When you have to write a lot …

The past couple of weeks, as I finally retired my old tired hodge-podge of a blog, and replace it with six brand new streamlined ones (including this one), I found myself seriously and suddenly engaged in the solitary practice of the art and craft of writing.

Does the idea of spending hours and hours writing sound romantic? I have to tell you outright: No, it was not. It proved to be very, very hard work! Mentally and physically, I was exhausted. Instead of the long pleasurable hours shooting and polishing photos in post-production, I was trapped in spending chunks of time working with words.

Since I used to write before I decided I wanted to be a photographer, I thought this whole transition will be easy. But as I started to write (again), I was so rusty that I immediately knew I was in trouble. I just couldn’t do it. I haven’t done any serious writing for the past 15 years.

Sure, I regularly wrote stuff for my old blog and I also whipped up occasional stories on photography for a couple of magazines and some websites, but that was just like talking to friends, only, on paper. Nothing prepared me for the long bouts of serious writing sessions I had to engage in. It was hard-starting for me, and I thought, I needed an inspiration. At least, just to jump-start my writing. Not that I plan to out-do Stephen King or Anne Rice, I just needed something to ground me and push me and then to make me fly as I crank out as much sensible stuff as I can out of this writing bit.

I found myself sitting in front of my Mac, with MS Word open, and then nothing would happen. The blank page and a blinking cursor looked decidedly ominous. Nothing would come out of me. I know there is an endless stream of things I wanted to share, but I just couldn’t start writing. I eventually managed to somehow patter out a few words but nothing made any sense at all. A 1st grader would have managed to come up with something infinitely more interesting than whatever it was that I was trying to write when I was starting.

Maybe, just maybe, this is because I found MS Word to be so intimidating. Maybe, I was distracted with the interface of the latest iteration of this software. The 2008 version looked awfully complicated. I didn’t think that whatever it was that I will write is no match to the overly complex sophistication of a writing software that is MS Word.

If you’ve been using the Mac for quite some time, it’s almost impossible that you don’t know it comes preloaded with a free software called TextEdit. TextEdit is a no-nonsense, barebones text editing tool. I decided to shut down MS Word and fire up TextEdit. Hopefully, this switch will do me good. For sure, the stripped-down simplicity of TextEdit’s interface will surely allow me to focus and concentrate on what I was doing. Hopefully, it will also inspire me to piece together something that’s worth reading. Things looked promising, but, unfortunately, this tactic didn’t quite work. The blankness was just too uninspiring. There was nothingness, and so, I wasn’t able to get started. Don’t get me wrong, I actually have a thing for TextEdit, and I love its naked simplicity, but it was just too bare for what I was trying to do. I have a feeling that I will someday be relying on TextEdit for some writing stuff. Not just now.

I decided that I needed to look for the right tool. There must be something out there that perfectly fits my needs. Since I find MS Word too intimidating (or should I say, too distracting) to write anything, and I find TextEdit too empty for me to get going, I should be using something that’s somewhere in between–something that’s not too complicated but not simple either. Something that’s just right for the writing job that I need to get done. If I’m going to spend an awful lot of time writing (as I have decided I will), and if I need to regularly keep coming up with fresh content for my new blogs, I might as well do it with the right tool.

As a photographer, I spend so much time checking out cameras, lenses and all sorts of gadgets. Almost every free and non-shooting time I have is devoted to looking at stuff, comparing stuff, and testing stuff. If I can do that with my photography, why can I not do the same in search of the most perfect writing tool?

With this in mind, and with strong resolve, I started searching the Internet for a software that will help me with my writing. I would download the free trial version of a software I find interesting, and then test it out a few days. Good thing I have a nifty utility called AppZapper. AppZapper is an application with a cool stun gun logo that cleanly erases, I mean, zaps, applications and all their related support files. It costs only $12.95 and the developer offers a free lifetime upgrade. This is definitely not a bad deal for an essential uninstaller software that “Apple forgot.” After I’m done trying out an application, I can cleanly zap it out of my computer before downloading and trying out another one. AppZapper kept my computer neat and clean.

