My Top 3 Writing Shortcuts–get ready to change everything!

Too busy to get your book down? Thinking you’ve got to get organized first? Don’t kid yourself. Chances are the piles of crap in your office and those unfinished to-do lists will still be there by year’s end… in 2026!

Since it’s not gonna happen for you—being “ready” to sit down all zen-like and caught up and all (sorry to be so nego, I suppose it could happen, in an alternate dimension)—don’t you think it’s time to make magic happen anyway? Everyone who loves you knows your book’s long overdue and it’s time to make some serious headway or quit talking about it already (no, don’t quit… that’ll make you really grumpy and no good to anyone and that’s a really bad idea).

That’s why today’s your lucky day, seriously, because I’ve some time-tested rescue tools to make it easier and much faster for you to finish your book. Believe me when I say these babies have transformed my experience as a writer. Oh, that’s easy for her to say, you could be thinking. She’s a professional. She’s written bestsellers in twelve weeks. While that’s true, I’m happy to debunk any images of perfection you may have of us writers and admit that it’s often haphazard and discombobulated, our process. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve only written one book fully organized (my first one, before the word “deadline” started haunting my dreams). 

Since then, my office has often looked more like the floor of the Stock Exchange on Black Friday than the serene place it once was. Plus, I’ve had to take crazy on the road with me, writing at the bedside of sickies at the hospital, from my car during a fire evacuation, at Starbucks when my Internet was out and I was so cold my teeth were chattering (what’s the deal with having to wear a parka in a coffee shop, anyway—to get you to buy more hot bevs?).

But not anymore. Life’s infinitely easier these days. (Full disclosure… the kid’s grown and my parents are dead, so my son no longer cries for “mama milk” and my mom and dad can’t die again, which is helpful, because that seriously sucked.) So, other than that, what’s my secret? What tricks have I got up my sleeve? Drumroll, please… My-Top-3-Writing-Shortcuts-For-Harried-Writers-To-Help-You-Get-Your-Book-Done-No-Matter-What-Crazy-Shit’s-Going-On-In-Or-Around-You tools…

And, by the way, I don’t get one penny (or even a corporate pat on the back) for endorsing any of these things. Just sharin’ the love + the gold (or a way for you to make the gold, which brings in more love).

Writing Shortcut Tool #1: Scrivener—this is a weird-sounding $45 writing program (for Macs + Windows) that will knock you out of your chair—and finally help you make sense of those racing thoughts in your crowded brain and jamming your files. Never again will you have to search endlessly for a chapter or note in a Word file or a research article or a PDF or a video or audio file you’ve misplaced or put somewhere on your totally chaotic desktop. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Word docs. Have about a zillion of them. But there’s a better way to find + organize stuff (and you can use this in conjunction with your Word docs!)

I first learned about Scrivener at one of my retreats and immediately saw the organizational benefits and fell hard. Love at first write. Since then, every time I show my retreat girls how I organize my book projects, the reaction is unanimous. It’s as close to orgasmic as anything we offer in Carmel… well, maybe except what Jennifer, my chef, has in her hot little hands when she carries in a tray of her crème brulee with burnt marshmallow topping.

Aside from that, the women have been known to scream when they see Scrivener in action. I’ve honestly had ladies download the software right there, start copying their files into the binder and cry to me, and to each other, saying it’s the single best thing that’s ever happened to their creativity. (Never mind that I’m standing right there thinking, Hey, but what about me? Ha.)

If you haven’t already, check it out. (The photo here shows their cork board–so flippin’ cool–but there are so many other incredible features.) There’s a learning curve for sure. You’re not going to understand it in an hour, or maybe even a day. But watch the tutorials when you have time, download it, make copies of your precious Word docs and then cut and paste and start to play with them. It’s easy once you get the hang of it (or can see someone already using it) and will be worth taking the time to learn how to use this magical, magical program. Promise.

You’re welcome, my friend.

Writing Shortcut Tool #2: Voice Memos—or one of the many apps available for your phone to allow you to record your voice at whim.

