What is your writer’s toolbox missing?

What is your writer's toolbox missing_


Have you ever been working on a home project, then discovered a new tool or device that significantly streamlined the process or sped up the project? Such a eureka moment! What if such “tools” existed for writing?

The Writing Routines site recently posted Pens, Paper, and Processors: What 18 Bestselling Writer’s Use to Do The Work, which allows us to peek into the toolbox of some of our favorite authors. Enjoy this excerpt:

Microsoft Word or Google Docs? Or Both?

“I use a Mac with Word for Mac. I can’t work with anything else. The intuition built into the Apple lineage is my intuition. Whoever developed that way back when for Mac, it was built for people as computer dumb as me.”

 Steven Kotler, a New York Times bestselling author, an award-winning journalist and one of the world’s leading experts on ultimate human performance.

“I use Microsoft Word in part because I see no reason to change, but I probably also use Microsoft Word because I’m being lazy about change. I will say that I think Google Docs are an impediment to productivity. Anything that takes us online runs the risk of diverting our attention”

– Paul Shirley, former professional basketball player and author of Stories I Tell on Dates

“I have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Word, which I use for all my book and script writing. The View/Outline feature allows me to expand and compress a document or move chapters or snippets of the material around with ease.”

 Dr. Barbara Oakley, bestselling author of A Mind for Numbers and former Army Captain

“I use separate Google Docs for each [working chapter] but there comes an important inflection point in my progress, where I begin to combine these independent chapters into one Word Document. I basically go from online writing to offline editing and re-writing.”

 Ryan Holidaybestselling authora ghost-writera columnistan essayist, a Grammy-award winning producer, and book marketer


“Scrivener has a set of tools that make long-arc writing projects super easy. I am a non-linear writer, meaning that I often write books from the inside-out, and Scrivener allows me to tackle sections of the book at a time and move them around later instead of having to work through the project in linear fashion. It also helps me stay on track by giving me a daily word count that keeps me on-course for my manuscript target.”

 Todd Henry, author of The Accidental CreativeDie EmptyLouder Than Wordsand Herding Tigers and is the creator and host of The Accidental Creative Podcast

I write books in Scrivener because I find it the easiest to jump around and organize ideas without having to incessantly scroll. That’s my style. I jump around a lot, from idea to idea, chapter to chapter. Then I go back and edit it to make it cohesive. I need a tool that satisfies that style of working.”

 Jeff Goins, Bestselling author of five books including Real Artists Don’t Starve and The Art of Work


“Evernote is hands down my most important tool as a writer. I spend a lot of time taking notes and organizing and outlining everything before I get down to composing.”

 Shane Snow, journalist, entrepreneur, bestselling author of Smartcutsand Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart.

“All day long, I capture ideas using the app Drafts. These get dumped into Evernote, where I have a folder full of ideas and prompts for when I’m feeling dry in the creativity department.”

 Jeff Goins, Bestselling author of five books including Real Artists Don’t Starve and The Art of Work

Not Just Any Pen

“I get out one of my quadrille ruled engineering pads and a sharpened Palomino Blackwing pencil (I keep a Staedtler manual pencil sharpener beside me), and I set out three short tasks. One of them is doing a Pomodoro (25 minutes) on whatever I’m writing.”

 Dr. Barbara Oakley, bestselling author of A Mind for Numbers and former Army Captain

“My favorite analog toolkit is a Blackwing 602 pencil and a Moleskine notebook. Because I think I’m living in the ’30s or something? I don’t know. But I love Blackwings so much that I have one tattooed on my inner arm.”

 Shane Snow, journalist, entrepreneur, bestselling author of Smartcutsand Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart.

“Pen and paper are lovely.  I’m fond of the Pentel EnerGel and the MiracleBind notebook by Blueline.”

– Jessica Bendinger, a screenwriter whose movies have grossed over $500 million worldwide. Her original script Bring It On debuted at #1 in the box office and remained there for two weeks.

“I often sketch things out by hand first. Small notebooks with soft covers. And I’ve been using the same blue Bic pens my whole adult life. I mean literally the same pens, not just the same type of pen. I bought one package at a CVS fifteen years ago and a handful are still good. They’re the clear plastic ones with the ridges, not the opaque white ones. I should write to Bic and tell them. I don’t know what I’ll do when they all run out.”

