Posted on Wed 10 August 2016

Tools I use for writing in 2016

Fountain pen

Image from Unsplash

Two years ago I wrote about the tools I was using for writing. It's about time for an update, so here's my current toolset.


I've been embracing analogue tools more lately, so my toolset is a fairly even combo of analogue and digital. These are the old school tools I rely on most.


I have three main notebooks on the go at the moment, which is almost overkill. Here's what I use:

Midori Traveler's Notebook, passport size

This is my everyday planner, where I use the Bullet Journal system with a few personal tweaks, including an Autofocus list. I have two inserts in my passport size MTN: a weekly insert, where I plan upcoming events and appointments, and a grid insert where I keep my daily to do list, and monthly appointment/event list.

Midori Traveler's Notebook, regular size

Midori Regular

This is the first MTN I bought, and I loved it. It used to be my everyday planner, but it started to feel too big when my daily to do lists were very short. I switched to the passport size so I wouldn't feel so overwhelmed, so now I'm using my regular size as a writing notebook.

In here I have an awesome weekly/monthly planner insert made from Tomoe River paper that I bought on Etsy (the shop is currently closed, but I'll try to remember to link to it when it's available again), and two grid/dot grid Tomoe River inserts. I use the monthly calendar to track deadlines for my client work, and soon my university deadlines will go in there, too. I use the grid inserts for brainstorming and making notes about articles, as well as tracking what needs to be done for each article I write (send, edit, invoice, etc.) and future article ideas.

Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter

Roterfaden and Midori

This is a notebook system similar to the MTN, though instead of Midori's rubber bands, the Roterfaden (pictured on the left) uses metal clips to hold your notebook inserts inside. The clips are very sturdy, and can hold thick notebooks with no trouble.

I have an A5 Roterfaden with two notebooks in it right now: a Seven Seas Crossfield that I use as my journal/commonplace book, and a Tomoe River insert that I use for sketchnotes and scribbles when I'm researching writing projects.




I have an extra fine clear Eco, and love it. It's my everyday pen these days.

Lamy Safari

I have two Safaris that I use occasionally. One has a 1.1 italic nib, and the other an extra fine nib. I love how smooth these are, and sometimes use them for journalling, but I wish they had smaller nibs. The smaller nib is why I use my Eco more often.

Uniball Signo RT1 and Muji gel pens

These are the pens I use for sketchnotes. They're both inexpensive, smooth, and very fine.


There are some things that are best done on a computer. Or an iPad. Or a phone. Or a watch...


I'm going to write more about this app once it's out of beta, but I've been testing a Mac and iOS notes app called Bear for months, and I love it. I'm happy to have given up the hunt for the perfect notes app finally!


In my post two years ago I wrote about a few different Mac Markdown apps I was jumping between, as I hadn't found the perfect one for me. Unfortunately, I'm still in the exact same position! Caret has come a long way, but still doesn't have the polish of iA Writer.

iA Writer, unfortunately, still has annoying Dropbox-related bugs that occasionally bug me so much I switch to something else. Though I generally come back to iA eventually, every time.

I really like using Ulysses on iOS (more so than on Mac), but I hate how it obscures links and images, uses non-standard Markdown, and litters my Dropbox folders with Ulysses plist files. I do really like the goals feature, though.

And finally Typed, which is now known as Focused, and really hasn't improved much since being bought. I should have known, as I've bought apps in the past from Realmac, only to have them languish after being bought out by another company.

So, ultimately I spend most of my writing time in iA Writer. I also write a lot more often on my iPad these days. I don't find it super comfortable, and auto correct means I end up with more mistakes than if I typed on my Mac, but I do like how typing on my iPad still doesn't feel like real work, so it's easier to get myself to do it.


I've used Pelican to power my personal blog for years. Thankfully, it rarely breaks, because I don't know a lot about how it works. And since I'm so prone to changing my mind all the time and trying new things, it's a nice change to stick with something that works for so long.

For publishing on the Exist and Hello Code blogs, I use Marked 2 to copy the HTML version of my Markdown drafts. Most Markdown writing apps offer this feature built-in, but Marked is the only one that gives me the HTML syntax I want (e.g. no <figure> tags).

For client work I've been using Paper by Dropbox a lot more lately. I really hate using Google Docs, so I've been lucky that some of my clients have been willing to try out Paper. Personally, I find it much more user-friendly and way better looking than Google Docs.


I use Unread on iOS for keeping up with RSS feeds (backed by a Feed Wrangler account), and Instapaper for saving articles to read later.

At Hello Code we released our second product recently, which is a bookmarking app for developers called Larder. It handles normal bookmarking perfectly, but has some extra features to make it especially handy for developers, so I use it for saving all the research I come across that might be useful in an article one day.

Larder bookmarks

I also have a public Larder folder where I save all my client work that's published online.

Larder public folder


Staying entertained while working is key for me, as I'm a huge procrastinator. I use Deezer to listen to albums, or a playlist of favourite songs when I really need a pick-me-up.

For invoicing, I use Harvest. I charge clients a flat fee per article rather than per hour, so I don't track my time. Harvest lets me connect my Stripe account so clients can pay online with their credit card, and makes it easy to duplicate invoices and send follow-up reminders.

P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

This post contains affiliate links. This means if you purchase something via one of my product links, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). I only add affiliate links after writing a blog post, so the products I mention are truly what I want to write about.

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