Cow tools

I bought Antony Johnston’s The Organised Writer and have read it twice, so far. Inspired by his system, I’ve taken to organizing most things around the house.

Also, pandemic and all, it has to get done sometime.

A compilation of tools.


Papermate Inkjoy gel pens. Black, extra-fine. I have notoriously small handwriting that graphologists would make a meal out of. (Thank goodness graphology’s not real.) These are good to hold, mark well, and dry fast.

Legal pads. If I knew what brand I’d copped mine from, I’d buy several more. I have several filled Moleskine softcover notebooks, too. I prefer grid paper, but anything other than wide-rule works fine.


I have a late 2015 MacBook which I love dearly. Its battery needs service, and most people hate the butterfly switches on the keyboard, but it works for me. And it was the first Mac I bought for myself, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.


Scrivener. The ur-application for writers. I’ve been using it since 2005 and version 1.0. Now it’s on 3.22, sixteen years later. I’ve been writing THE WIRE ROAD in linear fashion, but Scrivener’s document-based approach means you can do it however you want. And you can throw whatever you want into its binder—PDFs, audio, images, bookmarks. When you’re done, hit Compile and (for me) out pops an ePub and a PDF. Can’t live without it.

ia Writer. A Markdown editor that I do most of my actual composition in. It’s minimal, with a focus mode that, while similar to many other apps’, is much cleaner in appearance. They built their own duo spaced font and that’s what I write in. Saves to iCloud, wonderfully easy to use, and it gets out of your way. Again, can’t live without it.

Numbers. It’s provided free for macOS, and I use Excel all the time at the day job. It’s good for tracking word counts, accounting, et cetera, and it doesn’t fight me by insisting every string of numbers is a date. (I also get confused about dates, but only when I see figs in the grocery store.) and Baked in to macOS and iOS, and synced through iCloud, the best note-taking and to-do list apps are the ones you always have with you. And they’re free! If I need something else I can always buy it later, but right now I’m putting them through their paces.


Active writing projects (.scriv files) wind up in Dropbox, since that’s the service the Scrivener developers can vouch for. If it’s an archived writing project, it gets compressed as a .zip and thrown into iCloud Documents. I’ve archived years of old compiles, too. Scrivener’s automatic backups, also compressed to .zips, are stored in iCloud, so if either service fails I’m still okay.

Web publishing

Kirby CMS. It’s flat-file, built on PHP, easy to learn, and very flexible. And the support community is ridiculous—there’s always someone who’s going to answer your question on the forum, pretty much no matter what. The license is a reasonable fee, too.

Git. “It tracks collaborative work through a beautiful distributed graph theory tree model.” “Cool, how does it work?” “No idea.”

While I mostly use Git to backup and deploy the website(s), there are available .gitignore files for use with Scrivener projects. I’ve basically walked backward into version control by compiling the project every time I’m working on it, but using Git will allow you to maintain fine-grained control over its differences as long as you commit regularly and cleanly. And as long as you don’t anger the Git gremlins.

ImageOptim. Not so much useful here on the main site, but I use ImageOptim to optimize photographs for publication on Same Ghost. I’ve built a workflow in macOS Automator that runs based on a folder action. I group photos into albums based on collections, then export the collections to the same folder. Automator watches the folder, resizes images to standard dimensions, then runs ImageOptim to shrink filesize for me. Albums go into Kirby, the content gets committed to Git, then deployed to the server.

(The nice thing about Kirby is there’s already a Kirbytag for implementing srcset, which allows for responsive images in websites.)


Spotify. I listen to instrumental music pretty much exclusively when I write. At present count, I’ve “followed” 200 bands. Caspian, Grails, Pelican, Do Make Say Think, and MONO are some of the all-time greats. While not necessarily a tool—and definitely not useful now—music helps me drown out distractions if I’m not writing at my desk.

It’s always good to turn the music off and write in silence if you’re composing an important or emotional scene. They have to stand alone if they’re going to be successful.

If you aren’t familiar with the reference that is the title of this post, go look it up. Gary Larson’s a genius.

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The year in THE WIRE ROAD

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