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How we write for TUAW: A look at blogger workflows and tools


I love it when another blog comes up with a great idea that we can borrow, and that was the case over at iMore when Rene Ritchie published a post over the Memorial Day weekend titled "How we write for iMore: Our workflows from Mac to iPad to iPhone and back!"

Not surprisingly, just about every one of the iMore writers and editors has his or her own method of writing on specific devices and then moving that work into the Drupal 7 content management system that is used for that blog. Here at TUAW (part of AOL Tech) we have our own powerful Blogsmith CMS to work with, so I decided to see what tools and workflows our blogging team uses. Here are our stories:

Steve Sande, Features and Hardware Editor

I learned my lesson the hard way a number of times -- you usually don't want to write a post directly into our CMS. Whether it's caused by a network outage or simply forgetting to save a post before accidentally navigating to another page, it's really easy to lose a lot of writing.

That's why I started writing all of my posts in Markdown using Ulysses III on my iMac or MacBook Pro. On either device, I have a relatively big screen that makes having several windows open quite easy -- perfect for doing research in a browser window and typing away in Ulysses in another. I love the way that Ulysses keeps everything saved all the time, so even if I were to unplug my 27-inch iMac accidentally, I'd lose virtually none of my work.

I have Ulysses storing all of my work, both in progress and completed, in iCloud. Ulysses also connects to an iOS product from The Soulmen, Daedalus Touch, syncing documents through iCloud (or Dropbox). Many times I've started a post on my iPad or iPad mini, fleshed it out on my iMac, done last-minute editing on my iPhone while eating breakfast, and then posted the final document to Blogsmith from my MacBook Pro. I'm also a fan of Drafts when I know I'm going straight from the iPad to Markdown and then into our CMS, and that doggone Megan has me trying out Byword now...

Ulysses III, Daedalus Touch, Drafts, and Markdown (oh, and Byword...) are all I need to get my work done wherever I may be. I'm planning on blogging from a long trip I'm taking this summer using nothing but an iPad and one of the billion iPad keyboard cases I've reviewed this spring.

Megan Lavey-Heaton, News Editor

My workflow emulates Steve's a lot. If there's something that needs to be written extremely fast, I'll use our CMS, Blogsmith. But any long post is written in Markdown on Ulysses III. Because of my day job, I'm switching among a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and an iMac, so using Ulysses allows me to have my work anywhere. I haven't invested in Daedalus Touch yet, because I had just purchased Byword for iOS and really liked it, so I didn't want to replace it just yet. I don't do a lot of TUAW writing on my iPad mini, but I wouldn't dream of typing on it without using a keyboard, in this case I'm still using the Logitech Ultrathin that I reviewed in March.

I only use my iPhone if I need to jot down a really quick note, and for that I use Evernote, which also helps me move reference files from one computer to the next. I also have a fondness for traditional paper and pen, and my arsenal of choice there is a standard Moleskine notebook and Lamy Safari fountain pen. While I don't write any articles by hand, it's great for taking notes and keeping track of to-do lists.

Mike Schramm, Games Editor

Despite Steve and Megan's warnings, I try to streamline as much as possible, so most of my posts go directly into Blogsmith as I write them (and I've learned to save often and double check constantly). I like manipulating the text and HTML directly, and I appreciate seeing the post in preview form as I write it. So generally I just open up Blogsmith in Chrome, open up any other related links in tabs (including any source information, backlinks, or other research), and then put the post together as I go.

Outside of Chrome, again, I try to keep things simple, so I use Voila ($29.99) for grabbing any screenshots or video I need to include. Any notes or transcribing I need to do offline just goes into TextEdit. And while I've tried a number of iPhone and iPad apps for to-do lists, I've found nothing works better than a reporter's pad and paper for marking down what I need to do and when, and then crossing it off throughout the day. It's a simple workflow, but it works great for me.

Kelly Hodgkins, App Review Editor

My workflow is not too complicated -- a 13-inch MacBook Pro, an iPhone 5, an iPad mini and a handful of software tools. If I need to take real-life photo or video, I switch between a Nikon D5100, a Panasonic Lumix GF5X and a Panasonic HCV700M video camera. I use Chrome as my web browser and keep between 10 to 20 tabs open at a time. I use Markdown Pro as my writing tool, TextExpander to make writing repetitive phrases mindlessly easy and iClip to store longer pieces of text as well as my clipboard contents. I use Evernote when researching information for an article, though I do loathe the web clippper as it never keeps me logged in. I do all my writing offline in Markdown and then copy/paste the text into the CMS. Almost all of my writing is done on my Mac. I use my iPhone and iPad for on-the-go communications and for reviewing apps. I don't think I have ever used my iPad for writing more than the occasional post, and I don't have a dedicated keyboard for it.

I use OS X's built-in screen shot feature (cmd-shift-4) to grab desktop screenshots, and Pixelmator to crop and resize images. When I grab a screenshot of an iOS app, I use Instashare to send the images from my iOS camera roll to my Mac. Tweetdeck is my conduit to the world of breaking news, technology news and developer chatter about new and exciting apps. I use Postbox for email, and Things to keep track of my ToDo list. NotesTab Pro and Fantastical sit in my menu bar and are my go to apps for calendaring and quick note taking. Google Drive and Dropbox are my chosen cloud storage services. I use Drive for documents and Dropbox for everything else. Almost everything I do is digital, online and synced between devices. At this point, I would be hard-pressed to find a paper notebook and ballpoint pen if I needed one.

