domain name availability before naming my offspring. But this is the first time I have publicly released a version control system history of a book.

I just lost you. I realize that. Unless you are some kind of freako super-geek, in which case, welcome to the tiny minority of the human race that may appreciate this. The rest of you: a revision control system is usually used for writing software, and tracking the changes you make. I used one of these for the Machine Man serial, since I was uploading a page per day, and it needed to be processed for sending out to people’s email inboxes and cell phones, and I lost you again, didn’t I? Okay.

The point is I have the entire edit history of Machine Man all the way back from notes. And you can browse to any particular page and see how it evolved from something to nothing.

Here is an example, using Version 1 of Page 18:

It’s just a note to myself about what this page might be about. By clicking the “→V2”, you move ahead to Version 2 of that page:

New words are green, deleted words are red. This page is hard to read because the software is making bad guesses about how the different versions fit together. In actuality, I simply deleted my note and wrote a first version.

Then I corrected a spelling mistake:

And continued tweaking in versions 4 through 9.

The final version is here. And if you have the book, you can follow along at home to the version that wound up in the novel:


I’m not sure what use this is to anybody, other than for exposing my writerly fumblings in an even more humiliating manner than I’ve already done. But it was POSSIBLE, so I have DONE IT.

To access the Source version of a page in the Machine Man serial, click the tiny, near-invisible nut on the top-right of any serial page. Or append “&v=1” to the URL, if you’re that nerdy. Which, if you’ve read this far, you surely are.

Comments

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Eric Hoffman (#4259)

Location: Arizona
Quote: ""America was founded by men who understood that the threat of domestic tyranny is as great as any threat from abroad. If we want to be worthy of their legacy, we must resist the rush toward ever-increasing state control of our society." Ron Paul"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Nerd.

And right up my alley.

Cameron Government (#166)

Location: melb-au
Quote: "There once was a man from Nantucket"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Noice.

Just needs a language variable for translations :-)

Greg (#3266)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: ""when deprived of freedom the only choice is to say no", is that deep enough?"
Posted: 1030 days ago

I guess that makes me a freako super-geek, but I guess I knew that.

For non super geek isn't it just taking Word's track changes to the next level?

Kandace Mavrick (#5672)

Location: Perth, Australia
Quote: "Of course I’m crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I’m MAD but not ILL. — Robert Anton Wilson"
Posted: 1030 days ago

You are a giant nerd. But that is awesome. I wish all authors did that so you could trace the developmental process.

James (#5673)

Location: Los Angeles
Posted: 1030 days ago

I find it utterly fascinating to look at the genesis of an idea, scene, chapter and see how it evolves through the writing process.

Big thumbs up for letting us into your brain!

Machine Man subscriber Barrie (#5111)

Location: Blackheath Australia
Quote: "So be it, mergatron!"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Like Word's and Apple's Pages 'track changes', but I can see that this is a step further along.
I wonder if this goes on in my brain, it would look a hell of a lot different of course!
I got fed up with Word's track changes, it seemed to turn itself on all by itself and get in the way (clutter).

I'm writing exclusively with Pages now, nicer layout with a comments column where I can leave my noodlings and it handles styles better.

Tak (#995)

Location: San Jose, CA
Quote: "benevolent hacker"
Posted: 1030 days ago

l33t.

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Awesome. What's the back end? Git, Mercurial? I love Perforce, but the new distributed ones certainly have their charms.

Machine Man subscriber rachel (#4028)

Posted: 1030 days ago

this is so cool; how kind of you to share it with us! Thank you.

Machine Man subscriber dabbeljuh (#4114)

Posted: 1030 days ago

your gui is better then kdiff3 ~J~

but OT aside, nice, makes total sense. While finishing my PhD thesis I tried to use a SVN for my thesis but I miserably failed. Now, as finished PhD, I try to convince professors that (online) versioning tools are better then local v1_v2_v3 docs anyway :)

TLDR: if you know stuff, you should use it ~

Machine Man subscriber Electrichead (#3898)

Location: Toronto
Posted: 1030 days ago

This is pretty amazing; I have to use SVN and Git for work, so I can appreciate how it tracks all those mistakes I made. But for writing, it seems a bit different, it also shows your different ideas and thought processes. Hmm, on second thought maybe writing and coding are more similar than I thought.

On a side note, do you have to add in commit messages? It would be fun to see those. Mine tend to be profanity-riddled and brief, but could be a good read.

