Writing is simple. Well, from a technical perspective, it is. All you need are a pen and paper. But while this simple setup has some advantages, most of us use digital writing and publishing tools. At the same time, most people don’t take the time to experiment with different tools and find the one that will serve them best.
In this issue, we’ll explore three traits that I find essential when I look for the perfect writing tool. You might have other features on your wish list, but I believe the following ones are more than just fancy features — they are essential to an effective writing process.
Writing requires focus. Writing is a thinking activity. It is easy to confuse being in the flow with working on autopilot. The best writing is done when you are immersed in it, but it is never automatic.
The best writing tools enable you to focus by creating a setup with as few distractions as possible. Many distractions are external, and we would be better off blocking them. But tools with too many options, cluttered interfaces, and bells and whistles that have nothing to do with the content you write are no less distracting.
I, for example, find too many formatting options a distraction. Your typical word processor has so many options to choose from: from the color and size of the font to fancy 3D effects. While these might contribute to the final result (although I personally believe they rarely do), they are pure distractions during the writing process.
The best writing tools make writing as straightforward as possible. They don’t give you many options, or they strictly separate things like the graphical design from the actual writing phase. The result is more focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs — exactly where your focus should be while writing.
As I write this newsletter, my screen shows nothing but the text. Almost my entire field of view is occupied by the content I write. No toolbars, no menus. Most of the text is grayed out so I can focus on the paragraph I am currently wiring. The only formatting options I have (using shortcuts) are creating a header or making the text bold or italic. And that’s all I need, at least at this stage.
The perfect writing tool respects the written word.
One of the common mistakes is thinking of writing as a linear activity: starting at the beginning of the page and writing what you have to say until you believe you’ve made your point. We think of writing as linear because reading is linear. In reality, to write a compelling text, you have to play with it until you get the desired result. Modularity is an essential aspect of this play.
The perfect writing tool lets you play with textual building blocks, move them around, and find their ideal arrangement. Thinking about your content as a structure made of building blocks you can move around is a game-changer. It makes your writing more impactful and more efficient. It allows you to experiment with different designs before and as you write the text.
Working with modular building blocks requires practice. But without having native support in your writing tool, this experimentation becomes tedious and distracting. When your writing tool doesn’t only support modularity but encourages it, you will realize the benefit of designing your content in no time, and you will never look back.
Writing requires focus, and you will benefit greatly from having a dedicated location and the perfect setup to immerse yourself in it. But ideas can pop into your mind anywhere and at any time. Some of the best topics or cool phrasings will catch you unprepared. The last thing you’d want is to lose them. Using different tools for notes, scraps, and the actual content you are working on could work, but it is not the most effective setup.
The perfect writing tool is accessible. It is available and ready for use regardless of where you are or when you come across an idea. Everything you need for writing, from your research material and random thoughts to everything you ever published, should be ready for use on the fly wherever you are.
If all this sounds like an ad for one specific tool, I apologize. I am not affiliated with any vendor, and while I’d be happy to recommend the tool I am using for writing if you contact me directly, I am not going to do so here. Eventually, the tool you use is a matter of personal preference. But allowing you to be focused, enabling modularity, and being always available are three basic requirements you should seriously consider if you plan to write more and write better.