Tag: writing tools

Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 25: Five Use Cases for Managing My Writing in Obsidian

shallow photoghrapy of black and gray type writer keys
Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

Years before I began using Obsidian, I’d wanted to consolidate all of my writing into a single format–preferably text files. I wanted all of my old writing files accessible in plain text, and wanted to do all future writing in the same format. Ideally, I would use a single editor for all of this and would only have to know a single set of keyboard mappings. Once I started using Obsidian, and learned more and more of its features, I began to do what I’d I’d always wanted: centralize all of my writing–all of it–in a single place.

This episode, and the several that follow will describe how I’ve centralized all of my writing in Obsidian. I’ll begin with how I use Obsidian for my “professional” writing, illustrated through 5 use cases.

Professional writing?

In addition to this blog and my day job as an application developer and project manager, I also write stories and articles for publication. I began to write with the idea to sell stories almost 30 years ago, while still in college. It took 14 years of writing, submitting, and collecting rejections before I made my first professional story sale. Sales came quicker, and I branched out from writing stories to writing articles as well. Writing short fiction and nonfiction pieces was never going to take over from my day job as my primary source of income, but it was my avocation: something I’d always wanted to do and something that I really enjoyed doing.

Over the years, I’ve used all kinds of tools for my writing. When I began to write in college I was composing my stories in Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS–still my favorite word processor to this day. I moved onto other tools. I was a long-time user of Scrivener, and later, Google Docs. When I began using Obsidian more than 15 months ago, I decided that I wanted to do all my writing there. Moreover my vault could serve as the repository for all of my writing.

Writing as a profession–even one as humble as mine–involves more than just typing words onto a page. I have identified 5 tasks I perform as part of the overall process of managing my writing. They are:

  1. Writing drafts
  2. Managing writing projects
  3. Tracking submissions
  4. Tracking sales and contracts
  5. Seeing the big picture

Prerequisites

There are a couple of tools I use in conjunction with Obsidian to make the overall process smooth and seamless.

  • Templater plug-in. I use this to build a set of writing-related templates so that I am not re-inventing the wheel every time I create a new draft manuscript note, or a new submissions note.
  • Quick Add plug-in. I use this to speed up the process of creation and to populate some of the meta-data in my templates.
  • Dataview plug-in. I use this in my “writing project” notes for collecting together related information about the project in one place. Because the dataview plug-in does not actually link notes together, I have, as you will see, taken additional steps to ensure that all of my writing notes have links within them to keep them related to their projects. This serves as a kind of backup to the dataview plug-in.
  • Pandoc. I use this to automate compiling a draft note into standard manuscript format. Standard manuscript format is used by most of the professional publications that I have worked with. It is a simple set of guidelines for formatting a manuscript that takes the job of figuring out how to format a document out of the writer’s hand. This is a good thing since getting bogged down in formatting is a good way to avoid writing.

Use Case 1: Writing Drafts

My process for actually sitting down to write in Obsidian is straight-forward:

  1. Create a new note using a New Manuscript Draft template via the Quick Add plug-in. This creates a note with the appropriate meta-data at the top (the YAML frontmatter) and a callout footer with a link to the project. It also automatically files the note into my “Working Drafts” folder.
  2. Write. This is the activity where I try to spend the bulk of my time.

There isn’t much formatting involved in the types of manuscripts I produce. I use simple markdown for things like italicized text. I use markdown headings for sections or parts of a story or article. Otherwise, I just write. I do, however, have a process for working through my drafts that has evolved over the years and I have built that process into my workflow in Obsidian.

1st draft and 2 second drafts

When I create a new note using my New Manscript Draft template via the Quick Add plug-in, I am prompted for several pieces of information:

  • Draft title. This is often a working title. My first published story was called “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer,” for instance.
  • Project title. A name of the project that this piece is associated with. This is often an abbreviated version of the title. In the case of my first published story, the project name was “Learned Astronomer”
  • Draft: The draft version, 1st draft, 2nd draft, etc.

