My Writing System

So far this year, I’ve written rough drafts for two short stories and I’m most of the way through a third. I write 500 words a day, first thing in the morning, before I do anything else. I do 1,000 words on the weekends, or when I have a day off work. It’s hard to calculate just how far I am into this third story. I’ve discovered something interesting about writing fiction - it doesn’t always go according to plan.

I’ve scoffed at people who write without an outline (and I still do, it’s MADNESS) but I’ve been surprised more than once at events that unfold while I’m writing. A character will make a surprise trip to a butcher’s shop, and it makes sense. It fits, and it feels natural, even though I didn’t plan it in my outline before sitting down to write.

Suddenly those hilarious gems from @nanowrimo_txt make more sense.

I wrote the first story using textedit, using folders and a ton of text files. This was not ideal, and I knew it, but it’s how I did it. I switched to Evernote for the second, on the recommendation of my friend Miles. I fully planned to try either Scrivener or Ulysses for the third.

“Sure,” I thought. “Evernote works fine. Better than a folder full of disorganized text files. But I’ll give one of the other apps a shot on the next story.”

Scrivener was too bloated for my taste. If I have to go through a 400-step tutorial to use writing software, I am not using that writing software.

Ulysses is more light weight than Scrivener, but I found it comparable to Evernote, so there wasn’t a compelling reason to switch.

So I didn’t switch. I’m still using Evernote. It’s got the feature set I want: easy to organize stories and groups of stories, cloud sync, accessible from any device.

What I Read

I spoke a bit about my writing system in my last post, but I haven’t mentioned my reading system. I’m reading three books per month: one book on writing, one book on copywriting, and one book on marketing.

Here’s what I read in January:

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing was a singular joy to read, and I wish I’d read it a decade ago. Stephen King is the reason I grew up wanting to be a writer. This book was the perfect combination of memoir and practical writing advice from a master of the genre.

Bonus: tons of interesting insights into horror stories I read in high school, how he wrote them, where he was when he wrote them, and the impact they had on his family’s lives.

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

8Ogilvy on Advertising* and The Copywriter’s Handbook were less enjoyable to read, but full of practical information. I was surprised to find Ogilvy on Advertising felt less dated than The Copywriter’s Handbook, likely because Ogilvy focused less on specifics than Bly did. Ogilvy’s relentless focus on provable, measurable results is fascinating. He was talking about data-driven marketing (a common enough practice in 2015) way back in the mid-1980s.

The Copywriter’s Handbook by Bob Bly

The copy of The Copywriter’s Handbook I read had a new section on writing for the web that was hilariously dated in 2015. Tons of mentions of “e-zines”. But the strategies Bly wrote about in 2005 still apply today - collecting emails, running drip campaigns, and selling with benefits. He had similar advice as Ogilvy: work on something you can measure. Try new approaches, measure the results, get better over time. Solid, practical advice for any marketer.

A common thread I noticed in all three of these books is each writer takes a practical, craftsman-like approach to writing. These aren’t flowery authors. They write about the “craft” of writing, not the “art”, which appeals to me.

Thoughts on My Systems

One month in and I’m feeling good about these systems. I’ve gotten a lot more done in a single month than I typically do. That persistent, nagging feeling I should be using my spare time more productively has all but vanished.

I’ve already thought of ways to improve my systems - bumping up my daily word count, and keeping notes on the book I’m reading as I read it. This would help with summary blog posts at the end of the month. I’d be able to talk about a book I read three weeks ago with more salient points than “It was good, I liked it”.

Still, off to a good start. Feels good to talk about things I’ve done, not things I plan to do. I feel less pressure to keep a promise I’ve made.

I'm Tyler, and I blog about marketing, programming, writing, and things I'm working on.


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