This is the second in a series of posts on my digital writing tools and workflows. In the first post I described my move away from word processing software and use of text files. I also outlined the big chunks of my workflow. This post will focus on the first step: Capture.
The idea of capture comes from one of the cornerstone concepts of David Allen’s productivity bible, Getting Things Done. Before you can actually get something done, you have to capture all the random stuff floating around out there. Immediate and ubiquitous capture is crucial because ideas come upon us so quickly and fade from our memories, like tears in rain.
Allen says our minds are terrible places to store new information, and I agree with him. The Muses aren’t thoughtful enough to ask if we’re ready for them. Consequently, I’ve been working on ways to be ready for them when they pop in unannounced.
My larcenous imagination clicks into gear, not when I’m daydreaming, but when I’m out in the world. That is where I find my raw materials for writing. I’m like a magpie when I find these treasures. I want to stash each one of them away.
Until just recently, I used to accomplish this by scribbling notes everywhere, which worked okay, I guess, if I didn’t lose anything. And I can’t tell you how many amazing ideas drowned in the washing machine.
It became clear to me that if I wanted to benefit from inspiration, I needed to move these ideas into the cloud as quickly as I could. So, I tried using my phone. I emailed myself, text messaged myself, and tried dozens of applications. I quickly discovered my phone was a great tool for capture but not so hot for organization, storage, and retrieval.
Until I stumbled upon an application called Drafts.
Drafts by Agile Tortoise
Drafts is a text editor for mobile devices. (It’s currently only available for iOS, sorry Android users.) On the surface it seems like just another place to input text, but it’s a much, much deeper than that.
Drafts is fast. You start by opening the app. There is no need to tap through a bunch of options and menus. As far as capture goes, nothing is faster. Drafts plus Siri dictation gives me the fastest capture method I’ve tried.
Once the text is in Drafts, that’s great, but Drafts allows you to decide where you’re going to send that text. Drafts allows you to “shoot” your text into applications or files of all types: text messages, Evernote pages, emails, you name it. A Drafts workflow is highly configurable.
If you want to take a look at how all of this works, I recommend these two screencasts by David Sparks:
How I use Drafts
I use the “prepend to a text file” workflow extensively in my workflow. I have a few container text files in place in a special Dropbox folder called “Text Files.” There’s a document in there called “fictionideas.txt” I have another called “possibleblogposts.txt.” I’ll also set up files for current projects. I have one for books I want to read, movies I want to watch. There’s one for quotations and another for things I know I need to do but am for some reason putting off. That file is called “promptings.txt”
Let me show you how this works.
The other day, I was in the grocery story parking lot loading bags into the back of our minivan. From the corner of my eye, I saw three little birds shoot out from underneath a couple of neighboring cars, glide across the open space, and land under a grey Dodge Charger. I thought it was a lovely image that I could use in something. I didn’t have a place for it, but I felt the moment had possibilities, so I pulled out my phone did the following:
Next Post – Drafting
In the videos I shared, David Sparks talks about “processing” captured text. The steps I described above are how I generally do that that processing step.
Capturing ideas is not all that useful if you don’t have a way to return to the ideas and use them. Given the application’s name, it sounds a little bit weird that I don’t actually “draft” using Drafts. It’s primary utility is its ability to convert ideas into text so I can send them to a safe place where I know I’ll find them again (not the washing machine).
Todd Robert Petersen is the author of LONG AFTER DARK and RIFT. Originally a YMCA camp counselor from Portland, Oregon, Todd now directs Southern Utah University’s project-based learning program. You can find him online at toddpetersen.org and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.