Note: If you are coming over from Frank Dickinson’s blog, welcome! If not, you should be sure to check out the companion post over on his site.
Frank Dickinson was kind/foolish enough to let share a guest post on blogging tools vs. writing tools over on his Creating Conversations blog . Considering I’m a jewelry guy at heart, I couldn’t help but work some of my thinking into what I am aptly calling the 4C’s of Blogging. For those keeping score, they are Consumption, Curation, Context and Creation. Originally this was all part of the same post, but I had a moment of clarity and decided that a 1500 words guest post may be a little presumptuous. With this in mind, I want to share a few of the tools that have helped me grow from the world’s most inconsistent blogger to someone who manages to hit publish five days a week.
You might wonder why I’m talking about reading in a post about writing… Two reasons: 1) If you aren’t reading great content, you probably aren’t creating it and 2) If you aren’t taking advantage of the speed and simplicity of RSS Readers and offline reading services like Instapaper, you are taking a lot of time away from your writing. The goal is to read as much good stuff as possible and start to develop a system for storing up content you want to comment on, add context to or better yet, get inspired by to create something of your own. I tend to do all of my reading on iOS devices, use Reeder for reviewing my threads and Instapaper for reading and sharing.
Publishing with any kind of frequency can take some getting used to, so I am a big believer in starting off with a curation project. This ensures that you keep your reading (or watching, if videos are your thing) up and gets you into the habit of hitting the publish button. While I was never a big user of bookmarking services like Delicious, I’ve become a big fan of Tumblr for exactly this kind of quick curation. One of my favorite “power user” features in Instapaper is the ability to highlight a passage and share it as a quote or post. This is how the bulk of my “Smarter Than I Am” daily posts are created.
If your blog is a side project or even a hobby like mine, you may seriously want to consider adding in some contextual posts. This is where you share a passage from someone else’s post (with attribution of course) and add your own spin to what the writer said. I offer up two a week on my own site every Tuesdays and Thursday. Selflessly, these serve as a great way to expose your readers to new voices while giving link love to those whom inspire you. Selfishly, it is a easy way to keep on top of your content creation and adds a diversity of voices to your site. When I am doing my reading in Instapaper, I add interesting stories to a “To Post” folder in Instapaper. Once a week or so, I pull my favorites into a text editor, add my thoughts and format for posting.
This is where we really separate the bloggers from people who have a blog. There are tons of philosophies on how to create, how often to create, why to create and beyond. Since you’ve stuck around this long, let me share mine.
I believe in the power of ubiquitous capture. It doesn’t matter if you use a notebook or an app, you always need to have a way to collect your thoughts on the go. Occasionally you are able to jump right in when inspiration strikes and finish a post, but more often than not, this process of collecting ideas will give you a wealth of choices when you finally make time to write. Since I can barely read my own handwriting, I go the app route. I know that many use Evernote for this kind of on-the-go capture, but I tend to avoid it in favor of Simplenote. It is ideal for quick capture and works flawlessly with TextExpander (which will save you HOURS if you find yourself constantly writing the same things over and over again). Best yet, it integrates seamlessly with applications on both the Mac and PC, my favorite being a free Mac app called nvALT. Type a note in your phone and it appears seamlessly on your computer. Make a change on your computer, and it shows up on your phone or iPad for additional on-the-go edits.
While much of my writing takes place between Simplenote on the Subway and nvALT at my dining room table, there is often the need for something a little more powerful. While Simplenote/nvALT is great for freeform writing, it isn’t exactly ideal for larger, more structured projects. For more substantial efforts I count on the combination of iThoughts HD on my iPad and Scrivener for my Mac. An article or tech review will start out as a mind map in iThoughts and through the almighty power of Dropbox, it can easily be imported into Scrivener as an outline. When I can’t afford to get off on a tangent or the scope of the project is just too large to wrap my brain around, I depend on mind maps to keep me focused.
This probably seems like a lot and it probably is, but it works for me. I’m getting more writing done than ever before. The trick isn’t to do as I do1, but to try a few things and seek to find your own system. Seek out the sweet spot I spoke about in my guest post for Frank. The one where the technology gets out of your way and helps you get your best work done.
Most of the links above lead to posts from the Techie Scheky series which offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac). To learn more, subscribe for free by Email or RSS.
- Although that is as good an idea as any… [↩]