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How to be a Good Writer at Cleanboating.org

Updated on September 22nd, 2022

In this post, our writer Kevin will explain how he collect ideas to write articles and which tools he prefer to write. Journalism, as it is called in English, is a discipline dedicated to the study of news reporting and writing. In addition to the various theoretical and practical classes offered at school, the best way to learn is to read and accumulate. After I decided that journalism was my direction of study, I began to consciously acquire content from various sources to deepen my understanding of news events and to learn the writing styles of professional journalists. After a few years, I also have a system that is unique to me. This time, the theme of Minority's essay is "Digital Stationery Box", so I'll take this opportunity to talk about how I, as a journalism and media student, use digital tools to build my own reading and writing system.

According to the nature of the tools and media, I divide my digital stationery box into four simple steps: acquiring content, collecting content, processing content, and producing content.

Access to content

The first step in reading and understanding news is, of course, to find quality channels of information. There are four main channels I currently use: traditional media, podcasts, books, and social media.

Traditional media refers to media that are large, have existed for a long time, and have the main purpose of reporting news. I subscribe to three traditional media outlets: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. As one of the largest newspapers in the United States, The New York Times has a certain level of quality and is home to some of the most well-known columnists in the country. I read its Morning Briefing and On Politics newsletters every day, but because its audience is primarily liberal, the articles are very clearly oriented. The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, focuses on business people and is conservative in its articles. The Atlantic, on the other hand, is a medium-length magazine with in-depth analysis of political and social issues. Several writers I respect, such as historian Anne Applebaum, now work for The Atlantic. When learning about controversial social issues, I try to combine multiple sources in order to get a more unbiased view of the issues. In addition to these older publications, I regularly check Vox, Politico, The Intercept, FiveThirtyEight, and several other emerging media outlets to see if there is anything of interest to me.

Listening to podcasts has been a habit I've developed over the past five or six years. When I'm eating, exercising, commuting, or doing housework, I habitually click on a podcast episode to get information through sound without interfering with the task at hand. Some of the podcasts I listen to include the Accidental Tech Podcast, Connected, Cortex for technology and Political Gabfest, The Ezra Klein Show, Amicus, and more for news. My top recommendation is The Ezra Klein Show, where host Ezra Klein interviews a writer, journalist, government official, or other celebrity in the field each week. I like Ezra's interview style, which is sharp but funny and often leads to thought-provoking conversations.

While digital media and podcasts cover basically everything I want to know, I've kept up with my reading habits. For me, news is more about timeliness. Journalists often have to make trade-offs between speed and depth in a way that books don't. A good book doesn't need to grab the reader's attention firmly on the first page of the first chapter, and there are long enough chapters to delve and expand. In addition to professor or classmate recommendations and bookstore visits, I check the reading columns of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal from time to time to see what books their authors have been reading lately.

Social media is an interesting source of content. Most of the journalists I follow have their own Twitter accounts. They update their feeds and retweet content that interests them. Of course, because of the nature of social media, I pay special attention to the amount of time I spend on it, usually browsing for five to ten minutes before I leave to prevent myself from drowning in the stream of information. At the same time, when I see information on social media, I will move my hands to search for relevant content to see if there are corresponding articles or studies to support it.

Collecting content

After selecting the content channels, the next step is to aggregate the content and store it for easy access at any time.

For text-based content, I use Matter, a relatively new reading product that integrates newsletter, RSS, read later, and other features. With the email forwarding feature, I forward all my newsletter subscriptions to a dedicated email address provided by Matter. These articles automatically appear in Matter's Subscriptions list. I spend five to ten minutes a day checking this list and selecting articles of interest to add to my reading list (Queue). Interesting articles on websites or social media can also be easily added via Matter's Share Extension.

Matter's reader interface is the main reason why I keep using this software. The modern and minimalist page design with rich features makes you want to read as soon as you look at it. You can highlight content by pressing and holding while reading, and you can add notes or generate shared images by clicking on the highlight. This feature is very useful for me, and I will mention it again in the next section "Handling Content".

The podcast client I use is Overcast, whose developer Marco Arment is also one of the hosts of Accidental Tech Podcast, a podcast I like a lot. I didn't choose Overcast for any particular reason, purely because the interface is crisp and easy to use, it supports multi-device syncing, and I can continue a show I'm halfway through on my phone on my iPad at any time. Overcast just went through a major update a few months ago. The new UI is much cleaner than the old one, and it only takes one tap to start playing after launching the app.

For traditional books, my main reading tool is Kindle, I'm a big fan of paper books, the white paper and the texture of the paper can greatly enhance the reading experience. But there are two main reasons for using Kindle. One is that I usually live in a school dormitory, there is not much space, and often need to move, storage of paper books is not very convenient. The Kindle's size and weight are similar to that of a cell phone, which makes it very convenient to carry, and the latest generation has finally abandoned its original interface and replaced it with Type-C. When you have time, you can take it out and flip through it a few times, and then read it for an hour before going to bed, without even thinking about it.

