The good coffee, obviously essential to all writing. Photo a cafe in Strasbourg, France.
Good writing apps are a struggle in which I’m well versed. Since buying a Mac a year ago I found there to be no shortage of writing apps with sexy websites that promise to transport you to a world of coffee shops, MacBooks and Moleskine notepads.
Some even offer some sort of writing features too (ooh sarcasm).
I’ve purchased a small handful of these writing apps but have never been completely satisfied with any of them. I do a lot of writing so I’m prepared to be patient finding the best tool there is. Surely somebody has made a good writing app?
The tl;dr here is pretty straightforward:
If you’re on Windows, the best tool for writing blog posts is either WordPress’ editor in full screen mode or MarkdownPad, depending on whether you want to write using Markdown or not.
If you’re on Mac you can choose between the expensive (but very good) Ulysses or cheaper (but slightly less good) Letterspace.
I’d like to take you back in time six years, to a time when the world of blogging was very different. The “premium WordPress theme” was in its relative infancy, the default WordPress theme was Kubric (HuffPo claims “Kubrick has helped change the face of cyberspace”) and WordPress 2.9 had just launched, boasting the addition of being able to “trash” posts.
It was these six years ago that along with a partner I was building my own WordPress theme product. We spent about six months building the product, a “magazine-style” WordPress theme, and it was okay. It wasn’t fantastic but it had some pretty cool features, including a fully widgetised homepage that was actually pretty innovative at the time.
The sales page was actually pretty decent (this screenshot is minus an embedded video).
I distinctly remember on launch day loading up the shitty version of Gmail that came with my Sony Ericsson flip-phone (this is 2010 and I was 15, there was no way I could afford the latest iPhone, the 3GS) and refreshing at every opportunity I got. I was waiting for the notification to come in that we had made a sale. It didn’t come on launch day, or even that week – it was literally weeks before anybody purchased our product.
Talk about “launching to crickets”.
We did eventually get a handful of sales, but it was far from anything significant. The whole experience was a learning one, but also more or less a complete failure.
Let me walk you through what we did wrong and what lessons need to be learned from my unsuccessful foray into the WordPress theme market.
I wrote Level Up Your Blog to accompany the launch of BlogBettr. It’s a modest twenty pages and offers a crash course in blogging, social media and marketing. I framed it as everything I wished I knew about blogging when I started out.
I’ve produced eBooks before, but I just threw them together in Microsoft Word (this was back in the day, honest). This time I wanted to go better and produce a really slick design which matched up with the blog I was trying to promote alongside it .
The solution, oddly, was to use WordPress. The world’s most popular publishing platform, now also making beautiful PDFs for you. It’s actually super easy to do and there’s nothing you need to compromise on. Here’s how I did it.
The sunflowers aren't entirely related, but they do look nice. Pic from Eden Project, 2014.
I think it would be fair to say the Pomodoro Technique has completely changed how I work. I’m more focussed, I’m vastly more productive and I work with a consistency that was missing before.
The tl;dr on this thing is very simple: you work on a single task uninterrupted for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. It’s just time blocking, really. The nuances are important though, and are completely worth spending some time with.
Oh hey you just caught me doing some writing on my tablet using my water bottle to prop it up in a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Writing faster is one of the ways best you can become a better blogger. Producing more content – faster – is going to let you write more and write longer. There’s literally no downside (appropriate usage of literally).
I’ve been blogging for seven years and in that time I’ve developed a writing workflow which lets me concentrate, research and write very quickly.
These are the five tools (these are quite niche so you likely won’t know of most of these) that I use to write blog posts faster. There’s one tool for each category of the writing process: research, note taking, productivity, writing and editing.
It will take you eight minutes and fourteen seconds to read the post properly, start to finish .
Even if you make use of only one of these tools and write a measly 5% faster, if you’re writing an hour a day you’ll have earned the time back within three days. From then until all eternity you’ll be reaping the rewards.
Me walking along an abandoned bobsled track, Sarajevo.
BlogBettr has been alive for a month now. As planned, I’ve published once a week with five pretty great posts. They’ve all been between roughly 2,000 words long and contain some neat insights.
The issue with a blog about blogging is you have to be really good at blogging. To write with authority it needs to be immediately self evident that you:
Just get what you’re talking about.
Practice what you preach.
Produce flawless content.
I’ll cut to it: in attempting to do all of these things I’ve been publishing formulaic content which has no character.
I wrote about how important it is to fully understand vanity metrics with your email. Whilst I’ve happily not been especially concerned about how many visits my site gets, I have set aggressive goals for email subscribers and I have failed to realise that that is a vanity metric in itself.
In attempting to aggressively gain subscribers so that I can publish a Hacker News clickbaitey post in three months boasting of how many subscribers I got in a short space of time (further demonstrating just how great I am at this blogging shit and better establishing my authority) I’ve focussed on quantity and not quality.
Focussing on vanity metrics has meant I’ve ignored the things which made me good at this in the first place.
My first serious blog was a spin-off from a games review site I ran with some friends.
Getting sent free games and writing crappy 500 word reviews in return was cool, but paying people to make changes to your website was not something 15 year old me found cool. I did the only thing I could do, and started teaching myself coding.
I wanted to share what I was learning so I set up a blog about “web design and development” and started publishing.
More or less immediately it became apparent I wasn’t very good at writing about “web design”, but I was good at writing about WordPress. Three months after launching I changed the blog’s name to WPShout and starting writing exclusively about WordPress.
Site growth took off and two years ago I sold the site having built a readership to be proud of.
I attribute much of the initial success of the site to this one weird trick (srsly though). You can start using it today. I’ll walk you through it.
I was twelve when I first installed WordPress. When I was sixteen I started my first serious blog (I’ve since sold it). Five years on in my early twenties, thousands of subscribers later and by most accounts I’m able to consider myself a successful blogger.
Getting good at blogging required making mistakes. Man I made so many mistakes.
I failed at fundamentals like choosing the right topics to write about and pickingquantity over quality. Once I had some growth I proceed to fail at building a valuable email list and appreciating my subscribers were actually real people and not numbers.
I even (kinda) insulted my audience’s intelligence by not being honest.
I failed at a lot of things. But I learned a lot too.
Here are thirteen blogging lessons from seven years of mistakes. Some are basic, others are things it took me a long time to work out. All are worth your time, whether you’ve been writing for years and need to recap or you’ve just started out. Let’s get to it.