After providing this information, a new note is available to me with the meta-data in the YAML frontmatter of the note file, and a footer containing a hard Obsidian link to the project note. Now I can begin writing. Here is what it looks like in action:

My New Manuscript Draft template in action
My New Manuscript Draft template in action

At the bottom of my template, you’ll notice a callout section called “Note” which contains a link to the project name. Many of these notes are surfaced through the dataview plug-in, as you will see. However, the dataview plug-in does not create actual links between notes. The “footer” in my templates create links between the note and the project: in this case, between the draft and the project. This serves as a way to see the relationships in backlinks, or the graph view. It also serves as a kind of backup to the dataview itself.

The footer of my template, which creates a relationship between the draft and the project note.

For me, a typical story or article goes through two drafts. On rare occasions, I’ll have a third draft. Each draft gets its own note so I can see the evolution of the piece from one draft to another. These drafts are accessible from the project note, as I will demonstrate in Use Case 2.

Submitted and publication drafts

In addition to “1st”, “2nd”, and “3rd” draft, my template also provides me with two additional options: “Submitted draft” and “Publication draft.”

  • Submitted draft. This is a version of a piece that is formally submitted to a specific market. There can sometimes be several submitted drafts, each one tied to a specific market, slightly different based on feedback I have received, or changes I have made between submissions.
  • Publication draft. This is a version a piece that is ultimately published. This may differ slightly from the submitted draft. Some magazines and publishers provide authors with “galleys” of their piece set in type from which minor corrections can be introduced prior to publication. Changes I make on a galley get reflected in the publication draft.

Writing

Ultimately the creation of the new manuscript draft note takes just a few seconds. The templates and plug-ins help speed that process along and keep everything standardized so that I can get to the writing itself, which is what matters.

These templates and plug-ins eliminate a lot of overhead and allow me to focus on writing.

Compiling a manuscript with Pandoc

When I have a submission draft locked down, I will compile a manscript using Pandoc. Pandoc, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a tool that takes one format of text and converts it to another format. For my purposes, it takes a plain text markdown file and generates a Word document (or sometimes, a PDF) in standard manuscript format.

I have a simple command I run at the command line to do this. Because I’ve already set up a “standard manuscript” template in Pandoc, I run my command against a given note in Obsidian, and out comes a properly formatted Word document ready for submission. After running my command, Pandoc generates the manuscript. Here is an example of the first page of a manuscript that is produced (header information is made up for this purpose):

sample first page of "compiled" manuscript draft via Pandoc
Sample first page of a manuscript compiled from a text file using Pandoc.

Once again, this saves me time. I want to spend as much of my available “writing” time actually writing.

Use Case 2: Managing writing projects

If I manage to complete a draft, I create a “Writing Project” note. (If I give up, I trunk the draft.) I have a “New Writing Project” template that I use to create the project. Like the “New Manuscript Draft” template, it prompts me for a bunch of information, and the resulting project file gets places in a project folder.

animated gif showing how I create a new writing project
Creating a new writing project.

There are five sections to my New Writing Project template:

  1. Drafts: a dataview table listing all of the drafts associated with the project.
  2. Submissions: a dataview table listing all of the submissions associated with the project.
  3. Contracts: a dataview table listing all of the contracts associated with the project.
  4. Appearances: currently, a manually maintained list of places the piece has appeared, with links if available.
  5. Notes: notes and other items related to the project.

Here is an example of a Writing Project note from my first published story from back in 2007:

Writing Project note for my first published story, showing four of the five sections
Writing project note for my first published story.

Everything on the template, with the exception of the “Appearances” is automated so long as I use the same project name throughout the process. Below is what my actual Writing Project template looks like in source mode so that you can see the dataview queries:

a sample of my new writing project template
Template for my New Writing Project.


