After my previous post on balancing the restrictions and freedom in your writing, it only seems fair (if not merciful) to talk a bit about how I actually take advantage of both freeform and more structured efforts. If you haven’t read the theoretical side, it won’t be necessary, but you may want to give it a look. As a quick recap, I’m suggesting (probably incorrectly) that all writing takes place between two extremes, complete freedom and rigid structure. The more I write, the more I see the benefits of blending both techniques, but I rarely find that it is a 50/50 proposition.
Everything begins as either an abstract idea that need to be expanded out or as a concrete plan that needs to be fleshed out.
Beginning With An Idea
This is certainly the most comfortable and more common starting point. An idea strikes and I quickly jump into Simplenote on my iPhone or nvALT on a Mac to capture it. They sync seamlessly with one another, so I can write once and access these thought anywhere. The idea can be as small as a post title, a random sentence or a paragraph. When I’m ready to write on my iPhone, I’ll just keep going in Simplenote, the Mac however is a bit of a different story… As much as I love the simplicity of nvALT, I love the writing environment offered in Byword. It’s easily my favorite place to create. Since nvALT allows for an external editor, I can hit one keyboard command (Command-Shift-E for those keeping score) and open whatever I started up in Byword. Since I’m editing the same file, anything opened in one is saved in the other. Pretty much everything you read on the site, with the exception of the Techie Scheky (And this very post for that matter) are written in this manner.
Starting With A Plan
When writing more robust articles, posts where I know what I want to say, but haven’t quite figured out the details, I start with a mind map. Depending on where I am, I will either fire up iThoughts HD on my iPad or MindNode Pro on my Mac and layout the structure. Creating these visuals goes a long way towards helping me think things through, but this is only the beginning of what you can do. Once I’m happy with the outline, I can save the file in a way that can actually be imported into my other favorite writing application, Scrivener. Through the magic of OPML, the mind map can be converted into a functional outline within Scrivener. The outline allows me to write in each section of the mind map within Scrivener and quickly rearrange the sections once I’m finished. It makes it easy to see as much or as little of my project as I desire, helping me to either focus in on a single section or edit the document as a whole. Nothing has proven more effective when I need to keep my focus and want to make a very specific point.
One Informs The Other
Regardless of where I start, it’s inevitable that one style will end up informing the other. Free work craves some level of structure and structured work requires a bit of freedom in order to keep things interesting. Be it through editing, rewriting or scrapping some of what is written in nvALT, structure always gets added for the sake of clarity (hell, sometimes I even open up a mind map for a particularly tricky post). To keep the structured work from feeling stale I will often focus in on a single section when writing or leverage Scrivener’s full screen mode to help me break out of whatever mold I’ve imposed upon myself. Every now and again, if I feel a particular section is suffering, I will play around with the ideas in Byword to help breathe a little more life into the words on the screen. Finding the right balance can be tough and in my experience, limited as it might be, every piece seeks its own equilibrium.
I’ve only touched the surface of the apps I’m using to write as I really want you to imagine how you may be able to use these ideas with whichever tools you choose. If you are curious as to how you can make more of each, I’ve offered up detailed explanations of how I’m using Simplenote, nvALT, Byword, iThoughts HD and Scrivener (I’m sure the mind maps workflow was confusing, but this should walk you through it step-by-step). This is all still very much a work in progress, but the longer I create with these tools, the more I’m starting to feel like my arsenal of tools, as well as my own personal philosophy on writing, is really coming together.
That said, I’m always up to learn something new and would love to hear what is working for you. What are your favorite tools for taking the ideas in your head and bringing them into the world?
For those who are curious, the original post was first written freeform in nvALT and Byword. This far more structured post began by creating the mind map below in MindNode Pro and was written in Scrivener. Unsurprisingly, the original piece needed significant editing for clarity while this post was written one section at a time to keep things lively (hopefully).
Update: A few people mentioned that this image only served to make this look complicated. It’s not. In fact, I created a screencast that shows just how easy it is!