 Aaron Thier, Author of The Ghost AppleMr. Eternity, and The World is a Narrow Bridge and recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


“During my research phase, my favorite tools are 4×6 notecards and these photo storage boxes. The entire book is outlined and organized on these cards and filed accordingly to which part, which subsection the thoughts or research on that card will be put towards. So each book will literally be made up of thousands of these cards, which are often synthesis from books I’ve read, interviews I’ve done, random thoughts I’ve had and so on. The cards are done by hand—pen, pencil, whatever is close.”

 Ryan Holiday, Ryan Holiday, bestselling authora ghost-writera columnistan essayist, a Grammy-award winning producer, and book marketer

“For books, I obsessively outline on index cards that I post on a large cork board in my office – each card represents a new scene, and that’s how I write chapters.”

 Bryan Mealer, author of The Kings of Big SpringMuck City and the New York Times bestseller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind


“Waiter’s pad for ideas. Why waiter’s pad? It’s cheap to get 100 of them. It’s not a big notebook so you can’t write a diary. just a list of ideas. And it’s always a conversation piece in meetings. “I’ll take fries with that burger” is a joke i hear ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the time in meetings and then allows me to explain why I have a waiter’s pad.”

 James Altucher, author of Choose Yourself, listed as one of USA Today’s “Best Business Books of All Time,” and Reinvent Yourself, a #1 book overall on Amazon.com.

Bigger Pads

“[I was] introduced to the most elegant solution by a friend, the author Ashley Cardiff: A sketchpad. A 9-by-12-inch artist’s sketchpad. This has been my great revelation. It’s unlined so I can read my bad handwriting and large enough that I can group several ideas together on the same page. Plus, it gives me an excuse to buy fancy mechanical pencils.”

– Liana Maeby, author of South on Highland, which actor/writer BJ Novak called “the kind of book kids will steal from each other.”

Even Bigger Pads!

“For outlining and structuring a book or even a chapter, I often use a giant pad of paper, the kind that sits on an easel. They’re not cheap (about $30 for 100 sheets) but they allow a view of an entire storyboard or outline at a single glance, and have room for all kinds of arrows, exclamation points, and other notes. I got this idea from a film producer I know who keeps storyboards of his projects on the wall of his office. The ability to see a story represented as a whole – without needing to advance screens or flip pages—has been a revelation to me.”

 Robert Kurson, author of New York Times bestselling books, Shadow Divers and Pirate Hunters

Whether you prefer Word over Docs or pencils over BIC pens, we hope you’ve been inspired to add a few new tools to your writer’s toolkit.

At Certa Publishing we desire to equip our writers with all the tools and resources you need to bring your manuscript to life. How can we help you today? We’d love to hear from you.

John Piper’s Tips for Personal Productivity: Part two

john piper pt 2

Recently DesiringGod.org posted the audio transcript of an interview with its founder, Pastor John Piper. He was asked the following question:

“Pastor John, thank you for your Christ-centered precision and for the tremendous volume of your ministry output. I’m curious how you produce so much content. What time do you wake up, or find time to read and write, or eat your cereal? You mention your aversion to TV in Don’t Waste Your Life, but what advice do you have for the daily schedule-making to make the most of life for Christ?”

John Piper responded with ten tips, five of which we shared in our previous post:

  1. Don’t copy me
  2. Focus on great goals
  3. Be seasonally minded
  4. Work from life goals
  5. Labor toward the account you will give to God

This week we are sharing the remainder of Pastor Piper’s tips for personal productivity:

6. Work Urgently

Add to your sense of accountability before God a sense of urgency. “We must work the works of him who sent [us] while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Or Ephesians 5:15–16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise . . . ” — making, literally redeeming the time — “because the days are evil.” Or Colossians 4:5, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” There is urgency in this. The days are evil and night is coming.

7. Kill Half-Heartedness

Do what you do with all your heart. Be done with half-heartedness. Oh, so many people limp through life doing what they do with a half heart, with half of their energy. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing with your whole soul. Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” Jonathan Edwards’s resolution probably had more impact on me in the last 30 years than anything else he said — in his resolutions, at least — when he said, “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live” (resolution #6). Those words took hold of me a long time ago. I thought: Oh, yes Lord.

The opposite of this — fourteen times in the book of Proverbs the word “sluggard” is used. Isn’t that an ugly word? “Sluggard,” 14 times. And what is a sluggard? Proverbs 20:4, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” You don’t want to be a sluggard.

