Reading Viticci’s My Dropbox Writing Workflow has been, admittedly, a fun ride. Whatever it is you do, you should always treat your workflow seriously, and by perfecting it you become, if not more productive, at least a bit more efficient. If you take the time to read how Viticci has organised his writing workflow, I’m sure you’ll admire his organisation. Everyone has their methods, and I believe it’s silly to criticise other people’s ways of getting things done only because they’re different from ours. That said, I am a writer too, I too believe in synchronised writing, but my writing workflow approach is very different. It starts exactly from Viticci’s conclusion:
In thinking about a proper conclusion for this post, it occurred to me that the best way to sum up the possibilities offered by Dropbox to writers and note-takers is this: with just a folder, you can fine-tune your workflow using the apps you prefer. It’s a liberating effect: the text is there, and it will be there no matter how many apps you try or how much you tinker. Ultimately, it just comes down to writing.
Fewer tools, more writing
One of the things I love most about being a writer is that writing isn’t a particularly demanding task, tool-wise. You can achieve the most complex and beautiful results — a novel of Stephensonian magnitude, a research paper, a scientific essay — with very simple tools, starting with pen & paper. Using a computer is, of course, more practical nowadays, because it lets you manage your documents with great ease and convenience. And now that everyone is loving the cloud, being able to access your writings from anywhere is indeed desirable. If you don’t write from a single workstation all the time, it’s quite handy to start writing on one machine, continue on a second device, and finish a piece on yet another computer or device, all without losing time to retrieve a file, and most importantly without losing styles or formatting.
The number of writing tools has been increasing lately, for Mac OS X and especially for iOS. The latest trend is dominated by so-called ‘distraction-free’ applications such as WriteRoom, Byword, OmmWriter, iA Writer. They’re all excellent tools, don’t get me wrong, but writers are not photographers. A photographer may need a certain type of camera or tool to obtain a particular effect. A writer’s final product is essentially ‘tool-independent’. That’s why I think it’s better to obsess about writing than it is to obsess about writing tools. When I hear other colleagues saying that they feel ‘more inspired’ by using tool x instead of tool y, I just can’t keep a straight face.
But yes, organisation is important, and developing techniques and strategies that help a writer to be more organised and efficient is advisable. I know, because during my most prolific years I was also a lousy organiser of my stuff, and now that I’m rebuilding my past archives I can see the mistakes I made.
My writing workflow
I don’t write on a single machine, so I rely on a couple of syncing services: Dropbox for documents, Simplenote for notes. I use different Macs for work and for writing, but the four main machines I need to keep synchronised for my writing are:
- MacBook Pro 15″ (mid-2009)
- PowerBook G4 12″
- Power Mac G4 Cube
- Clamshell iBook G3/466
Since most of these machines are vintage, I use tools that will work on all four of them without problems. That’s why I use TextEdit for my word processing needs, and BBEdit/TextWrangler as main text editor. All the documents I need to sync are saved in a Dropbox folder. Notes, quick drafts, useful bits I need to access all the time on all machines are kept in Notational Velocity, which works perfectly (and syncs via Simplenote) even on older Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Naturally, I routinely backup the contents of the Documents folder in Dropbox and keep a local copy on all my Macs. I also use Notational Velocity as a cross-machine clipboard.
That’s it, it couldn’t be simpler. I still don’t have an iPad, and since I plan to purchase one soon, I will probably have to take into account this new device. I’ll see how much I actually write on the iPad, and I’ll choose a writing tool accordingly, but always in the spirit of keeping things simple.