Writing is, essentially, a lonely business. It’s just you, a keyboard and as much focus as you can bring to a task. I’m in the midst of a long piece of writing now, for a Brilliant Noise project. This is exactly the sort of work I could comfortably do from home, relaxing with my own coffee and my lovely view of the Adur. So, what brings me to Brighton on the days devoted to this project? Why am I sat in Brilliant Noise’s offices, being anti-social with my headphones on?
There are three reasons:
Alone in company
Working on something alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. There is a certain comfort in being surrounded by friendly faces. It’s the basic principle behind co-working spaces, and it holds for projects like this. I have the chance to interact with my editor on the project, and the co-founders overseeing the project, as well as the rest of the staff. I haven’t over-used that today – I’ve had maybe 10 minutes of conversation along the way. But it’s there, and it’s useful human contact.
Shifting my headspace
That human contact isn’t with my wife and daughter. I love the pair of them very deeply indeed, and they’re part of the reason I’m working like this. It’s one way of bringing in enough cash alongside my wife’s earnings to give them a good life, but also spend some decent time with them. I work a four day week, devoting Fridays to caring for my daughter. Believe me, I’ve never looked forward to the end of the week as much as I do now, knowing it’s going to be all Daddy/daughter time. But to really focus on a writing project, I need to close all that down in my head, and get myself in a focused headspace. Here, I’m sat with my laptop on a big desk to myself, with virtually no distractions and my writing app in fullscreen mode. The physical movement down the coast and into an office, with the short train journey, signals to my brain that it’s time to get into work mode.
Working from home is great when I need to get a lot of disparate tasks done in a day. When I need to do longform writing, being away from the nagging feeling that I should do a load of washing is useful.
Guilt and Inspiration
I’m an independent worker these days. I’m usually working on a day or project rate. Sitting amongst the people I’m working for is a great invcentive to deliver value-for-money to them. That’s the guilt side. I can see the people who’s money I’m taking. That’s a more concrete transaction when they’re sat in my eyeline. There’s also the inspiration effect – they’re a skilled, creative bunch, and the ideas bouncing around the office encourage me to up my game. I don’t want to be the one whose work is a little below the others. Is there a little competitive spirit in there? Sure – but that’s a good thing.
(This is the second in a linked series of posts about how I work. The first was published last week – and there are more to come.)
So, I’m not the only one to find the iPad ideal for writing. Warren Ellis does, too:
Okay, so, yes, I did write a chunk of GUN MACHINE on the iPad. I did it in a couple of different ways, depending on my mood. To write material on your iPad, you need:
Read on, oh curious one…
Jason Snell, writing for MacWorld:
The changes in writing environment go beyond the act of typing. The iPad also offers a remarkable lack of distractions. When I write on my Mac I find I am endlessly checking Twitter and email and my weather station’s current conditions page and anything else I can find to distract myself from the difficult task of putting one word in front of another. On the iPad, I am more focused–and when I do finally take a break to check my email, it feels like an actual break, not a distraction.
I agree with this. My iPad is my single favourite device for any extended piece of writing. Anything more than about 600 words, and I’ll use an external keyboard with it, but it allows me to focus on writing in a way no other device I’ve owned in years does. I’ve blogged about this before.
The interesting thing about being self-employed and no longer having anyone dictating my technology to me is that I’ve been able to customise my working environment to make it really conducive to getting what I need to get done, well, done. In essence, I now have three different working environments for work-tasks, which I switch between based on what I’m doing:
- iPad – for long-form writing of any description
- MacBook Pro (15″) – for creative tasks which happen sequentially. For example, liveblogging at conferences, where I’m switching between my blogging software in one full-screen space, and my photo-editing software in another.
- MacBook Pro docked to a 27″ LED display – for research tasks, where I’m using software in parallel. I spent Friday doing research for a project, for example, and had Evernote, Safari and Tweetbot all open on the same screen, moving swiftly between the three.
The days of one device handling all my creative work are long, long gone, and I can’t see them coming back soon.
Not much time for blogging today; between meetings, travelling, and doing some paid writing work, this old blog has been sadly neglected. (And yes, I’m aware I owe you a “redundancy two months on” and a “nine years of One Man & His Blog’ post.) But I have learnt one very important lesson from use of my iPad as my main computer for the last 30 hours or so: I’ve found my perfect combination for long-form writing:
- iPad in vertical orientation
- Keyboard (in my case, the keyboard dock)
- iA Writer
It’s such a clean, focused writing environment that my attention stays focused on the job, and the words just flow out of me. Honestly, I wish I’d had this combination back in the days when I was bashing out 5,000 to 10,000 words in a day to hit a deadline on a White Wolf book. It would have made life so much easier.
In an odd way, it’s the closest thing to a typewriter I’ve seen modern technology produce, combining the basic proportions and aesthetics of that writing experience with all the comforts of spell-checking and immediate access to the web for research that modern technology brings.
I suspect I’ll be using this combination for much of my writing, even once the MacBook Pro is back in play.
(I suspect I owe Mr Belam some credit for introducing me to iA Writer. But he’s my arch-enemy, so I won’t give it to him… 😉 )
Day One is an app for iPhone and Mac. I blame @megpickard for introducing me to this via a passing tweet.
My experience of using instrumental music to write or work to has impoved by leaps and bounds since Apple introduced gapless playback into iTunes and iPod.
Which reminds me, time to print out my keynote bingo card.
For the next seven days, I’m going to be conducting a little experiment here.
I’m going to write an essay a day, and post it to this blog. Each posts should be at least 500 words long, and may be longer,
I have a number of topics in mind, but am open to suggestions of what people would like to read me writing about. Suggestions gratefully received in the comments.
Just time for a quick post before bed.
On my drive back from Suffolk this evening I was listening to the Westminster Hour and, in particular, the Sunday Supplement slot in which Gyles Brandreth discussed political diaries.
One of his interviewees made the point that keeping a diary changes the way you live. You start behaving in different ways, saying things you wouldn’t otherwise say and generating opportunities to make your life more interesting, just so you can record it in your diary. It’s an interesting idea, and it’s one that can extend to blogging, I think. I’ve certainly gone places and done things just so I can photograph them, or blog about them. And I’m struggling to see this as a bad thing. In an age when many people just passively consume what’s fed to them through the TV, anything which forces you to make your life more remarkable has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?
Technorati Tags: blogging, writing, lifestyle, life, diaries
Right, out of self-pity mode. There are far worse things than mashing up your own foot, like having your whole city destroyed by a hurricane. Which is, of course, what happened to the people of New Orleans some months back.
As with all of these things, charity donations poured in initially, and then started to drop away. Well, I’d like to encourage you to donate by buying a book that I was involved with. Beyond The Storm: Shadows of the Big Easy is a collection of essays, fiction and role-playing material themed around the city, produced by volunteers with all profits going to the American Red Cross to support Katerina relief. I didn’t actually write any of it, but I did edit chunks of it, including work by Mur Lafferty of Geek Fu Action Grip and Mikko Rautalahti of Fun Pastimes for Stupid Children.
The book is available in PDF or print format from the Beyond The Storm website. And it’s all in a good cause.