8. Persist, Persist, Persist

Many chops fell a huge tree. Man, this is so crucial because of how quickly we get discouraged after a thousand chops and the tree is not down yet. I just finished listening to Robinson Crusoe. You might say: What in the world? Why is John Piper listening to a teenage novel? I had never heard some of these classics, so I am listening to them. Robinson Crusoe, marooned on an island, all by himself, wants to escape, and he needs a boat. Mainland is 45 miles away. There might be cannibals over there. He is not sure he wants to go, but he needs a boat. He has got nothing else to do, so he is going to make a boat. He finds a tree. This tree is five feet, ten inches, across at the bottom. He has an axe. It takes him 22 days to chop this tree down, 14 more days to chop the branches off, a year and a half to finish the boat with an axe. I’d chop on a tree for a day, two days. I say: This tree is not coming down. I am done with this tree. I am going to work on some little tree. So there is the key. Many chops fell a big tree. Do you want to do something great? Don’t quit. Keep chopping.

9. Joyfully Embrace Hard Tasks

Be willing to do many things in life cheerfully that at first you don’t want to do. They don’t come naturally to you. There is no worthwhile role in life that does not require you to do things you don’t at first feel like doing or that only let you do what comes naturally. So be cheerful in doing the parts of your life that you do not at first prefer to do.

10. Find Your Calling

Finally, find your niche, that is, find the thing you do love to do with all your weaknesses and all your strengths. Put most of your energies and your love there for Christ and his kingdom.

Which of these principles stood out to you? Do you find it difficult to embrace hard tasks? Or perhaps persistence doesn’t come naturally to you. Whatever your struggle with productivity, we hope that you can apply John Piper’s principles and achieve increased productivity in all that you set your hand to do.

How can Certa Publishing come alongside your writing journey? Contact us today to find out.


John Piper’s Tips for Personal Productivity: Part 1

john piper

DesiringGod.org recently posted the audio transcript of an interview with its founder Pastor John Piper. He was asked a question that might readily come to your mind as well when you think of such a prolific writer as Mr. Piper. We think you will find his answer goes beyond practical steps and hones in on the heart of the matter.

We have included the first half here and will share the remainder in a subsequent post:

We recently talked about the book you just wrote Pastor John, back on Thursday of last week. . . . In light of that, Brandon in Charlotte, NC writes in: “Pastor John, thank you for your Christ-centered precision and for the tremendous volume of your ministry output. I’m curious how you produce so much content. What time do you wake up, or find time to read and write, or eat your cereal? You mention your aversion to TV in Don’t Waste Your Life, but what advice do you have for the daily schedule-making to make the most of life for Christ?”

I have ten things to say.

1. Don’t Copy Me

First, beware of wanting to be like me. You don’t know the sins of my life. You don’t know how much I have neglected. You don’t know what the costs have been. The real question is how to be the fullest, most God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, loving, humble, mission-advancing, justice-seeking, others-serving person you, you can be. Don’t measure yourself by others. Measure yourself by your potential in Christ. That is the first thing that I felt I had to say, because of the way the question seemed to be posed.

2. Focus on Great Goals

Give 10% of your focus in life to avoiding obstacles to productivity and 90% of your focus to fastening on to great goals and pursuing them with all your might. Very few people become productive by avoiding obstacles to productivity. It is not a good focus. That is not where energy comes from. It is not where vision comes from.

People write books about that and make a lot of money, but that is not where anybody gets anything worthwhile done. Getting things done that count come from great, glorious, wonderful future possibilities that take you captive and draw your pursuit with all your might. And then all that other stuff about getting obstacles out of your way. That is the 10% of broom work that you have to do.

3. Be Seasonally Minded

Life comes to us in chapters that are very different from each other. If you are married and have little children, that is a chapter that needs a great deal of focus on the children. If God wills, there may be another chapter for you with different possibilities, different potentials, and different priorities. The Lord will be pleased if you focus on the chapter you are in and live according to the demands of that chapter with all your might.

4. Work from Life Goals

Give serious thought and prayer to what your big, all-consuming life goal is. The biblical expression of mine is found in Philippians 1:20–21: “It is my eager expectation” — this is John Piper, not just Paul talking — “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So Christ magnified in living and dying, spreading a passion for that Christ into the lives of others. That is the goal. That is the big, overarching goal. So find yours and make it work in everything you do.

