My Viewsonic Portable Monitor

Gamechanger is a word thrown around a little too readily for my liking, however sometimes you do find something where you sit back and think: wow this really has made a massive difference in how I live/work/play…

In this instance the scenario is work. Not always the most fun topic to write about, however in this current world of hybrid work, I feel some sort of duty to pass on a good news story when I come across it.

Images courtesy of Viewsonic


I hadn’t really considered a portable monitor as a “need” until recently, when it became apparent I would be working remotely for a few days every month or so, but not from my home setup. Most days I’m working at a 27 inch Dell Ultrasharp monitor in the office, and a day or two per week at home in front of my LG 35 inch Ultrawide display. Both are connected via USB C. Clearly I’m used to the 13.5 inch laptop on the company issued Windows Surface 3 in combination with something a fair bit larger. I can (and sometimes do) work from the laptop alone, however the thought of regularly spending successive days doing that concerned me a little from a productivity perspective, so I began to consider some options.

I tend to be one of those individuals who prefers to be completely independent with whatever tech setup I use, and the gear I carry to the office each day reflects that. Its a mobile lifestyle they say, and yes it is, however to me, packing up and carrying your entire work existence in a bag or two need not involve compromise in how you like to work. A benefit of this mobile lifestyle is the very fact that when an alternative location becomes part of the rotation, what’s in those bag(s) has already taken care of 90% of the work in preparing for somewhere new. For most of us who like to be in control of these situations, as you’ve guessed already — 90% is a full 10% short of where we need to be. So I say to you new location… is there anything else I need to close that gap?

As it turns out the answer was yes, however I hadn’t quite appreciated how much of a benefit the anything else would turn out to be. I also confess having stumbled across a review or mention of a portable monitor somewhere was the trigger to look into this a little more. It’s certainly obvious to me in hindsight, however for someone who plugs into a second screen every day — apparently the idea of a portable one for the road wasn’t coming without a little nudge.

The Monitor

Although I’m no tech reviewer, onto the product itself. Once I began investigating things a little, one review I found pretty helpful was on PC Mag, appropriately titled The Best Portable Monitors for 2022. In the end, it’s perhaps not surprising I ended up with the Best for Road Warriors/At Home Workers pick, and I couldn’t be happier. A far better job on describing the tech details and providing you product pictures can be found on PC Mag’s review of the monitor itself, however I’ll provide this for immediate context:

ViewSonic’s VG1655 is a cleverly designed portable monitor with some uncommon features. It offers a fold-out stand with a wide tilt range. A five-way mini-joystick controller takes the place of the fidgety buttons found on most mobile monitors, and the onscreen display (OSD) menu system lets you access a wealth of settings instead of the handful offered by many rival panels. And it has two USB-C ports—one for power and one for data/video transfer—plus a mini HDMI port. Its poor sRGB color-gamut coverage makes it best for working with text and spreadsheets (versus photos and video), but it shines brighter than most mobile panels. Its surprising wealth of features, including built-in speakers, makes it our latest portable-monitor Editors’ Choice, despite its par-for-the-course panel.

PC Mag

The images accompanying this post are from the Viewsonic website, and paint the monitor in a far better way than a few amateur shots from me. There is one outlier however, and no doubt you’ll pick the Pete Denison original of my precarious looking but rock solid portable workspace.

I’ve come to realise in most cases when forking out of my own pocket for work related peripheral devices (which I’m happy to do by choice) that par for the course (in this case the panel/colour display) is generally more than sufficient for what I need, and my key requirements here were pretty much the following:

  • display quality that was good enough: yep, it’s work as you’d expect, all text, web, email and spreadsheets… (it’s an IPS 1920×1080 panel)
  • USB C connectivity
  • a little larger than my laptop screen (here 13.5 vs the 16 inch Viewsonic)
  • light weight (it’s a little over 800 grams without the cover or 1kg with it)
  • multiple viewing angles with a stable base (it has unlimited kickstand adjustable angles and also stands vertically in portrait if that’s your thing)
  • reasonable value for money in providing the points above

Overall, this thing is fantastic for what I need. It is seriously light, slides into the tote I use to carry my tech peripherals, has a screen I’ve never thought of as sub-par and simply plugs into one USB C cable for the laptop to power the display and transfer data. I haven’t noticed a massive impact on the laptop’s battery life, however it is often plugged in to power when the portable display is in use. It’s a simple set up, plug in and get to work.