Once again, because the “footer” in my Manuscript Draft, Submission, and Contract templates contains a link to the project note, there are hard links between the notes, in addition to surfacing the related notes through the dataview plug-in. For instance, from the project note, I can see the backlinks to all of the related notes (drafts, submissions, etc.):

A view of a writing project with showing the backlinks to related notes
A view of a writing project with showing the backlinks to related notes

As indicated, the {{VALUE:Project Name}} comes from a Template configuration I have in the QuickAdd plug-in. That configuration looks as follows:

Quick Add plug-in configuration for my New Writing Project template
Quick Add plug-in configuration for my New Writing Project template

The result is that when I create a new draft, submission, or contract that uses the same project name in the meta-data, it will appear on the MOC for the project in question, surfaced in the dataview tables as well as the backlinks to the note.

I have a writing project MOC for every writing project for which I completed a first draft, even if the story or article was ultimately trunked. More on this in Use Case 5 below.

Use Case 3: Tracking submissions

When a story or article is ready for submission, I use my “New Submission” template. This prompts me for two pieces of information:

  • Project name
  • Market name

The market name is typically an abbreviated version of the market to which the piece is submitted (e.g., IGMS for InterGalactic Medicine Show, Daily Beast for The Daily Beast, etc.)

When the note is created, it is automatically filed in a Submissions folder. I then manually add a couple of additional pieces of information:

  • Submission date
  • A note link to the the submitted manuscript draft.

Recall that some projects may have multiple submission drafts. This link is what ties a specific draft to a specific market. Here is what a submission looks like:

animated gif showing how my New Submission template works
Creating a new submission.

When I hear back from a market, I will update the submission note. I’ll update the status, as necessary, and the status date. I will also make running notes in the note itself. For instance, if an editor requests changes, I’ll note the changes in the submission note that need to be incorporated into the published draft.

As I make these changes, or add new submissions, they are automatically captured on the Writing Project MOC for the project in question.

Here is a look at my New Submission template:

My New Submission template
My New Submission template

Use Case 4: Tracking sales and contracts

When a piece is sold, a contract usually follows that contains the terms of the sale, how much I am to be paid, and what rights I am selling. When this happens, I create Contract note using my New Contract template via the QuickAdd plug-in. The contract template collects information like:

  • project name
  • market
  • contract date
  • payment
  • contract terms/rights

This information goes into the meta-data of the note. I then manually add an embedded link to the PDF version of the contract. This note gets autmatically filed into my _documents folder. The contract is automatically listed in the “Contracts” section of the project MOC for the piece. For some projects, there may be more than one contract. This will happen for reprints or foreign sales, for instance.

Here is an example of what a contract note looks like. This one is for my story, “Take One For the Road” which appeared in the June 2010 issue of Analog Science Fiction:

Contract note for my story "Take One for the Road" (Analog SF, June 2011)
Contract note for my story “Take One for the Road” (Analog SF, June 2011)

The contract is automatically listed in the “Contract” section of the corresponding project note. Like my other templates, the contract template also has a “footer” with links to the project note and the corresponding market note, thus creating hard links in Obsidian between those notes.

Use Case 5: Seeing the big picture

Finally, I have a “Writing Projects MOC” note that lists all of my writing projects using the data view. It has three parts:

  • projects in progress
  • projects that have been complete/published
  • projects that have been trunked

This is the 50,000 foot view of my writing. It lets me see everything and then drill down into those project MOCs that I am interested in seeing in greater detail. Here is what my Writing Project MOC looks like today:

my master writing project note, listing all of my writing projects, active, completed, and trunked
Master “Writing Projects” note listing all of my writing projects, active, completed, and trunked.

The screen capture above cuts off after my first four “trunked” stories, but there are at least a hundred of them in that list, going back, as you can see to as early as January 1993, when I first began submitting.

There are other views I have as well. I can see tables showing me how much I was paid in a given year–useful for tax season. Or I can see a listing of publications by market. One thing I am working on is creating a template for appearances; this will essentially automate my bibliography.

