The modern writer’s toolbox

The modern writer sits at the intersection of the digital and the analogue. Both sets of tools have their equal power in enabling the writing process.

Throughout my (short) writing career, I’ve walked the fine line between digital and analogue tools to facilitate getting words out of my head and into the world.

I try to maintain the philosophy that no tool is superior to another; I try not to engage in the epic battles of technology – Windows vs. OS X, Android vs. iOS… Etc. You’ve got to discern for yourself what setup is right for you, what combination of tools will help get those words down on the page. At the end of the day, it’s the content that matters far more than what was used to create it. Technology – both digital and analogue – is just a conduit for ideas to transfer from the mind to the page (or screen).

My setup isn’t perfect, and it’s constantly evolving – such is the nature of technology – but it works. And I like it.

When I’m on the go, I capture thoughts on Evernote. It’s on my Mac and iPad too, so my ideas are with me no matter where I am. I store ideas for possible blog posts in there too, but if I have to write a post while away from my laptop (such as now with this post) then the WordPress app for iPhone is great. In landscape mode it offers a nice typing experience on a touch screen, and helps productivity by only showing a few lines at a time.

I’m still busy on that elusive manuscript, and Scrivener by Literature & Latte is unparalleled for complex, exceedingly long form work. Coupled with my MacBook’s chiclet keyboard, it’s the best creative environment for weathering the storm of words that is a novel. My drafts are always backed up automatically with Dropbox.

But like the great postmodernist architect Robert Venturi posited, complexity and contradiction adds wonderful colour to the palette of life. So when things get too loud, when the chatter generated by tech gets too much, it’s time to break out the Moleskine ruled notebook and my trusty Parker Sonnet. Writing longhand with a fountain pen is a deeply meditative experience. It slows down life, allows you to contemplate things wonderfully. There’s no live word count, hyperlinking, hastagging or entire Internet. It’s just you, the writer, your mind, and the infinite possibilities of the blank pages.

The digital is quickly overtaking the analogue; as a techno person myself I love embracing new ideas and software. But I find mixing digital and analogue tools adds great variety to my writing pursuit and keeps things fresh.

The modern writer is faced with a world that is changing at an unprecedented rate. Writing is becoming a critical way of chronicling this new dawn, and the right system of tools – from both the analogue and digital worlds – will be the weapons of choice to face this battle.

A Tango with Evernote

I may be an old-school aficionado of Moleskine notebooks, a huge fan of the brand and a devout user of the classic and traditional way of capturing ideas. But lately, I’ve decided to branch out, if you like, trying out a little experiment: a tango of sorts, with a little piece of software called Evernote.

Evernote is a web-based note taking application, but the beauty in the software lies in its extensibility: the service can be accessed from virtually anywhere, and with a native app for most popular smartphones (Apple iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and even the iPad and iPod touch), one can live safe in the knowledge that one’s thoughts, ideas and plans are kept safe from physical destruction. Because, after all, even the legendary Moleskines are vulnerable to the nemesis that is spilt coffee.

Evernote works by organizing your notes into notebooks: think of them as mini files in a larger, digital filing cabinet that you can carry with you wherever you go. What I truly like about the service is the synergy it presents between the traditional and modern method of capturing thoughts: Evernote allows one to capture handwritten notes with a phone camera or by scanning the image, so that all ideas are stored safely in the cybersphere.

how i use evernote

I am the editor of my school’s recently-launched blog, and as such this position means that I constantly need to manage incoming posts, plan editorial meetings, draft my own editorial posts and keep everything in equilibrium between the ten writers, a cartoonist and co-editor. This can be a monstrous job to tame, and I am aided by Evernote in managing the entire system. I keep a separate notebook for the blog, in which I deposit notes on agendas for meetings, ideas for blog posts and content for the site, and random thoughts and images that could potentially become new services we could launch. I even run the editorial meetings directly off Evernote on my BlackBerry: the agenda is compiled in Evernote for Mac during the week, and through the sync feature, I can walk into the Friday meeting with the digital agenda ready on my phone’s screen.

Evernote is like a second extension to my brain – the first being my trusted companion, my classic black Moleskine pocket notebook – and I use it to deposit numerous ideas for blog posts for this blog. Although I’m unable, due to time constraints, to work on my book, whenever I find something useful it goes straight into my Evernote digital notebook, where I can later transfer it into Scrivener (where the entire novel is kept safely).

This is a great app to use for managing your life – both offline and online. Try it for yourself – and watch your productivity soar.