Powerful shortcuts for friction-free writing

Image by Zack Silver

I have combined the power of Automator and the Shortcuts panel of the Keyboard system preference pane to help my lazy ass make its way through my morning writing routine. Because writing needs to be as easy to start as possible and as difficult to de-rail as you can make it.

I run through two exercises every morning before getting down to business. They build up the momentum that pushes me forward into the hard stuff.

Long Term Goals

This is a practice to keep the big picture in mind. Like exercise regularly. Like make sure I don’t raise my kids to be assholes. It’s a mostly stable list of goals that are important to me. They are directions of travel rather than end points: write more, keep in contact with distant friends.

Ten Minute Warm Up

After that comes my warm up. Ten minutes every morning.

On even numbered days I dredge through my memory and try to recall everything I can about my life in a vaguely chronological order.

On odd numbered days I do a chain of metaphors. Dogs are like furry people with bad breath. Fur is like…, etc. They have to be super fresh. If I make it to ten, which rarely happens because super fresh is hard, I expand on the last one until time runs out.

Both of these practices come out of my readings on cognitive psychology. They seem to work their magic in those brief ten minutes. Both practices drive you deep into your own head at high speed.

I give them short names so I can launch them using Spotlight with a minimum of keypresses. “ltg” and “wu”, for obvious abbreviations.

Below is what the Automator script looks like for launching my warm-up exercise. Long term goals is the same, but with different file paths.

Automator Run Shell Script action for my Warm Up exercise

Maintain Flow

Once you are writing you want to keep writing. But great ideas and petty concerns keep popping up. So I have two more keyboard shortcuts. ^-⌘-T sends the great ideas to a board in Trello, ^-⌘-O sends the petty concerns, the things I should google, and everything else immediately actionable into Omnifocus. Omnifocus provides its own shortcut.

Below is the Automator action for Trello that works with Airmail 2, the mail app I use.

Automator Run Applescript action for sending ideas to Trello

Instead of fighting off ideas, I file them away and get right back on track.

But some bits of writing are not ideas, they’re just a great bit of writing in the wrong place at the wrong time. For those I have my Keep action, ^-⌘-K. It appends any selected text to a particular file after first appending the date.

Automator Run Shell Script action for my Keep action

Finally, I have a talking word count. I can’t even remember why I set this one up. Oh yes, because Scapple doesn’t do word counts, and I do my short form copywriting with it, where hitting the word count is a must.

There are two versions. ^-⌘-S announces the word count for the selection, and ^-⌘-P for whatever has been copied to the clipboard, because of Scapple’s idiosyncrasies. It comes in handy elsewhere, too.

Automator Run Shell Script action that speaks the word count for the selected text
Automator Run Shell Script action that speaks the word count for text in the clipboard

What did I miss?

Am I missing some necessary time saver or flow sustainer you have learned you cannot live without? Don’t leave me in the dark, educate me in the comments below.

Oh yeah — not a keyboard shortcut, but the three finger tap on the trackpad to bring up the dictionary — I love it. It has become a reflex. I miss it when my fingers twitch while I’m reading a printed book. I wish Apple would make it more functional.

Who am I, anyway?

I’m a copywriter in Sydney who occasionally tweets. When I’m not sharing practical tips, like the best short form writing tool ever or pain-free time tracking, I like to rant, write super short fiction, and convert Brian Eno tracks into stories.