Final thoughts

No solution is perfect for everyone. This one works well for me because it allows not only to do all of my writing in Obsidian (and in plain text files), but it allows me to manage my writing in plain text files as well. The dataviews are convenient for this, but not required. As I have shown, my templates also create hard links between projects and related notes so that I can see the relationships in backlinks, and graph view, in addition to the dataview tables.

There is certainly room for some improvement in my process. But that comes with time. I should also point out that I use this process for my paid writing. I have a similar, process for how I managed my writing here on the blog — but that will be the subject of next week’s episode.

I know there is a lot in this post. I am happy to try to answer any questions, technical or otherwise about managing my writing in Obsidian in the comment thread.

Prev: Episode 24: Use Case: How I Capture Field Notes in Obsidian
Next: Episode 26: Use Case: How I Manage My Blog Writing in Obsidian (coming April 12, 2022)

Written on March 24-26 and April 1, 2022.

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Distraction-Free Writing Tools

rewrite edit text on a typewriter
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There is an interesting article in the current issue of the New Yorker on “Can Distraction-Free Devices Change the Way We Write?” The article, by Julian Lucas, initially made me jealous. How I wish I could have written that piece for the New Yorker. But I soon realized that it was likely that I’d be able to do it. I like to think I have the writing skill. The problem is I am too distracted by distraction-free writing tools to actually sit down and write. Early in the piece, Lucas writes,

I’d fallen into the trap that the philosopher Jacques Derrida identified in an interview from the mid-nineties. “With the computer, everything is rapid and so easy,” he complained. “An interminable revision, an infinite analysis is already on the horizon.”

This seems to describe why I get very little non-blog writing done these days. I am constantly fiddling with writing tools, telling myself that this one will be the one to work for me. Indeed, after finishing the article, I decided to take another look at both Ulysses and iA Writer. I did this, of course, instead of writing, telling myself what I always tell myself. If I find the right tool, one with just the right set of features, one that eliminates distractions just so, all of my problems will be solved. In reality, the distraction is not all of the elements on the screen, not the endless notifications, not the array of features, but the very existence of the tools to begin with. The distraction is the search for perfection.

Yesterday, for instance, I wrote two posts for the blog. One (Episode 11 of my Practically Paperless series) came in at about 1,600 words. The other, a post that will go out a week from today, came in at 1,200 words and isn’t quite finished. That’s nearly 3,000 words of writing in a day, which is marvelous. It is not paid writing, but considering my full-time job and family obligations, 3,000 words is amazing. I wrote them entirely in the WordPress block editor tool inside my web browser. For some reason, I don’t hunt for writing tools for blogging. I sit down and write. I am more professional about my hobby than I am about my professional writing. The WordPress block editor let’s me get my work done. I don’t worry about “distraction-free” features. I just write.

Why can’t I do that for my fiction writing? Why do I feel compelled to revisit tools that I’ve tried before. I spent maybe an hour last night comparing the features of Ulysses and iA Writer. The former has packaged a lot of functionality and appears to be designed to get you from first draft to final manuscript. The latter’s focus is focus. Getting words on the page. I keep telling myself that if I could minimize the time I spent on all of the other stuff (formatting, tracking revisions, etc.) I could spent more time writing. Therefore, a tool like Ulysses is alluring: it helps with that stuff.

On the other hand, I am not writing, I am spending my time looking at tools for writing. iA Writer’s focus is on minimalist. It dumps all of the bells and whistles and says, just get to work, willya? It doesn’t format my manuscript the way Ulysses or Scrivener does, but then again, if I am not writing, I have no manuscript to format in the first place.

Later in the piece, Lucas discusses the FreeWrite Smart Typewriter:

Released in 2016, the Freewrite Smart Typewriter is a hefty little lunchbox of a machine with a noisy mechanical keyboard and an e-ink display the size of an index card. The user can type and backspace but not much else, and, with the default settings, only ten lines of text are visible at a time.

