The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).
While what I am about to say is not true for everyone, it is sure has hell true for me: A blank page is the most terrifying part of writing. I don’t care if you are writing in a notebook, a Word document1 or a text file; it is just intimidating to looking at a whole lot of nothing. More often than not, the stress of staring down at a blank page and trying to decide out where to go next often leads to the same place… nowhere.
Now, there are two ways that I tend to write, the first is to quickly capture an idea in Simplenote and then allow myself to get lost in creating the post2. While this is great for the kinds of free-form pieces I traditionally post on Wednesdays, it isn’t ideal for more structured efforts like this series. Thankfully, David Sparks introduced an amazing workflow that has made it so I will never have to start a complicated project with a blank page again. By starting with a mind map in iThoughts HD and saving your thoughts in Dropbox you can create a fully outlined document in a word processor called Scrivener. Sounds complicated, right? It is, once you get the hang of this, there will be no going back.
What on earth are you talking about?
Ok let me try to boil this down a little bit by explaining what each application is and what it does:
IThoughts HD (Available in the iTunes App Store for $9.99) – Once you’ve come up with a title or an idea that you want to write about, this slick iPad application3 lets you create a new mind map with your thought initial already at the center4. For those who have never used them, Wikipedia defines a Mind Map as “a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea.”. Essentially it serves as a visual reference for whatever it is you are looking to create. iThoughts also integrates well with Dropbox which is what will help us to make the most our mind map a little later on in Scrivener.
Scrivener (Available at Literature and Latte for $455) – I’ll be honest, this Mac-based word processor6 has a learning curve (check out the Geeky Quick Tip at the bottom of this post for a great resource), but it is so very, very worth it. It offers a remarkable approach to writing and manipulating your words. By treating each segment (this can be a chapter, a paragraph or even a sentence) as its own card, you can quickly move things around without playing an endless awkward game of copy and paste. It even offers three modes, traditional word processor, outline and index cards so you have a variety of ways to play around with your thoughts. For those of you who are tied to or work with people who are tied to traditional (read: crappy) word processors like Word, fear not! Scrivener makes it easy to export and import from all of your “favorite” writing programs.
So why the hell is this any better?
I don’t know about you, but I hate outlining. 1) I suck at it. 2) See #1. It’s an awkward process and a full page worth of notes never does me much good once I try and get to work. Mind mapping however has proven to be a far more intuitive way to get ideas out of my brain and into the world. I’m able to quickly create a file that already based on any given idea and quickly start planning from there. Once I’m done or at a point where I feel like I am ready to get started, I simply save it in Dropbox in OPML format (this sounds geeky, but iThoughts HD makes this easy) and then import my outline into a new or existing Scrivener document. Each piece of my mind map is automatically converted into those cards I mentioned earlier that are titled with the text I added in the mind map. Once imported, it’s simply a matter of filling in the blanks rather than worry about that it is I want to write about.
Still lost? Let me show you!
Let me walk you through the process. This post started in iThoughts like this:
Then I added what are known as “siblings” and “children” off of the main idea until I had this:
From there, I saved it in Dropbox in OPML format:
After that, I jumped into Scrivener, imported the file and was left with this:
Once I have everything filled in, I jump into Scrivener’s full screen mode, read things over to make sure that the everything works together and do whatever editing is necessary to give the whole piece flow7.
I know… I know…
This must seem like a lot, but if you constantly find yourself battling the blank page, it has the potential to change the way you approach writing. Rather than wasting time trying (often fruitlessly) to figure out what to write, you can quickly organize your thoughts in a way that actually helps your thoughts out onto the screen. If you’ve stuck around this long, you’re going to want check out the quick tip below as there is solid gold for those of you looking to get a better idea of what Scrivener can do. Happy writing!
Geeky Quick Tip
This week, you get two tips for the price of one. A tip from your’s truly and one from the always amusing Yuvi Zalkow.
My quasi-useful tip: You can import new mind maps into existing ones maps… confused again? Let me show you: As you can see, the entire series started as its own mind map and as I continue to write, I create a new map for each post and add it to the original file. It’s useful if you want to think out the series as a whole, but then need a deeper focus in order to work out an individual post.
Yuvi’s far more useful tip: As I mentioned earlier, Scrivener has a fairly strong learning curve. I was quickly lost when I started out, thankfully Yuvi’s very thorough video will get set you straight:
Although I can’t understand for the life of me why you would do that to yourself… ↩
Sometimes this happens right away, but more often than not, I’ll come back to an idea later. ↩
There is also an iThoughts app for the iPhone, but I find it to be too small to be useful. ↩
Like I promised, no blank pages. ↩
They also have a window’s version now, but who gives a crap… ↩