Somehow the simplicity of powering and using this thing is what elevates the magnitude of my satisfaction. It’s one of those prime examples of minimal effort for maximum gain.

Rock solid and fully functional on my desktop sit-stand raiser

If we are talking effort vs gain, then I guess we also need to assess the bang for buck equation as well, which I think came in at a fairly reasonable level as well. The monitor in question was purchased online from Umart, and at $AU378.50, the benefit has been worth that many times over. Incidentally, working in a location 5 minutes down the road from a UMart collection point with 2 hour pickup available, is a very dangerous proposition when scrolling a tech catalogue…

Overall for what I’ve gained from this device, I’d consider it pretty good value for money.

Wrapping Up

As I’ve noted above, I don’t consider myself a tech gadget reviewer, and I’ve simply set out here to tell what I consider a success in purchasing a second, and extremely portable monitor for my mobile lifestyle. While that lifestyle mostly utilises two much larger screens in “toggling” my existence between home and the office, every few weeks the Viewsonic portable gets a run, and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself thinking ”wow — how good is this thing, I never would have thought I’d find it so useful”. That to me says it all.

If you are considering something to enhance your setup on the road, a lightweight portable monitor might just do the trick. This Viewsonic portable model might be worth a look, or failing that, a quick scroll through a “best portable monitor” post. It certainly worked (and continues to work really, really well) for me.

Back in Ulysses

Originally this post was to be about Setapp, which I’ve now been subscribing to over the past three months or so. Perhaps I’ll get to that at some point, however I probably haven’t poked around or utilised enough of the apps to really write anything of worth. One of the big draw cards though for hitting the signup button on Setapp was full access to Ulysses, and on that point I do have a little bit to say — not so much about the app itself, more so that it actually has me writing again.

Go figure.

Back in Ulysses… and actually writing

What is it about Ulysses then?

Before we get to that, just briefly, Ulysses being one of the plethora of text editors out there for Mac and iOS competing to be the heart of many a writing workflow. Running on a subscription model either direct from the developer or through Setapp as I’ve mentioned, it may just be the ”ultimate writing app” as the developer suggests:

Powerful features and a pleasant, focused writing experience combined in one tool, made for people who love to write and write a lot — this is Ulysses.

Sounds about right.

Image courtesy of Ulysses

While this post is about the app itself, it also isn’t at the same time. Of course no-one uses an app or system which is difficult to use or not to their liking. We all have our criteria here, and we could go down the path of the various UX and UI aspects of the app, and all manner of technical capabilities and limitations. Well, lets be honest — we could do that if I were in any way capable of such a thing, however in reality I’d be wading in waters I had no business being in. Add the debates around subscription pricing, data storage, true markdown and proprietary file databases and you have a lot more to discuss. That isn’t the purpose of this post.

No, the purpose of this post is explicit in the section heading above. Getting back into writing again despite a couple of very, very lean years here on the blog, during which time I was in and out of quite a few text editors. I hear you (and a smattering of YouTube thumbnails) telling me: It’s not about the tools it’s about doing the work…I certainly don’t entirely disagree with that sentiment, however I’m increasingly inclined to believe it’s even less true than I once thought.

Ulysses can’t do the writing for you though, surely?

