Saturday, 12 October 2019

How to steal back time with your tools and writing process

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about what tools various authors use for writing whether this be word,  scrivener, google docs or something else. As the route I took for writing the Fixpoint series appeared to be slightly different from the norm, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share what my process was in the hope that this might be useful to others.

Before I do that however I wanted to explain what led me to this process...

Writing is hard work and takes a lot of time

Without stating the obvious, writing is hard work. Save for a lucky few writing is "not your day job" and chances are, you've got a huge amount of other commitments, and spend a good few hours a week either commuting or sitting on the sidelines of kids' football, music, dance or martial arts classes. This was certainly the case with me and, to some extent, this is what led me to the writing process I gravitated to...

Accept that your writing is going to be fragmented

I quickly realised that if I was going to draft a novel, then the only way to do this was to take advantage of, some of dead time and as a result I needed to be able 
  • to write wherever I was on any device
  • to edit wherever I was
  • to be extremely distraction free 
By doing this, I reasoned I could make progress by multitasking the otherwise dead-times above.

Don't get tied to software - Markdown

Because of the reasons above I wanted to avoid getting tied to any specific piece of software and instead chose to write in a lightweight format called Markdown.


Markdown is a lightweight markup language with plain text formatting syntax. Its design allows it to be converted to many output formats. What this means is that you can keep your manuscript in Markdown but edit it with lots of different tools at the same time.

Example of Markdown
This means that the tool on your phone may be different to the tool on your laptop. It also means that if you fallout of favour with a particular tool you can swap it out. This was useful when the manuscript became too big for one tool to handle. The markdown software tools I use include

  • iA writer (Mac / Windows / mobile / tablet)
  • Byword (Mac / mobile / tablet )

Using these mean I'm able to write a sentence here and a sentence there across different devices.

Use the cloud

In order to hope between devices you need to be able to have all devices have a single document. For this I make use of apple's iCloud to store the manuscript. which means whatever device I use, I can continue at the last place I left off.

Distraction free

If you're anything like me you're easily distracted - here using Markdown helps a lot as this means I can use what are called distraction free tools like iA writer

Use byword on my phone

and even use old-school tools like the Alphasmart NEO2

Because markdown is just text this means that I have total-freedom in how I write and can even sit in the sun on vacation and read what I'm writing (on an old WP)

Review and edit

To review and edit, I similarly try to steal back time. to review I typically email the Markdown to and old series 3 Amazon Kindle (keyboard) - this lets me have a soak in the bath and read back what I've written - if I do need to make notes the keyboard's there to do so.

To steal time during the commute I get a device to read it back to me.

Using these hacks I'm able to squeeze a minute here and a minute there in otherwise dead time. 

Do I still need to sit at my laptop?

Of course I do, but given the amount of pressures and commitments al of us have,  I really believe that working in this lightweight way has enabled me to finish a full length novel which otherwise, I don't believe would have been possible.

At the end of the day there are no rules - do what makes sense to you, I just hope these words give you food for thought.    


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