Tools of the trade


Well ‘trade’ is something of a stretch but as I am trying to write more — and also I’m looking to find a more coherent strand in my writing that might lead towards a book of some kind — I have been revisiting the tools I use and the workflow (in the loosest possible sense) that I use.

For the last two years I have been writing all my blogposts as plain text files first. Initially I was using IA Writer but for the last year I have been working with Byword. I write in basic Markdown which Byword does a really nice job of converting to HTML or RTF as well as doing a nice job of exporting directly to WordPress and Medium which is where I publish for the most part.

It has been a flow that had been working fine but I have recently switched to using Ulysses as my primary writing software after reading a post from Matt Webb. His approach was pretty similar to mine and he was clearly taken with Ulysses enough to recommend it so I thought I’d give it a go. So far I’m liking it a lot — it has some nice ‘helpers’ for Markdown that don’t get in the way, handles images in a way that Byword wasn’t built for, has a useful all-in-one place approach for file management and syncs easily to iCloud which given how bad I am at backups is reassuring.

Like Byword it also exports really nicely to Medium which since I was able to map my own domain to my ‘publication’ has become my primary blogging platform. I’ve been (and remain) a big fan of WordPress for years but I have to be honest for pure blogging the experience on Medium is currently a lot better for me. The only things that had been holding me back were the lack of custom domains and RSS and both of those have now been resolved. Medium also allows me to give my posts a CC-BY license which is another plus. I have never been interested in hosting and managing my own blog — it is just the writing I care about — so this is an approach that suits me.

Elsewhere I use Evernote for research really — I do very little writing there just the occasional note to self — but it is the main repository for anything I find interesting anywhere on the web and I use a lightweight version of the ‘tags’ system for making sense of it.

I still subscribe to hundreds of feeds using Feedly Pro — I do wonder how many people still bother using RSS readers but I have never got out of the habit and the fact I can send items straight to Evernote is great (I’d love it to be easier to send longer pieces straight to my Kindle as well though — you can set something up with IFTTT but its a little flakey.)

Inspired by Warren Ellis I also always carry a small ideas notebook — he recommends Field Notes but I prefer the Moleskine Cahier pocket journals — and using Pilot Frixion erasable pens which I have to say I swear by now. To be honest much as I try I fail to use the notebooks in any kind of structured way and my scribbles often take a LOT of decoding but I find the process of getting stuff out of my head works better if there is an analog step.