A longhand blog writing workflow on iPad and Mac

I adore writing longhand

I adore writing longhand. I’m not very good at it, and I don’t do it often enough, but I adore writing longhand. I crave the feeling of a good weight pen or other writing utensil and the joy of passing that over a smooth page and make an impression. Granted, my handwriting looks like what would be left if a murder of crows dipped their collective feet in a bottle of ink and walked over the page, but still, I adore writing longhand.

Writing longhand liberates my thinking

It really does feel like I have a lot less brakes to my creativity when writing longhand than when faced with a keyboard and an empty document. Writing longhand is such an engrained habit, it is such a low resistance, unobtrusive habit that some of the content just flows. A keyboard often limits my flexibility.

I’ve tried other approaches. For a while, I was really into mind mapping. I got the applications (iThoughts HD is an excellent app if you are so inclined) but again I was confronted with that keyboard. Even with the excellent fast text entry, the inertia was still too big to get to an effective, always on method of capture.

So I came back to writing. In Moleskines, because you need to write with a certain style. And you really want a notebook with a philosophy and a great website. Thing is, you don’t really always carry that around. I have other tools that really are with me all the time. Such as my iPad. But the iPad has a, albeit virtual, keyboard. And most of the writing apps don’t really allow me to write in a good way, unless one really large word per line is what writing really should be all about.

Combining Notability with a Bamboo stylus

I had actually purchased Notability a while back, but never really gotten to use it. The interface is far from the stylish, no nonsense interfaces we Apple fanboys are used to. The app actually gives an appearance of utter confusion. Shallow as I am, I never gotten further than that. Until Mac Power Users episode 100, where a number of listeners referred to their workflows. An English gentleman referred to his use of Notability with the Bamboo stylus. As luck would have it, one of my gadget shopping sprees a few month back had yielded, yes, a Bamboo stylus.

I literally put 1 and 1 together and ended up with more than 2. Amazing. The application allows for a focused area in which you can write as tall or as large as you want, and it will still look like normal handwriting on the page, as the focused area also enlarges the actual paper. It is one of the first apps which allows for a worthwhile writing experience in my opinion.

A blogging workflow with longhand first drafts

So I’ve started writing my first drafts in longhand, on my iPad, in Notability with my Bamboo stylus. And it’s been an excellent experience. This is pretty much how the entire process happens.

  1. I capture ideas into OmniFocus. During daily review I cull and if the idea remains relevant in my head, I create a short entry into Notability, a document with the blog idea as a title. This one, for example, was called “On writing longhand”. That tells me pretty much everything I need to know to start writing. If I don’t remember a couple of days later, the idea gets killed anyway.
  2. I usually write on the train, in the morning. My morning commute into Brussels takes me about 20 minutes by car, 45 minutes by train and 10 minutes on foot. The train is an excellent place to write longhand on my iPad. I just write. It’s almost frictionless sentence capture around the idea the document is destined to capture. I choose to display a lined background in Notability and I write every other line. This makes editing much easier.
  3. I usually correct in the evening, on the way back from work. Again I have a 45 minute window in which I can review the text. I use a red pen instead of a black one for first reviews, a blue one for second review.
  4. Once I’m happy with the text as it is, I label it ready for “blog draft” and I export it as a PDF to Evernote. This way, the document gets copied on all my devices and whenever I have a couple of minutes free, I write a couple of sentences in my Multimarkdown Composer application on my Mac. I write in markdown and generate text files (.txt) which I then copy and paste into my SquareSpace 6 powered blog.

And that’s pretty much it.

More efficiency? No thanks

I’m certain there are more efficient ways of doing this, but this rather “slow” approach works really well for me. It really forces me to take the time and review what I’ve written, ideally a couple of times. I’m a rather impatient writer and forcing myself through this elaborate process aims at improving both the quality and the relevance of my writing.

Let me know if it works.