This blog post is part of a blog series called Behind the Scenes where I give you an inside look at how I do my work and run my website.
When I was younger, I used to hate writing. I think most people can relate to this. As kids, the idea of sitting still long enough to put a physical pen to paper was torture.
Now I’m all grown up (kind of), writing is not only a necessary part of my life, it’s actually a lot more enjoyable than I anticipated.
I bet if you think about it, you’ll find writing is actually a much bigger part of your day than you think.
Bear with me here; how many times a day do you write an email or post to Twitter or Facebook? If you think about your work, I bet writing is an important part of your job. If you’ve ever needed to write a report, present your ideas, write ad copy, draft a blog post, update a web page, design a leaflet or write a menu, then writing is a skill you’ve needed to call on.
In this post, I want to share how I write and talk about some of the tools and habits I use to put the words you’re reading onto this page.
Before we jump into the tools, let’s talk a little more about why writing is such an important skill to master.
WHY IMPROVE YOUR WRITING?
I’m not an author or a blogger, why should I care about writing?
I truly believe that writing on a regular basis makes you a better communicator. Not just when it comes to sharing your ideas through words, but verbally as well. Writing forces you to think about the most efficient way of communicating an idea (essentially, it’s a productivity skill). In fact, author Seth Godin says that:
“If you can’t state your position in eight words, you don’t have a position”1
If you want people to buy into your ideas then become a better writer and this will improve how you communicate verbally.
Let’s put this another way; have you ever sent an email and the person on the other end misinterpreted what you meant? Perhaps you were too blunt and they got a little offended… Well, who’s fault is this?
Yeah, I hate it when that happens.
If you want to become a better communicator, I’d challenge you to start writing on Medium or even setting up your own WordPress site so that you can sharpen this skill. And who knows, maybe doing some writing on the side could turn into a big deal for you (it did for me).2
MY WRITING TOOLS
Okay, let’s get into some writing tools. That’s why you’re here, right?
It should come as no surprise that a big part of the writing process happens inside Evernote (as I’m sure it does for a lot of people).
However, that’s not to say I necessarily do a lot of actual writing inside Evernote. For me, Evernote is more of a storage closet for the materials I need to do my writing. It’s where I collect blog posts, reference material, plan projects and store all of my digital “stuff”.
Don’t you use Evernote for writing blog posts?
Nope. I tried this once before, but the thing is that once you’re ready to copy content from Evernote into a platform like WordPress or even Google Docs, the formatting from Evernote screws up in the transition. I don’t know the technical reasoning behind this, but stuff just doesn’t look right and you have to clear all the formatting and re-format from inside WordPress to get it looking how you want.
Writing in Evernote is fine if you don’t need to use the text anywhere else, like in a Pages document or on the web. But for me, it’s more of a support tool.
What, Asana? Asana’s task management app!
That’s right. But hear me out.
I have a project in Asana called “Content Calendar” which is where I plan and organise the content I’m going to publish on my website. Each task in this project corresponds to a podcast episode or blog post, and in the task description, I list the purpose and basic structure of each article. Kind of like this:
IMAGE: This task is actually a template task which I duplicate every time I start planning a new post.
I don’t always follow this structure, but it’s a great place to start. Following this format allows me to make my writing more consistent. Planning the structure in Asana is a nice way of deciding what a post will look like before I start typing words onto a screen.
It also forces me to think about the post before I start writing. There have been occasions where I’ve thought of a blog post idea, then when it came to writing, I didn’t really have much to say. Planning the structure inside Asana allows me to come up with a rough outline which I can come back to when it’s time to write.
Here are a few reasons why I enjoy iA Writer so much:
- It forces you to focus. When you use the apps “focus mode” it dims everything on the page except for the sentence you’re currently writing. In the past, I have tended to edit while I write (which slows me down), but going into focus mode helps me to get the content out of my head and onto the page without going back over my work the whole time. This means I can draft posts quickly and then go back and edit in detail later.
- It’s designed for writing for the web. Since starting to use iA Writer, I’ve become educated on the world of markdown?
“Markdown is a lightweight markup language with plain text formatting syntax designed so that it can be converted to HTML and many other formats using a tool by the same name”4
So Markdown is basically a way of writing in HTML using special symbols to format text. If you can remember all the shortcuts it helps you to pump out a bunch of formatted text without having to touch your mouse (and I’m a big fan of using the mouse as little as possible).
Writing in markdown is a quick way of producing content for the web that can be imported to a platform like WordPress very easily.
- It’s just damn nice to use! I’m not even kidding. Using iA Writer literally makes me want to write more often. I’m now using it for writing documents5, email courses, sales copy and more.
iBooks Author (Mac)
iBooks Author is what I use for producing ebooks like the one’s you’ll see in the 7-Day Productivity Plan and Personal Productivity Toolkit.
It’s easy to lay out your book in different sections and chapters which are all linked to the same design templates. This means if you change the design of one page (like a chapter cover page), the changes will be reflected on all other pages that are linked to that template.
Customising the formatting of your headings and body copy is pretty simple and it’s easy to create a nice looking book with consistent formatting.
I don’t use Pages much any more, but it’s still my go to tool when it comes to writing documents, case studies and other PDF materials that I might want to set up as downloadable content on my website. For example, all of the book summaries I write, start as Pages documents and then get exported as PDF’s ready for upload.
Grammarly is an awesome tool for turning you into a better writer. It’s available as a Chrome or Safari extension and it will proofread your content when you start writing on the web. For example, after pasting my blog posts from iA Writer into WordPress, Grammarly will kick in and start proofing my text.
Does it proof Tweets and Facebook posts?
You bet! No more embarrassing misspellings in your social updates…
Grammarly isn’t just a spell checker, it’s a darn accurate grammar checker and points out when you’ve missed an important piece of punctuation or used an irrelevant word somewhere.
By paying attention to the common mistakes I seem to make, I’m now able to make fewer of them while I write.
Grammarly is also available as a desktop app. So if you want to (although I don’t), you can write straight into the Grammarly app and have it proof your work while you write. Personally, I’d much rather start in iA Writer, get the content down onto the page and then copy the content into Grammarly for editing.
Okay, there you have it. Those are my go to tools and hopefully, that gives you a bit of an idea of how I write and where the different tools are used.
To learn more about becoming a better writer, check out The Basics of English Writing email course by Highbrow. I did this a few weeks ago and it was useful reminding myself of some of the basics again.
- I found this quote on Good Reads, but couldn’t find which Seth Godin book this was from. If you recognise it, let me know in the comments! ↩︎
- If you go back to my early blog posts, you’ll see the random stuff I was writing about just for fun when I first set up my website ↩︎
- In fact, a big part of the inspiration for this post came from the fact that I’ve been enjoying iA Writer so much and wanted to share it with you. ↩︎
- Definition courtesy of Wikipedia ↩︎
- when you export from iA Writer as a PDF, it creates very clean and professional documents ↩︎