No it cannot, and arguably there are just as many capable apps out there that will do the job (believe me, I’ve tried a few…). It’s just that for many years, Ulysses was where I wrote. Plain and simple. Back in the heyday of this blog, posting regularly, committing to a weekly link post, heck — even giving NanoWrimo a crack and getting 55k words done in that crazy month. All done in Ulysses.

So no, Ulysses didn’t put words on a page for me, but certainly helped me find my way and regularly do something I inherently enjoy — writing. Sure, most of what I write never sees the light of day, but cliche’s exist for a reason: it’s about the process (journey) not the result (destination). Somehow, somewhere along the way, that process for me became “writing in Ulysses” rather than simply “writing”.

Well if it’s so great why did you stop in the first place?

A very fair question given the high praise above. Part of me probably believes the blog would have gone from strength to strength had I stuck with Ulysses, although that would be a fairly unrealistic and flawed argument. There is no discounting the million and one other things going on in our lives, and truth be told, my writing consistency and rate of posting was on a downward — let’s call it a slope rather than the somewhat harsher spiral — long before I pulled up stumps with Ulysses the first time around (somewhere around 2017 I believe). In fact I do recall thinking that if I wasn’t writing all that much then there wasn’t much point in paying the ongoing subscription. In many ways a periodic “what am I paying for and what am I actually using” review of my subscriptions at the time. For the record, I have no issue with subscription pricing models, as a consumer, the power is entirely with me, and decisions simply need to be made from time to time.

So yes, that first time it was a casualty of competing priorities, commitments, general life challenges (nothing major mind you, just the day to day getting in the way a little), and perhaps a waning of will. The funny thing is, those very life challenges seem best countered by doing just this — writing, with my good pal Ulysses helping me along, and that’s exactly what I’m seeing and thriving on now. I for one certainly hope it continues.

Incidentally, I’d planned to link to a couple of previous posts relevant to what I’m discussing here, however going back through the earlier years of the blog really puts the recent me to shame as far as output is concerned, and indeed gave me pause. Here they are anyway:

NaNoWriMo – My Digital Tools

NaNoWriMo – Two Months On

Writing With Ulysses

Ulysses 2.6 – An update to my favourite text editor

In Conclusion

So there you have it. Me and Ulysses. Butch and Sundance. It’s not the tool it’s the mems!! It’s an ode to the golden years of my writing. The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood of markdown! Wow, I’m not sure how we ended up here, so it’s perhaps time to wrap this one up.

Whether or not this is some fleeting zen moment and things won’t actually change all that much will perhaps be seen in the fullness of time — or at least next January when thoughts again come to the year past and the one ahead. For now, the butterfly is in the sky and seems to be flying along pretty well.

I remain optimistic, with a trusted companion at my side(bar).

This November is for Editing

img_0237Depending on who or what you follow online these days, you‘ve likely seen NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) mentioned as the month of November approached. With things having kicked off on November 1st, the progressive daily word counts are now beginning to appear in my social media feeds. To those participating this year, I wish you every success, and to those “I’m already behind” tweets – where there is a will there remains hope – a thought which worked for me a few years ago.

While not diving into the full NaNo experience myself this year, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach (though I’m not sure whether to suggest its an easier or more difficult one), and revise the 55k words I committed to pixel and paper in 2014. At the time, I wrote a couple of posts on the tools I used to get there, and a quick search of the term NaNoWriMo on this blog will pull up a few posts outlining how I managed to fall over the 50k word deadline before month’s end.


Memories of how November went in 2014 fall somewhere on a continuum between I never want to do that again and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Where my thinking lies on that continuum varies day-to-day, however one thought always remained – I never quite finished it. Sure, the actual story or first draft is finished – it has just never been revised and edited. You know… finished.

Have I not had the time over the intervening three years to read, revise and improve on that initial effort? Absolutely. Just couldn’t do it. I even started a couple of times only to be thwarted by some innate inability to read my own work, let alone embrace the apparent enormity of the task.

