In 2011, I wrote a post detailing my writing setup. Over the past five years several things have changed, so I thought I’d give it an update.
Where applicable, I’ll include links. (Amazon links include my referral code, so you’ll help keep me stocked with pens.)
I work in an office built over my garage. My assistant Stuart works downstairs. Twice a week the rest of my staff (Nima and Dustin) comes in to work on app stuff and other projects. This year, we finally added a giant whiteboard. It’s been a godsend for planning and visual thinking.
I’m “in the office” from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., but I wander in and out of the house pretty freely.
I do a fair amount of my morning work — emails, listening to cuts of Scriptnotes — while walking on the treadmill. I MacGyvered an old film festival lanyard to hold my iPad, and use an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I find I can think coherently up to about 3.2 miles per hour. (Beyond that speed, it’s genuine cardio and I can only listen to podcasts and such.)
When I’m really writing — that is, buckling down on a specific draft of a specific movie — I do a lot of writing sprints. It’s one hour of focused writing with no distractions. If I do three of these a day, that’s a lot of pages written.
When I start a new screenplay, I generally go away for a few days. I find that barricading myself in a new hotel in a new city helps me break the back of a story. I hand-write pages, trying to plow through as much as possible; my record is 21 pages in a day. Writing by hand keeps me from editing and second-guessing. At the start, it’s crucial to generate a critical mass of pages.
Every morning, I send what I’ve written to my assistant to type up. The Scannable app is great for this.
I find I can generally get 40 decent pages out of a good barricading session. I won’t paste the scenes together until I’m more than halfway through a script.
When writing by hand, I like a white, lined, letter-sized writing pad with a very stiff back. It should barely bend. I’ve been using some generic Staples brand.
My preferred pen is the black Pilot G2 (0.7mm size). It’s cheap; it writes consistently; I never worry about losing one. For proofreading, a colored felt-tip pen is key. I like the Papermate Flairs. Again, cheap and losable.
I alternate between index cards and whiteboards for mapping out stories. If you’re going to be working in television, get comfortable with the whiteboard, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time staring at one.
My main computer is a 27-inch iMac. I love it.
Overall, I print very little these days. Almost everything is PDFs. But last year we replaced our decade-old laser printer with the Brother HL5470DW. It’s crazy how cheap and fast it is, and it uses a lot less power.
Stuart uses the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL thermal label printer for packages. It ends up being faster, better and cheaper than using laser printer labels.
Years ago, I had horrible carpal-tunnel problems, so I changed my setup significantly. I use the SafeType keyboard and an Evoluent vertical mouse. The keyboard is great, but command-key combos are a bear with it, so I’ve mapped a Logitech G13 gamepad to handle most of them. My desk raises so I can use it standing up. I try to be on my feet at least half the day.
For travel and kitchen duty, I have a 13-inch Macbook Pro. It’s good, but the screen is always getting overwhelmed with windows.
I used to talk on the phone a lot more, and found the Plantronics S12 headset essential. I still use it, but phone conversations are not nearly as important as they were just a few years ago.
We generally record Scriptnotes over Skype. I’m using the Shure SM7B microphone and Sony MDR-7506 headphones. This combo has worked well enough for me, but everyone has different opinions and preferences.
For recording in the field, I use the Zoom H5 four-track recorder. I love it.
After years of not using Time Machine, I just set up a one terabyte Samsung T1 Portable SSD to use as a backup drive. (If you get it, follow the advice in the “Most Helpful” Amazon review to remove the extraneous software Samsung installs.)
I do all of my writing in the Highland beta. Highland was originally just for screenwriting, but version 2 adds robust Markdown support, so now it’s the only app I need for writing anything — including this blog post.
Slack is absolutely transformative. Our team doesn’t use email anymore. Everything is in Slack, sorted in channels.
Dropbox still seems like magic. In addition to storing my active projects, I keep a folder named Pending in the Dropbox with an alias on the desktop. Anything that would normally clutter up the desktop, I throw in Pending.
For outlining and show notes, I love WorkFlowy. Because it’s web-based, we can all edit the same document.
I do all my RSS-reading on the iPad, using Reeder.
What I’d change
I’m pretty happy with my setup, but there’s definitely room for improvement.
My mail setup is a mess. The right combination of rules would probably allow me to sort out the wheat from the chaff, but I haven’t invested the energy. Plus, getting it to work properly in iOS would be a big challenge. Increasingly, the iPhone is where I’m doing email triage.
I’d like to push more of my email over to Slack, where it would be a better fit. An example is my D&D group. It’s six writers, so anytime there’s a conversation, it’s a chain of 20 emails, and you can never tell who is responding to what. In Slack, that thread would make a lot more sense.
Overall, the best thing that could happen to email would be to get rid of it.
- Google discontinued Sparrow, but the Mac app still works for now. ↩