Note: The following has been slightly edited from this Reddit post I made recently. Feel free to join in on the discussion there.
A few years ago, I wrote a post on Reddit called Five Tools I Personally Use to Write Better, and a lot has changed for me in that time, so I thought I’d write another one about five more things I do that have developed since that original post three years ago.
To give some context, I’ve written full-time since around 2010, and I write primarily non-fiction in the gambling/casino space.
1. A Portable Bluetooth Keyboard
Like plenty of people, I have my phone with me most of the time (an iPhone 5s because I refuse to upgrade to something to size of a small tablet). I picked up a small, portable Bluetooth keyboard from Amazon for less than $20 that paid for itself inside of 24 hours.
It folds in half and fits easily in my jacket pocket. I have plenty of times when I’m somewhere and just sitting and waiting (waiting in a lobby, waiting in a restaurant, wherever), and I don’t like taking my laptop with me everywhere I go. Now I can unfold it, wait a couple of seconds for it to connect and bang away in a Google Docs document.
2. Timing My Writing Differently
For a long time, I would have words-based goals for my writing. For example, I might sit down in a session wanting to do around 1,500 words or whatever number seemed like a good idea at the time.
Instead, I do things differently now. I focus primarily on tracking the amount of time I spend during my writing sessions.
This morning, for example, I decided that I needed to get in about 120 minutes worth. I don’t worry too much about the word counts, so if it turns out to be 500 words or 5,000 words, that’s not the point. All of my tracking is based around the length of time I spend in a session.
All I care about is putting the time in, and it’s helped me to be more productive than I’ve probably ever been since I started writing. I’m also a lot less stressed from trying to bang out words that just aren’t going to happen.
3. A Separate Work Computer
I can’t remember where I read it, but I read something that stuck with me and really changed how I shape my work environment:
All else being equal, having distractions that are easily accessible is probably worse than those distractions not being easily accessible.
So now I have a cheap work computer with Linux (fewer game options to distract me) on it hooked up at my desk that I use for nothing but writing. It has local network access to sync up my work to my other computers and to print, but it does not have Internet access (see point #2 from my older post). My main laptop is put away in another room each night before I go to bed, and I start into a work session first thing each morning after I’ve had a shower and gotten dressed.
At the time of this writing, there are cheap laptop options for $50-60 on eBay that would be great for a dedicated writing machine.
Since it doesn’t have Internet access, I have to do something for my reference and notes…
4. Preparing Notes Ahead of Time
In my previous post that I linked to, I said that I used Microsoft OneNote to keep up with my notes (point 3). OneNote has updated since that post to change a lot of things that I liked about it to the point that I no longer like it.
And that leads us to CherryTree.
There’s a simple note-taking program called CherryTree that works on both Windows and Linux. It basically just gives you a tree structure in a column on the left-hand side, and each spot on the tree structure has an associated rich-text document panel on the right for notes and so on. Since rich-text can handle images or just copy/pasting in from a website, it’s really easy to save my notes in this format.
I prepare my notes ahead of time on my main laptop, and I copy the CherryTree file over to a network folder that can be accessed from my work computer. It doesn’t take very long, and I actually save time overall since I don’t have to bounce back and forth between what I’m writing and looking up what I’m trying to find in terms of reference material (which could often lead me down a Wikipedia binge if I had Internet access while writing that completely kills my productivity).
5. Taking Care of Your Body
I’ve managed to stay in pretty decent shape considering I haven’t regularly worked out since high school. However, this past fall, I started running a few times each week, and it’s helped to improve my writing more than I know how to explain in words. I feel like I put together sentences more easily, and I more easily get into a “flow state” where I’m producing a lot of work at a high level of efficiency.
So put these things together, and I’ve changed a fair amount of what I do and how I do it for the better since my last long post on the topic. I hope other people can share what works for them as well.