Back in late 2019 or early 2020, I got a FreeWrite. I told myself this would be the ultimate distraction-free writing tool, and that it would be the thing to get me writing again. After all, it looks and feels like a typewriter. The problem was that one of its noted features just doesn’t work for me: there are no arrow keys. You can backspace to edit, but you can’t go back and insert a word, or correct a typo. That’s just not how I write, so the FreeWrite has sat in a drawer for the better part of two years now, unused.

What I need is a tool like the WordPress block editor. It gives me the basic functionality I need to write, and nothing else. iA Writer seems to be closest to this model. It gives you the basic tools to write, and you just write. I love tools like Scrivener, but they combine many things into one. They are as much desktop publishing systems as Microsoft Word, and I don’t need a desktop publishing system.

I’ve often said that my favorite all-time word processor was Microsoft Word for DOS 5.5. This was back in the days before Word has a WYSIWYG display, and more features than there are words in this post. I transcribed all of my class notes in college into Microsoft Word for DOS. I wrote all of my papers there. And I wrote dozens of the first stories that I sent out to magazines on that word processor. I never thought about “distraction-free” because there were not distractions, just the words on the screen. WordPress’s block editor is like that: just words on a screen. And more so than Ulysses, iA Writer is also just words on a screen.

I will likely play around with iA Writer while on my holiday vacation. Maybe, I’ll pretend it is the only solution out there. If there is only one option, you get used to it. It is still possible to use Microsoft Word for DOS via DosBOX. There are reasons that people like George R. R. Martin and Robert J. Sawyer still use WordStar for DOS. It might be what they are used to, but I envy how distraction-free that writing must be.

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How I Work, January 2021 Edition

Way back in February 2014, I was interviewed as part of LifeHacker’s “How I Work” series. Nearly 7 years have passed since that interview. A lot has changed, both in the tools I use, and the way I think about productivity, so I thought it was about time I brought that interview up to date. Here, then, is how I work in January 2021.

The basics

Apps, software and tools I can’t live without

To say that I can’t live without any of these tools is a bit extreme. Indeed, if there has been a significant change in my overall productivity philosophy over the last seven years, it has been toward simplicity. In 2021, I am trying, as much as practical to get the most from the tools that come with the systems I use, adding additional tools only where absolutely necessary. With that said, here’s a glimpse of my infrastructure.

iCloud

Apple’s iCloud forms the foundation of my infrastructure. I recently merged our various Apple services into the Apple One Premier service, which includes 2 TB of data in iCloud. (We had 2 TB before but paid for it separately.) We all use Apple devices, and this allows us to manage the family accounts, and access our data from our various devices as needed. For storage, it also provides a kind of basic backup since the data is synced to the cloud.

Writing

Seven years ago, I was using Google Docs for all of my writing. In the intervening years I’ve gone back and forth between various writing apps: Scrivener, plain text (markdown) files, I’ve tried them all. Ultimately, I’ve come full circle. In college, I made the switch from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS, and that became my favorite word processor. I have now returned to Microsoft Word, doing all of my writing there. I made this decision for several reasons:

  • It is a proven word processor that has been around for a long time. Indeed, I can open Word documents I wrote in college 30 years ago with Microsoft Word today.
  • It provides a single interface for all of the writing I do. I write these blog post in Word, as well as stories (when I am able to write them). I write letters in Word. Any kind of writing that I do happens in Word.
  • I saved myself a lot of time and headaches by creating a set of templates I use for all of my writing. I have three: fiction, blog post, and personal letter. I don’t have to worry about formatting. I took the time to create the templates to avoid having to tinker while I write.
  • I stick to the basics. I don’t need the vast majority of Word’s functions, and I’ve adjusted my toolbar accordingly.
  • It makes it much easier to archive my documents, something I have been working on for a while now.

I don’t worry as much about tracking my writing as I did seven years ago. I write, and I tend not to look at how much. That means I’ve given up most of the infrastructure I built to track my writing. It felt freeing to do that.

