Tools, tips, and tricks for a writing life


Nice to see some process pieces. I’m always curious about people’s setups. I’m way too old (in a crotchety way) to reinstall linux every six months, but thinking about walking desks and different note-taking systems scratches that itch nicely.

The walking desk setup is intriguing, but I’ve hiked so much that I find walking clears my head (and hence may not be conducive to doing actual work). Clearly that’s not been the case with you, Maggie?

I find it’s great for some kinds of work and terrible for others. I use it a lot when I’m researching and need to be just reading stuff (a task that is easy for me to distract myself from or get sleepy while doing) and I use it when sending emails (same problem, though less of the sleepies). The walking desk keeps me focused and awake then.

But it’s awful for writing. And even worse for organizing information into an outline as part of the pre-writing process. So I have a sit-down desk, too.

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This was a great piece. It was very informative and you came across as even more personable than usual. It also inspires me to do more with my time and my life, but I’ll just sit here quietly for a moment and wait for that urge to go away.

Oddly enough this makes me quite happy to read. I’ve tried writing from a stationary bike and a treadmill and in neither case was I able to churn out anything beyond tweet-level statements. That said, I didn’t do any better with trying to read from those same devices, although I’m more than capable of digesting video content while exercising. There’s a story here, Maggie, and I hope it’s not that I’m dumb as a box of beautiful, beautiful rocks…
And maybe I missed it in the article, but how do you capture the mental-light-bulb stories that come up at random moments–cheap notepad? And do you prepare any work in longhand, or are you a digital-only writer?

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how do you capture the mental-light-bulb stories that come up at random moments-

In the past, it was cheap notepad. Now it’s slightly-less-cheap Livescribe pen notepad. The cost difference isn’t much. But whatever I write on that pad gets uploaded to Evernote automatically, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting about it or trying to consolidate notebooks or whatever. It’s just a little flip-pad sized thing that fits in my purse and I carry it and the pen with me everywhere.

And do you prepare any work in longhand, or are you a digital-only writer?

Almost entirely digital-only. Though I do frequently make outlines and take notes offline. If I’m having trouble with a story, I’ll print out all the interviews and read through/make notes that way and write up the outline freehand.

Great questions! Hope that’s helpful

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Forgot about the Livescribe–a co-worker uses it to record meeting minutes and professes a similar amount of love, especially since (according to her) the mic is sensitive enough to pick up whispered conversations that might not be suitable for the audience at large.
The more I think about it, the Livescribe seems to be the way to go for me as well. As an ADD person, I generally have twenty scraps of paper around my office, all with scribbles of some sort that might be useful in the future but then again might not. Between the pen and Evernote, chucking the less useful stuff (or compartmentalizing it in some way, just in case) would be easier and likely more fruitful.
I’ve come across DEVONthink before, but went with Scrivener as a writing tool, even though I think Evernote combined with any writing software could be similarly useful.
In any case, great article! As voidptr said up above, it’s always neat to see how other folks organize and execute their writing.

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