The Automatic Writer

My coffee maker is on a timer. My thermostat is programmed to different temperatures at night and by day. My computer screen even dims to a softer hue as the day progresses.

I try to automate everything I can, believing that the fewer tasks I have to remember every day, the more I can focus and achieve. That may or may not be true, but I’m convinced that automation has helped me—and many of my friends and clients—as a writer.

For example, I write and publish more than a blog post every day. Most are quite short, but I use recurring scheduled tasks in my to-do app to tell me what posts to write on which days. I use the scheduling function in Blogger and WordPress so that I never have to remember to post. I program my blogs to tweet my posts automatically, and I use Hootsuite and Buffer to schedule tweets throughout the day (some of my followers and friends think I’m on social media all day, but much of my activity is automated; I check my accounts only a few times each day). But those are just a few examples of an “automatic writer.” Here are some others from some writer (and client) friends of mine:

Tez Brooks (tezbrooks.com) says he uses “Boomerang,” Google’s free email function, which allows him to schedule an email to be sent in the future. He writes the email while he’s thinking about it and schedules it to send it later. “For instance,” he says, “recently a publisher asked me to send her 15 devotionals, but she wanted only 5 at a time over the course of several months. So I wrote and sent the first 5 and scheduled the others to send at intervals.” Other apps do the same thing. Just search for “automated emails” and find the best one for you.

Kathryn Sue Moore (kathrynsuemoore.com) says, “I use an app called Evernote on my smart phone and on my Mac (it’s free for up to two devices). When I think of things to add to my story, I always have my phone handy so I can easily add it to my Evernote note (in 12 pt Times New Roman font, of course). Then when I resume working on my manuscript I can cut and paste my ideas right into my Word doc on my Mac.

Kathryn also uses audio to automate parts of her process. She says, “I use the microphone feature on my smart phone all the time, to dictate texts and emails and to add story ideas to Evernote. And, in the final stages of self-editing, I use the reader tool on my iPad to have my manuscript read to me. There’s a setting that allows me to adjust the speed (though it only allows me to select a limited number of words at a time). I also use this tool for large articles or training materials that I can then have read to me while I’m driving.”

Leslie Devooght’s fiction (lesliedevooght.com) benefits from the use and reuse of lists she has compiled to make her writing process more efficient. “I like to write fast, so I need a quick reference to keep my phrases and vocabulary varied. I type the lists and place them in page protectors. I can flip to them quickly and slide the page out if I want to add something. I have lists for look, walk, smile, kiss phrases, heart warms, heart breaks, Southern phrases, and I just made one the other day for everything eyebrows can do. I also have editing lists with words to search for and eliminate or change.

These are just a few ideas, of course. What are some ways you automate writing tasks for better efficiency and effectiveness?

29 Responses to The Automatic Writer

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson August 15, 2018 at 3:44 am #

    Not just trying to be contrarian here, but I’m 27, don’t have a smartphone, use a typewriter to draft, and grind my coffee by hand. I find it interesting that we’re different in that, when I simplify my life and do the tasks myself, slowly, I tend to be more productive and more focused because there’s fewer distractions.

    That being said. . . I love Mailchimp’s automation features (like the automated welcome sequence, where you can set up a x-week or x-day welcome sequence of emails that trigger when someone becomes a subscriber–that feature rocks).

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 15, 2018 at 5:55 am #

      I don’t think we’re all that different, Brennan. We both automate some tasks and “old-school” others. It’s all about what accomplishes our goals. I use a fountain pen to journal each evening, because it slows me down and promotes careful thought. Plus it’s a cool pen and a cool journal.

  2. Avatar
    shirlee Abbott August 15, 2018 at 4:56 am #

    Last night, I completed an on-line job application that auto-filled from my resume. I hit SUBMIT and got a red list of missing data points, including the exact month-day-year I started and completed college and employment–the simple month and year on my resume didn’t work. I played random numbers with their red flags.

    If the automation doesn’t same ME time, fuhgeddaboudit.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 15, 2018 at 5:55 am #

      Exactly, Shirlee. Automation, not complication.

  3. Avatar
    Elisabeth Warner August 15, 2018 at 5:21 am #

    Like Brennan said, I also don’t like technology that much. I wrote the very early draft of my novel in my journal, and then typed it out when the journal was complete (and begin that lovely process of editing and rewriting). Writing in a journal cuts out those pesky distractions, like Facebook and searching random questions that come into my mind at the most inconvenient times.