Jay (#1892)

Location: New York
Posted: 1030 days ago

This is great work, like buying a Blu-ray,
with behind the scenes commentary. This
is the first time I've noticed an author share
early versions of his/her work. Very innovative
Max, much appreciated.

apt142 (#2526)

Location: North Carolina, USA
Quote: "And the geek shall inherit the Earth."
Posted: 1030 days ago

This is fantastic! My wife writes prose and I write code. So, there's been a number of times where this exact concept has crossed my mind. (I even explained source control to her in terms of book revisions.)

I think this could be a fantastic teaching tool to new and aspiring authors. While I'm sure everybody's approach to writing is a bit different, getting this level of detail into the process is unprecedented!

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Hi Max - if you get a new better brain one day - I'm sure this review of past events would be useful in an evolutionary sense - "hey folks, this is what my old brain was like" - all the best, love Stan

Michael Lederman (#4778)

Location: United States
Quote: "I read therefore I am"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Max, What you have done is the Literary version of pulling out the baby photo album and letting us see your "child" as it grew into an adult. While the finished book was as fantastic as your other tomes, being invited to see it from birth till adulthood allows a level of intimacy not to be found anywhere else in literary history. Well done.

Joanna (#5296)

Location: Seattle, WA
Quote: ""The wise man despises no one. Instead, he watches him closely and tries to discover the roots of what he sees." (Gogol, Dead Souls)"
Posted: 1030 days ago

Ahh, so cool! The webgeek & literature nerds in me are rejoicing. :) Thanks for sharing!!

Dan Traeger (#2232)

Location: Kalispell, MT
Posted: 1030 days ago

Okay, now all we have to do is convince a publisher to release a version of Machine Man loaded with smart phone QR Codes to the relevant pages in your RCS. It would be like buying a DVD loaded with behind the scenes features.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1030 days ago

The backend is Subversion! SVN. I should have mentioned that.

@Electrichead:
> On a side note, do you have to add in commit messages? It would be fun to see those.

No, I didn't use any commit messages, since I had no co-workers, and I didn't expect to have to back anything out (or hunt down bugs). I wrote a macro so all I needed to do was click a button in my OpenOffice doc and it would save in XML format, then a script would parse it, split it into appropriate files, and commit it to the SVN repository. If it had been a pain to commit changes, I wouldn't have done it. So I made it almost as painless as clicking "Save."

Machine Man subscriber Lucy (#664)

Location: Blue Mountains
Posted: 1030 days ago

This is fantastic, I never even thought of how this could apply to writing despite working with source control all day and also using Word's 'Track Changes'...
Seconded on the curiosity about commit comments.
Also, tags?

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 1030 days ago

0ct 6. 2011

NAME???

Alright. I was going to steal the name "Max_Barry" for my new nation on nationstates. I was strung along by a web of lies that kept saying it would be available. When the time limit was up. It was "retired". Stupid. Really stupid.

That is all.

-adam

ryandake (#2199)

Location: scenic monterey, ca
Quote: ""The rest is not our business.""
Posted: 1029 days ago

wow, the intersection of creativity and geekiness... awesome. love to see how writers edit their work. takes some cojones to post it out there for the world to see. you rock once again, max!

Arancaytar (#2358)

Location: Frankfurt
Quote: "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. -Sagan"
Posted: 1026 days ago

... I am stunned and amazed. :)

It's really rare to get a glimpse into the editing process of a book. And somehow, that doesn't diminish its value at all, but adds to the depth. Very awesome.

Machine Man subscriber Ben (#3924)

Location: Alberta, Canada
Quote: "I don't wanna ride the elevator."
Posted: 1026 days ago

Very cool Max. Thanks for this. I had hoped to see something like this for a long time. Again, thanks.

Chelsea (#5402)

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posted: 1023 days ago

I'm so glad you posted this! As you are one of my favorite writers, and I'm just testing the waters of novel writing, it's absolutely reassuring and encouraging to see your editing process. It reminds me that even if the first draft isn't perfect, it's not rubbish. :)

(Your first draft is WAY better than mine, but still. :P)

Kelli (#5773)

Posted: 969 days ago

This actually helps a lot with the paper I'm writing on your expansion on Umberto Eco’s position on the inventive freedom of the composer - performer relationship by collaborating with the audience to create the ultimate composition.

Thanks!

kotekzot (#5795)

Posted: 952 days ago

Was there a particular reason you decided not to use a wiki for this, or did you just make it for fun?

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