The best advise on writing

In the space of two, three days I’ve come across two items that pretty much nailed it for me in terms of the best advise on writing.

First one is episode 5 of The Weekly Briefly podcast where Shawn Blanc (the host) talks to Patrick Rhone about writing. It’s 55 min long but every minute is worth it. There is so much good stuff there that single quote will not cut it. Go and listen!! 

(you can easily guess I more than like that episode).

Second piece of content that I wanted to share is Cut the bullshit and make time to write

I think the title says it all but this bit of text is a handy reminder why you should keep writing regardless.

Make yourself write, because a day will come when you’re really fucking inspired and you will shit out 500 words of pure solid gold.

 

My perfect computer

Few weeks ago I posted a link to Michael’s blog post about his perfect setup.

I’ve been thinking about  this topic little further and realized that many of us would have two or more computers to consider in their setup. It’s often the case, that the setup is very different between each of the machine. One computer would be in the office, second is a home desktop or a laptop as it is in my case.
The former is a device managed by company’s IT team subject to various policies and restrictions. It has custom build applications and a predefined set of programs that can be used. If you want something new that is not on a company approved software list you have to go through a lengthy process. Most likely ending with "no go" response. They have their reasons.  Getting this machine to the state of being perfect is difficult. The scope is very limited and you need to learn all the tricks possible to make the most of this setup.
On the opposing end there is a home machine which, with a little tweaking and good and simple software lets you get job done, the way you want. But it’s not only about the job being done. What’s also important is the style, easy of use, friendliness and all encompassing cool factor of the application you’ve selected.

Freedom to  hack, experiment is the best way to find this perfect mix of various tool and utilities which make your computer life easier. There is no single list of ideal apps different people, different jobs will require something different. For me, at this moment the perfect computer looks like this.

Web browsing

Firefox/Chrome – Firefox remains my main browser due to a set of extensions I’m accustomed to it. I also use Chrome to check email and for other tasks where I use Google services.

Writing

Evernote – Evernote is my Swiss army knife. It’s a primary tool for writing, storing ideas, managing projects and reference information.

UV Outliner/Freeplane – Non-linear thinking gets done in Freeplane, which is an excellent mind mapping tool. For more structured outlining and thinking I’m using UV Outliner which is often called OmniOutliner for Windows PC.

WriteMonkey – I use it when I need a so called "distraction free" writing environment or simply black screen and white text. The beauty of WriteMonkey is its versatility, you can use the bare bone elements to just write or take advantage of all the different options available like bookmarking, versioning, referencing, multi-markdown.

Time Management

Remember the Milk  – I’ve settled on Remember the Milk as primary task management tool almost 3 years ago. It’s been serving me well. Although there are certain limitations, versatility and ubiquity of this app are it’s best features.

Google Calendar – gives me access to appointments everywhere I need. There is hardly a better calendaring solution.

Other essentials

Dropbox – for syncing and keeping backup of current work, for sharing files with family and friends.

PhraseExpress – this a fantastic piece of software that allows me to automate a lot of my typing. I have text snippets for almost anything from email addresses, mail addresses to numbers, tags, keyword combination and even few paragraphs. If you type a lot and prefer keyboard as main tool this program is definitely worth trying out.

Thunderbird – email client from Mozilla, I’m using it to keep a backup of all my email.Run it once a week or so and all emails will be pulled for storing on my laptop. This gives me access to my email on and offline.

Lastpass/Keepass – password management becomes critical, using easy memorable words is no longer an option so best way to solve this is to resort to an application that can store this information securely and generate passwords for you. Keepass is an standalone open source application whereas Lastpass is web app with Firefox and Chrome extensions that lets you sync passwords on all your computers. I’m using two programs solely for backup and security purposes, having two encrypted copies gives me a safety net and ability use my data regardless of the situation.     

Notepad++  – This is very powerful text editing application with syntax highlighting, making coding a great experience. Although I don’t use it very often it’s indispensable at times when I need to update WordPress theme files or edit a piece of CSS code.

