John Ford. He is a teacher, writer, copy writer, marketer. Sending out an email Tuesday, that’s every Tuesday. It comes to my inbox, usually about some interesting content about copy writer’s stuff. It’s been a least the last 20 years! Why does he do it? He does it for a living, he writes. Why do I read it?
After my stroke, there was some rearranging in my brain functions. Music was one of them. At first it seemed it was gone. Now I can bring tunes together in my mind, but I may not bring a tune that anyone can recognize what I’m humming, or some musical sounds coming out of me. Writing for me seems to be going away gradually from me the writer that I was. I was journaling often. Now I write in my journal, or write emails, or post anything. Never write for Facebook. I’m thinking of deleting it all together, I mean my account.
I’ve just read Ford’s list of must haves. Everything he said he uses these:
List a Tools
Copied from John Ford
Precious Writing Item #1: Flicka 2.0
“Flicka” was a behemoth of an IBM desktop computer that I was assigned when I first started writing copy as a new hire. It/she was named that because the screen would flicker violently every time you hit the return key. It should have come with a warning for people with epilepsy. But it worked.
“Flicka 2.0” isn’t the name of my current laptop, but I’m just as sentimental about it. I now work exclusively — and stubbornly so — on Apple products. For years, that’s meant a large laptop with the showy, glowing white Apple on the back. I’ve gone through many models since the mid-’90s, each with its pros and cons. But mostly pros.
My current model is a 16″ 2021 Macbook Pro. This is a ludicrous amount of high-ticket power for writing. I kid myself by saying I’ll also use it for photography, film, and music projects. All of which I have almost no time for. You don’t need a Macbook. They’re just nice. Search for “refurbished Mac sales” on Google if you’re inclined but balk at the regular price. There are usually great deals, and they come with warranties.
Valued Writing Tool #2: Flicka 2.0.1
By this, I mean my iPad, which also goes everywhere with me. And with that, a Logitech Folio Touch keyboard case. The latter is the best of many keyboard cases I’ve seen and makes the iPad almost as useful as carrying a laptop. Good and powerful iPads are also available via refurbished sites if you’re looking to save bucks. I also want to mention the Apple Pencil here, which I use a lot to write and do markups. See below.
Latest Great Find #3: GoodNotes
None of these links in today’s issue are affiliate links, by the way. But this one above should be, given how often I recommend it. GoodNotes is a note-taking app for iPads, though a version also exists for desktops. It’s not available for Android. And I don’t think it’s available for PC, but I’m not sure. But if you’re on those platforms, the GoodNote-like features to look for include PDF markup, cross-device backups, handwriting recognition, and keyword search. I use GoodNotes and my Apple Pencil to handwrite notes on PDFs of promotions that I’m reviewing or studying. I also use it to take notes during brainstorming calls, which feels less rude than typing as someone talks. It’s a lot like writing on paper and saves me swipe-file storage space.
Indispensable Tool #5: Scrivener
I’ve been using Scrivener for so long that I used to correspond with the owner/programmer with questions about how to use it when it first came out. They created it for academics who were writing big papers. That explains why it’s so good for collecting and organizing research. Since then, it’s picked up many new features (including many I’ll never use), and it’s gotten popular with everyone from novelists to screenwriters and, yes, copywriters. You can get it on all popular platforms. I typically make an outline and collect research in Scrivener, write a pre-draft draft with its formatting tools, and then export that to a “docx” file so I can clean it up for linear editing in Word or Pages. Scrivener also has a simulated index card and corkboard function, which is useful.
Years back, I bought a cool old typewriter in a thrift store. I’ve never actually written on it. It’s just desk decoration if I ever set up a permanent office in any corner of the world. Thankfully, though, there are word processors. Microsoft Word dominates, Google Docs is popular and free, and Pages is an extra Mac option. All three can open and export to “docx” format, so I never understand file compatibility questions. I use all three, mostly because each has quirks that send me running to the others. Word crashes more often and forces me to use the inferior Microsoft Dictionary and file backup features. Google Docs is a bit clunky. And Pages, though a lot more stable, lacks split-screen. All three refuse to use rich text labels for dragged-in URLs, which I use when quoting online sources. But we work with what we can get.
Surprisingly Useful Writing Tool #7: Grammarly
I installed it as a novelty, to see how it worked. But Grammarly turns out to be a pretty helpful add-on. You can use it system-wide on your computer, including in your browser. It checks spelling and — yes — your grammar. But it also makes suggestions about awkward phrasing, cliches, and writing tone. I don’t always use it, but it catches things I shouldn’t have missed when I do it. It’s also what inspired today’s issue; yesterday I got an email of Grammarly “insights.” It turns out I’m “more productive” than 86% of Grammarly users, more accurate than 61%, and use more unique words than 96%. I’ve also used Grammarly to check 1.7 million words since I first installed it in October 2016. My top mistake? Too many ellipses.
Keynote is Apple’s version of Powerpoint, both of which you can use — of course — on a Mac. Keynote is just… better. And not just for presentations. I use Keynote while writing copy to do quick mockups of charts or clusters of images that I’ll drop into my copy, to show designers what I’m looking for. It’s quick and the formatting tools are powerful. To get the image from one program to the other, I’ll use Apple’s Shift-Command-5 capture function.
Numbers is Apple’s version of Excel, the spreadsheet program. Mac can run Excel, too, and again, there’s cross-format compatibility. But Numbers also looks and runs better. As a copywriter for the financial industry, I work with numbers. So knowledge of spreadsheet formulas and functions can prove incredibly useful.
Timely Tool #9: Pomodoro apps
There’s no denying it. Sometimes I’ve got a terrible procrastination problem. Pomodoro apps help. They’re digital egg timers, named after someone’s timer that looked like a tomato. This is a callback to the Gene Schwartz technique, where you set a timer to get you started. Schwartz set his for 33 minutes and 33 seconds because that was easy to punch in. Others swear by 25 minutes per run. I use 30 minutes. You take a 5-minute break after each work period and a 15-minute break after every four timed sessions. Do two or three sets of four in a day, and you’ll get a lot done.
If you don’t have time to read, Stephen King once said, you don’t have time to write. I’ve always been a reader. And have left piles of boxes full of books in multiple places worldwide to prove it. These days, sacrilege as it might be, I carry all my books with me — hundreds of them — on the iPad, tucked away in Books, the Kindle app, or in audio form from a monthly subscription to Audible.com (I believe it’s around $15 a month for a book credit). Your writing output is only as good as what you pour into the sponge between your ears.
The French say, “You can go a long way after you’re tired.” This I learned from a Snapple bottle cap. And I’m sure it’s true in a lot of things. But not for writing. I can’t write when I’m exhausted. And writing itself can be exhausting. So, yes, when I’m fighting to focus, sometimes I take a nap. No need to be self-righteous about it. Especially when you know about the power of the “trucker’s nap.” The way it works, you drink a coffee and then set a timer for 20 minutes. Immediately lay down and close your eyes. Hopefully, you’ll sleep. When your alarm goes off, the caffeine will kick in. Between that and the quick shuteye, you’ll get three to five more hours of solid focus. Just make sure you don’t try this trick after 4 pm, or you could disrupt later sleep.
Focus Tool #12: Noise-cancelling Headphones
This last one feels a little precious to add to the list, but the fact is that I’m so easily distracted and write so often in the presence of others I need a way to shut out the world. I listen to music while writing, which I know some can’t do. But sometimes, I just keep them in with nothing playing. I’m not sure I could write without them. No, that’s not true. Still, I use them daily to work.