I still use WordPress for the blog here. WordPress is a great piece of software, one of the few that I can say has never really caused me any trouble, and has always worked well.

Productivity

I’ve pared down the list of tools I use to stay productive over the last 7 years. Here are 5 that I use most frequently.

  • Pastebot. I don’t know why the Mac OS doesn’t come with a built-in clipboard manager, but it doesn’t. Pastebot fills this gap. This has been an invaluable tool for copy/paste productivity. Pastebot collects the things you copy (text, images, etc.) and allow you to instantly paste them from a history list. It integrates with iCloud so your copy history is accessible across devices. I probably use this a hundred times a day.
  • Keyboard Maestro. Great for text expanding, but it does a whole lot more. For instance, you can create useful workflows based on various events. I have one that copies the Clippings.txt file to a folder on my computer every time I plug in my Kindle.
  • LastPass. My favorite password management software. This has only gotten better in the 7+ years I have been using it. Nowadays, we use the Family addition so that everyone in the family can benefit from it.
  • Shortcuts. Once I figured out what Shortcuts were for on the iPhone, I embraced them, and I now have several that I created that have proven useful. My favorite is one I call “Let’s Nap” (as in, “Hey Siri, let’s nap). I use this when my 4-year-old and I lay down for a nap at lunchtime. When I tell Siri “let’s nap” my shortcut does the following: (1) checks for when my next meeting is, and if it is within the next hour, sets an alarm for 5 minutes before the start of the meeting; (2) puts my phone into Do Not Disturb mode for the same amount of time; (3) sets the volume of the phone to 12%; (4) turns on a playlist that we listen to as we drift off to sleep. It love it, and it works great!
  • A custom Safari home page. I created a custom Safari home page that every new tab and window opens to automatically. It has grouped jumping off points for the various things I do frequently. It’s kind of a like bookmark dashboard, but it makes it easy to get started with the most common tasks I do in Safari.
Example of my custom Safari homepage.
Example of my custom Safari home page

Reading

  • Audible. I’d been using Audible for just about a year when I was interviewed by Lifehacker. I mentioned how much more productive it made me because I could read more since I could listen to books while doing other things. That is still true today. Reading is how I continue to learn things, and Audible is an invaluable tool (and worthwhile investment) in my continuing education.
  • Kindle. If Audible has one downside, is that there is not a good way to highlight passages and take notes in the app. More and more, when I get a book from Audible, I also get the e-book. Particularly for nonfiction, this allows me to follow along, highlight passages, and take notes on what I am reading. While the e-books work on any Kindle app or device, my preferred device is my Kindle Oasis, since there are no other apps to distract me there.
  • Apple News+. This comes with the Apple One Premier service. I read a lot of magazines, and one thing I really like about Apple News+ is that many of the magazines I read are available there. For some I have separate print subscriptions because I like to read from something other than a screen now and then but having access to hundreds of magazines is useful.

Document management

  • Evernote. I don’t use Evernote for as many things as I used to, but I still use it to scan and manage important documents. Over the years I’ve pruned what I keep in Evernote, getting rid of things I never touched, and streamlining it. I almost never create notes manually. Most of what goes into Evernote these days are documents, either scanned or through some other automated process.
  • Apple Notes. This is what I use for more ephemeral notetaking. It is also where I keep various how-to notes, which I can easily share with the family.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i. My trusty ScanSnap is still going strong after all these years.

Data protection

I have a 3-tier approach to data protection that has evolved over the years:

  • Tier 1: iCloud. All of my working documents, notes, archive, etc. is stored in iCloud and so it is always synced between the devices I use.
  • Tier 2: Time Machine. My Mac Mini—which acts as our home server, has two 3-TB external disks. One of these disks is a Time Machine backup, that is backing up data hourly.
  • Tier 3: CrashPlan for Small Business. This backs up all of our home computers (including the external disks) and provides an added level of data protection that has come in handy on several occasions over the years, most recently when Kelly’s laptop got stalled on a system upgrade.