It’s Sunday and I’m sleepy after feasting on leftover Halloween candies Larry left on the counter while I was gone in Carmel. It’s no bueno to walk into your house after five hours in the car only to see 500 pieces of chocolate (100 for each hour) staring you in the famished face. Bad Larry. Very bad Larry.

I was too lazy this morning from last night’s binge to write today’s blog, but was also aching to share these tips. So, I did what I always do when I’m working on a deadline and the words are coming in fast ‘n furious and yet I can’t sit down at a computer: I whip out my phone and do something I can rally for (in this case walk Miss Merry, my toy poodle—who desperately needed to pee) while rambling into my phone and “writing” this blog at the same time. Mama loves to multitask, ya’ll.

A bit of an aside, and a word to the wise: once you’ve decided to start your book and you’re taking it seriously—maybe you’ve said a prayer about it, done a ritual where you’re asking God to help you get out of the way and/or clear your schedule, or you’ve committed to taking a half hour every morning to write or use your lunch hour at work—your unconscious sees that you mean business and inundates you with ideas that were never there before. That’s especially the case when you commit to a writing group or to show things to others.

Case in point: Mercedes. A professional surfer from Argentina who lives in Hawaii and coaches folks in creating Abundance, and joined us in Carmel last week. On Thursday morning, unbeknownst to us, she stopped working on her book to tell her peeps in her blog about how when she recently committed to write her book she was suddenly writing like a fiend, which brought her to Carmel on the heels of some unexpected magical happenings. In taking a stand for her art, she got snippets of ideas and full downloads often, and often at inopportune times. Isn’t that always the case? (She also got a random, last-minute shipment of free luggage and a jacket from her sponsor, Patagonia, something she hadn’t ordered, just perfect for the flight + fog of Carmel).

Here’s the cool thing about Voice memos. Mercedes, like the rest of us, has her phone with her most everywhere she goes (except, I imagine, on the big waves). She now knows that instead of thinking, “Oh, I’ll remember this and write it down later” (please no!) or, “That’s just a little thought, that’s no big idea,” she can trust the timing of those insights and get them down in the moment on her phone before they’re gone. She knows that she’s being inspired, no matter how small the thought, and that she’ll be able to string those little thoughts together later.

Once you start talking into your phone for a while, you’re going to find that you have a LOT of good, usable book material. Sure, you’ll discard some thoughts, but others will feel practically done from start to finish and you’ll amaze yourself with the quality and quantity of your output.

Then what? I’m still waiting for a voice recognition software I love. In the meantime, I either transcribe those snippets myself (like I did with my blog notes a few minutes ago) or have it transcribed somewhere fabulous (see point #3). Also, remember to synch your Voice Memos to your computer so you have another copy somewhere (I had the genius guy at Apple fix my settings so that mine automatically go into the cloud—don’t ask me how—so that they’re all on all of my devises). You can also email them to yourself if they’re not too long.

There are other voice recording programs too, some are easier than others to label/use. So do a little research and see what works best for you.    

Writing Shortcut Tool #3: Transcription. I LOVE coming home from a trip where I’ve talked into my phone in the car, only to email those mp3 files over to Verbalink Transcription services to have their nimble typists bring my rambling words to life on the page. If I’ve got a big meeting coming up, I’ve been known to place a rush order and receive 10,000 words the next day. No kidding. I’ve used other great transcription services, but most can rarely deliver the next day. Verbalink is the best way I’ve found to keep up my momentum and ensure that those timely ideas aren’t forgotten or misplaced.

These folks are ethical and fast and inexpensive. I have them send me Word docs (that I then copy and paste into my Scrivener) that are remarkably typo free. I’m sure you can find less expensive transcribers if you send your files overseas, but I doubt you’ll ever find them free of errors. Besides, they’re located in Santa Monica, CA, and I like to support local + American businesses, so I prefer to keep it close to home.

Wow. Okay. Shaved a bunch of words off this post in an attempt to start keepin’ it shorter. Phew. Hope today’s tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. More where they came from. And, take a moment to leave me a comment and let me/us know any shortcuts you use. 

Now it’s time for mama to ingest more caffeinated chocolate (with celery, of course). Or take a nap.