So why now? A very good question, though perhaps not as good as the one which asks: what makes you think you can do it this time?. To be honest I’m not entirely sure I can, however in my own mind am a little more definitive about giving it a go this time. After all – I have a plan!

Three years on, the statute of limitation seems to have expired on those feelings of oh wow… I can’t read this, so away we go I guess. Besides, is it not the least I can do after having put my mother through proof reading and editorial duties the first time around?

The Plan

Diving into a river of bad grammar, poor punctuation, and let’s face it – a somewhat dubious plot line and story structure requires some sort of plan.

I have 55,000 words over 32 chapters, so the common sense approach would seem to be about one chapter per day. With reference to my Tools below, I plan to make a first pass through each chapter making corrections and notations by hand, subsequently transferring those to digital form.

Being relatively confident I will get through the initial markup, my fear is becoming bogged down in rewriting and larger changes. Should this be the case I think I’ll leave any major section rewrites to a later time if things head too far in that direction (says he who sets himself up for failure: hmmm…yes, that’s too time consuming – I’ll just do that bit later…).

The Tools

With reference to those previous posts about the tools used in creating the first draft, I might simply argue if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, however that would be oversimplifying things a little. The fact is I tend to proof and revise things far more efficiently and effectively in a very different format to what they were written in, and am of course far from alone in this way of thinking.

At the very least this takes the form of a text editor’s preview pane or say, Marked 2, in an entirely different theme to the editor pane itself. Better yet, with the physically printed word I am able to hold and manually scratch, scrawl, and mark up or annotate by hand. I don’t believe I am necessarily in the minority with this type of approach either, however perhaps a generation of digital only writers, editors and reviewers are now on the scene, and I would be considered a “throwback”. If not the case already, that time certainly cannot be far away.

In any event, given my reticence to get stuck into this task in the past, I’d suggest I am in need of selecting not only the best tools for the job, but those most likely to maximise my chances of success.

Pen and paper

For all of the notebook and paper reviews I’ve done extolling the virtues of my favourite types, the manuscript is printed out on standard office copy paper. Yes I know – I thank you for your kind thoughts and commiseration, however do believe I’ll cope. Strangely enough, my previously abandoned attempt at this task found the paper – while nothing to write home about – certainly usable.

I cannot recall the pen I was using, however the J. Herbin Orange Indien ink feathered just a little, and demonstrates some show through, however I’m simply taking anything I can see through the page as a sign of progress. I’m here to mark up, and can see it’s mark up I’ve done – a positive approach I’ll run with as far as it takes me.

This time around, I’ve settled on Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, ably distributed by a Pilot Custom Heritage 91 and its FM nib. The Shakespeare is my most recent ink acquisition, and seems perfect for the task in that it isn’t too bright, yet stands out from the printed black ink. I’ll leave it to your imagination whether I’m perhaps trying to channel some other form of inspiration with this choice as well…


The pen? Well it really could have been any of a number of choices, though in the end the FM nib squeezes my corrections and notes in and around those tighter spaces, as well as minimising feathering given its relatively restrained ink flow. The maroon with silver trim simply seemed like a good fit for the ink colour – or perhaps I thought it would set a creative mood?

MultiMarkdown Composer

If I’m to make a permanent record of any of these planned improvements, a digital element to this process is rather important. The choice here was easy, despite the significance of throwing 55 thousand words in a text editor, needing robust iOS syncing (I’m using Dropbox), and trusting my hard work will be safe, saved and ready to go anywhere over the next 30 days.

You may be thinking I’ve said the choice was easy given my loyalty to Ulysses for writing over the past three years, however given the title of this section, clearly that isn’t what I mean. I began using Ulysses through the promo trial for NaNoWriMo back in 2014. Fitting then that I’ll be testing something different this time.

My reference to the choice being easy, simply relates to a recommendation from a very good online friend who has helped immeasurably in much of my Mac related development over the past couple of years. I still maintain the best thing to come out of this blogging caper are the people you become acquainted with as a result. So, when someone whose opinion you highly respect makes an app recommendation, I feel it is well worth trying out.


