Another writing app

Stephen Fry once said, I’ve never seen a smartphone I haven’t bought. My vice is writing apps. Actually it’s all writing technologies – I’m the same about notebooks, pens, typewriters, pencils, writing slopes, dictionaries and style guides. Always have been – but apps most of all, because it is on screens that most of my writing happens.

If I were being kind, I would say that this about a love of the craft, of prose, copy, the act and process of the written word. Being more critical, I would say it is a proxy for getting with it, for the real secret of the professional writer – getting on with it. If I could just find the perfect app, the perfect pen, the perfect machine, then the words will flow uninterrupted – I will find the magic combination of place, tools and thoughts to write the twenty blog posts, five medium articles, seven essays and a novel currently knocking about in the creative holding area of my subconscious.

The latest is Desk. I knew I would buy it the moment I read about it because… because… it is a minimalist writing app. Because I use Byword for work, IAWriter Pro for fiction, Google Docs for collaborative writing, Evernote for lists, Curio for outlining-mindmapping-whiteboarding-in-one-app and Scrivener if I ever think there is a danger of a book emerging.

It’s a great app for me, as it seems to have everything I love about all my other apps rolled into one –

  • minimalist writing layout (fewer distractions)
  • connects to blogging services
  • the first blog editor on the Mac that seems to make image editing really fast and easy (look – you can adjust the size and format)
  • one of those nice “night mode” things for when the glare of the screen gets too much.

All of these things add up to an app for blogging – and perhaps other writing – that helps close the gap between the intention to write a blog post and getting it published, a tip from Adam Tinworth, someone who  is without parallel in their understanding and adept use of that form.

One last thing – a thread I will pick up again later – trying out new apps for working is a worthwhile thing to do to help keep you thinking critically about workflow and how tools shape the way you think and work.

Blogging on Ghost

So after failing completely to set up a Ghost blog on a server (not very technical, me) the hosted version is now available. Hurrah!

I’ve tried it out and set up a blog. It will be about running and will hopefully let me try out the platform and spare readers of this one endless details of training regimes, long runs in the rain etc.


A useful IFTTT recipe for blogging


A really useful piece of advice from Adam Tinworth about blogging is this: bring the inspiration or desire to blog as close as possible to actually blogging.

This sounds obvious, but over time all sorts of tools and steps in the process can get added. Consequently, I have an Evernote notebook full of links to blog about, and a Byword folder stacked with ideas and links I’ve not got round to writing up.

This IFTTT recipe is one attempt to overcome this. I’ve created it so that every time I bookmark on my Diigo with the tag “to_blog“, a draft post is created on my personal blog.

If you think it could work for you too, create an account and give it a go.

Maria Popova and life as “a reader who writes”

Writing tools

When I look at Maria Popova and her work on Brainpickings, I feel admiration, inspiration and a little jealousy. She takes something that is important to me – blogging, writing and the collecting of fascinating things – to a logical extreme, making a profession of it. She’s made a life and living out of sharing insights and ideas about writing, reading and thinking.

It was interesting to say the least to read an interview with her on Copyblogger. The post begins with her description of herself – “A reader who writes” –  which gives a nice perspective on how she thinks about her work.

You must read the whole thing, of course, but here are a couple choice quotes that I highlighted:

I’m not an expert and I aspire never to be one. As Frank Lloyd Wright rightly put it, “An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’” Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.


That said, one thing I’ve honed over the years – in part by countless hours of reading and in part because I suspect it’s how my brain is wired – is drawing connections between things, often things not immediately or obviously related, spanning different disciplines and time periods. I wouldn’t call that “expertise” so much as obsession.

She also reads constantly. I sympathise with this – I’m a less extreme version of the way she reads, but I like to fill as much time as I can with reading and listening to interesting things…

Practically (pathetically?) every waking moment, with the exception of the time I spend writing and a couple of hours in the evening allotted for some semblance of a personal life. I do most of my long-form reading at the gym (pen and Post-Its and all), skim the news while eating (a questionable health habit, no doubt), and listen to philosophy, science, or design podcasts while commuting on my bike (hazardous and probably illegal). Facetiousness aside, however, I have no complaints – as the great Annie Dillard put it, “a life spent reading – that is a good life.”

Lastly, I like the discipline that accompanies her obsession. There’s just one way through a block, she says….

It’s different for everyone, of course, but I find that you break through that alleged “block” simply by writing. As Tchaikovsky elegantly put it, “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

As I say, I completely adore her work, both the output and her approach. Part of me dreams of following the path she has, of giving myself over to the reading and the writing. But, I’ve chosen my path and for now other passions take the centre stage of my attention and the majority share of my time.


