Using Evernote to write books

It’s a piece from so, you know, there’s not going to be a lot of criticism here but still:

Every day, people rely on Evernote to compile, catalog, organize their research and writing.

For author and chief Business Insider correspondent Nicholas Carlson, Evernote was the primary tool he used to write a 93,000 word book. In six weeks.

That boils down to an average of 2,500 words every day.

This week, Nicholas stopped by our Redwood City HQ to talk about how he used Evernote as the comprehensive writing workspace for his newly published book, “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!”

How to Write a 93,000 Word Book With Evernote – Taylor Pipes, Evernote Blog (18 January 2015)

Read the full piece.

Write like you’re doing a meal plan

This doesn’t help if your main writing work today is a novel. But if you’re writing lots of smaller pieces, if you’re blogging, if you’re pitching stories out to people, if you are doing anything that is bitty, take a minute to do a meal plan.

For instance, this news site The Blank Screen will almost invariably have five new articles per day. If a lot happens, if something very big and relevant to you and I goes on, then it’s more. It’s rarely less because there is always enough going on and enough to read that I can help you postpone actually doing any work.

I don’t try to write five articles per day, though, I try to write six. It’s not always possible of course but when it is, when I can do it and when there is material to write about, then a sixth piece is a real help.

It can’t be something time-sensitive, it can’t be breaking news, but it can still be something useful and interesting – just something useful and interesting that I can hold to the next day. That means the next day begins with me already having one of the five started. If I then manage to write six new ones, I can hold two over for another day.

You could argue that this is like preparing today’s meal and then using leftovers tomorrow. I like that except it feels mildly insulting to whatever tomorrow’s articles are. Still, it’s true.

But there’s something else. It’s easier to write that sixth article than it is to write the first. It’s like you’re in the zone by then, you’ve got five pieces behind you, a sixth is not a massive stretch.

On Fridays, I also write The Blank Screen email newsletter (do sign up for your copy). Also on Fridays I write an entirely personal blog called Self Distract. Then on the first Monday of every month I write an email newsletter for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s West Midlands branch. Now, that Guild newsletter goes out on that first Monday in the month but I’ll write as much of it as I can the previous Friday. So that means on one Friday in a month I am writing two email newsletters, one personal blog and five or six news articles. Doing them all in one go, piece after piece in a row, is much easier and faster than picking up one piece a day and working on those.

As well as being in the zone both of writing and of researching new material for the newsletters, there is the practical element that they get written in the same places. I’ll compile the ideas in Evernote but both newsletters are sent using a service called Mailchimp and there are certain steps you go through. Go through those steps for The Blank Screen newsletter first means you whack through them all a second time for the Writers’ Guild much faster.

Everything you write – I mean you, specifically you – has three parts to it. There’s the getting ready to write, there’s the writing, there’s the finishing up. If you can do more writing in the middle then you save the time getting ready and you save the time wrapping up the details.

I see that very much like planning out the meals for the week and knowing that if I do a slow cooker thing on Tuesday that it will last me Wednesday and Thursday too.

One thing. The Blank Screen newsletter always includes a section called What I’m Writing. Ostensibly this is to show you that I am doing some bleedin’ work, I’m not just after telling you to do some. It does also definitely mean I will write something in the week so that I don’t have to confess laziness to you.


It also very specifically means I will always include a reference and a live link to the new personal Self Distract blog.

Which means I have to write and publish Self Distract first.

By making this choice, I set a sequence for myself and that means I never have to think about it. I’m sitting down now to write Self Distract and that is the only thing I can do, it is the right thing to do, I can concentrate on it fully.

Maybe I just need tricks like this to get me through the week but I bet you do too.

Ulysses for iPad is here

Cue frustrated Scrivener users switching. Ulysses and Scrivener for Mac are both writing environments – more than word processors, they provide tools for gathering research and using it in books and scripts and stories – but as of today, only one of them is on the iPad.

It’s a big deal and it’s made bigger by the fact that Ulysses for iPad is good. I’m doing a full review for but my impressions after a few days with the beta are all positive. Ulysses for iPad is Ulysses for Mac, on an iPad. It looks the same, works the same and so far all the features I’ve been trying are the same.