So this is my current setup and as I’ve been finalising this post I realised that almost all of the above tool have been in my arsenal for a good while. I take it as an indication that majority of my computer needs are now solved. Although it’s more than likely I will be looking at other tools and introduce new tweaks the skeleton  of my perfect setup is here.

Evernote for writing and blogging

 

Have desk, will write

Evernote is tremendously useful and versatile platform. Over the last number of months it became my go to place for filing almost anything.
After reading Evenote ebook by Dan it got me thinking about different areas of responsibility. One of those is keeping up this blog. It involves making sure I have a post ready for each week. One post a week sounds easy right and perhaps it’s for many but for me it’s not always. Having a structure in place which lets me focus on different aspects of writing is great aid. As result of some tinkering and reading few different articles I came up with this little writing/blogging workflow.

1.Make a template for a blog post

List key elements/sections which you normally would include in every post:
     * text
     * links
     * photos
     * sharing platforms
     * mentions of people/blogs that influenced the post

Writing in the spur of the moment is great for capturing that moment of inspiration but more often than not writing is laborious process. Creating consistent and attractive looking posts makes better impression on readers and site visitors. This templates allows me focus on writing and when I’m done with it move to other elements of blogging that otherwise could be forgotten. As result my writing efforts can reach more people (hopefully).

2. Use tags to manage different stages for writing process

     * draft current/on hold
     * idea
     * published
     * to be published

When it comes to writing and blogging there are different stages of the process. In short you start with an idea/rough outline, then you work on developing it, then you publish it or leave it in a queue for later. Tags are perfect way to manage this aspect of flow. Rather than look at all your ideas and half written posts you can select a specific tag.
Splitting different stages of the process allows for greater focus and navigation between elements. Rarely or never you have to look at at published post and ideas at the same time. However at different times you will look at very specific stage. If you look for something new to write simply select "idea" tag, when you want to continue working on something that was open for a while you will select "current" tag.
Easy to manage and configure. I find it quite effective. Rather thank keep a bunch of text files (a good option too) I prefer to have it all in Evernote.

3.Bigger writing projects

Novels or serious post with lots of research and support documentation use a separate notebook or even a stack of notebook.

     * gather what’s needed in one or more notebooks
     * once project is done you can move all the data into single place or assign one tag to find it later.
     * keep a small amount of notes (master note) or combination of notes and tags to manage to final result (copy)

Sometimes using tags to separate the content is not best solution, a physical separation may bring better results. When working on something complex which requires a large number of supporting documentation separate notebooks will allow to divide the research from writing and drafts and notes

Additional stuff

Couple additional tips and features that make Evernote great writing tool:

Full screen mode is great for focusing on task at hand. It so easy to get distracted by other things happening on you monitor, twitter feed. Full screen might be overwhelming especially when it’s just white space but once you start filling that space the sense of progress is encouraging

Inspiration and gathering ideas are very important elements of writing process. Evernote offers simple yet useful ability to record and store voice memos and pictures of thing s that caught your attention.

Often times you will want to share your drafts or finished articles with other people to get their feedback and opinion. To do that you can avail of note links which allow your to send a link to a note via email. You can also use shared notebooks if they are Evernote users too.

One feature that I would like to see in Evernote is a black screen editor for distraction free writing. Sounds odd as it should not matter what you use but somewhat it does. Personally I find that writing on black screen with nothing else on it does really help to keep focused and push that writing forward. Perhaps there will be someone looking at API and thinking of designing a simple and nice editor. For now I’m sticking with WriteMonkey  and coping to and from Evernote. Slightly awkward but WriteMonkey seems like a better tool for writing.

photo by Bright Meadow

Weekly Links post 8st January

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Use Mind Maps to Achieve Your Goals

  2. Gantt, PERT, or Task Calendar: Which Scheduling Model is Best for Your Project?

  3. How Handwriting Trains the Brain

  4. How to conduct your own annual review

  5. Switch Off Your Social Self – Switch On Your Creativity

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.