Short blog post tips from @adders

Adam's response to my response as it were, has two super-practical principles for getting short blog posts written:

  1. Connect the thought “that's interesting” with the action of writing the blog post as closely as you can. Don't leave tabs mouldering in your browser, don't leave draft posts in your drafts folder. Get it done, and get out.
  2. Be very clear what the point you want to make is, make it and quit. Over a while, the various pots will built into a narrative of the issue you're exploring – and you can bring that narrative to a peak, if not a climax, by writing that longer post. But save that until the point where the creative damn is going to burst, by letting some pressure out over time with those short posts.


A couple of Brilliant (Noise) posts…

Blogging seems to be the order of the day for me at the moment – which, as ever, I’m delighted about – and some of the action is happening over at Brilliant Noise blog.

If you’re not following that feed, you may be interested in these two posts from this week – I enjoyed writing them both…

  • IBM on the Social CEO: A fillet of the IBM Global CEO Study published this week, with a side order of commentary…
  • Advanced Persistent Opportunities: The slides and the gist of a talk I gave in Dublin recently. In a bit of cyber-security terminology I find parallels with how brands should developing systems and ways of working in digital…

: : In other blog/work flow related news, I’m playing with Tumblr for a personal scrapbook. Posterous seems set for decline after the acqui-hire (bought for the people more than the tech) by Twitter. I’ll post a link if it looks like its going to stick…

: : Also, taking a cue from Alan Patrick’s comments about personal data-hungry Google and Facebook, I’ve ditched Chrome as my browser and run back to my old love, Firefox. Loving how much you can customise it – Diigo, especially, seems to have a good Add-On, which suits me very well, that service being so key to may day-to-day reading and knowledge-processing since Delicious faded…

This blog


One slightly unexpected but pleasant surprise for me in the launch of the new Brilliant Noise was how energising I found it to have the new website and its blog go live.

Developed with craft and care by Endless and Brighton’s patron-saint-of-Wordpress David Lockie, the site looks and feels right. But it’s what’s to come that I found excited – I realised that I had a real imperative to start blogging more often, as part of helping it come to life.

Categories, shmategories…

I haven’t ever seen the point in categories for my blog before now (I’m still not sure I do).

But making a virtue out necessity and ignorance, I can’t turn off the category thing in the theme I am using for this blog and rather than having it jarringly state “UNCATEGORIZED” in the byline for each piece, I thought I’d set some up.

The challenge is that my ideas about categories change all the time, its partly why I prefer the versatility of tags to the taxonomy approach.

So rather than focus on topics, I’m going to have categories based around the different ways I am thinking and working on this blog:

  • Public notebook: This is the default – my blog is my public notebook ahead of anything else.
  • Speaking: Notes and slides and things that support specific events where I am speaking.
  • Me and My Web Shadow: Things connected with the book I wrote. I think I will write posts here from now on and then cross-post them out to the book’s website. I don’t have enough attention/time to divide myself between different blogs and do much with them, so Open… will continue to where I post everything and connect to the rest of my online presence.
  • Brilliant Noise: This is my new project. A think/do tank of sorts, a home for a lot of projects. But more of that later this week, I hope.
  • Media & brands: This is what I started out writing about as the main focus for this blog, and mainly what my career has been about up until now. I expect to still write about it, but it is not the only focus of this blog.

: : Now, unless I can say that I am ignoring all the dates in the calendar and renaming them all “J” I am going to have to work out how to fix the number thing in the byline for my blog posts…


Finding scraps of surplus…

Image: Surplus doesn't have to be hard work

Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus is a fascinating and attractive idea, but unless you are a student, idle, rich or all three, there may not be a surplus of energy at all. As Ian Delaney put it in his post “Looking for my cognitive surplus“:

So yes, cognitive surplus. Wonderful notion. And when most people?s working hours are reduced to four a day, as Russell proposed, we might genuinely start to see what those trillion hours can do. But we need time off, too.

Normal service will return in the Autumn

OK, I’ve been a bad blogger.

It’s been an odd month or so, and may stay odd for some time. It’s been hard enough blogging more or less holding down a full-time-plus-any-other-waking-time-you-might-have-lying-around job. Not to mention my family and a new addiction to mountain biking.


But most of all, I’m the final phase of finishing my first book, my first book that will decimate several physical trees as part of the publication process that is.


So if you’re still l visiting / checking your feed, I’m sorry. I will be blogging again properly once I’ve finished the manuscript. Meantime, I am going to publish a feed of my Delicious bookmarks here. I know some people don’t like that, but I am very active there and I sometimes think of the notes as mini blog-posts.

See you soon, I hope…