Processing content

For reading, especially reading news, it is meaningless to simply read. We receive hundreds of messages every day, not all of them are useful and we can't remember every single one of them, so after reading, refining the content is an inaccessible step. In this step of processing content, I mainly use Obsidian and Readwise applications.

Obsidian is a note-taking app that I'm sure you're not familiar with. I have been using it for more than a year. The card note-taking format and the two-way linking feature are great for collecting and refining fragmented content. Of course, another advantage of Obsidian is that it is highly customizable. With different themes and plugins, I can make it fit my usage habits perfectly. Also, my class notes are stored in Obsidian, so I can easily connect what I learn in class with what I read.

Introduction to Obsidian. I would like to recommend a few plugins that I usually use. One is Note Refactor, when I take notes or write, I often write down a lot of content in one go, and then I find that two unrelated topics are recorded together when I read it later. This time, you can use Note Refactor to split a note into two documents, and then connect them through two-way links, maintaining the independence of the two topics and preserving the relationship between them. Second, Wikipedia, a plugin that allows you to search for words and insert them into your notes via a command. If I need to look up the exact definition of a word when taking notes or writing, or the time and place of a historical event, this plugin allows me to get this information without leaving Obsidian.

Another indispensable app for me when working with content is Readwise, an app that consolidates highlights from different sources. As I mentioned earlier, Matter can sync highlights from articles to Readwise, and highlights from reading on Kindle can be synced by tying Readwise to your Amazon account or by uploading My Clippings files from your Kindle. In addition to the services I use, Apple's Books, Pocket and Instapaper, RSS readers like Feedly and Inoreader can all be connected to Readwise, and the highlights from Readwise can be synced to note-taking apps like Roam and Notion. By installing the official Readwise plugin, I chose to sync my highlights to Obsidian, first to ensure that they are not easily lost, and second to allow me to view them in a writing environment without internet access.

Of course, integrating highlights into Readwise is not the last step in this process. If you just store the highlights, they will never be fully functional. That's where the Daily Review and Mastery features of Readwise come in handy, with Daily Review automatically recommending ten highlights a day (with a customizable number) based on the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve to help me refresh my memory. With Mastery, I can make flashcards of the highlights, which help me recall by removing one or more words from the sentence. This has basically become my first step before writing. Every day after sitting down in front of the computer, I would first open Readwise to check the highlighted tweets, recall the context of what I was underlining, and briefly jot down new thoughts about them if they came to me. Over time, many of the highlights have become part of my memory and can easily be referenced and cited in my writing. And seeing my previous self's notes under the highlights occasionally gives me a burst of new inspiration.

Output content

"When you read a lot of books, you write like a god." A lot of reading can bring a lot of help to writing, but reading reading reading, reading is ultimately the work of others. If you just bury your head in reading without producing, it is difficult to internalize the input into your own understanding and analysis, especially in a discipline like journalism and media, which relies heavily on analysis and understanding. With this in mind, I started writing my own blog in the middle of last year. After a year of experimentation, producing content also became the final step in my system.

In the process of producing content, I mainly use Ulysses and Notion, which is one of the most famous writing software on macOS. When Editor Focus and Typewriter Mode are enabled, all other elements of the interface are hidden, leaving only the white background and the text on it, as if you were writing on a blank sheet of paper. With Markdown syntax, I can write without taking my hands off the keyboard, avoiding the interference of external things to the greatest extent possible and reducing the resistance to writing. My goal is to write for at least 30 minutes a day, without leaving the editor or revising what I've written, and to focus on turning the ideas in my head into words on the page.

By the way, here is a usage of Obsidian and Ulysses together. In the sidebar of Ulysses, you can choose to read external folders, and if you select the Obsidian folder in iCloud here, since Obsidian is also based on a plain document in Markdown format, you can read and modify it normally. My personal habit is to record inspiration and create an initial outline in Obsidian, and then focus on writing when I open Ulysses. And this has an added benefit. Because I subscribe to the educational discount version of Setapp, which does not include Ulysses for iOS, I would have to pay extra to use it. With my approach, I can use Obsidian Mobile for my writing needs on iPhone and iPad.

Compared to WordPress, the advantage of Nobelium is that it is easy to use and renders beautiful pages. When I write a post in Ulysses, I just copy the Markdown text to the database in Notion, change the information and it will be displayed on my blog page.

Other essential tools

I use the tools recommended on this best Mac app review site, like app uninstaller to completely remove the tried apps regularly to keep my Mac in good shape.

I started this article with the idea of introducing Matter, Readwise, and other software, but when I got to the conclusion, I realized that it is not the single software that is important in this system, but the individual steps and the connections between them. If we replace Obsidian with Logseq, or Ulysses with iA Writer, the whole system will not be affected much. But if you take away one of the four steps, the whole system collapses like Jenga.






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