5. Labor Toward the Account You Will Give to God

Get a sense of gospel-rooted accountability before the living God. That is, understand the gospel and the spiritual dynamics of how it works. You don’t labor to get into a right relationship with God. The gospel dynamics don’t work that way. You labor morning to night with all your might because you are in a right relationship with God. Philippians 2:12–13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for” — ground, basis, foundation — “it is God who works in you.” That is the gospel dynamic. “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I.” The grace of God had already taken up residence in me and was at work in me (see 1 Corinthians 15:10). And if you get that order out of whack, you may accomplish a lot in life and go straight to hell with all your books and all your buildings.

Let the Lord Jesus intensify this sense of accountability on the last day with the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). He gave to one person five, gave to another person two, and gave to another person one. He came to call account, and the person with one heard those awful words. “You wicked and slothful [lazy] servant” (Matthew 25:26). I don’t want to hear that word. I do not want to hear that word.

I want to experience the opposite, the counterpart to those words from Luke 12:42, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his manager will set over his household?” I often thought those words when I was a pastor. I was “over [a] household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time” (Luke 12:42). “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:43).

I would be sitting preparing my messages or writing something or leading the family in devotion and I would say: Come, now, Lord Jesus, and you will find me doing it. That is the opposite of the wicked, lazy servant who buried your talent and didn’t do anything with it. So that is number five.

Perhaps those weren’t the “quick and easy” tips you expected from an article on productivity. However, at Certa Publishing, we concur that these deeper principles are foundational to any successful, anointed writing career. We would love to hear your feedback on this article. Comment below or contact us today.


Goals: Measuring your progress

GOALS_measuring your progress

Most of us love to set goals. All of us love to reach our goals. It’s that in-between process that usually bogs us down. But what if there were tangible ways to measure your progress and maintain momentum? Shundalyn Allen recently blogged about this for Grammarly in her post, How to Measure Your Goals as a Writer and Business Professional, which we have excerpted here:

If reaching your business and writing goals is a journey, setting them is only the first step. To continue along the path and ultimately reach your destination, you must measure your progress along the way. But how?

Consider for a moment how you might track your advancement along a physical route. You may look for landmarks, count your miles, or keep track of the hours spent on the road.

Though same principles apply to your objectives, you need to choose a method that fits well with your aim. For example, let’s say your goal is to attend a writer’s conference each year.

Budget Your Time

Time measurement is the best type of quantification for long-term goals, especially those centered on improvement. For instance, a writer with the intention of writing more regularly may measure his goal of writing more often by setting a timer for 30 minutes each morning. The goal is complete each day when the timer sounds, and when you’ve completed your hourly goal for the week.

Do it Again

Another way to measure an improvement goal is by how frequently you practice. A writer who wants to write more can make an X on the calendar each day she writes with the purpose of accumulating a certain amount of marks per week or month. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld enjoyed so much making a big red X on his calendar each day that he created new material that he began a game with himself: Don’t break the chain. Just seeing your string of past accomplishments may be the push you need to work toward your goal every day.

Do the Math

You can break down goals that have a specific outcome into percentages or milestones. On a road trip, these would be your quarter, half, and three-quarters, and final landmarks. One business goal that suits this type of analysis is to earn $5000 in commission. Your benchmarks would be $1250, $2500, $3750, and $5000. Of course, you can make the percentage targets smaller if you desire. You may find yourself motivated to put in extra effort when you come close to reaching a target, especially if you make a visual display of your advancement. The Way of Life! app uses a color system to identify, monitor, and modify your habits. You can set up reminders to strengthen your positive habits. View trends in charts, chains, and even scoreboards.

Are you Satisfied?

On the other hand, goals without clearly measurable stages may prove more difficult to quantify with the above methods. Let’s say your goal is to improve your assertiveness. You may have a culminating objective (e.g., asking for a raise), but how will you track the development of your goal along the way?

Evaluate your personal satisfaction using a rating system. For example, if you felt as assertive as you could be, assign yourself a ten. Anything less than peak level should receive a lower number with one being passive. Over time, you will be able to see if you are getting more assertive by comparing your numbers for each week. (Remember, only an honest appraisal will generate helpful results!)

