Workflow: Capture

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:

Overview, getting to know Drafts 

Drafts and Dropbox 

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:

picture1Next 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 and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.

Top 5 Favorite Writing Apps For Your Phone

Wait, what? Why would someone ever choose to write on his or her phone, do you say? I used to ask myself the same question. I used to think I would never ever write on my phone.

But then I found myself in situations when I was frustrated because I couldn’t get those ideas down. Phones are portable. They go pretty much wherever you go. Phones are inconspicuous, if you care about that sort of thing, because everyone around you is already playing Candy Crush on their phones. For me, typing into a phone is usually faster than writing longhand in a notebook and safer than scrawling the note on a napkin.

So I may have eaten my words a bit (pun intended). Using my phone to jot down an idea, a bit of dialogue, or a full scene or *gasp* MORE became practical during doctor’s visits, intermissions of my son’s choir concert, while waiting in a long line, or waiting the fifteen minutes for the dinosaur of my office’s copy machine to finish a print job. I have heard that a phone may become useful even in the bathroom, though I admit to nothing. I have a friend who drafted an entire book on her phone while sitting up during the wee hours of the morning with a child with chronic night-waking issues.

Having said that, it goes without saying that it is much more preferable to sit in a nice comfy chair in front of your writing desk or on a chaise lounge in the mountains with a laptop and do all of your writing with a magnificent view. But as busy people who are also writers., we can’t always be so lucky.

Today I’m going to share with you my can’t-do-without apps for writing on my phone. A few things about these first:

  • I am an iPhone addict user, so the following are iPhone apps. Most of these have the same or comparable apps on other platforms. These are ones that I actually use and have kept using, and I have a lot of apps that I have tried and deleted off my phone for the sake of saving space. So yes, these are my keepers.
  • There are many apps like Dropbox, Google Docs, Writing Journal, etc. that are excellent for facilitating the writing process and transfer of documents, but this post is specifically for apps that help you actually get those words written/revised.
  • These opinions are 100% my own and are not sponsored by any of the creators of the apps or the App Store or anyone associated with Apple, though if anyone would like to send me some free apps for all of the nice things I’m about to say, I wouldn’t say no. 

Here they are, in no particular order.


What I love: My critique partner Tasha and I both use this app regularly, and we both love how Evernote allows you to easily organize your notes, annotate, do full searches within notes, and attach reminders on notes. We also love how Evernote automatically syncs between devices. It’s also easy to share documents for the purposes of collaboration. It’s password-protected so you can keep your documents safe (which is only a pitfall if you’re like me and always forget your password). This is a full-capacity app that does have a free version so you can test it out and see if you like it.

What I don’t always love: Honestly, there isn’t much I don’t like about this app. Because it has more features, it obviously took me longer to learn about the features. Sometimes I tinker a little too much and want a distraction-free writing zone, and so I use one of the other apps below.

Hanx Writer

What I love: Speaking of distraction-free writing, this app (created by Tom Hanks) is perfect for this! Quite simply put, using it is a lot of FUN. When you open it, it gives you the view of an old-fashioned typewriter with a blank piece of paper, and you just start hammering away at the keys — it gives you the option of on-screen keys that are part of the typewriter, or you can use a bluetooth keyboard. As you type, you’ll hear the sound of the typewriter keys, and I’ve found that something about the ambience that this creates makes it ideal for ridding myself of distractions. I use this app to fast-draft scenes or dialogue when I don’t have a lot of time or when there are lots of things going on around me (playground noise, restaurant noise, my son’s karate class), and I’m always surprised and pleased at how many words I can pound out on this little typewriter.
What I don’t always love: There’s not a lot of options for editing, aside from deleting and retyping, but again, I use this for fast-drafting in small increments of time. The biggest downside to this app that I’ve found is that it doesn’t sync, and when you do share via email, Dropbox, or other options, it shares as a PDF instead of text. My easy fix is to “Select all” and then paste it into an email to send to myself (or a Google Doc if you have that app as well). 

Dragon Dictation 

What I love: Dragon Dictation is, as its name specifies, for dictation of notes. It’s no frills — you simply push the record button and start talking. Compared to other dictation apps or even the iPhone built-in microphone option, I’ve found the translation ability of this app to be excellent. I’ve found it perfect for drafting out dialogue, especially when I’m on a long drive sans kids, though I’ve done it with the kids in the car too (the latter merely requires more editing of the kids’ contributions).

What I don’t always love: There can’t be a lot of background conversation or it will pick up those words as well. The app isn’t YOU, so the app will sometimes not know what word you mean (but again, it’s a lot better than any of the other dictation apps I’ve tried). Character’s names in particular tend to get butchered (but not always), and it doesn’t learn from correction. Accordingly, there will be a bit more clean-up than with other apps. There is no auto-sync feature, but you can email yourself what you have dictated. Great for times you need hands-free writing for whatever reason. Maybe for when you’re in the shower?…. (ooh, I should try that!).


What I love: Sometimes I just need to actually scribble something down. Or maybe sketch out a map to help me with world-building. Or make a flowchart. Penultimate is a notebook app that lets you write in it like you would with pen and paper. You can have several different notebooks, choose the type of “paper” you want and color pen you want, and scribble to your heart’s content. And yes, you could carry a notebook and pen around with you after all, but again, these apps are all about portability.  I’m proud to be a die-hard pantser writer, but I sometimes need to work out elements of my plot and literally connect the dots between characters or plot points, and Penultimate is great for that. The utility of this app will depend on how much you like to use notebooks for writing.
What I don’t always love: Penmanship has never been my strong suit, and I honestly don’t use this app as much on my phone as I do on my iPad because it’s harder to write on a smaller screen. I have a stylus to make the penning easier, though it does work with your finger. 

neu.Annotate PDF

What I love: This app allows you to scribble annotations right on your PDF files. You can use it somewhat like Penultimate, but it’s an awesome way to get some revising/writing done. When I reach that stage, I save my document as a PDF, open it in this app, and make quick annotations as I read. You have the options of using a highlighter or a variety of pens of different colors. It’s super easy to export or email the annotated files with this app too. (Also great for critique partners and beta readers, FYI).

What I don’t always love: Same as for Penultimate. I use my stylus, and it offsets the cons of trying to “pen” on your phone’s screen.

One more thing: There are always updates on these apps, and sometimes I don’t like a particular update for a specific reason. I always recommending reading the app’s “current version” reviews before updating to see what how people like the latest changes and/or what’s been improved.

Those are my favorite five! Thanks for stopping by our blog and letting me nerd out on my favorite apps 🙂

What about you? Do you ever write on your phone? If so, please share your favorite apps!

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors of the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT. She writes on her iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.