The Best Short Form Writing Tool Ever

Jul 27, 2015 · 5 min read

I had a long, waffling introduction about tools and cognitive models and papyrus and scroll bars, but I’ve scrapped it in favour of this: Scapple is a great tool, the best I’ve been able to find, for short form writing.

That’s it. If you have $15 go buy Scapple and discover a more powerful way to write your titles, taglines, straplines, slogans, short scripts, web pages, brochures, etc. Or read on for screenshots and my Scapple writing strategies.

WTF is Scapple?

Scapple is a Mac and Windows app from Literature & Latte, the makers of Scrivener. It is radically simpler than Scrivener. Scrivener tries to be everything a writer could need. Scapple does less than you would like. My pet theory is one of Literature & Latte’s programmers was driven claustrophobic by Scrivener’s side bars and tool bars and info panels and status bars. Creating Scapple was a therapeutic act, stripping away everything to a bare canvas that lets you write, and pretty much only write, as you please.

Scapple is Notes

You write in Notes — blocks of text you can edit, format and move around Scapple’s infinite canvas. They can be as long or as short as you like. To minimise trackpad usage I set the preferences so hitting Return ends editing a note. Hit Return again and a new note is started directly below, like a fancy carriage return wrapped in a blue border. This works for me because I spend most of my time writing variations of a tagline or writing individual lines for voice overs.

Concepts down, variations across

For strap lines and other super short pieces I write different concepts down the screen and variations on concepts across the screen. The variations lead to new concepts and at any point in time I can see clearly how I got to where I am and what areas can be explored further.

Words + Layout = Flow

For web pages I mock-up the layout as I write the copy. If I re-arrange or add sections I simply copy the entire layout and drop it beside the current version. I can zoom out to compare drafts and I have a visual history of the choices I made during the process.

I work in a similar fashion when writing copy for mobile apps. Scapple lets you tweak font size. Along with a simple layout created using Shapes (empty rectangles with borders), I set things up so I can eyeball word counts and screen space. Avoiding revisions on super-tight copy due to overrun can save a lot of last minute hair pulling.

I’ve found clients like receiving drafts in these rough layouts. They can see more clearly how the copy does its job, which makes communicating changes and reaching sign-off easier.

Polish from left to right

Working on scripts I use the concepts-down/variations-across arrangement. Eventually the concept is locked down and I’m refining from left to right. I give each line in the script its own Note. Creating the latest draft starts with copying over the best bits from previous drafts. As the final script comes together, re-arranging and shifting in different approaches is fast and helps you trial different reads rapidly. Plus you have your revision history there to the left, either deservedly moving off into the distance or signalling that you’ve taken a wrong turn.

I just ignored a bunch of features

Scapple does a bit more than I have covered, but not much. Lots of people use it for mindmaps, for example. Its strength is in its simplicity. After trying programs like Word, Inkscape, Pixelmator, Balsamiq Mockups, Electric Pencil, Powerpoint and Keynote, Scapple is the simplest to use and offers the shortest path to getting text on screen and the least distraction once it is there.

Go and buy it already

Here’s the link again. Below is this article as I revised it in Scapple, because words + layout = flow.

Addendum: Scapple doesn’t have a word count, which is essential when you are writing short form copy. I had to create my own using Automator, which I documented in Powerful Shortcuts for Friction-free Writing.

Who am I, anyway?

I’m a copywriter in Sydney. My bacon is brought home by tools such as Scapple, along with many strong cups of tea.

If you’re a writer, read about the powerful keyboard shortcuts I set up to make my writing routine frictionless.

If you’re a solo freelancer you should read my article about pain-free time tracking. It will save you time, money, and make pricing and invoicing easier.

When I’m not sharing practical tips I like to write super short fiction, mainly about Brian Eno tracks.

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