by Jason Snell & Dan Moren
November 30, 2018 8:36 PM PT
People ask about my writing workflow all the time, and it’s changed so little over the years that I’m always hesitant to get into it. But with my move to working at home and the integration of the iPad Pro into my professional life, things have changed a little bit.
I have been using BBEdit to do most of my writing for a couple of decades now. It’s a text editor primarily designed for programmers, so it’s an odd choice for a writing tool, but I love it. Most of what I write is in John Gruber’s simple plain-text Markdown format, and BBEdit provides some tools and text coloring for that. I like working in plain text, and BBEdit won’t let me work in anything else.
But really, I use BBEdit because of the array of other features it offers. BBEdit’s grep search-and-replace features let me massage text—not just what I write, but data out of spreadsheets and mail-merge documents and all sorts of other things—into exactly the form I need it, in a short amount of time. I’ve written article after article praising the value in learning how to use grep—it’s a little like telling people they should learn how to write scripts or use Shortcuts on iOS—so I won’t get too deep into it here.
The problem with BBEdit, if there is one, is that Bare Bones Software is not interested in building a version for iOS. I’m writing in plain text, so there’s no custom file format to deal with—that’s good. But still, I can’t just pick up BBEdit for iOS and keep working. Right now, I’m using 1Writer as my iOS writing app of choice. I don’t love it, but it works, has some convenient macros and keyboard shortcuts, and—most important of all—it syncs directly with a Dropbox folder of my choice.
In terms of when and where I write: I still do a lot of writing at my desk on my iMac Pro. But I’m finding that an increasing number of the words I write are done on the iPad Pro, either standing at the bar in my kitchen (see photo above) or out at a cafe (which is a fancy way of saying my local Starbucks). At the bar, I can snap my iPad into a Viozon iPad Pro stand and use a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard and end up with a pretty fun set-up where I can write in vertical orientation most of the time. Out and about, I’m bringing Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio case for now, but I’m looking forward to the 2018 iPad Pro version of my beloved Brydge keyboard.
Dropbox is the unsung hero of my Mac-and-iOS writing workflow. I have a folder in my Dropbox called Stories, and everything I write goes in there. On the Mac, I’ve configured Default Folder X to automatically prompt me to save every file in BBEdit to that folder. On iOS, I’ve configured 1Writer to use that particular Dropbox folder. Every story lives in there, and if I start writing on my Mac and then switch to my iPad, I know the story I’m working on will be there.
Another app that helps a lot with this is Hazel, which I’ve set to automatically move any story older than 14 days into a different Dropbox folder, called—get ready for this one—Old Stories. This means that I’ve always got an archive of my old stuff, but the Stories folder never ends up being too unwieldy.
It’s a system that works well for me, at least until the next system comes along. I could really use an iOS text editor with more programmable macros and keyboard shortcuts and Dropbox sync, but until that happens, this will suit me.