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Wolfville, Nova Scotia


Writing Toolkit

Chris Campbell

It's good to write and it's even better to write every day. One of the cycles in #clmooc this year is "Hack Your Writing" and it's made me think about how I write and the tools that I use to write. Most of the time I write something to put it online and my blog is the most common way to share it. Over the years I've used different blogging systems and amazingly I've migrated from various systems and hosts and kept the archive mainly intact. Now my site is on Squarespace which means I've simplified things even more, so I no longer install and maintain the blogging system and I focus on writing more.

One of the important things to me is keeping the content and the presentation separate. So most writing happens outside of the publishing system. While sites like Medium have a great editing and creating experience, most of the time I'm doing the first version of the writing somewhere else. The main location to do my writing (as with this) is on the 750 Words web site. It's simple and minimalist with the goal to write at least 750 Words every day. Sometimes it's journaling, but if there is something that I want to share, the first draft starts on the site and is then copied to the clipboard.

For writing I need a keyboard, so the vast majority of the writing happens on my MacBook Pro. If I don't have it, the other neat thing about using a site like 750 Words is that I can use any computer that connects to the internet. It is rare that I don't have internet access and while I don't bring the laptop everywhere, if I am travelling light, I have a Bluetooth keyboard that I can use with my iPad to get the writing done.

After the first draft, I'll paste it into Byword on my MacBook Pro. Byword is a simple and clean writing environment where I'll start editing and revising what I have written. For most blog posts there will be links, so I usually will have those open in tabs in the web browser and I'll copy the links and then paste them in using the Markdown language. Markdown is simple to add as you write and is easy to read. Byword has built-in support for Markdown, so any links or code added to the text show up as being a bit lighter, so they are there, but not distracting. One of the great features of Byword is synchronizing using iCloud, so I can make revisions on my iPad or iPhone. It's good to change the medium and location for editing as it seems to make it easier to find any mistakes as you change the context of reading slightly.

Sometimes an idea occurs while you are walking or away from your computer. If that happens I'll open up Vesper on my iPhone and take a quick note. It's the electronic equivalent of a notebook you always have with you, but it's easily searchable and will let you have a photo with a note too. It's a good way to capture things that I may need to look up later. Sometimes I'll use Simplenote to capture something too, but with an upcoming Mac version, I think that I'm going to be using Vesper more and more for notes and inspiration.

To keep track of links I've been using Pinboard for years. It's become almost invisible to me as it automatically captures the links that I post to Twitter or add to Instapaper. That makes it a powerful history of what I'm interested in and a fast way to find any links that I want to keep. I pay for the archiving function which means that any sites that disappear are backed up. Every now and then I need to go through my links and add some tags to make it easier to search, but it's good to know I can find what I've been watching and reading quickly.

While it's not something I use all the time, if I want to do a quick check on the writing that I've done, I'll use the online Hemming App to check what my writing. It analyzes the reading level of what you have written and gives advice for making your writing clearer. It's good to use to hone your writing and it always gets me to keep my writing in a more active voice and to vary what I've written. Down the road I may use Brett Terpstra's Marked app which gives a preview of things you've written using Markdown. It now incorporates writing tools to help you assess the reading level or word repetition of what you've written.

The final stages after editing, revising, and adding links is to add a photo to make the blog post more interesting. That's when I turn to Flickr and my archive of over 13,000 photos to choose from. I like using my own photos with blog posts. If I am writing about a film I will usually grab or find a screenshot from the film to go with the post. If I need to edit the photo I'll open up Acorn which is fast, powerful, and simple.

To share my writing with the world I'll go to Squarespace and add a new blog post and paste the Markdown into the editor. Then I'll add any images and check to see how it all looks. Then add some tags and a category and publish the blog post. After publishing, I'll grab the link and tweet it out (which also creates a Twitter card) to let people know about it. I like having a system for writing with separate steps as it lets me pause along the way to think and revise what I share.