What does it take to live the writing life? Well fundamentally you must write. Simple. I started sharing lengthier Facebook posts then started using their notes. I received lots of encouragement about the kind of stuff I was writing and sharing with people and decided to move my content over to a bona fide blog. Once you do that and you feel like you want to take the next step what are some tools that will come in handy? Here are my top ten.
1. Webpage/Custom Domain
Once you write regularly and you’re thinking of moving your words from Facebook notes, or your journal, or where ever you are currently keeping it, you’ll need a website/blog. There’s four easy to use options: Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr, or Squarespace.
I’ve used all of four of these platforms. For my money the easiest to use with the most helpful and professional design setup is Squarespace. That’s where I’m currently at with both of my blogs (Grace for Sinners and Marginalia). Blogger seems to have been all the rage when personal blogs were just starting, but they just don’t seem to appear as professional. Wordpress may be the most popular for your average blogger. Tumblr is trendy. It seems like the crowd is a younger, far less serious with shorter attention spans. I enjoy Squarepsace because of the ease of adding and customizing design elements and the beautiful templates.
Closing point. Custom domains are dirt cheap now. If you are going to blog, drop the coin on a custom domain.
2. Social Media
You will want to join social media to spread the word. You don’t work hard to write so that nobody, but your mom will read it. There’s as many social media options as there are stars in the sky. (OK maybe I’m exaggerating a little) If you’re getting started I would sign up for Twitter and a Facebook page.
Once you’re settled there, I’d go Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn. The key thing to remember is you will not engage in all of these social platforms the same. I spend most of my energy on Twitter. I update my Facebook page regularly, but rarely engage there. I post semi-regularly at Google+ and Pinterest, but rarely interact with anybody there. I have LinkedIn to make me feel like a professional adult.
3. Buffer (Social Media Scheduling)
In the same vein, you should invest the $10/month for Buffer. It allows you to schedule post to all of your social media accounts which is invaluable. If you try to manually keep everything up-to-date, you will waste hours of your time. You will not spend a better $10.
You may not be making any money off your writing for years and years. Don’t get discouraged. Regardless, you must immediately collect the information of your few and faithful readers. Because when you do ink the book deal, you need to be able to get the information into the right people’s hand immediately.
MailChimp will store your reader’s name and email address for use in a newsletter (see example of the wonderful integration with Squarespace and MailChimp below the post). You can start off using the service for free and when the time comes when you have a million person list, you’ll upgrade to their paid service.
5. Comfy Chair
I wish someone would have told me this, but when you spend four to five hours in front of a computer screen writing, you’ll want a comfy chair. Spend a couple hundred dollars and get a nice office chair with good ergonomics. Otherwise, you’ll end up walking around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
There are so many good options and they are invaluable for managing your business on the go. I can write, schedule posts, share, store articles, read books, and respond to emails all from a nice hand held device
If you want to save money, you could go with a Phablet (like Samsung’s Note 3--half phone and half tablet), but honestly who wants to talk on a phone the size of a land mine? Now iPads are the I’m cool choice, but don’t knock Android until you’ve tried. Straight up functionality, Android wins in my book. My pick? Google’s Nexus 7 16GB for $200 (half the price of some iPad’s).
Be not deceived. The Muse comes, but often you have to schedule a visit with her. (She’s kind of like a therapist) Set up regular writing times, but also leave times for off the book dalliances with her. I get the bulk of my work done after I get home from my second shift job between the hours of 11:30PM-2PM. If you’re going to write late night or early morning, invest in some good coffee. No! Stop. Don’t go to your supermarket or Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m talking about some high quality bean. My personal favorite is La Colombe’s single origin beans. Call me a coffee snob, but you’ll thank me after you try these beans.
Music and writing go together. Listening to music is appreciating the creative work of someone else. That gets my own juices flowing. Before I get stoned, let me preface what I’m about to say. Support your favorite artists. Buy their albums. That’s gonna be you one day with your book. But you can support your favorite artist, and enjoy a subscription music service. I’ve tried Google Music and Spotify. Spotify wins in my book. Discoverability. User interface across devices. And desktop app. All wins for Spotify.
9. Computer and Word Processor
This may seem obvious. But never assume, my mom always tells me. For any of the above to work you’re gonna need a computer. Now you can get by with a basic Windows whatever whatever on the cheaps. But I highly recommend picking up an Apple computer. I’ve owned three of their machines, and they’ve all lasted over five years. I had one for almost seven. (I cracked the screen and sold it. The guy replaced the screen and upgraded a few things and it’s still in use today) They can be more pricey. I typically go to Apple’s store and scan their refurbished prices. You could pick up a brand new Mac mini and buy your own monitor for $599 or you can purchase a refurbished MacBook 11.6” for $719.99. Also, the thing I love about Apple’s computers is the software. I do all my writing in Pages 4.3 and I do most of my book formatting for digital and paperbacks there as well. Just an overall all great product for writing and longevity.
Last, but not least, you must (absolutely must) keep some kind of journal. Otherwise, you will never remember all of your great ideas and you will be unproductive. If you go old school, I’d check out the Moleskins. Simple. Elegant. Lots of history. We are, however, in a digital age and I would remiss without recommending a solution that will save you time and money.
I currently use two services in tandem. I write a lot of my quick thoughts and blog ideas in Google Keep (see photo below). It’s a web app and they have a sleek, functional app for Android and Apple. I color code my stuff. Marginalia ideas are in orange. Grace for Sinners in red. Gospel-Centered Discipleship in blue. You get the idea.
I also use Evernote for all my major projects and research. I love it’s integration with Twitter. I can swiftly save articles, quotations, and other stuff directly from the Twitter app (and my web browser). And it’s all searchable. That makes finding all my quotations on love, writing, grace, or what ever simple. I love simple. I keep my Evernote organized into Projects I’m working on and save the information in its proper Notebook. Voilà.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. His home blogs are Grace for Sinners and Marginalia. Follow him on Twitter.