Ye Olde Tools of the Trade
The tools I use to make Ye Olde Tyme News
Writing a newsletter/blog/website/whatever this is involves much more than simply sitting down, typing something into Substack, and hitting “Publish.”
While I think my toolkit is probably more rudimentary than some of the more accomplished writers/artists/creatives/scribes/whatever we are out there, I thought it might be useful to give you, the reader, a rundown of the tools I use, how I use them, how much they cost, etc. in case you were thinking of creating your own [insert whatever dirty little ideas are brewing in your dirty little mind here].
I’ve broken it down into various sections, based on the tools I use for each of these tasks:
Learning How to Write Good
So, in a slight departure from our usual fare of medieval satire, here’s the tools I use. I hope it helps in some way as you embark upon your journey to [insert whatever kind of dirty little writing journey you’re embarking upon here].
Wait, this guy put planning first? Before writing?
What an idiot. Real writers listen to the Muse, man. Real writers write based on their feelings, not based on some plan. He’s not a true artist.
That may be. But for someone with two young kids and a full time job, if I didn’t schedule time to write, it would never happen. Even as much as I try to plan it, life often gets in the way. That’s why you might see three or four posts one week, and no posts the next.
Anyway, that’s why I put planning/scheduling first. Maybe your situation is different. If so, congratulations. Let me know what you would put first, and maybe I’ll try it in 20 years if/when my kids move out.
Now on to the first tool on our list.
1 - Alarm Clock.
Cost - Free (assuming you already have a cell phone, or a watch, or a rooster)
You might call me a “morning writer.” I think my most creative time is in the first hour or so after I wake up, before my mind has been polluted by the distractions and anxieties of the day.
I find the morning to be the best time for me for creative and divergent thinking, things like brainstorming, stream of consciousness writing, and just generally writing down whatever weird stuff happens to pop into my mind.
One problem: these other annoying things called “responsibilities” tend to get in the way.
I usually try to get up around 5:30 or 6:00am. Some days I’ll get until about 6:30 or 7:00 before one of the kids gets up, so I’ll get in a solid 45 minutes to an hour of writing. Some days they’ll wake up at like 5:15 and it’s straight into a diaper change and [insert whatever heinous things the kids want to do at 6:00am here]. In the latter case I’ll try to squeeze in writing time later in the day.
2 - Turn Off ALL Notifications
Cost - This basically pays YOU
Except for, like, family and emergencies. Maybe work. But even at work you can probably get away with minimizing notifications, unless your job is super high speed or your boss sucks.
I know this isn’t really a tool. But if you can manage to turn off notifications — and avoid checking social media every five minutes — your focus will improve so much that you’ll do great no matter what tools you use.
3 - Weekly Schedule.
Cost - $2 (Or in my case, I do this in a notebook I got from work for free)
On Sundays, I like to plan out key events throughout the week. On a piece of paper I’ll draw a grid, where there’s seven columns for each day of the week, and three rows for morning, afternoon, and evening.
In each box, I’ll start by putting key events that have to be done during that time period each day. This gives me a rough idea of what time slots I’ll have available for things I want to do. I don’t put exact times when they’re not needed, because this overly constrains my schedule. I’ll also write a list of the top 3-5 priorities for the week below the schedule.
I’ve found this to be a great technique both for time management, and for gaining perspective on what is actually important. Make sure you make time for both the good stuff you want to do (writing, time with kids, exercise, etc.), as well as the bad stuff you have to do (writing, work meetings, colonoscopy, etc.).
Admittedly, I’m not as consistent with this as I’d like, and often forget to do it some weeks. But the weeks I do it I am much more productive, and happy.
4 - Daily Schedule.
Cost - Free. Use the same notebook as the weekly schedule, you idiot. Or $30 if you want to use a whiteboard.
Just like I make a weekly schedule each Sunday before the week begins, each evening I’ll make a daily checklist of key things I have to get done the following day. This is simply a checklist. I’ll work through the checklist in order of most important to least important, or easiest to hardest, or hardest to easiest, or some combination of these, depending on how I feel.
Checking things off is very satisfying. Then, once everything is checked off, I’m pretty much free to do whatever I want the rest of the day. This is when I’ll put time towards the bigger weekly priorities I identified in the weekly schedule, or do things from the weekly schedule that I want to do but aren’t necessities.
Sometimes new things will pop up that I hadn’t previously planned for. If it’s something I can’t do that day, I’ll write it on a whiteboard in my house so that it taunts me until I get it done.
Now to the second most important part of writing: writing.
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