Jon Skovron is an author of fantasy novels for adults and teens. He lives just outside Washington DC with his two sons.

Necessary Applications

My MacBook Pro, which has served me faithfully for almost five years, finally died yesterday. Really, three to five years is about all you can reasonably expect from a laptop. If I wasn’t freakishly obsessive about backing up everything in triplicate, I might have panicked. Fortunately, I am that freakishly obsessive about backing up. So there’s no data loss.

Now, I could have just put my entire previous profile on a new machine. The magic of Time Machine makes that pretty easy. But instead, I decided it might be time to start fresh. I always like it when my computer matches my life in some way. So instead, I’ve opted just to copy my docs, music, pix, etc, to a completely clean profile.

The first thing to do, of course, is install all of my “essential” applications. And I gave some serious thought to exactly what I think is essential to the way I work. Not things I think I might need sometimes soon, but things I actually need right now. I can always add more later.

Here is what I installed:

  • Dropbox - the back-up solution that allowed me not to freak out when my computer died. It also syncs docs between my computer at home, my computer at work, and my iPad.
  • 1Password - the encrypted database that stores my passwords, records, and software license keys (which I needed to install the next three items on this list)
  • Scrivener - When it comes to writing books, there’s nothing better out there.
  • Writeroom - Scrivener is awesome, but it can be a bit intimidating. As my friend Sarah Ockler says, when you launch Scrivener, you can almost hear someone like Laurence Fishburne say “Welcome to Scrivener. You must write a book now…” Which is way more pressure than I want for a first draft. So when the project is still small and manageable, I tend to write each chapter in a simple plain text file. Writeroom gives me the elegance and distraction-free environment to make that a pleasure.
  • Notational Velocity - This is the application I use to organize my plain text files, including early drafts, notes, research, outlines, todo lists, etc, and sync them to Simplenote on my iPhone and iPad. It’s difficult to say exactly why I love this application so much. The speed, the simplicity, the easy of use, the fact that I can call up anything with a few taps on my keyboard without ever having to touch the mouse. I dunno. I think you just have to try it to understand.
  • Chrome - I tried for half a day to stick with Safari. But Chrome is just so much more pleasant to look at. And the built in bookmark sync feature means I don’t have to recreate my bookmarks either.
  • Multimarkdown and MacTex - These last two prove, if there was any doubt, just how geeky I am. When I say I write in plain text files, I really mean it. No formatting. Instead, I use a markup language called Multimarkdown. I use that markup with MacTex (the Mac version of an open source system called LaTex) to create a perfectly formatted PDF or RTF file.

And that’s it! It might be worth noting that I do have a MacMini connected to my TV which has Plex, a complete media manager and player. That’s how I watch movies, listen to music, etc. None of that really happens on my writing laptop. I also have an iMac at work, which has all my technical writing essentials, Adobe Creative Suite, iWork, SnapZ Pro, and Screenflow.

Smart chicks who rock!

Language evolves