My writing tools

Welcome to the second post on my writing process. In the previous post, I talked about the rhythms of writing. At the end of that exercise, I started thinking about the kinds of tasks that that these rhythms comprise and I started thinking about types of tools I will need to use, like:

  • Reading management
  • Note taking
  • Time management
  • Task management
  • Reference management
  • Idea mapping
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Publishing

How to take that list and think about it in a way that helps me be more efficient and mindful? Here I turned to another inspiration, Beck Tench, whose intentionality and grace I admire as much as I do the boundless creativity she brings to her life and work. We sat next to each other at MCN2018 and had a deep conversation about daily writing practices, bullet journals, mindfulness, and studying. When I got home, I revisited her website to look at her post on her academic workflow. You should also check it out if you’re interested. It got me thinking about the tools I use and how I do use them, and should use them.

Time for a flowchart.

Over the next few days, I started a list of the tools I used in my daily work and before long, it had become much, much longer than I thought possible. Initial versions were a thicket of arrows going hither and yon; a real mess! And every time I thought I’d finished, I’d realize I’d forgotten another one. As I wrote them down, I could start to see how messy and unmindful I was about using them. Loads of overlap, lots of duplication resulting from haste, version control issues, lack of organization, all the usual digital clutter.

So I started trying to prune the thicket and make a more logical flowchart, and began writing down how I intended to use (and not use) my tools on this book. Here’s my list, as of January 2019:


  • Mac laptop
  • Books, articles, websites
  • Paper journals and notebooks
  • So many pens

Mac laptop: The primary workspace for writing. The directories here are the primary sources of truth during the solo writing processes. Backups are saved to Google Drive, Dropbox, and Time Machine, but they are merely mirrors. The exception is the Google Drive book directory where the collaboration on the drafts occurs.

Books, articles, websites: I will keep a running bibliography of what I’m reading on the Drive and on WordPress. Can’t ever have enough.

Paper journals and notebooks: I’m a tactile sort, I like to write. My notebooks are my short term receptacles of notes, tasks, etc… that are waiting to be added to repos like Evernote or Scrivener. Calendar tasks are still TBD, but need to play nicely with work GCal. I’ve used mostly Moleskines for years, but I’m having a field day with cheaper Muji B5 softcovers. Is it only a matter of time til I buy a Leuchtturm 1917 like so many others? We’ll see.

So many pens: You can never have enough pens and pencils. I’ve long been a fountain pen writer, which proves I’m a masochist since I’m left handed and have to write verrrry slowly if I’m not going to immediately smear what I’ve just written with my hand. For quicker stuff, I’ve been hooked on Muji pens for awhile. They’re cheap, come in a lot of ball sizes (I tend towards either 0.38 or 0.50) and write really well.

Software tools

  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • Gmail
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Drive
  • Mendeley
  • Microsoft Office (Word, really)
  • Scrivener
  • Twitter
  • WordPress

Adobe Acrobat: PDF reader/OCR engine. I read PDFs in Acrobat and hand take notes. I OCR PDFs that need it, so I can cut and paste into Evernote or Scrivener. I convert other formats to PDF so they can be read, marked up, and clipped. Everything goes into Mendeley.

Dropbox: My file backup solution and sync manager. I use Dropbox to keep my files backed up, and to make sure my working files are synced between my laptop, work machine, and home desktop. I don’t use it as a public-facing tool.

Evernote: The note taking app for books and articles I’m reading, where I transfer handwritten notes to text, and Web clipper I use to catch things on the web while researching; particularly webpages. PDFs tend to go straight into Mendeley. URLs should be turned into stable URLs using the Wayback Machine’s Save Page Now feature and then imported to Mendeley. Super helpful! Evernote is where I hold notes until they’re ready to be moved into Scrivener.

Gmail: Primary tool for one to one communication, using the address and account. Keeping book emails out of work and private email will require constant care.

Google Chrome: Default web browser and interface to Google Drive and Gmail. It’s loaded with extensions for Dropbox, Evernote, Mendeley, and more. This is where I look for information online.

Google Drive: The public collaboration tool that holds the documents that I will use to write the book, and a copy of my Mendeley references directory. Writings from Scrivener will go into Docs. Finished docs will go into Scrivener and thence Word.

Mendeley: Reference manager. I know their are other tools out there like Zotero, but my sunk cost in a Mendeley database that is many years old (all my thesis references!) is enough to make me want to not learn yet another system in order to make this book. All references go here; books, articles (as PDFs), URLs (as Wayback Machine durable URLS). Mendeley has nice integration with Office, so it can auto-generate notes, bibliographies, and a ToC. I use the Chrome extension to clip PDFs straight to the database.

Microsoft Office (Word, really): Word is the tool that will be use to assemble Google Drive docs into a formatted draft for editing by selected editors. No writing should be happening in Word, just formatting and editing.

Scrivener: My primary writing platform for years. Scrivener is where I do all my thinky think writing and idea assembly. Assets are pulled in from Evernote, Mendeley, etc… and pushed around and added to until they’re stable drafts. Drafts get compiled as RTF and sent to Google Drive for public comment and editing, or get sent to WordPress as blogpost drafts.

Twitter: Twitter is the social media platform where I ask questions of the hive mind and share provocations as they occur to me. I use Twitter to ask my network for examples, references, and leads to new work.

Wayback Machine:’s webpage archiving feature is a godsend. My blog is already full of dead links from sites that’ve closed or renamed, so being able to cite a URL that others can find is no easy feat. Luckily, the Wayback Machine has a “ Save Page Now” feature, where you can input a URL, and have them archive it and generate a stable URL that should be good as long as they last. It doesn’t work on every page, but thus far it’s been OK for me, where I’m reading news items and blogs.

WordPress: Web publishing platform. I use my WordPress site ( as the public landing page for the book. There is a part of the site dedicated to the book that gives potential collaborators the information they need to find the Drive directory where the collaboration is happening. I also post updates here on the work in progress, and pose questions that are broadly interesting. Given historical trends, I don’t expect a lot of comments here.

Next book post will look at opportunities for collaboration!