MultiMarkdown Composer’s Table of Contents based on header levels

Armed with the Pro version of MultiMarkdown Composer v4, I am ready to work through and make any necessary adjustments or rewrites. As you can see, I have dropped the text into a Markdown file, and MMC4’s Table of Contents provides me with a nice sidebar view of my chapters. Although arguably possessing a few less bells and whistles than Ulysses, MMC4 provides everything I need for the task at hand. It’s a robust and powerful text editor, and if that isn’t what I need for the task at hand then I’m clearly approaching this all wrong.


…he was actually editing his work

I’m also interested so see how the iOS Files app handles Dropbox syncing when I use Byword on my iPad to squeeze in a few updates at lunch time. A few days in I can report so far so good. It would however be remiss of me not to mention encountering more than a couple of Byword crashes when using Copied in split view on my iPad (Air 2 running iOS 11.1) putting this post together.

Signing off

Enough talking, as the time to commence reading, critiquing and rewriting has already passed. I’ve indeed made a start, however am yet to convince myself that my will is strong enough to push on and get this done in a month. I’d like to at least think I can make one complete pass through with pen in hand – even if the rewriting comes a little later.

To all of those creative and motivated souls who’ve dived headlong towards the 50k word target, I wish you well. While its fair to say I have a certain reticence towards fully editing my first draft, I’m certainly glad I managed to create it.

Anyway – it can’t be that bad. My mother wouldn’t lie would she…?


Ulysses 2.6 – An Update to My Favourite Text Editor

Ulysses-iOS-1024Regular readers of the site would be aware Ulysses has been my writing tool of choice for over two years now, and I must admit that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The latest update to this Apple Design Award-winning app released a few days ago adds some great new features in version 2.6 which are likely to appeal both to current users or those on the fence about giving Ulysses a try.

Ulysses 2.6 adds direct publishing to WordPress (in addition to Medium which has been a feature for a while now); Dropbox support on iOS (in line with what already existed for the Mac); Quick Open via Global Search on iOS; typewriter mode on iOS; and full voiceover accessibility.

This is certainly a fantastic update, and is perhaps a game changer for some, though given how I currently work in Ulysses, for me it merely adds a little more icing on the cake.

Dropbox support

Having used iCloud syncing without issue during the past couple of years, improved Dropbox support across devices is indeed a nice addition however my writing will continue on in iCloud. At this juncture its also worth mentioning “my writing” amounts to what you see published on this site at somewhat irregular intervals. With the exception of one large project two years ago which incidentally brought me to Ulysses in the first place (syncing perfectly at the time I might add), everything else remains short to medium form blog posts.

That said, I do know there are those for whom Dropbox integration is a deal breaker, so it is perhaps a big addition in some quarters. I can say though, a quick duplicate, drag and drop will be nice to create a Dropbox version of each post in addition to my iCloud “published” archive. Said duplication on iOS to this point having been managed via the Workflow app.

Direct publishing to WordPress

Of those new features, for me, direct publishing to WordPress will probably be the main change to my day to day use of Ulysses. Admittedly, I never really found my select all-copy as HTML-paste into the WordPress editor overly difficult, however also remember the days of hitting the publish to WordPress button back when I was writing in Byword. Given that was about three years ago: (a) it has taken Ulysses some time to get there (as acknowledged in The Long Overdue Update moniker given to this release); and (b) clearly I haven’t missed it much either.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 6.03.47 AM

Direct publishing to WordPress

Of course depending on the particular method of publishing to your blog, there may be larger benefits to the WordPress support. One of the more detailed explanations of such a change is seen in this piece by Ben Brooks — longtime champion Ulysses and now working exclusively in iOS for publishing to The Brooks Review:

This one feature has made Ulysses the only iOS app I truly need in order to blog. So cool.