    However, the one tool I have found helpful is WordPress’s scheduling and sharing options. I can schedule posts weeks in advance and not even think about them until the day I see them pop up on my page. WordPress also shares to multiple social media sites at once.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler August 15, 2018 at 5:59 am #

      Elisabeth, may I suggest that you like “technology” more than you think? A pen is “technology.” A typewriter is also “technology.” But you choose the technology that serves you, which is a healthy and efficacious approach (too often we let technology use us, instead of the other way around). Like Leslie DeVooght’s examples above, “automation” can use old technology…or new. My point is that purposeful use of automation can enhance our writing, which both of your examples suggest.

  4. Avatar
    Sharon Kay Connell August 15, 2018 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks for all the great advice, Bob. I’m going to check into this myself.

    I’ve tried using Hootsuite in the past and didn’t care for it, but it was quite some time ago. With all the things I have going now as an author, I’ve been thinking about this topic more and more. Not much time for yourself when you have an active group forum, Facebook private, author, and book pages, Twitter page, are active with a critique group, two local writing groups, plus your WIP. Whew! I need help…or a secretary. LOL

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 15, 2018 at 7:05 am #

    Well, there’s the Glock 22 on my desk, but it’s only semiautomatic; a select-fire G18 is way too expensive, the paperwork is onerous, and it’s really a bit silly to have a pistol whose cyclic rate is 1800 rounds per minute.

    Still, it would probably impress the heck out of the rattlers I occasionally have to deal with, and they could go warn off their friends, because at that rate of fire, I sure wouldn’t hit them.

    • Avatar
      Claire O'Sullivan August 15, 2018 at 1:29 pm #

      Andrew: LOLOLOLOL I love you. Wait. I love a Springfield Armory but the concept is the same. However I decline leaving it on my desk for fear I may shoot my computer.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 15, 2018 at 1:47 pm #

        Claire, though I’ve learned to love the Glock – I built the thing, with a custom trigger adjusted for a better pull – I’ve always loved Springfield Armory’s fine products. Carried one their 1911s for years.

        Keeping a sidearm on the desk does serve as an ‘encouragment’ to the computer, I think…

        • Avatar
          Claire O'Sullivan August 15, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

          I keep it close by. But out of sight. Holster is out of sight. 😉 But a .22 would never do, a 9mm is about right, more than enough in a mag that would take out my computer and half the house. Safer, because my ‘puter is a laptop. Can’t imagine point blank destruction (not to mention I’m in the way…). So. Out of sight.

          I go with the automatic ERGH! if something drops off an iPhone schedule *why paper is so important, it doesn’t go away. Much.*

          And I use the same idea if my eyes skip over something I wrote down and discovered later.

  6. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris August 15, 2018 at 7:09 am #

    My heart raced, skipped a beat, swelled like a melon (oh, that’s bad!) at the idea of lists for eyebrows and smile phrases! Thank you for such a helpful post!

  7. Avatar
    Carol Ashby August 15, 2018 at 9:28 am #

    Even though I’m a true techie, I’m a bit of a troglodyte when it comes to using autoschedulers. If you get something from me at 2:30 in the morning, it’s because I’m still up working. I do try to send out personal marketing emails by midnight so any recipient who gets one might recognize that it’s really me and not an autosender.

    It probably is time to make my own personal lists of eyebrow and mouth-movement phrases. But I’ll make it a Word file that’s pinned in the Recent files list rather than hardcopy in a plastic sheath. I write at many different locations, so I need something portable and always with me.

  8. Avatar
    Tisha Martin August 15, 2018 at 9:36 am #

    Bob,

    I have a huge desk calendar and a handheld calendar, and I schedule everything—from when to write a blog post to client editing due to when I’m supposed to work on my own manuscript. So far it’s worked the last two years. Guess I’ll keep it.

    For scheduling the social media platform/engagement, I use Crowdfire to generate the images and articles that readers would find of help or interest. I can schedule as far out as I’d like, and only check my accounts twice throughout the day. That’s a huge relief, knowing I don’t have to generate material for social media every single day.

    This may be something of interest to someone: I have started keeping a writing journal. This is separate from a regular journal. For instance, before I start writing or editing my own manuscript, or when I get done with the word count, I’ll journal how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking in relation to the project. This helps me channel my thoughts to one place—rather than my regular journal—and also may help in future author interviews, when you get asked, “So what were you thinking when you wrote…?” Boom. You’ve got that journal to followup with! (And the key is to be brutally honest with yourself when writing down those thoughts. It can be healing in more ways you could ever imagine.)