In addition, I use Express VPN when connecting my devices to networks that are not my own, for instance, when staying at a hotel, or connecting to public WiFi in a local park.

Development tools

I never mentioned the development tools I used back when I did the LifeHacker interview, but I figured now was a good time to correct that oversight.

  • Homebrew. The first thing I install upon setting up a new machine is LastPass. The second thing I install is homebrew, which installs all of the good packages that a Mac Unix system is missing.
  • Visual Studio Code. For years I used GitHub’s Atom editor for editing code. But in my day job, I’ve been using Visual Studio for years (decades, really). Now that Visual Studio Code is available on a Mac, I’ve been using that to do local development work, and I’m pretty impressed by its capabilities.

My workspace, circa 2021

I was primarily working from home even before the pandemic hit just about a year ago, so that was nothing new for me. But about 2 years ago, we sold our town house, and bought a house nearby. That house came with a sunroom that in turn became my office. So today, my workspace looks a lot different than it did 7 years ago. The desk is the same (although I’m looking to get a new one). But I now have a table that forms a U-shape that I sit in and provides me with a surface for writing on paper.

Annotated image of my workspace.

I am also surrounded by my books, and often use the old rail chair for reading the newspaper in the morning. I like bright spaces, and the windows on 3 sides of the room let in plenty of light.

The other side of my office, surrounded by books.

The only thing my workspace is missing at this point is a set of French doors that we’ve been telling ourselves we’d install ever since we moved into the house, to create more of a separation between my office and the living room.

My favorite to-do list manager

Well, it feels like I’ve tried them all over the years (most recently Things 3), but none of them prove to be much better than a pen and paper. So beginning this year, in order to have some semblance of order, I’ve switched to Apple Reminders—keeping with my philosophy of keeping things simple, and using system tools wherever possible. So far, that is working just fine. I often scribbling items in my Field Notes notebook, but if I need them beyond a day or so, I’ll add them to Reminders.

Besides phone and computer, what tool can I not live without?

My Field Notes notebook. I’ve had one of these notebooks in my pocket since 2015 now, I believe. They are useful for all kinds of things. Jotting notes and ideas, a convenient ruler for small measurements, a straight edge for drawing a straight line. Remembering someone’s name I just met (because I try to write names down, lest I forget). I have an annual subscription which I’ve happily renewed year after year and I look forward to each quarterly shipment of notebooks to see what creative thing the Field Notes folks have come up with.

My current Field Notes "Heavy Duty" notebook.

That’s how I work as of January 2021. I’m always looking for ways to improve so if you have suggestions or recommendations about things that work well for you, let me know about them.

Tools of the trade

With lots of people posting their initial impressions on Scrivener 2.0, I figured I’d talk about some of the other tools I use since I plan to write about my impressions of Scrivener 2.0 after I’ve completed NaNoWriMo.  Scrivener is, of course my main tool for writing because it does a whole lot of things very well. But there are other tools I use and these are listed below.

Tools for backups

As a writer, the stuff that I write is difficult to recreate should it be lost. Ultimately this is true of any data stored on computer and we have almost all experienced some sort of data loss from which we couldn’t recover. Here are the tools that I use to ensure that I never lose any data, whether its the story I’m working on, photos, music, research, whatever.

  • iDrive for Macintosh.  iDrive is a “cloud” backup application that backs your data up to the cloud.  The nice thing about iDrive is that you can backup up to 5 computers and so this software is used on my laptop, Kelly’s laptop and the desktop that acts as our server.  iDrive backs up small files in real time as changes are made.  For larger files, backups are scheduled nightly and as long as the computers remain on, the data gets backed up without thinking about it.  I pay for 500 GB (1/2 TB) of storage space and it costs about $100/year.  The very first backup (which backed up all my music, photos, videos, etc.) took a couple of days, even with the pretty high upload speeds that I have, but all subsequent backups are quick and if the computer is not connected at the scheduled time, the backup takes place the next time it’s connected.  Restores are easy (you can restore from anywhere using a web browser) and for full-restores they will send you a flash drive with your data if requested.  I sleep easy at night knowing that our stuff is always backed up.
  • Thumb drive backups.  After I finish a writing session, I take the extra precaution of backing up my writing data to a thumb drive.  I have an Automator script that I run on my mac that backs up all my writing files to the thumb drive.  This is perhaps paranoia on my part, but it makes sure that the stuff I write gets backed up if for some reason the iDrive backup doesn’t happen for a few hours.

