Starting and Finishing More Long-Form Writing in Drafts.app

I’m writing this blog post in Drafts.app on my Mac. But before I publish it, I’ll also probably do some light editing of it on my iPad before bed. And I’ve been capturing ideas, short thoughts, and building a basic outline on my phone over the past few days as things occur to me or I find myself with a bit of downtime.

I’ve been a heavy Drafts.app user on iOS for years. But this workflow is relatively new for me and came about with the release of its Mac counterpart two months ago.

Previously, for going on I don’t know how many years, all of my long-form writing, which typically means blog posts, has lived exclusively in MarsEdit. (Really long-form stuff like magazine articles and a few aborted attempts at writing a book are done in Scrivener.) The app syncs perfectly with WordPress and allows me to write in Markdown and preview my words in a live, pixel-perfect preview of my blog’s template.

But MarsEdit doesn’t sync between my desktop and laptop. And there’s no iOS counterpart for writing on-the-go. So that forced me to write the whole post from first draft to published version on the same machine. It also meant the outlines for my longer posts and short scribblings lived in other apps – sometimes OmniOutliner, other times Apple Notes, and occasionally OmniFocus and Drafts.app. I didn’t have a single unified workspace for all my thoughts.

Drafts for Mac has changed that. With seamless sync, I can begin writing anywhere I want, come to a stopping point, and pick back up later exactly where I left off on any device.

Dr. Drang wrote last week

Drafts has become the place “where text is.”

I couldn’t agree more. Looking through my Drafts Archive section, it’s now overflowing not just with short beginnings and snippets that got quickly shuttled off to other apps, but real writing. It’s my one place for everything in-progress as well as a history of final outcomes.

As for the specifics of my new blogging workflow, all of my posts are assigned a tag of blog. (It’s currently the only tag I use for anything.) Then, I have two custom Workspaces.

One called “Blog Posts” which only shows drafts tagged blog, defaults to Markdown syntax highlighting, and automatically switches to my Markdown helper keyboard on iOS.

And then there’s another workspace titled “Everything”. It doesn’t actually show everything. Rather, it’s everything that’s not tagged with blog. I’ve currently got about twenty unfinished posts in some form or another in my Inbox. I don’t want those clogging up and crowding all my other notes which tend to be more “action oriented”.

These two workspaces let me quickly switch between notes that I might need to do something with or reference and those that stick around longer and require a more focused, creative mood to tackle.

And as an added bonus, the Mac app can now show a live preview of your post rendered in your website’s theme, too – just like MarsEdit. (The iOS app has been able to do this for a while as well, but it doesn’t let you see the preview and edit text at the same time.)

Anyway, that’s all a long way of saying that I couldn’t be happier with this new setup. Drafts truly is where all of my text starts.

Writing Without Editing

Last year, December 30th to be precise, I had the idea to write and self-publish a book about Dropbox and digital photography. It would sum up and explain in detail everything I’ve learned about capturing, organizing, sharing, and protecting my photo library – centered around Dropbox. I went home that night and immediately dumped everything out of my mind into an OmniOutliner document.

Eighteen hours later, my son was born.

So, the book stalled for a while.

But a few months later, once the insanity of having a baby settled into something resembling a routine, I turned that outline of ideas into a real outline of chapters and sections. Sometime in April I began the real task of writing. I even went ahead and booked a few website sponsorships for later that Summer thinking I’d have the book finished by then.

Boy was I wrong.

It’s now nearly a year since I first had the idea for the book, and I’ve written around 15,000 words. I’m guessing I’ve got another 10,000-15,000 to go. So I’m half-way there.

What I find myself struggling with isn’t finding the time to write or coming up with ideas of what to write about. I have time blocked out every evening and I’m working through my outline. My problem is that I’m a perfectionist when I write. Going back to my days in college as an English major, I wrote all of my papers start to finish with little to no editing. I’d sometimes spend thirty minutes on two sentences making sure my point was as clear and concise as possible before moving forward. The result? I’d spend the same amount of time writing papers as my friends, I just never went through the second and third drafts that they did. When I was finished, I was finished.

But with a project as a large as this book, writing that methodically is too slow and causes me to lose my place within the larger context of what I’m writing. So, I’m trying to force myself to write without editing. Get my thoughts out of my head and into Scrivener, knowing I’ll have time to do real editing and proof reading when I’m done.

That’s a struggle for me. It goes against the very nature of how I’ve always written. And I’m not sure how to get better at it other than plodding along a little bit every day.

If any other writers out there have dealt with this problem, I’d love your advice.