Nerdy writing tools that work

The last few days I’ve been talking about how hard it has been for me to keep writing flowing to fuel my content marketing efforts. On Tuesday, I wrote about breaking down writing into smaller pieces and on Wednesday, I wrote about first writing crap and then having a professional polish it up for you. Today, I’m going all white and nerdy on you and talk about the geeky tools that I use to get my writing done.

Eschew word processors

nerdy4Crazy as it sounds, there is nothing that impairs my writing more than a word processor. Seriously, do I need to worry about formatting, spelling and grammar while I’m writing my first draft? No, those things just distract me while writing. Spelling and grammar can be fixed later.

Writing is hard, and my brain will do anything to avoid hard things (Hello YouTube; I’m looking at YOU!) so when I’m working on getting things out of my head I need to focus on… well, getting things out of my head. For me that means writing in a plain text editor like notepad.exe on Windows or textedit.app on the Mac.

There are thousands of beautiful plain text editors that make writing a joy. Most will also go “full screen” to attempt to block out distractions (alt-tab I’m looking at YOU now!). Some of them also have mobile apps that allow you to seamlessly take your writing on the road!

Avoid writing at your desk

nerdy1My desk is just about the worst place for me to work on my crappy first draft. It’s a great place for me to finish up a piece or edit a longer document, but it stinks for drafting. Drafting at my desk is too distracting, and tempts me too much to make things perfect. Plus, I want to draft immediately when the idea hits me. This is rarely at my desk. So I do most of my drafting on my iPhone.

When someone first suggested drafting with my iPhone, I thought they were crazy. But it turns out that a 4” screen and keyboard the size of a matchbook are just what I need to bang out a lot of lousy first drafts. There are hundreds of possibilities for text editors (and Brett Terpstra has been nice enough to assemble a list of them here).

My chosen tool is ByWord, which has a nice desktop app and accompanying iOS apps. It’s a beautiful text editor that’s easy to write in, fast and has only the few features you need to write that crappy first draft.

Write with Multi-Markdown

nerdy3The one drawback to writing in plain text is that there are times when you want to add a little formatting. Sometimes headings or an outline are helpful in your drafting, or you might have a URL that you know you want to include. While it is possible to simply go back and edit that later, I’ve found that Multi-Markdown is a nice middle ground. Multi-Markdown is a lightweight markup that you can add to your plain text that doesn’t get in the way. It lets me add headings, bold and italics, and links without really thinking about it, and then convert my plain text into nice clean HTML for dumping into my website almost effortlessly.

There really aren’t any tools you need to use markdown to write (it’s just plain text), but Marked is a really terrific Mac app that displays a Markdown file as rendered HTML and then lets you save that file as HTML, RTF, or PDF. It’s really handy and only costs $3.99.

Are there any tools out there that help you whip out content? Which ones are your favorites? 

See also: Don’t write a blog post … that’s too hard and What to do when … you need to write but you’re not a good writer?

Brad Farris

As principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, Brad Farris has experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Prior to joining Anchor Advisors, Brad spent over 10 years managing business units for a family-owned conglomerate with sales of $2 million to $25 million.
When not working Brad enjoys cycling, cooking and the NFL. He is married with 5 children and lives in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.