Isn’t writing hard enough without the proper tools?
There is a lot of preparation and paraphernalia required to do the job correctly.
You have to put a new ribbon in your Underwood. You need a couple of fresh reams of good quality 24# paper. You will want at least one good bottle of Wite-Out; it’s hard to use when it gets old and crusty. You will want one of those big three-month wall calenders and some different colored Sharpies. And Post-Its. Lots and lots of Post-Its, in all different colors.
Wait a minute. Hold the digital phone. This is 2021; what the hell are you thinking?
Tools required for writing well and successfully have moved into the 21st century, and so should you. Following are four tools I can’t live without.
You should be using them too.
I use Grammarly. I’ve tried them all and came back to this one. It’s a little pricey, but if you hold out, they always offer a steep discount. And the good news is, the free version is pretty good. But whichever one you settle on, use it on everything you type.
The purists will rant about learning proper grammar and spelling and doing your own editing and proofreading.
Well, let me ask you this, do you own a calculator? Okay, then, ‘nuff said.
There are also complaints that they don’t catch every error or that some of their corrections aren’t, well, correct. Of course not, it’s a computer. AI is still more A than I, although it’s getting better all the time. But you still have to proof your own work.
So, if you still have to proofread, what’s the point? Because it will still save you a lot of time. It will catch errors you might miss. It is very good at pointing out misused homophones, for instance, so you don’t end up a looser. Grammarly will even make sentence structure recommendations.
They aren’t always better but frequently are.
I use Grammarly twice for each manuscript in two different ways. After completing my rough draft, I cut and paste the article into Grammarly’s app. This gives me better and easier to use tools for proofreading but also gives me one more level of backup. It has a new tool that automatically corrects any number of problems that I have fixed in the past. Then, I proofread the article, checking suggested corrections as I go.
The second use is when I paste the completed article into whatever site I am publishing it in. I use the browser version of Grammarly to do a final check. Most ‘errors’ at that point are things that I disagreed with before, but it will frequently find something that I missed the first time through.
There is no excuse for bad grammar or spelling from a writer and tools like Grammarly make them much easier to avoid.
I have used several tools for this over the years but have currently settled on ClickUp for several reasons. It has a decent document management system that ties in with tasks, so that is where I write my first draft. I also use the task management side to schedule time-sensitive articles to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
Most importantly, I use the Kanban view for moving my articles through the system. I have two main views: Next Action and Current Status.
The Next Action board is my main view. On the left, I have a (hopefully) long column of ideas. I then take the article through all of the next actions, Write, Proof, Polish, Pitch, and Publish. Status is a similar view that I use more as a follow-up with groups of Idea, Draft, Complete, Pitched and Published.
These views and the typical task management system have been indispensable in keeping my pipeline full and meeting objectives and deadlines. The fact that I can store the original document with the task is a huge plus for me.
Calendars and Post-Its are nice, but the power and flexibility of modern project management tools mean you’ll never miss another deadline or let a great idea slip through the cracks.
Document Mangement System
This may seem redundant, but it’s not for several reasons. While the document system in ClickUp (and Notion, for that matter) are good, they aren’t great. It’s not the primary objective, and they haven’t put a lot of effort into it yet. What you need is a system for long-term storage and retrieval. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to pull up an article I wrote years ago. Being able to do so quickly is crucial.
I currently use Evernote and have for most of the last ten years. There have been times when I’ve tried the competition, including Notion, Nimbus, OneNote, and others, but I come back to Evernote. Partially because it works, but mostly because it’s familiar. If you are using a system and it works for you, stick with it. If not, you should be.
Some people like to use the file structure and search capability on their computers. If this works for you, great, but I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work for me. The storage and structure are fine, and I can and do implement sufficient backup procedures. But it’s the search and retrieval where it fails.
But being able to quickly find an old article is only part of a sound document management system. Backups are even more critical. I learned from decades of photography that any digital asset should always be in at least three places, one of which is off-site.
My personal system far exceeds these minimum requirements. The first draft is done in ClickUp, as discussed above. Once I complete that, it is copied into Grammarly. Now I have two copies, both in the cloud. After edits are complete, I copy it into a Word file saved in my Evernote import directory. This extra step is critical as it now gives me my first local copy.
My Evernote files are backed up in two ways. Weekly, I do a local backup using their proprietary Enex format, from which I could completely rebuild my Evernote files at any point. Once a month, I do a complete HTML backup to my external drive. This has the added advantage of creating PDF versions of all of my articles. My local files are backed up nightly to two different external drives and once a week to a third portable SSD drive. Finally, all of those drives are backup real-time to a cloud backup service. If you weren’t keeping track, that gives me somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen copies of each article. Overkill? You bet. And I love it.
This is a bit of a loose category and covers several different tools. But the purpose is to make sure I get the work done. Whether I feel like it or not.
My writing time is not only in a task manager; it’s in my calendaring software. Along with exercise and guitar practice, these are not only tasks but appointments I have made with myself.
And just like a doctor’s appointment, you don’t just blow them off. It varies which is first, but the first two tasks every morning are my writing and my guitar practice. Every. Day. Those time slots are carved in stone and are inviolable.
I also use a Pomodoro timer when I need to spend longer but more focused time writing. I use two different timers depending on the specific task and writing. I either write for 30 minutes and take a five-minute break or write for 20 minutes and take a one-minute break.
The writing is strictly controlled and focused. No distractions. Email and all other notifications are turned off. My phone is in the other room on silent. Those twenty or thirty minutes is for writing and writing only.
The breaks are just as important and never skipped. Whenever I am at my computer for extended times, which is often 16 hours a day, I try to take a minute every twenty to stretch my body, mind, and eyes. This has been a life-changing experience for me, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I am writing for more than an hour, I will switch it to 30/5. I get a bit more focus and a much longer break.
If you want to be a writer, you need some way to record your words. If you’re going to be a successful writer, you need to take advantage of modern technology to keep you on task and on time.