My Quest for My Perfect Set of Writing Tools

I like systems. I like consistency. I like workflows and patterns. Most of the time I tell myself that these distractions are in the service of efficiency. But that’s some seriously flawed logic. I’m quite sure that I waste more time than I save taking a break from being productive in order to search for way to be more efficient. Yes, I’ve heard the Abraham Lincoln story. “If I had three hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend the first two hours sharpening my axe.” It’s cute, and it makes sense for the right sort of person. That’s not me. In that same scenario, I would spend two hours and forty-five minutes sharpening my axe, and deliver a chopped down tree fifteen minutes late. And I’ve got to try to remedy that.

So, I’ll try the “public” strategy. Though I don’t often like to admit it, I do actually care what people think of me. Lots of reasons. Not now, okay? Good. The idea is that if I expose my quest for efficiency to you, my readers, then I’ll be a bit more honest with myself about where that line is between distraction and efficiency.

The first thread I’m going to start here is to develop a consistent workflow for writing alphabetic text. That includes run-of-the-mill stuff like memos, emails, proposals, etc. to more geeky stuff like writing in multi-markdown, coding, generating outlines.

What do I want when it comes to writing? Obviously, a single program that easily adjusts its interface, output, and connectivity to exactly the situation in which I happen to be working. If you’ve done any thinking at all about writing and interfaces, you’ll know that’s a pipe dream best left forgotten. So I’ll not search for the perfect text editor or word processor. Instead, I’m going on a quest. A virtual quest (yeah, that doesn’t actually require any physical exertion or risking of my life, but still, I’ll dedicating my precious time, right?). So, a quest. For a set of tools.

That’s right. A set. Don’t get me wrong. I do have a strong attraction toward minimalism. But I also understand the value of using the right tool for the right job. Sometimes I might want a word processor like Microsoft Word for commenting on student texts. Sometimes I might want a writing tool that allows me to organize a larger writing project with different types of elements, like Scrivener. Or maybe I just want something that will launch fast and won’t get in my way as I write some simple notes or email texts.

Microsoft Word might be the most versatile and powerful word processor available for most operating systems, but it certainly isn’t the best tool for almost any writing situation. But I sort of hate Microsoft Word. It’s just so comprehensive and cumbersome. It’s the perfect example of “feature bloat.” Because MS Word can do so many different sorts of writing tasks, there’s actually a lot of interference between you and the particular task you want to complete. To a lesser extent, the same could be said for more other word processors and text editors. I’m not suggesting that you should have the perfect text editor or word processor installed for each different writing task that you might pursue. Much like the one-tool-for-everything, that ends up being equally as complicated.

Instead, I’m hoping to find a balance between immediate, simple accessibility, and a manageable set of text editing and word processing tools. Also, I should mention that I work almost exclusively on Mac OS X and iOS operation systems. It’s not that I hate Windows operating systems. I don’t. I just don’t want to have to cover that much territory. So Apple hardware it is, folks. Sorry.

My next post will cover exactly what sorts of functionality I’m going to be looking to cover as I evaluate and build my set of writing tools. Microsoft Word, unfortunately, is going to be on the list. And given it’s relatively expensive price point, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it. There’s a part of me that feels like if it’s going to be that expensive, then I should try to take advantage of it as much as possible. But there’s another part of me that wants to keep searching for alternative tools that can help me overcome my dependence (if even for a few simple functions) on that bane of my existence, MS Word. More soon.

(photo credit: “IMG_4112” by Jérôme Choain via Flickr ([])