Typewriter Mode


Typewriter mode has never been a big thing for me, however I must admit to enjoying the increased serenity of a highlighted sentence (or line, or paragraph — choices within the typewriter mode settings) I’m working on, as the previous text fades into the background. Personally I prefer sentence highlighting, which also serves as a nice real-time reminder of just how each one is growing as you write.

Quick Open

Quick Open is also a handy addition, however I typically don’t have more than half a dozen sheets in each of four different folders going at any given time, so finding where I need to be isn’t generally too much trouble.

In closing

I’ve intermittently shouted from the rooftops about Ulysses before, which is perhaps why I haven’t warmed up my voice too loudly about this update — despite some fantastic additions this time around. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love the app, and haven’t really considered shifting since my first month or so of using Ulysses, so it’s all cream on top for me now. Of course I also do not wish to be overly flippant about the efforts developers put into these types of improvements and updates, on what is a rock solid, stable, and brilliantly efficient app.

Truth be known, at this point of Ulysses’ evolution, continued refinement and iteration on top of that rock solid base suits me perfectly. No doubt however in a couple of months if I stop and think – I’ll probably wonder what I ever did without the direct publish to WordPress feature, and as I finish the latter half of this post on my iPad — that typewriter mode really is killer.

Bravo The Soulmen — love your work.

The Handwritten Draft

2016-06-26 handwritten_post

With so many digital tools at our disposal these days, handwriting often seems so far behind us. Of course many of the individuals whose work I read online are more likely to keep the faith than others, however when the words generally end up as pixels, perhaps it can be hard to justify transferring them from one to the other.

Some time ago I posted a picture on Twitter containing a page of handwritten words with a caption noting the (blog) post was now complete. In response, one commenter stated there was no way they had the time to perform such an undertaking. Another was surprised the proportion of posts I wrote this way was not higher (which I believe I estimated at around 30% at the time).

At the time I considered this for a little while and then didn’t really pay much attention to the thought — until more recently, when I realised the number is now reversed, with around 70-80% of posts you read here written longhand in their draft form1. A complete reversal of that proportion is a significant change, and for such a change to occur without a conscious plan to do so, suggests there are factors at play which perhaps warrant a little more thought.

My typical digital writing workflow

Looking back to the first couple of years of writing here, it is not hard to remember how things went. Ideas were kept in Evernote (often appended to the one note via a Drafts app extension); stimulus and/or reference material gathered online was largely stored in Pocket; and occasional post outlines created as mind maps using MindNode.

Sure, some handwritten notes were made in various pocket notebooks or slightly larger variants, however things were largely digital, and as I think back on it, the proportion was perhaps even higher than the estimated 70% of my original estimation. Even those handwritten ideas soon became text in Drafts or Evernote.

So the digital basis for a post was created, and all that remained was perhaps for some from of outlining and a first draft to follow. As I mentioned above, planning (on the rare times it occurred) was generally undertaken as a mind map, followed by writing — initially in Byword, and since 2014’s NaNoWriMo: Ulysses.

This process seemed to work for a good while, and I was happy enough for it to continue.

Why the change?

Well, in many respects, the following from Steven Pressfield which I linked to in last week’s Wiser Web Wednesday rings true:

For years I dove in on Page One, put my head down and started hammering keys. That’s not always a bad idea. Sometimes it works. But what usually happened for me was I’d get halfway through before it hit me that I was totally lost. Or I’d finish completely only to realize that I basically had to tear the whole house down and start over.

I’ve alluded above to the “rare times” post outlines occurred for good reason. If we take, say, 70% as a reasonable estimate again — that is about the proportion of posts which were written by sitting in front of the keyboard and writing. No real plan or outline other than a few random notes perhaps. That is not to say these posts were necessarily of high quality having been written this way, simply to say I may not have necessarily completed them all with a different approach.

