Tool as Discipline

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I use several tools to help my writing, from simple spellcheck to ht power of Grammarly. I don’t consider them tools just for finding problems – I think of them as tools for learning. This might be an approach that works for you as well.

English is an odd language, and it’s easy to make mistakes when we’re spelling knife with “k,” and people argue about commas (Oxford always). There are also different ways to write about separate subjects, and lessons in one don’t always carry over to others. Even a writer with good editors is facing several challenges unless you write all the time.

Books can help and should be used, but writing is something best learned by doing. So that’s where tools come in – they’re my obstacle course.

Tools like Grammarly and spellcheck show what I’m doing wrong immediately. As I’m writing, mistakes come up, and I catch myself. Each revealed mistake is a pinprick reminder of my errors, and I get into the habit of looking for them.

I become aware conscious of my problems. Then I start seeking them before I make them. This effort develops new, better habits.

I also run checks on documents – I don’t write everything in Grammarly or with every single checker turned on for the sake of sanity. When the same error keeps appearing, I stop and start looking for it on my own. If I keep making recognizable mistakes, then I can learn to see them earlier.

A pattern makes itself apparent. I repair it on my own before counting on the tool. By fixing the same problem multiple times, I learn more about my flaws and address them.

By using tools as learning experiences, I’ve improved my writing over the last two years. It requires a conscious decision, but it may help you as well.

(Yes, I’m serious enough about my writing I pay for Grammarly. I recommend it if you’re serious about your writing.)

Steven Savage

My Audiobook Discovery

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I had never really been into audiobooks like some people. Sure a few were fun to listen to on long trips, but they didn’t seem the same as reading. Besides on my commutes I’d rather write (if I’m not driving) or listen to podcasts. Also hey, it wasn’t the same as reading – or so I thought.

However, a friend kept suggesting the books Indistractable and Atomic Habits, which you’re probably going to be tired of me praising. He mentioned he listened to audiobooks while exercising.

Eventually that settled into my head. I’ve been keeping healthy during the pandemic with a 60 minute walk early each morning (90 minutes on weekends). I also do 10 minutes of intense cardio each day (a mix of weight lift and high step and chair climbs as FAST as possible). Needless to say I couldn’t listen to podcasts all the time, and as some were serious content, they weren’t all realxing.

But books on productivity and cool stuff? Helpful and very relaxing!

So I tried it. Which is how I listened to both books – and it worked! I retained the information and enjoyed the experience. Sure for some books I buy paper copies for reference, but that’s a different thing.

A few insights.

First, I think though audibooks are worth exploring, each of us may have different experiences. I’m not sure if I’d enjoy fiction, but I definitely retained a lot from these productivity books. We may each have different experiences.

Secondly, I think there’s some books just not fit for audiobooks, like say a programming language book. You gotta be hands on obviously.

Third, I think some of this is great for people like me who maintain certifications. We can process vital information and useful books as part of our continuing education.

Fourth, there are a lot of ways to get audibooks, including libraries. Well worth exploring them to save money. Check out things like Libby (which does audio and ebook) and others!

So I guess audiobooks are part of my life now. And you’re probably going to get a lot more reccomendations . . .

Steven Savage

Regular Writing And Regular Contact

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’ve all heard the advice “write every day” and “write x words a day.” It’s easy for people to toss this advice off, and it’s equally easy for people to feel guilty they don’t do it, or for those that to do be self-righteous. Writing is a challenging thing, a personal thing, and guilt and self-aggrandizement help neither. I think the better idea is “stay in touch with your writing each day.”

See, I do try to write every day. It helps me plan ahead, make schedules, and make measurable progress. It’s not always the same thing every day, but it usually is. As of late, dealing with the Pandemic and all, I began to notice something.

Some days I’d write the same work for hours upon hours, and other times much less. But there were times when I had to take a break from whatever project to do other things – and when I took those breaks, sometimes something was missing.

I also noticed when I focused on a given project – up to a point- that it got easier to work on every minute I spent. I was getting “into” the work, getting in touch with it, getting to know it. Spending time on a project meant an increasingly intimate, inspired understanding of it.

Finally, I noticed when I wasn’t writing, but got inspired and jotted something down, I got the same rush as having spent, say, two hours writing the same book. That same fire was there.

This led me to an important conclusion: you may not be able to write every day, or write the same project every day. However you should try to “get in touch” with your project each day.

What do I mean by “get in touch?” I mean know your work intimately, be connected to it, feel it. You know, those moments you just “get it” like you get a good friend.

So each day, even if you can’t write, take a few minutes to review your notes, jot down ideas, or read a chapter you’ll be editing. Do something that connects you to your current writing project or projects so you have that vital, intimate feel.

Again, I do think writing every day is useful. But it’s not for everyone, and some people prefer (or have to do) large blocks of writing time. Just take time each day to connect yo your writing projects so you keep that fiery, powerful relationship going.

And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for what works for you.

Steven Savage