How I Write

Ever the higher education nerd, I don’t relate to years vis-a-vis the January-December calendar, but in terms of the September-August calendar. A new school year is upon us, so this is a good time to take stock of the year that was in 2013–2014. For me, the year could be summed up as ‘the year of writing.’

I grew comfortable identifying myself as a creative person. I am lucky to have a number of writing projects in process that give my thoughts outlets. I am also really lucky to have an amazing writing group at Mount Holyoke that support me as explore this side of myself. I still read Brain Pickings regularly and refer back to Tharp, especially as I plan my teaching for the next year. Recently, I finished the draft of a larger writing project. As I was wrapping up, I began to try to break down my writing process. I asked myself: how do I write?

Mirroring the frame one can find in the LifeHacker series ‘How I Work’ I offer you, ‘How Caro Pinto Writes.’

Caro Pinto is professionally limber enough to call herself a libarchivist. She works at the intersections of special collections, instructional technology, and libraries at Mount Holyoke College where she tackles social media, research education, and digital projects.

Beyond the work of the college, Caro is also involved with Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL; she’s a review editor for dh+lib, and writes about her libraries, digital humanities, archives, and higher education for various publications. Caro loves to write and is always ready to tackle a new project. Let’s see what kind of knowledge Caro can drop.

  • Location: Western Massachusetts
  • Current Gig: Library & Instructional Technology Liaison
  • Current mobile device: iPhone 5
  • Current Computer:A College issued 13″ MacBook Pro.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?

Mount Holyoke College uses Google Apps for Education. We use their email, calendaring, and documents for our work, so it’s a real laptop culture run by rolling agendas in Google Drive. I hate wasting time and I don’t want to spend too much time searching for the document I need RIGHT NOW, so I am devoted to a neat little Mac application called Aflred that allows me to quickly find and retrieve files and open applications without too much searching, pointing and clicking. I love keyboard shortcuts for the same reasons. Between dh+lib, MHC projects, and my own blog, I spend a lot of time in the WordPress environment. I’m a plaintext freak, so I use nvALT for writing in plaintext and/or Markdown. I sync my photos and readings in Dropbox and Google Drive. I keep track of citations and notes in Zotero. I use Evernote for brain dumps. Thanks to IFFT, I also have an archive of my favorite Tweets that lead to blog posts, books to add to a reading list, or just awesome things that happen on the internet.

My other ‘app’ is the SORTLA notebook. I love being able to do analog brainstorming and concept mapping. The killer feature of that notebook is the ability to re-order the pages depending upon my needs or desires or whims.

What’s your workspace set-up like?

I’ve moved offices at work several times, so the space has changed slightly over the past 15 months, but I always have a desk with minimal paper on it, a secondary monitor, and a laptop stand for my Macbook Pro. Every year, I buy a Tin Tin calendar for my desk to keep track of the days and enjoy some quality cartoon illustrations. My workspace also includes baseball cards, photographs of various Kennedys, cat art, historical postcards, and buttons. When I am not at work, my office is wherever I want to be; you will most often find me in the Friends of the Smith College Library Reading Room or the Roost. I have also been known to do some intensive writing at the Whole Foods on Washington Street in Allston.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Time is my most valuable non-renewable resource. I saw that in a documentary a few months ago and really agree. I am all about achieving time savings. Email is an obvious target in the war against time wasting. I only allow myself to respond to email a few times a day; I don’t let myself get distracted with email while I am focusing on other projects, tasks, or people. I block times off on my calendar to demonstrate I am immersed in something that requires my focus and attention. I credit the folks over at 99u for these suggestions, gentle nudges toward focus and meaningful productivity.

How do you write stuff?

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I have a writing process that I could actually break down and articulate. I always start with some kind of visual or conceptual inspiration, like the work of architect Eero Saarinen or war memorials or neon signs in Las Vegas. They give me another entry into the content I am working with and help me brainstorm into the more focussed project. They help me get excited about a writing project and are the first things I put in my project box.

I am always reading and often draw from ‘my promiscuous reading’ in my academic work. As I tell my students, there is nothing wrong with using popular media sources like The New York Times in formal writing. It all requires a balance. You never know how it will fit in to the project. I am aware that it’s easy to fall into a research hole and end up with too much information, so deadlines enforce some discipline. I outline, re-outline, and then start to think about how different files, images, or ideas will translate into a written draft. I let myself steep. And then I just vomit out a draft. The first one is always terrible and is always lacking in terms of word count, content, clarity, and awesomeness. Then, I revise and begin to find my groove and start bringing everything that I’ve been reading and thinking about together-synergy! Usually by that point, something is due to an editor or a self definite deadline appears to share with my writing group or writing confidante. And then, revise, revise, revise.

When I prepare for presentations, brave is the person who dares to co-present with me; I tend to finalize what I am going to say at the very last minute. Again, I draw inspiration from a variety of spaces, collecting things to read to steep….and then, to borrow a phrase from The West Wing, get my napkins in order and then just TALK.