Victor Agreda, Jr., Editor-in-Chief

My workhorse text tool these days is Byword. I store articles I'm working on in Dropbox via Byword, so I can work on them on my iPhone, iPad or Mac. Best of all, Byword is great with Markdown -- although I frequently use Marked to live preview what I'm working on. I paste Markdown into our CMS and add some pics, and voila, a post is born. I should note that Drafts is on my home screen because I do use it to quickly jot stuff down, then I shoot it over to Byword, Evernote, Clear or Fantastical as needed.

I have been known to carry a Moleskine notebook, but the cheapest, smallest ones because I hate filling up my pockets with stuff (I still use the card-and-rubber band wallet Simple gave me). Instead I use this when I'm traveling, because I can use it during takeoff/landing and it needs no batteries.

How we write for TUAW A look at blogger workflows and tools

Beforehand I do research in Safari, then use Tablinks to push my URLs into Markdown form and paste those into Byword. Sometimes I'll use DEVONthink if an article requires a good deal of research (and there's a web clipper for it, but I just drag and drop the URL into the Inbox). I actually don't keep a lot of research in Evernote, but for those rare times when I'm away from a Mac for composing I might have the forethought to put something there. Overall I find iCloud tabs work great -- I can research on my Mac then go to the iPad to pick up where I left off.

For images I still use Skitch for screenshots, begrudgingly. I tried using a DSLR for photos, but the process of lighting, setting up and then transferring was a pain, so now I have an area set aside for product shots, and use my iPhone 5 for photos. I use PhotoSync to quickly move them to my Mac. Then I use Pixelmator for editing.

As I have the luxury of working at home, my hardware is pretty basic. I switch between a 13" MacBook Air and an 11" model, and use an iPad 3 and iPhone 5. Sometimes you'll see one of my older iPhones in a shot for a post, but I don't have the budget to buy every iteration of Apple gear -- and TUAW doesn't get loaners from Cupertino.

This is all a fairly simplistic setup, but I find that sticking with fewer apps leads to less confusion when news is hitting and I'm wondering "where'd I put that draft?" These days if an app doesn't have a version for iPad, iPhone and Mac, I'm far less inclined to use it.

Erica Sadun

I type into Blogsmith.

Chris Rawson

My workflow:

Browse Reeder for the week's dumbest Apple rumours. Star them for later retrieval. Copy all article links into TextEdit and add colour commentary where appropriate. Once the draft is done, I copy-paste into Blogsmith and do a final review/edit in browser. Simple, though I am going to have to find an alternative to Google Reader very soon...

Richard Gaywood

My workflow revolves around Dropbox and Markdown. I use various text editors -- TextMate on OS X, Writing Kit on iOS, and (rarely) Notepad++ on Windows. I vastly prefer using OS X for writing. I find even the very best iOS text editors marred by slightly clumsy text selection, which slows my edit cycle, and small delays switching between browser and editor mode, which slows my research. I'm highly intolerant of even tiny rough edges in my workflow; I'm aware I'm weird that way.

Images are assembled when I drop the post into Blogsmith, using Brett's bookmarklet to transfer the Markdown formatted text over.

My longform posts are often, although not always, roughed out in iThoughts HD for iPad before I start writing. I like lounging on the sofa when I'm brainstorming, and I've always liked mind mapping tools for planning the spine of a piece of work; they just made sense to me, I guess.

Ilene Hoffman

Ok, here's my 2 cents:

When I review a product, I make notes in TextEdit. I use BBedit to write the review and spell check. I paste the finished article into Blogsmith and clean up.

I mark placement of URLS with brackets and XXX (easy to search) in BBedit. So, it would look like: The such and such product by this company XXX [url here] is a great buy... etc etc. I also mark where graphics go with XXX. (So, it would say insert XXXproduct graphic.jpgXXX). (I can search XXX to make sure I get all the graphics and URLs inserted correctly.)

I keep snippets of code to reuse either in a text file or iData (haven't set up definitive system yet). Your center tags seem to be surrounded with p tags, so that's one snippet. Steve likes more dashes in compound words than I do, so I'm working on a list of those also.

Shawn "Doc Rock" Boyd

My workflow is pretty much 100% cockroached from Brett Terpstra:

I write in NVAlt, Textmate or Byword in Markdown. Those articles which are synced to a folder on Dropbox called "TextFiles," so when I hit iOS I can write in Byword, Writing Kit, Drafts...whatevers pops the socks with all the linkery provided by Brett's MD Services and Blogsmith Bundle.

Every day I have a Ruby script that runs and backs up new new text files to Evernote and Day One.

Processing happens with TextExpander, Marked and Blogsmith and Jim Beam.

Dave Caolo, News Editor

My workflow isn't very impressive.

Large articles like reviews start out as a mind map in MindNode. From there, I export as an OMPL file and import into Scrivener. This makes a "chapter" or section for each branch of the mind map in the Scrivener file.

Then I write the article up in Markdown and finally drop it onto Marked, which compiles the Scriverner project, converts the Markdown to HTML and copies it to my clipboard. From there I'm a paste away from being done.

Less involved articles are written in Markdown with Byword, which I adore as if it were my own child (The one I like. Not the other one). If the Byword article is meant for my own blog I publish right then and there. If it's meant for TUAW, I use the "paste Markdown" functionality in our CMS.

Steve was born two weeks before the start of the Space Age, and has been a fan of technology since birth. A lifelong resident of Colorado, Steve graduated from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering (1978) and a Masters Degree in Business Administration (1983).

He began writing for TUAW in 2008, and is now the Features Editor for the blog. One of his passions is "The Internet of Things", so you can find him controlling his house from his iPhone most of the time ... except when his battery is dead.

When he's not blogging for TUAW, he's writing books for Pearson and his personal blog, Transient Spike