In comparison, Scrivener for iPad has been promised for years. There is reason to think it will come soon but it’s proved a longer job than expected. Presumably it’s because it’s a very difficult job: you don’t just want Scrivener or Ulysses on iPad, you need them to work with their Mac counterparts. You want to be able to pick up your iPad and continue writing something you began on your Mac.

That means documents being the same all the time, being synced across the platforms. But with Scrivener, one single document is really a collection of many parts. Keeping everything together and everything mobile has tasked the Scrivener people.

Ulysses has managed it. It’s not really the same thing, the two applications are not really that similar, but the existence of this iPad version is a huge win for Ulysses.

Check it out on the App Store.

Feeding your specialism: finding enough to write

The problem: you’re writing about a particular topic so much that you become known as an expert. Perhaps you’re not, but you’re more expert than most people so you get asked more, so you get the chance to write more. Since this is hopefully a topic you’re interested in and especially if you are also being paid, this is all very good news.

Except it means you have to keep coming up with the goods. Finding new material, finding new things to write about. I was trained as a journalist when the job required you go out and find things and I lament that now it’s more a job of finding other people’s articles online.

But here’s someone else’s article online. It’s about how to find other people’s articles online. Before this gets too meta, it’s also about feeding your interest so that you can find these and your favourite subject doesn’t become a chore to you.

[Once] your career is up and running, suddenly you face a new challenge: finding the enough stories for your specific beat. Becoming a science writer seems like a great idea until you realize you have to come up with, say, 52 unique science-related stories a year. How do you keep it up?

…How do I find the best stories for these beats? In my case, it comes down to a three-pronged strategy: reading news, following my interests, and asking questions.

Every weekday, Monday through Friday, I publish two stories on The Billfold. How do I come up with 10 new personal finance stories every week? I read a lot of news. Every morning, I get up and start reading sites like Slate, The Atlantic, and The New York Times to look for topics I can turn into stories.

Ask a Freelancer: How Do I Find Enough Stories for My Particular Beat? – Nicole Dieker, Contently (24 February 2015)

Do read the full piece.

Brilliant ide – no, backspace, delete – interesting idea

There’s this fella, right, James Somers, and he’s found a way to show you all the steps you took in writing something. Every letter you typed even if you then deleted it. Every paragraph you wrote, even if you started at the end or just changed your mind and moved stuff around.

You have to write in Google Docs – which I don’t – and you have to have his special Chrome extension installed – which I don’t. But stunningly, this thing doesn’t just work on anything you write now. It works on anything you’ve written ever – since you started using Google Docs.

Only you can do this, only you or anyone you’ve given editing rights to. Your rewrites can’t be seen by anyone else. And this is a relief because as an editor I have had people send me work without deleting their notes. I’ve also read some interesting remarks that they believed they had deleted – there was a Word bug once that showed me.

So for me, notes and workings-out equal trouble. But I am also only interested in the final piece – insofar as the toying and changing goes. It is interesting how long we spend havering over whether to use the word ‘buy’ or ‘yet’ but this trick doesn’t show that. It will show us writing one, deleting it and writing the other. It won’t show the five hours walking around a park debating it in our heads.

Which I suspect you think is obvious but the creator of this doesn’t see it. He believes we can learn writing by seeing how others write. This is how that point is made in an article about him in FiveThirtyEight:

Somers started all this because he thinks the way we teach writing is broken. “We know how to make a violinist better. We know how to make a pitcher better. We do not know how to make a writer better,” Somers told me. In other disciplines, the teaching happens as the student performs. A music instructor may adjust a student’s finger placement, or a pitching coach may tweak a lefty’s mechanics. But there’s no good way to look over a writer’s shoulder as she’s writing; if anything, that’ll prevent good writing.

Watch Me Write This Article – Chadwick Matlin, FiveThirtyEight (4 March 2015)

Read the full piece for how to do this and if you become a better writer, let me know.

Don’t bother looking for writing work via LinkedIn

Well, sort of.

But this time, I just couldn’t get the words of a friend out of my head: “Haven’t you ever used LinkedIn to get work?” he’d said. “I just bang out a few mails to connections and—boom!—something always comes up.”