When Problems Arise

No journey is entirely free of distractions, detours, and speed bumps. If you feel like you’re deviating from your plan, ask someone distinguished in your field to mentor you or suggest helpful peer literature. Most importantly, don’t give up. It doesn’t matter how many times you run into problems; if you keep moving forward, you will eventually arrive at your goal.

How you measure your goals may vary. The important thing is to monitor your progress, so you feel good when you finally accomplish what you worked for.

At Certa Publishing, we walk hand in hand with our authors through each stage of the publishing process. We can help you develop a timetable and goals to get your book from manuscript to finished product. Contact us today to find out how we can partner with you.

Get Work Done

get work done

Having a notebook full of writing inspiration is fantastic. But do you know what is far superior? Transforming those random musings into a well-constructed, consumable piece of writing that informs, encourages and equips the reader.

Yet most writers will confess that this process is more difficult than it seems. It’s not the inspiration that is lacking, but the productivity skills. So, today we are here to help! The following article is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Being Productive as a Writer by Daniel Potter, a journalist who offers his productivity tips:

Whether your job title happens to be writer or not, you probably can’t avoid writing. There’s also a good chance that before you sit down to write, you dread it. That’s understandable—even titans of the written word struggle and procrastinate. Still, I want you to love writing as much as I do.

Maybe this is a tough sell. Although writing has been my full-time pursuit for more than a decade, there is no way to sugarcoat the fact that it remains work.

True, writing does not require me to operate dangerous machinery or balance complex equations. In fact, some days I barely have to make eye contact with strangers. It’s great! But I’m not sure it ever gets easy.

Whether you’re communicating with customers, corresponding with loved ones, or cranking out the next chapter of your opus, you want to be understood, which means you have to write well.

Here are some ways I’m continually trying to up my productivity as a writer.

Read like an editor.

Anything you read can inform how you write. This includes news articles, snarky posts on social media, junk mail you barely look at before recycling, and books—both the great and not-so-great ones. All offer hints about another human’s decision-making process. Your job, as you read, is to continually ask, “how could this be written better?”

Sometimes the answers are obvious: Fix the typos. Get rid of extraneous adjectives and jargon. Break long, clunky sentences down into smaller, more digestible pieces.

Other times, it’s instructive to imagine the writer’s constraints. If you’re looking at the painfully dull copy that comes packaged alongside any power tool or vial of medicine, assume a lawyer slapped everything remotely interesting off the page as it was written.

Occasionally, I catch myself in the thick of paragraphs where every word is exactly where it belongs. (Hi, Jennifer Egan.) I can imagine changes that would make each sentence worse, and that’s all. This is a mark of good writing. Recognizing this—refining your sense of it—is key to improving your own work.

Be critical of yourself—but not too critical.

After you’ve written something, stand up and stretch, sip some water, then reappraise your work with fresh eyes. You’ll likely notice elements in need of polish—a word used too often or a sentence that doesn’t flow, perhaps. If you’ve made a practice of reading like an editor, devising appropriate tweaks will be straightforward—except when it isn’t.

Sometimes I just need to rework whole paragraphs or sections. I start by copying the original version and setting it aside; that way, if things get worse instead of better as I bumble through my next attempt, I can at least get back to where I started. Plus, when it’s done, I like to compare before-and-after snapshots and ask myself: What ended up changing? Can I articulate what’s better?

During this process, remember that part of editing is knowing when to quit. You can sit and replace words with synonyms and keep reshuffling sentences until you’re a very tired skeleton, but at some point, you have to trust that you’re done and hit send. I recommend doing this well before you feel like a crazy person.

Get help holding yourself accountable.

Feeling like you’re just writing for yourself isn’t always a powerful motivation—especially if, like me, you work from home. It might boost your productivity to instead write for someone else; tell a friend you’re going to write two thousand words today, then do it. Knowing you have to report your results back to them later on might just do the trick.

In my case, I happen to be married to an extremely hard-working writer, and when she comes home, the last thing I want is for her to feel like I’ve been relaxing all day. Feeling driven to keep slinging words on her level helps keep me in gear.

Similarly, a colleague who works at home told me he prefers writing in coffee shops and libraries, where strangers might peek over his shoulder. The thought of this is helpful—he’d rather be spotted writing than perusing status updates or shopping online for sunglasses, he says.

At Certa Publishing, we endeavor to guide our authors from inspiration all the way to publishing and beyond. Contact us today to see how we can partner with you.