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The Writer's Stack

Reduce the amount of tools in your system

The modern writer wields many tools. Some are for capturing the flurry of ideas and media that cross them in their day. Others focus on composition, planning, or publishing. I reached out to some friends who write consistently, and realized the average writer has on average over 10 tools in their stack. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Instapaper: Internet bookmarks
  • Readwise: E-book highlights
  • Google Keep: Shower thoughts
  • Things: Task management
  • Trello: Content planning
  • Google Calendar: Deadlines
  • Evernote: Long-term idea storage
  • Google Docs: Working on drafts
  • Square Space: Publishing finished work

Each of these apps are built to do one thing, and they do that thing extremely well. But what if managing a pipeline scattered across so many tools is actually decreasing the output of writers?

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In a network of tools, each one addresses an isolated part of the writing pipeline. The act of integrating a new tool into a suite is often an act of "optimizing for local optima." For example, Instapaper gives you a sleek, multi-device, cached place to save your bookmarks. But Instapaper often turns into an abyss of unprocessed articles, where relevant information that could be useful during a brainstorm session is impossible to surface. By attempting to perfect an isolated section of the pipeline, it might actually have a negative effect on the end-goal, which is publishing original work.

Systems in general are complicated because it can take weeks to experience the side effects of a poorly-formed design. It becomes even harder to comprehend and trouble-shoot a system when it's scattered across 19 apps. While Notion is often inserted into a network of other tools to perform one specific function, it actually enables a paradigm where no other tools are even necessary for a writer.

Instead of thinking about Notion as another tool in the stack, we should consider how it could be the entirety of a writer's stack. It's possible for your information capture system, drafting environment, content planning tool, and public website to exist as part of a consolidated whole.

The power of Notion is that it let's us build purpose specific operating-systems. "OS" is trending as a buzz phrase to slap onto the back-end of a Notion template name. My criteria to evaluate if something is an OS is based on two points, 1) can it unify parts of a pipeline that were previously isolated? And 2) can it be a container for all of the information you need within that pipeline?

Notion describes itself as an "all-in-one" workspace. I use Notion to capture my bookmarks, highlight articles, jot ideas, manage tasks, plan content, draft essays, and publish work on my personal website.

Sure, for any given Notion feature, there is another app out there that executes on it better. Squarespace is obviously a better website builder than Notion, but that isn't the point. I'd argue there is nothing as compelling as Notion that can aggregate all of the features a writer needs into a single application. For solo-writers and creators who have building momentum as their top priority, then a friction-less integrated system is absolutely the way to go.

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