By Nathan L. Walls

Articles tagged “creativity”

Using Drafts

I was turned on to Drafts listing to the Back to Work podcast with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, back when Drafts 4 was current and before there was a Mac client. If I recall correctly, Merlin was talking on the fact that Drafts was a good dumping ground for random bits of text that he could then decide what to do with.

It took me a bit to really grasp the promise.

Ordinarily, I work with BBEdit and Vim when I’m at my computer. Both are great for handling established lists, text manipulation, editing and so forth. But now, most things I write on the iPad, iPhone, and a fair amount of what I write on my desktop starts in Drafts.

BBEdit has some provision for temporary text in the form of its Scratchpad, something I use frequently. There’s a global Scratchpad and one available for each BBEdit project. I set-up a different BBEdit project for each codebase I use. Actively, I have snippets of text in two or three different scratchpads.

What’s harder, though, is starting a new document in one of these programs, because, pretty quickly, in wanting to save this text to disk, there’s a decision about what to call the thing I’m writing. Surprisingly, there’s some friction there, because besides giving the piece of writing a name, there’s the aspect of where it goes.

For ephemera, I don’t need the text I write to end up in a permanent file. I do need the text to appear across my devices and be easy to locate. Drafts does just that.

If and when I am ready to save an entry to a file, Drafts gives me that option. It’s plain-text. It supports Markdown. It syncs nearly instantly and it gets out of the way. Drafts also has Workspaces functionality, and wow, is it nice.

The iPad, an external keyboard, and Drafts, is a pretty idealized writing environment. It’s full-screen, (mostly) distraction free, when I let it be.

Here are the tasks I use Drafts for:

  • Building up shopping lists
  • Creating workout plans
    • This was more of a thing before gestures broadly all of this
  • Drafting tweets
  • Saving URLs for link posts
  • Writing blog entry drafts
  • Taking notes for work meetings
  • Writing most anything I haven’t figured out any particular structure to just yet
  • Composing emails, Slack messages, or anything i might paste into a web-based textarea
    • I find dedicated text editors drop words, letters, punctuation or flat out lose everything much less often than webforms textareas do
    • As with drafting tweets, there’s an added benefit in that composing offline means fewer opportunities for a hasty autocorrect or dropped error
    • On Slack, I avoid “Nathan is typing…” for minutes while I gather my thoughts, I’ve already done it once I send something

Once I’m done with the above, Drafts gives me several options of how to act on what I’ve just written:

  • Preview Markdown text as lightly-styled HTML
  • Save an entry as a text file
  • Send a tweet directly from Drafts, which is nice when I don’t want to open the hellsite directly
  • Send a tweet thread
    • The hack here is by writing in terms of a tweet thread, I will veer into just writing. At that point, I’m working on a blog entry and, as a goal, I would strongly prefer to publish more here than on Twitter.
  • Archive or delete the entry once I’m done with it, particularly ephemeral lists

It’s a valuable tool.

Unlazy writing and thinking

I spent a lot of time reading and writing on Twitter in 2017. I haven’t pulled together a 2017 corpus of tweets, but there’s some thinking I was happy to share in thread form. There’s also a fair amount of time I spent that I’d struggle to consider as well-spent on Twitter.

Mentally, I’m ready for something different than what I’ve been doing. Twitter’s format, even at an expanded 280 characters, doesn’t encourage me to develop my thinking and writing the way I would like.

I want my writing to embody and encourage proactive thinking. Both in myself as a writer, and hopefully within whatever audience I’m fortunate to have read this. I want write less from a reactionary perspective. Some of that this past year has been snark. Some has been shouting into the void at various horrors politic. I think my motives are fine, but I can better channel the writing I do than I have been.

My hypothesis is I’m better writing thoughts on a particular topic out in long form. I’ll set it down for at least a bit, then return to edit and refine. I’ll post it on this site and then share a link on Twitter. I think I’ll have better work than the work I produce hashing out my thinking in an unwieldy and uneditable Twitter thread.

I’m interested in quoting and linking with citations to source material. I’m interested in updating a piece, fixing misspellings or poor phrasing when I find it.

Twitter as Endless River has been easy for me to indulge in as a lazy writer and lazy reader, particularly given a pretty busy year at work. Flick, scroll, open some tabs, maybe read them, refresh, repeat. My fear of giving in to laziness as both a writer and a reader is that said laziness encourages lazy thinking.

My desire to shift direction on writing has another element, ownership. Andy Baio wrote about this in 2016:

Here, I control my words. Nobody can shut this site down, run annoying ads on it, or sell it to a phone company. Nobody can tell me what I can or can’t say, and I have complete control over the way it’s displayed. Nobody except me can change the URL structure, breaking 14 years of links to content on the web.

I like that approach, too. It’s the approach I’m using for this site. Similarly, there are services like micro.blog to provide longer, non-siloed places to write. I’m interested in RSS and JSON feed as content sharing mechanisms. I’m keenly interested in writing on and for the Open Web.

Here, I can post as much or as little as I (and I’m guessing with this), my audience can stand on a given topic. If a post needs 3,000 words, that’ll happen. That’s going to be far easier to read here than a 60 tweet thread, whether or not I used Twitter’s new threading tool. If I want to post a lot fewer words, perhaps just to say I liked a link, this site should fit that need, too.

I’m interested in approaching where I read and what I read in 2018 differently. Specifically, putting more emphasis on reading clear, articulate writing from others outside of Twitter.

My hypothesis is that active, considered reading will lead to more considered thinking. That will lead to active, considered writing. I plan to be doing more of that here this next year.

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