    • Avatar
      Elisabeth Warner August 15, 2018 at 10:19 am #

      Tisha, that’s a good idea! I have a writing “notebook,” where I process my ideas, but I’ve never thought to process my emotions with why I chose to word something a certain way.

      • Avatar
        Tisha Martin August 15, 2018 at 10:24 am #

        Elizabeth, writing is as much an emotional process as it is a step-by-step process. 🙂 And because so much of what we write (generally) comes from what we may or may not be dealing with in our own lives, processing those emotions is so helpful. It’ll be exciting to see how it goes for you!

        • Avatar
          Elisabeth Warner August 15, 2018 at 10:25 am #

          Thank you! Considering that I just wrote a blog post about journaling, I’m excited to give your method a try!

          • Avatar
            Tisha Martin August 15, 2018 at 10:27 am #

            Perfect timing! 🙂 What’s your blog link? I’d like to check it out….

    • Avatar
      Lori Altebaumer August 16, 2018 at 6:57 am #

      The idea of journaling about how I am feeling in regards to what I’m working on really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Avatar
    Steven Fantina August 15, 2018 at 9:49 am #

    I tend to think that automation stifles my creativity. I try to schedule time every day to work on the book I’m writing, but I don’t think automating my writing would be helpful for me. Of course everyone’s creativity is unique and what works for one person will not work for everyone.

    • Avatar
      Sharon Kay Connell August 15, 2018 at 9:53 am #

      What a great idea, Tisha. I could even do that in the notebook I keep as I write. Thank you.

      • Avatar
        Tisha Martin August 15, 2018 at 10:26 am #

        You’re welcome, Sharon! It’s not original with me, happy to pass along whatever helps us organize our thoughts better… Yeah, you could totally do that—seeing what you’re thinking alongside what you’re writing would help track things even more.

    • Avatar
      Sharon Kay Connell August 15, 2018 at 9:55 am #

      I don’t automate my writing, but like I said, I am thinking of doing the advertising that way. Even retired from the 9 to 5 scene and writing full-time, I’m running out of hours per day.

  10. Avatar
    Kathleen Denly August 15, 2018 at 11:23 am #

    I use most of the technologies you mentioned in almost the same way. I would add that I have found Grammarly to be a useful tool when it comes to pointing out those grammar boo-boos I sometimes make. While not infallible, and certainly no replacement for The Chicago Manual of Style, the program helps by pointing out typos and other minor, but important, mistakes which I might not notice while typing up posts for my blog, emails, or even comments like this one.

  11. Avatar
    Ashley Schaller August 15, 2018 at 11:26 am #

    Some very interesting ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca August 15, 2018 at 12:02 pm #

    Thanks for these great ideas! I’m making a list (in Word) as I read through them so I can try some of them out.

    I appreciate the different approaches folks in this blog post have taken. Isn’t it great that we have so many tools to choose from?

  13. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee August 15, 2018 at 12:04 pm #

    Great ideas, Bob. Thanks for sharing. If you eat a good source of fiber every day at the same time, at the risk of seeming indelicate, you can automate something else as well.

  14. Avatar
    Sharon Cowen August 15, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

    Ctrl. P

    Thanks.

    Also saved in a file on my computer.

  15. Avatar
    Claire O'Sullivan August 15, 2018 at 1:39 pm #

    Great ideas, everyone, and thank you, Bob for the post.

    I use the charcoal from my fire pit to write (ok just kidding). I use a pencil, a paper schedule (if I want to), otherwise I use my brain cells and check my FB/wordpress on last posts.

    For ‘great ideas’ I journal for each new idea, book etc. Each novel has its own spot (unless my slightly ocd husband moves it) and a blank legal pad at the bedside with flashlight and pen for middle of the night/insomnia thoughts that I won’t remember in the morning without reminding. That may include an idea, a grocery item, when to check the well system. In the morning I can determine if my great idea was actually the stupidest thing one could think of at 2 in the a.m.

    For any other important dates like the dentist, doctor, day job activities or conferences, I use my iPhone. However, it erases the past appointments so I keep the little appointment cards they give no matter what… ‘Last time you saw a dentist?’

    Me: ‘Ah, when fire was invented?’ Just kidding.

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