That was when I stumbled upon MacJournal. There are actually a lot of interesting alternatives to both MS Word or TextEdit that’s out there. I must have tried more than a dozen of them. While majority of these alternatives are surprisingly good and can adequately serve my purpose, nothing appealed to me more than Dan Schimpf’s MacJournal from Mariner Software. For some reason, MacJournal is just the most perfect tool that I found out there. (Mariner Software, by the way, is a software company with an interesting product line that you might want to check out: Mariner Write, Mariner Calc, Desktop Poet, Montage, MacJournal, and StoryMill.)

The moment I fired up MacJournal, I was able to get going right away. I just started writing. About the only other thing I had to do was to set my favorite font in the preferences pane, and that’s it. I love the software’s streamlined interface. I love how it efficiently organize everything I write. I love the space devoted to writing. I love the tools that are available such as word count and such. And, reviewing its history, it’s amazing that this is one of the few software available out there that’s fully supported. It’s developer, Dan Schimpf, is constantly at work on improving the software and in coming up with better and better version. Dan even makes beta versions of future official releases available for free download. I just love everything about MacJournal!

Maybe, I need a writing software such as MacJournal because I need to do a lot of writing. But as a photographer, and if I were not writing a blog or any such thing, will I still need MacJournal? Although I cannot imagine any modern-day digital photographer without some sort of a word processing tool to put in writing a slew of notes and letters in order to effectively communicate with clients, associates and with pretty much everyone out there, why would he need a software such as MacJournal for? What use and value would this be to a professional photographer whose main tools are Adobe’s Photoshop and Apple’s Aperture?

That’s when it hit me that I should be using MacJournal not just for my blogs but for almost all of the other things that I need to write down. Every time I do my work as a photographer, from pre-production to actual shooting to post-production, I generate a whole lot of text. I write all sorts of things. My writing range from the mundane lists, reminders, and notes to letters, proposals and essays. I also write down a lot of straight facts, data and information about all aspects of my photo shoots ranging from a database of technical information to notations of creative approaches. I write in napkins and backs of envelopes as well as in legal pads, bond papers, spiral notebooks, and Moleskines. I constantly bring with me my Fisher Space Pen and my Meisterstück because I actually write all the time. I don’t want to forget things so I tend to write it all down. Even if I know that I won’t look it up again, I still just have to write it down. It’s a memory aid of sorts. And it serves as a psychological crutch … that I know it’s there when I need to look it up. (One of my friends said that it’s actually my “defense mechanism” of sort for being more and more forgetful as I grow old.)

Since I started using MacJournal for my writing, and not just for my blogs, I am able to put bits and pieces of information together about my photo shoots and projects in a single major location. Being able to write them all down, and organize them in many different ways, I freed my mind which allowed me to foray a little further into the rarified sphere of creative mental gymnastics. The habit of writing and reviewing my notes now allows me to engage in far more complicated mental processes. In my thinking, I am able to focus and concentrate, and therefore, explore countless rich possibilities.

MacJournal, as a writing tool, and as a depository of my written thoughts and emotions, helps me to extend my mental capacity as I can now toy around with more ideas and concepts. MacJournal has become my mind map.

If you ask me today if I can do my work as a photographer without MacJournal (not only because I have to write blogs), I can of course tell you that yes I’d still be able to do whatever it is that needs to be done. To put things in proper perspective, MacJournal is not as important as, say, my camera. But … and here comes the big “but” — my work and experience as a photographer will not be as rich and as creative and as powerful without a “mind map” tool such as MacJournal. It’s like saying that I can still be a photographer even if I use a PC instead of a Mac. But using a Mac, just like using MacJournal, is just so much better.

Because of this, I will be remiss if I don’t say that MacJournal is one software that I strongly recommend to anyone–particularly to photographers. So, whether you have to write a lot or not, check out MacJournal. It’s definitely worth it.

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