Every writer has his or her own process and tools. Some write in isolation, others in crowded places. Some are all digital and others only turn to a computer when everything is outlined and ready to roll. I enjoy learning how other writers go about their craft. It can spark some new ideas or teach me something to help me as a writer. What follows is my process with the tools I use. I don’t mean the creative and intellectual process. I mean the actual machination of creating a written piece.
Evernote is where I collect ideas. It’s a cabinet for writing ingredients and half baked ideas. It links with e-readers and web browsers so quotes and links are easy to save. The immediate sync between mobile app and computer makes it incredibly smooth to use any time. When I find an idea, have a thought, see a link or quote I can save it in just a few seconds and revisit later when I need writing ideas. Like any cabinet or storage space it periodically needs to be cleaned out and organized. Going back to do this allows me to rediscover forgotten thoughts or inspirations, and usually, after letting them sit for a while it’s pretty clear which ideas can be discarded.
I love Moleskine notebooks. Why these slightly more expensive ones instead of any old bound notebook? I could argue their quality; they are nicer than most other notebooks. Really, though, it’s all psychological. Just as an Apple computer makes users feel creative and forward thinking and a nice suit is dressing for success so a Moleskine makes users feel like a writer. To me that matters.
I outline every piece I write by hand before actually composing it. Sometimes this is just a few bullet points (like this post), but I do the same for every section of every chapter in my books and every talk or message I give. Sometimes I write out full sentences or phrases I want to incorporate later and other times it’s just key words or subject lines to build the thought process. Outlining by hand slows my mind down and allows me to connect ideas I might otherwise have missed. For me typing feels more mechanical, a means to produce a finished product. Hand writing allows creativity and imagination to lead the way in building an idea.
If you’re going to use a particular notebook you must also use a particular writing utensil (sort of an unwritten rule). I abhor pencils and get annoyed at cheap junk pens. Ball point pens are for signing receipts and filling out forms at the dentist. I can’t use fountain pens and even if I could I think I’d find them to be a nuisance. So this is my favorite pen. It writes clearly without smearing or pooling. It is smooth, and it’s not insanely expensive. I use them for all writing projects and for work.
Yes, it’s an addiction. No, I feel no shame about it. In reality, though, as someone with a full time job and a family I end up doing much of my writing in the evenings after my kids are in bed and I need a mental kick even to just get a couple of productive hours in before falling asleep. As every parent knows, we’re always tired, so to write well at any time of day means we need a pick-me-up. Plus it’s delicious and sanctifying and a good gift from God. Drink up.
After collecting my ideas, outlining them to whatever level is necessary, then I type it up. This process varies from piece to piece. Sometimes the outline almost is the article. Other times it is jut a few mile markers with lots of space between for me to fill in. This is the prose and craft part of the job. If Evernote is the storage cabinet and my Moleskine holds the idea and the framework, this is the part where I piece it together and give it some polish. By the time I sit down to do this I want to know what I am writing, at least generally, how I will do so. What it looks and feels like in the process? Well, that is the fun of writing.
This article is modified from a piece I wrote for The Blazing Center some time ago.