Linda xx

P.S. My thoughts + prayers are with our East Coast friends (including a few clients in negotiations with NY publishers–crossing all available digits). A few of those who were going to join us at my home in Lake Arrowhead this coming weekend have had to change their travel plans. I’m available to speak with anyone who’d like to join us and shortcut his or her process. (323) 769-5153

“Thank you for a whole new WOW! I had two big wows in the first two days in Carmel about my book, and then a million other ones.”  ~Karen Misbach, novelist + lawyer, Richmond, VA

“After 20 years of wanting to write a book, there were components missing. I simply could not put together in my mind to make it come together. I was stuck. Frozen. In Linda’s Carmel retreat, she put it together and filled in the missing pieces, structure and format. Now I can do it. Linda closed the gap of all my insecurities and blank pages and gave me true direction.” ~ Karen Stevenson, salon owner, Raleigh, NC 
Nov 5, 2012   /   29 Comments

29 responses to “My Top 3 Writing Shortcuts–get ready to change everything!”

  1. Lady Linda – you just keep on giving!! These are excellent tips… although my cell phone is not always with me (I’m still in the dark ages with only a phone and not extras) I will definitely look at the Schrivner!


  2. linda says:

    Thanks, Bobbie! Maybe now you can justify buying that new iphone and purse in which to house it:) Tell your hubby it’s a necessary business expense, for your transcribing, of course:) xo

  3. Lizzie Larock says:

    Gorgeous ideas! I’m downloading scrivener stat. I already love usin my voice memo app and now to. Find a amazing transcription service. Fab. Thank you, Linda.

  4. Lizzie Larock says:

    Shoot. Can’t correct my typos. Darn iPad. Xo

  5. linda says:

    That’s hilarious, Lizzie. Well, better you than me, seeing as how I’m an editor. (Just kidding.) At least you didn’t send the top editor at O magazine an email with a typo in it (like I did years ago… took me years to get over!). Thanks for your enthusiasm and good juju:) xo

  6. Yvonne says:

    Thanks so much for the super duper tips!! I use Trello but will check out Scrivener for sure!!
    I get creative usually around 2-4am and used to believe that I would recall the profound sentences and words only to be left hanging in the morning. Since hubby now uses earplugs I can safely talk into my iPhone in the wee hours using the voice memo and my friend told me about an American app called Dragon Dictation but I can’t get it in NZ iTunes…

  7. linda says:

    Yvonne, we’ve never met, but you just changed my life! I just spent the last hour looking at Trello videos on youtube… the one that helped me the most was the woman who talked about how to use it to organize her personal, mental, and creative to-dos…
    Thanks for the great suggestion. I’m downloading it now! As for Dragon, I’ve heard some good things and will try it again. It’s been a long time since I got frustrated with that app. Maybe now I’ll find it easier. Yay! xx

  8. Gita says:

    Fantastic ideas! I just started using Scrivener (synchronicity!) and it’s helping my book to take shape, and I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of it’s functionality. Whoopee! I’ve also needed a transcription service, and wasn’t sure where to look. As usual, enter Linda, and prayer answered! Thanks for sharing your writing love! xox

  9. Dear Linda,
    what do suggest for non-apple computers?????

  10. linda says:

    Hey Luise! Thanks for writing. I’ll update the link to show both on Scrivener. Here’s the one for Microsoft Windows. Thanks for alerting me to that! There are all sorts of voice memo apps for any kind of phone or computer, and of course, the transcription service handles everyone, so you should be good to go!

  11. linda says:

    Hey Gita! Just scratching the surface myself, but it’s so much fun! Love sharing these tips. I see us all as investigative journalists, finding the best stuff and reporting back to each other. For instance, I’ve been working with Trello for a few hours today (recommended by Yvonne earlier this morning). Now I’ve got magically organized to-do lists on both my computers and phone so those things aren’t mucking up my Scrivener book files. Bam. Love it! xx

  12. Yvonne says:

    Linda, that’s wonderful. Trello rocks and I have been using it for some time. I tell my clients about it all the time :D
    Thanks for liking my FB page too by the way. I bought YBBBP when it came out but still wasn’t in the correct head space to write back then. I am now and have my plan swimming along nicely.
    I have been reading your posts and really enjoying them so glad I could give back in some small way ;)

  13. linda says:

    It’s a big way! Already have my new, much more organized to-do lists on Trello on ALL of my devises. Having my VA look into using it for our work together too. So jazzed about it! :) xx

  14. Yvonne says:

    So happy to have jazzed someone today!! Woop!!

