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Tools for Better, Faster, Cheaper Content Production

Many of us write constantly as part of our business. High quality content has never been more important or valuable. But to get and stay noticed, we know it’s also crucial to publish broadly and regularly. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for ways to write faster and cheaper, as well as better. After some analysis and even more experimentation, I’ve integrated three tools into a mobile workspace that rivets my attention on high quality content production. My solution works for everything task, from product descriptions to news releases to blog posts.

May I keep the bonus as a surprise until the end of the post?

iAWriter

I write better and faster when there’s nothing else to do. My solution is iAWriter, a minimalist word processing app. For me, it has the four absolute essentials of productive writing for the attention-challenged:

    1. a minimally distractive full-screen mode with a single disappearing menu bar at the bottom of the screen
    2. a word counter on the menubar
    3. easy-to-use text markdown
    4. very little else

I’m sold on iAWriter’s menu-free full screen mode. I had no idea how much those little ribbons and icons distracted. Further, iAWriter has what it calls a focus mode where everything except the three lines I’m working on is greyed out; it’s great to keep you in the groove and streaming prose like a demon.

It seems that every literary type or publishing venue has its preferred word length. I want to know when to stop, so the continuously updating word counter is very, very useful.

For those publishing online, text markdown saves a ton of time. It used to take me 15 to 30 minutes of wasted time reformatting the material I imported from my word processor into Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/Wordpress publishing venues; when cross-posting, that’s a lot of wasted time. Markdown, recognized by most online venues, mostly eliminates that waste.

There’s not much else to iAWriter, except iCloud and Dropbox support.

iAWriter makes me faster (in time spent) and cheaper (in words/minute)

For $4.99 for OS X and IOS; try Poe for Windows

Multiple Desktops

I writer better and faster when my reference materials are close at hand. How much closer can you get than a three-finger swipe?

I’ve configured my Mac to have four side-by-side desktops, so that all my reference tools are close at hand. Each desktop is dedicated to one function, and I usually keep just one application open each desktop. My left most desktop is my “filing cabinet”; Evernote is always open so that I can store or retrieve the great masses of mostly-tagged and organized stuff I’ve already collected. My left-center desktop is dedicated to the fullscreen iAWriter window. My right-center desktop is my reference “in-box” where I keep my Pocket application open. Pocket is my bookmark-and-read-later application of choice for all that reference stuff I’ve found that I’ve not yet had time to read. I keep it open because often-times that stuff is the inspiration for today’s writing assignments. On the left-most desktop I keep Google, my favorite spur-of-the-moment quick search tool.

With four desktops open, but only one window in each desktop, I can switch from writing to research and back again with minimal distractions. I use OS X’s built-in feature on my Mac, but Windows users can do it too.

This makes me better (in sources consulted) and faster (less distractive time/source accessed).

For Free on OS X; try VirtuaWin as a comparable Windows utility.

… and Three Books

If you want to write better, I’d start with:

Zinsser, William, On Writing Well, ISBN-13: 978-0-06-089154-1, 2006. from $5.69 used at Amazon.

Zinsser’s always-friendly, always-engaging style makes learning easy. There’s plenty of practical advice as well as snippets of marked-up draft material to illustrate his points. Even more, I always end a chapter by telling myself “I wish I could write that well”. Zinsser focuses and refocuses on the most valuable quality of online content; getting and holding the reader’s attention. His book is living proof, having sold a million copies in the 38 years since it was first published.

Next, try:

Blundell, William E., The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, ISBN 0-452-26158-9, 1988 from $5.19 used at Amazon.

There’s no better teaching ground of informative prose than the old-fashioned newsroom, but I’ve found the next best thing. In 1986 Bill Blundell, award winning reporter and columnist, wrote a veritable textbook. The flyleaf description is absolutely accurate:

“…this guide was created by a working newsman for working newspeople. It deals with the nitty-gritty of coming up with ideas, gathering the right kind of information, getting past the common roadblocks that crop up during the writing process.”

His practical examples from the Wall Street Journal’s pages hammer home principles and practical guidance that are as useful today as they were in 1986. He has a special gift for explaining the art of the riveting introduction.

On to the indispensable classic:

Strunk, William and White, E.B., The Elements of Style, ISBN 0-205-30902-X, 2000. from $4.61 used at Amazon

Since 1959 this book has been the master class for tight, stylish prose. When you’ve achieved some success but your passion for excellence is unsatisfied, it’s time to read Strunk and White. For me it’s humbling; I can’t read more than a page or two without feeling both clumsy and trite. Help, though, is never more than a few sentences away. Strunk and White are denser, more concise, and more insistent than either Blundell or Zinsser; and you’d expect nothing less from true prose masters.

These three books make my production both better (more engaging, informative content) and cheaper (more polished output per editorial hour).

Why I haven’t I given you links to ebook versions of the above? I did it for a good reason. Everyone needs a break from writing, without entirely leaving wordspace. I like to disengage physically. I taste and smell a cup of good coffee. I feel myself settling into my favorite easy chair. And I treat myself to the sight of a real book. That purposeful, physical disengagement refreshes me more quickly and gets me back to word work than any other I’ve tried.

Improve Your Writing, One 15 Minute Break at a Time

Improve Your Writing, One 15 Minute Break at a Time

So… if you commit to going all out for polished, productive content it will cost you $20.48, plus a few minutes of download time and another $10 in postage. You can be using it in 48 hours. I hope you agree that’s a cheap, fast solution. After several writing sessions and reading breaks, I think you’ll be producing higher quality content, too.

The bonus…oh yes, the bonus. My ears can distract me almost as much as my eyes. I fix that with ear buds; music or background sound is optional. When I need background, I like to listen to a soundscape of a seashore or mountain stream. You can also get soundscapes of a busy office or even a coffee shop.

I hope you found this post useful. I’d really like to hear about the tools that help you create high quality prose.

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2 Comments

  1. A good / simple word processor, multiple dedicated windows, and Strunk and White – a great combo. Thanks!

    • Chris Chadbourne says:

      Thanks, Ivar! The setup certainly works for me… including the pile of books off the to side.

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