As time has passed, I’ve found this an increasingly difficult way of getting words down on these pages at an acceptable quality and rate. On the surface I am not entirely sure why that is, however suspect (and hope) my writing has at least improved to some degree since commencing this blogging endeavour in the first half of 2013. Like many (I assume) — I don’t tend to go back and read many of my previous posts, however there is probably immeasurable value in doing so. If we then assume I would like my writing here to continue improving, a little more structure was needed.

Part of that structure began with increasing my use of those mind maps, and more recently, outlining in Workflowy. Perhaps there is something in the outlining versus mind mapping debate as far as which suits my style of planning best, however that is a post for another day.

Additionally, a gradual increase in the use of pen and paper to jot down some thoughts, turn them into an outline, and expand into the first draft seemed to improve the process immensely — and certainly did not go unnoticed. In considering how this change had come to be, and whether I should throw more effort into handwriting these posts, I received an article from a friend on this very topic — by author William Boyd, writing in The Guardian:

One great advantage of a longhand draft is that, in transferring it to the computer, every single word is written at least twice. Then the computer draft can be endlessly revised.

When you write in longhand you’re unconsciously aware of aspects of your prose – such as sentence length, cadence, rhythm, repetition, prolixity – that I find keyboard writing doesn’t alert you to in the same way. Also you can see all the litter of the progress you’ve made that day – the scorings-out; the arrows; the insertions; the bubbles; the second, third, fourth choices. The page reflects the mental effort that the screen doesn’t. It’s a toiling, messy business writing a novel.

Now of course I am not talking of novels here, and am always loathe to make comparisons with those who are actually writers (even though I’ve now done it twice in this post already), however the above quotes state quite succinctly what I believe to be occurring here — particularly the thought on every word being written twice, and the possible advantage to that type of approach.

So, in changing how I approach my writing here, where have I now ended up?

My writing process now: analogue first, digital later

For all of the words you’ll read in this post, here is where things are decidedly uncomplicated — probably a very telling point in itself I believe.

There is a pen. There is paper. They have a simple job in getting words on a page, and typically perform it admirably without interruption, syncing, charging or crashing. Save for a few ink refills, once I’m up and away, I’m well…up and away.

That said, I always think it is a little disingenuous to compare pen and paper directly to the digital tools at our disposal these days. After all, there is a heck of a lot those digital tools can do — and do extremely well, that our humble analogue favourites cannot. Once those words are transferred into the digital realm, they are available to me everywhere; are searchable; editable; and eventually exported and published.

As I mentioned earlier, a post starts as an idea, is expanded into an outline (which may equally occur in digital form), then written as a longhand first draft – all very simple.

Sure, those original source containers remain, in places such as Pocket, Safari, Notes, or even web-captured PDF’s, however you’ll find a good many more on scraps of paper or in pocket notebooks as well. Put an outline in Workflowy into the mix, displayed on my iPad beside me, and the handwritten words simply flow.

For those who perhaps may be interested in the specific tools, let’s just say it is a team effort — with many of the fountain pens, inks and notebooks I own all playing their part. You may have previously read about some of them — or may indeed do so in the future.

Of course, some of you reading this will have no doubt been writing this way for a long, long time — particularly pen bloggers and the handwritten review, to which none of this is particularly ground breaking — a fact I readily acknowledge.

Advantages of writing in longhand

Now, I’m sure we’ve all seen various articles around the web reporting on the benefits of taking notes by hand as far as retention and learning, however that is not what I’m talking about here.

In slowly transitioning to writing a larger proportion of posts this way, you would be correct in thinking there must be some underlying benefit. For me, the benefits are two-fold: more enjoyable writing, and more effective writing.

As far as more enjoyable writing is concerned, there would hardly be a pen lover amongst us that would not enjoy using their favourite pens and inks on a more consistent and frequent basis. Fountain pens are drained, more inks are sampled and notebooks filled. Contrasting inks are used for editing and revision. It is not so hard to see the benefits here.