  15. Mercedes says:

    Hi Linda! I loved your post and I got a big surprise as I was reading and scrolling down the page! Thanks for sharing my blog post with your girls!

    Seriously, I am obsessed with Scrivener. I can’t conceive how one could write a book without it now!
    Thanks for sharing so much expertise. You rock!!!

  16. Lauryn Doll says:

    Amazing tips – Will link to this post in a blog.

    Not to attract you to my site, but because the more I write + publish my own books, the more questions other people ask about what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and what helps me get things done faster.

    I’m still partway through the Big Beautiful Book Plan, school and building my own business on the side. This link is really helpful to me + others, especially with relation to Scrivener. I have yet to try it but I definitely need to now. I’ve heard so much about it in Kindle Groups on Facebook and when you’re writing an amazing book, organization of research and content is a must. I’m going to try Scrivener, and if it’s orgasmically potent to my writing as much as you say, a thousand thanks.

    Love from the East Coast (Staten Island, NY + New Haven, CT, where we are expecting another brutal weather attack)… love peace and sexy productive soul!

  17. linda says:

    I LOVE that you took to it so fast. You cracked me up in Carmel running to your room to organize all of your files in 5 minutes! :) Your enthusiasm is infectious! xxoo

  18. linda says:

    Thanks, Lauryn! I can’t believe all you have on your plate, and yet you’re doing it all looking like a star. Kudos! Let me know how you like Scrivener. And, sending you + your neighbors prayers for gentle eastern skies. xo

  19. Liza Lake says:

    Thank you so much Linda. I always love your posts and this one certainly seems to be a gold mine. I look forward to using these tools to kick me into gear with my book. My kiddos aren’t asking for mommy milk anymore, but it’s still hard to squeeze words in between potty training and tantrums. Thank you because your post today gave me hope that it can be done:-)

  20. linda says:

    Kids… plural… says it all. You’ve got more than one needing you, and that’s no small thing. Glad my suggestions help. You’ll be a better mom for taking the time to nurture your creativity. xo

  21. Amy says:

    Linda, I don’t know you, but I fucking love you. Seriously. I just went on my first date with Scrivener and am already gushing about it to girlfriends. So dreamy. The transcription functionality alone made my eyes shine because it’s such a pain in the ass the way I’ve been doing it. I am so looking forward to diving into the rest of it and seeing what kind of gold I can pull out of myself. And one day, I would very much like to join you in Carmel. Until then, may I become a bit co-dependent on Scrivener. Many, many thanks!

  22. linda says:

    Amy! So glad Scrivener is changing your life. I keep hearing that! And, just went to your site… could your dog be any cuter? My God! Keep up the great work! xx

  23. […] This is an amazingly interesting read for any and all aspiring, or established, writers. […]

  24. Lee says:

    Thank you Linda for your kind words regarding Scrivener.

  25. linda says:

    My pleasure. Love sharing tools that make this path easier!

  26. CJ Schepers says:

    Ahhh, I’ve been avoiding the Voice Memo trick because I’ve been avoiding the transcription chore. You just cleared all that avoidance crap up for me. Now I have no excuses. Damn. You’re too good!

  27. linda says:

    Ha! Thanks, CJ:) For everything, there’s a way! xx

  28. Tunde says:

    Hey Linda, I just came across this post again. Still working on learning Scrivener. I use Evernote or Google Keep for voice memos. You speak into the phone & it transcribes as you speak. I sync Evernote with my computer & poof! there’s text I can cut-paste into my word doc. It makes some mistakes, for sure, but WAAAAY less than Dragon (which I totally hated & don’t want to try again). Evernote & Keep are both free. I use Android but I believe there’s an Apple version of Evernote, not sure about Keep

  29. Linda Sivertsen says:

    Wow. GREAT to know, Tunde. I will be checking these out. I LOVE evernote. Always looking to make life + writing easier. Thank you! xx

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