Thinking a bit about my writing process today. I think a bit about process everyday, I try not to, since it is a black hole of continuous self-reflection. I know there are lives to be made out of helping people with process and I don’t begrudge them that. But, that is not what I wish my project to be. So, I refine my process only to help with the production my writing. I usually try to optimize, refine, reduce, simplify. The major phases for me: collection (and review), draft (and acquisition), revision, completion.
So, as a I consume media (books, webpages, video, etc.) I attempt to keep track of things that I wish to review later, ideas to expand upon, images that are interesting, whatever I may need later. Influenced by the ideas of a commonplace books and swipe files, I try to keep reference materials always available. I don’t want to tie myself to a single machine or place or book or folders. So, I use (a hopefully minimal) set of digital ‘boxes’ of data.
- Dropbox: here I keep all of my drafts, versions, work in progress, materials I may want at a moments notice. I also keep my main set of notes, including scraps of dialogue and stories, quotes, etc.
- Evernote: here I keep images, excerpted webpages (where formatting matters), TODO lists, things that need more than bare text files.
- Pinboard: here I keep links to things that I might want to consume later, or reference webpages, anything that is too large to excerpt or might not work being stored in html or text.
- Instapaper: things I wish to read later, might be put into evernote or dropbox later, but usually stuff I have not read, yet.
I find the draft phase, real old school rough drafts, approaching the idea of Keroac Spontaneous Prose kinds of rough drafts, really useful. I find giving over to the act of writing and just letting the words and ideas flow produces…honestly, it produces a ton of raw material. Stuff that needs a good beating, editing, ripping apart, revising, before it is ready for the light of day. But, the raw stuff, getting that raw stuff out, and onto the page, for me, is the hardest part. The rest is just time, but getting the raw stuff out is a challenge.
Writing on the computer is a pain. Too easy to stop and correct, to fix spelling, to get rid of that damn little red underline, to drop out of flow. Now, I like the idea of flow, where the conscious mind gets out of the way, or becomes one with the task at hand. I like the idea of muscle memory, where you take an action completely without out thought, or maybe with thought becoming one with the physical act. Where you no longer think about shooting the basketball, but you just shoot. (And, yes, I actually did play sports at one point in time, fascinating, I know.) And I liken the flow that you reach when really get into a good writing session, with how it feels when you reach that point where muscle memory just takes over when you are doing something you have practiced so many times.
But, my handwriting sucks, no, I mean it really sucks. I find it borderline illegible, about 50-75% of what I write at a speed to really be able to write anything, is completely unreadable.
- Draft: TYPIE. (The child named it, not my choice of names…) Now, it might seem odd that someone who loves computers as much as I do, would use a typewriter for one step along the way in my writing process. But, typewriters are fantastic examples of engineering, they are almost as much fun to watch as to use. And, there is aspeed a cadence, that is almost musical, that you type at, a bit faster and they keys start to stick together, slower and you can’t get the words all out in time. Best of all Typie has a great font, not a normal typewriter font, which I love.
- Acquisition: I use the best OCR software I can find. A unix app recompiled for Mac OS X called OCRFeeder which is a GUI frontend on top of Tesseract an OCR engine. Works pretty well for recognizing the pages from Typie. Takes about 20min or so to get 4 pages done. So, not much more than just spell checking and such the same amount typed into the PC.
As they say, this is where shit gets real, now I have minimally edited pages in the computer and need to work on them, edit them, clean them up. And for this I have:
- Scrivener: Scrivener is a great application, especially if you are a big dork. So, the great thing that Scrivener allows you to do is detach your writing from the manuscript you are working on. Basically, you can split your novel or whatever up into smaller pieces you can work on, and that you can render into a whole manuscript when you need to. For those of you that this makes sense to, it is a IDE for writing. It also has a great set of tools, for formatting and editing. One of my favorites is text-to-speech where it will read the document to you. It also, has a bunch of things like full-screen editing and such.
Well, still working on this one.
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