Getting back into the habit of regularly posting to this weblog and The Daybook means re-developing a workflow that I have let sit to rust. A workflow I’m think of here is the the pattern of steps (which are recursive) I take as I work through preparing a post and publishing. The idea is that the output of one step is the input for the next, but the focus on input-output sidesteps the processing that goes on during the step, which is the interesting part. I’m stepping back to consider my workflow with the hope that the reflection can help me discover process hangups and better options.
On a laptop
I try to start posts in MarsEdit. If pressed, I’ll use WP’s dashboard, but I’ve gotten used to working in external editors over the years. Drag and drop links. Direct access to flickr, and drag and drop images. View and navigate in a browser while composing in a text editor.
And here’s where my first shot of WD40 is needed: I became rusty using MarsEdit.
But I find using two apps – a browser for searching and reading, and a dedicated editor for drafting – makes the work of aggregating and annotating easier, less clumsy, even when I’m rusty. And that’s generally what I’m doing early in my workflow: pulling stuff together and annotating it. Read, draft, check a link, maybe add the link, repeat. Stop to search a side idea. Consider incorporating an image. I use the lower half of the text editor in MarsEdit as a workspace and scrap area, dragging links, snippets of text, images to the space while I draft in the upper third or so.
And those snippets come from everywhere. The wild web, of course, but also from my Pinboard collection, from the course wikis I maintain; and there’s stuff I’ve tucked away on my Reading List in Safari and in Pocket, plain text notes stored in Simplenote, (recently acquired by Automattic, WordPress’s parent company), and images on flickr; I keep more developed drafts, links, references, and pieces of text in DevonThink on a local machine. If you’re following the bouncing ball, you’ll see that most of these notes are in the cloud – with reason: I can get at them from other computers.
Once posted, I might have to return to the WP dashboard to tweak an image alignment or padding, but that can wait until I have some time to spare.
On a tablet
I use and iPad for reading RSS feeds, reading and responding to email, even updating or editing a wiki page or two. But I haven’t found a graceful way of posting to blogs from the tablet. The constraint is the tapping and switching necessary to moving between sources and draft. Only one window is visible at a time on an iPad, so it’s read, copy, switch app, paste, edit, switch back to check that I have the context right, or to copy the link, or … and I’ve lost track and have to start again.
I’ve tried a couple of apps that include a built-in browser (Blogsy, Writing Kit), but they really don’t address the constraint: Seeing both the source and my draft text on the screen at the same time eases the cognitive burden of composing for me. Might be age, might be the kind of composing I typically do (responding to and incorporating written sources), might be habit of using multiple screens: Even before screens became ubiquitous, I would have a book open next to where I was writing, so I could refer back to the source as I moved forward with the draft. It’s not the app. It’s the screen layout. It’s an issue of modality.
So I don’t bother with apps that use built in browsers. Since I have to switch screens, I’ve found it sounder to switch between a fully-loaded browser (all my bookmarks, bookmarklets, and reading list are at hand) and a dedicated text editor or blogging editor. But I haven’t developed a workflow for mobile blogging yet. I’m still floundering. I’ve been using the WordPress app recently, but I’ve been tempted towards Poster by recent reviews. (Being easily distracted from one tool to the next is a signal I’m still trying to develop a workflow. Blaming the tools.) Some bloggers use a markdown editor for drafts, then move the text into a blogging app for formatting and uploading – mainly to overcome the design constraints of the blogging apps.
The one move that I’m working out is how to get started on a post. Typically, I start with a source – an article I read, a video I see, an email request, or a moment from a class – that drives the need for a response. Getting that first move from its source – browser or email, generally – into the blog editor, with a link, sets the stage for drafting further. If it’s too awkward and convoluted, I may not even bother but email a link to deal with it later on a laptop or desktop. And, right now, it’s pretty convoluted: copy, switch, start a new blog post, paste, switch back, copy the link, switch, paste the link. Then start …
What did I come in here for?