The Tools I Use to Write

There are lots of tools out there, but here are a few I use.

There are at least as many ways to write as there are writers. Everyone’s process looks a little different, and since I find value in sharing process and not just results, here’s a look at some of the ways that I write and the tools I use when doing so.

Notebook and Pen – Freewriting, Notes, Initial Drafts

I love analog writing. It’s no secret that I’m a stationery nerd and fountain pen enthusiast, so it’s likely no surprise that I like to write by hand. That said, only a small fraction of my professional writing takes place this way. I often take notes by hand, sketch outlines and ideas, and even produce parts of initial drafts this way. I find writing by hand especially helpful for reducing distractions and resisting the urge to go check that citation one more time. I can do those things later when I’m typing up what I’ve written. Instead, I can focus purely on the story I’m telling.

Writing by hand is also helpful when I’m struggling to get started. Sometimes I’ll just freewrite by hand and then come back later to see which parts are worth developing.

WordPress – FYFD Posts

With FYFD posts I typically write directly in WordPress’s post editor. Occasionally, I have longer posts that I develop elsewhere first, but most FYFD posts are short and sweet and I can write them in one go. A lot of this is thanks to practice. After more than 12 years and 3,200 posts, I’m very experienced with making these bite-sized blog posts. I’ll typically write one just after (re-)reviewing the source material, which I keep open in another tab of my browser.

Obsidian – Notes and SharpSci Drafts

Strictly speaking, Obsidian isn’t a word processor; it’s a program that acts on a folder full of plain text (Markdown) files, adding features like inter-file linking. I use it as a digital notes repository for everything from highlights and annotations of books and articles to notes on meetings I attend. I also do some amount of productivity tracking and project management in Obsidian.

Since I keep lists of blog post ideas and lots of reference notes in Obsidian, it’s a convenient spot to write drafts of longer form blog posts, like the ones I make here on SharpSci. Some posts get written in just a few passes; others get written in a start-stop, draft-and-redraft fashion. It often depends on how many times I get interrupted.

Scrivener – Book-Writing

Talk to novelists and screenwriters, and you’ll hear a lot about Scrivener, a word processor designed for breaking giant projects into smaller, more manageable chunks. Rather than trying to write a book-length project in a single Word document (or several that you then have to hack together), Scrivener lets writers focus on smaller units (like scenes or chapters) and, when ready, compile the full text into a formatted Word file.

I’ve been using Scrivener to write and develop my book and book proposal. I’m a fan of being able to concentrate on smaller sections, but I find that writing in Scrivener also has some drawbacks, at least for non-fiction science. There’s not a great way to handle citations seamlessly, and I have to remember that superscripts don’t get formatted correctly, so I need to correct them in compiled versions later. I suspect that some of my formatting issues could be solved with a deep-dive into the program’s settings, but I haven’t had the time and motivation to do so quite yet.

Microsoft Word – Final Versions, Client Projects, Collaborative Writing

Ah, the behemoth. It seems like no matter what you do, at some point projects make their way into Microsoft Word. These days I’m using it mostly for final, formatted versions of documents and any projects that involve back-and-forth with another writer. Programs like Word and Google Docs are pretty much necessary, it seems, for work that needs commentary from others. Fortunately, I don’t mind working in Word, though I have reached a point where I often prefer to make first versions of (long) documents elsewhere.

As you can see, I do my writing in many different tools. I pick some based on the project’s needs and some based on my own needs in the moment. I haven’t found One Word Processor to Rule Them All, nor do I expect to, honestly. It seems like any tool trying to do everything is destined to do none of it particularly well.

What tools do you use in your writing? Were there any you were surprised I didn’t include in my list? Any you think I should check out? Let me know in the comments.

(Image credit: D. Pădureț)

Disclosures: This post contains no affiliate links, and I receive no compensation for discussing any of the products in the post.

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