I’m a little suspicious that somewhere in the recesses of my mind I seek to continue this cycle of more pens, more inks and more notebooks — though I am hoping for perhaps a more noble conclusion about this improved writing process.

How about more effective work?

Explaining the benefits I see in this aspect of my writing is perhaps a slightly more difficult proposition to those heavily invested in digital workflows for such a thing. The fact I have written many more drafts this way which remain unpublished is a victory in itself — for the more I write, the more I’ll eventually publish. As I’ve written about before, unpublished posts remain so often due to topic rather than process or quality, though of course not publishing garbage is also an ongoing aim.

So just how is writing in longhand more effective for me? Quite simply in the flow words onto the page. I’m a bit of a tweaker really, and when writing digitally at a keyboard, tend to stop, think and edit a little as I go, which on a first draft, ends up taking an eternity, given the amount of editing and rewriting which occurs. When drafting in longhand, I stop, think, and then continue writing — saving the editing and revisions for a few inserted notes, highlights or strikethroughs later, followed by an automatic editing stage as the handwritten words are transcribed digitally the first time.

I find I am far more effective at actually getting from start to finish, and by the time the first digital draft appears in Ulysses, it has been reviewed and has been rewritten as it is transcribed.

A final read through and revision is (usually) all that is then required before publishing. Conversely, with all the stop start editing, a post beginning its life in digital form may see a two-fold increase in the number of edits and revisions made prior to posting, for I believe no great improvement in content or quality. Even the “just jump in start writing” approach was in the past more effective than the constant “write and tweak” which tends to occur the longer I have a post in my Ulysses drafts folder.

Put simply — drafting in longhand sees more writing and less endless tweaking. A win for me by any measure.

Pitfalls of this approach

With any approach to something like writing, things will never be perfect, and yes — of course there are some disadvantages to writing this way.

One such disadvantage I’ve found is in covering some of the same ground twice. At times I don’t always have the same notebook with me, and in picking up where I left off (or at least thinking I am), I’ll occasionally rewrite a section.

Why I do that is anyone’s guess, and you could validly argue why on earth wouldn’t I remember where I was up to — and to be honest I cannot really answer that. Of course this is simply a process fault which could be easily rectified by ensuring I do have a specific notebook dedicated to this process which is always available when I need it. The reason that perhaps won’t happen is that I’m often trying out different notebooks and enjoy a little variety what I am using. In any event, yes it may be wasted time in some respects, however on the plus side I do get to then choose from the better draft, and I’d also refer you to the more enjoyable writing paragraph above.

To a lesser extent, even when I do use the same notebook, given these drafts often occur in fits and starts over a number of days, most sections of the posts have other material interspersed on pages between them, so there is a little flipping backwards and forwards at times through the actual notebook. Not a big deal, and assisted by reasonably consistent indexing and notations of page numbers.

Finally, and probably most obvious to many who write digitally — time. Yes, this approach would of course take far longer than an exclusively digital form of writing, with syncing across multiple devices and ease of editing, rearranging and rewriting those words. If that is how you write, you’ll hear no argument from me, and I’m certainly not advocating throwing away your keyboard.

Things have simply changed a little in how I approach my writing, and I am finding it far more enjoyable these days, so thought I’d share a little about the changes, and my thoughts around these processes.

Signing off

There is nothing like sitting down and outlining, drafting and revising a post such as this one, to point yourself in the direction of possible improvements in some of these processes — and this one is no different.

It looks as though I may need another notebook or two, some more ink, and maybe even another pen. Such a shame. If my new-found longhand writing process requires a few more tools and a broader experience in using them — I’m all for it.

While you may not end up reading them all, I can guarantee there will be plenty of writing going on, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

  1. Of course here I exclude the Wiser Web Wednesday link posts, which are generally put together via the iOS share sheet extension and sent straight to Ulysses ↩︎