I’ll be honest: I was baffled. Don’t get me wrong—when it comes to LinkedIn, I was a pretty early adopter and trundled past the all-important 500+ connections barrier a while ago. But for me, LinkedIn has only ever been an accessory, a place for potential clients to see I really exist and then, bowled over by the riotous trumpetings of my gold-plated CV, hire me for assignments. Could LinkedIn be more than just a fancy shop window for freelancers?

This Is What Happens When You Spend a Full Day on LinkedIn Looking for Freelance Writing Work – Mike Peake, The Freelancer, by Contently (15 January 2015)

Short answer no with a but, long answer yes with an if. Read the full piece.

Ten Tips on Being a Productive Writer

Lucy Hay usually blogs about the techniques of writing and the industry that we writers work in but she did once do this very concise and smart round up of productivity tips for us.

There’s plenty in here that I do and that I recommend endlessly in The Blank Screen but also much that I hadn’t considered. Some of that comes from how Hay covers juggling the kinds of demands you have on you when you’re a parent.

But she also recommends relaxation. That’s where I turn my face against her.

Read the full feature on her Bang2Write site.

MarsEdit – the early review

This feels so wrong. So very wrong. Also a bit meta. I’m reviewing MarsEdit, a blogging editor for OS X, but I’m reviewing it for I’ll tell you now that I already like this software enough that I’ll be recommending it on The Blank Screen too.

But the way of these things is that of course I review it first on MacNN and then when that’s live, I’ll point you at it from here.


Not only do I need to test out MarsEdit, I also need some screenshots. So unless all my testing so far has somehow been mistaken and this post vanishes into the ether, you’re looking at a test post. Goes on a bit, doesn’t it? What’s wrong with “testing 1, 2, 3”? Standards. It’s about standards.

But while I’ve got you, let me say that MarsEdit is for writing and editing your blog posts and what I think is best about it is that it is somehow just an enjoyable thing to type into. Officially, sensibly, the best thing about it is how readily you can add text, images, video and audio into your posts – and how those posts can be across any number of different blogs that you run.

Send the Buggers Off

Poet Jo Bell has today written a blog about how to submit poems to journals. It’s very specifically about poetry but the principles and the techniques apply to all writing, I think, so I want to be sure you see it. Plus, it made me laugh. Primarily because of this:

What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has managed to win awards. My vast and lofty experience teaches me that the key part of winning any prize or getting into a journal is this:


This is the only area of my life where such a streamlined system exists, but it has helped me to keep sending work out. It is Ever So Simple and it works for me. If you want to get into the habit of submitting to journals, it’s not too late to make this a New Year’s Resolution and start doing this in 2015.

Submitting to Journals: the Jo Bell Method – Jo Bell, The Bell Jar (8 January 2015)

Read the whole piece.



Get over it. By writing about it.

I’ve only fairly recently discovered this for myself: when I’ve had a particularly bad time, especially if it were my fault it was so very bad, then writing about it helps me. The two times I’m thinking of, I wrote to friends. One of whom didn’t want to know and I wish to God I’d never sent it, but the other asked – and I didn’t send it to her. I wrote out a long email explaining everything and, the writer’s mind kicks in, the end result was far more structured and comprehensible than the whirlwind in my head. I wrote that, read it, understood it and had no more need to send it to her. “I’m fine, thanks,” I wrote instead.

Of course, things that upset and paralyse me are as nothing compared to what happens to some people:

In one of my leadership development workshops, we invited participants to write up and present an account of a difficult experience. We ended up with more than we had expected when Simon, a senior executive at an oil company, told the group about a harrowing experience that he had never properly digested.

On an assignment in Nigeria, Simon and five colleagues visiting one of the company’s oil rigs had been taken hostage. Two of the other hostages were killed in front of him almost at once and he was only released after long and drawn-out negotiations on the size of the ransom. He told us that he had never been able to put the experience behind him and was still plagued by nightmares.

But he also told us that writing up an account of this experience for the workshop had been somewhat cathartic for him.

To Get Over Something, Write About It – Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Harvard Business Review (26 November 2014)

Read the full piece for a quite academic but thoughtful exploration of how this works for us.