Submission/story tracking

There are now lots of tools out there for tracking stories submissions and other business online, but my methods have evolved over 15 years and center around spreadsheets and so I stick with my own custom system.

The system makes use of a Google Docs spreadsheet–so that it accessible no matter where I go.  The spreadsheet has a number of tabs to track things in different ways:

  • Submission log: lists all of my submissions in order of date, going back to January 1993.  I track the story, market, current status, notes, final date, and number of days out for submission.  For rejections, the status links to either a copy of the gmail rejection message or a scanned in copy of rejection letter.  For acceptances, the entry links to the acceptance note and a copy of the contract and check, all of which are stored in Google Docs.
  • Publication log: lists all my publications by story, market, publication date, type (original, reprint) and payment.
  • Story log: list all my stories in order of completion.  Each story contains some summary information culled from the Submission Log: # of submissions, rejections, sales, publications and the total payments received for the piece.
  • Market log: an alphabetical list of all markets to which I have submitted, along with summary info like #submissions, rejections, sales, and the average response time.
  • Expense log: a list of all writing-related expenses along with links to scanned in copies of receipts for tax purposes.

Calendar and scheduling tools

I use Google Calendar for tracking writing-related events and progress.  I have a separate calendar called “Writing” on which I put anything writing related, whether its a meeting of the Arlington Writers Group, a science fiction convention, or other event.  I also use the calendar as my “timesheet” for tracking my time writing (important for tax purposes for certain types of write-offs).  Each writing session goes on the calendar with a subject something like this:

5-7am Far Away Places (1,635/23,924)

That tells me that on that day, between 5 and 7 am, added 1,635 words to the story Far Away Places, bringing the total word count to 23,924.  I will add other notes to indicate revisions, proofreading, research, outlining, etc.  I have ben using this method for over a year and it is simple and works well.  Once per quarter, I take the data from Google Calendar and export it to my spreadsheet where I can filter it and compute totals.  In fact, “Take One for the Road”, the story I recently sold to ANALOG, is the first story for which I can give an exact accounting of the total time I spent working on it from first conception to sale.

Domain, website and blog

For a few years now, I own and maintain three domains to use for my Internet presence: jamierubin.net, jamietoddrubin.com, and jamietoddrubin.net.  These domains host my website and blog, and these are the tools that I use to make it all work:

  • DirectNIC: this is the company I use for hosting my domain.  They are relatively inexpensive and provide a good set of tools for people wiling to do some grunt work (which means you have to know what you are doing).  One of the reasons I chose them is because they provide MySQL database access which is something I wanted for my website.
  • MySQL: I use this to manage databases, primarily the databases used by WordPress.
  • WordPress: I use a custom installation of WordPress which I installed on my own and customized some of the code and templates to meet my needs. My installation of WordPress automatically crossposts my blog entries to my LiveJournal account, as well as to Twitter and Facebook.

Other tools

A few other items worth mentioning:

  • Gmail.  I use it for all my email needs.  It is by far the best email system I have encountered and I’ve never had a problem with it.  At this point I have it highly customized to my needs, with labels, and filters that make going through my email easy.  All software should be this easy and intuitive to use.
  • Google Docs.  When I am away from my laptop, I rely heavily on Google Docs for writing-related functions.  While it’s no Scrivener, it’s the next best thing.  I can work on a story, or notes, or whatever and then copy or import them into Scrivener at a later time.

That about sums it up.  What tools do you use?