Using a Scratchpad

I’ve been using Byword as my “scratchpad”, if you will, for a few years. For the uninitiated, Byword is a Markdown application for writing in plain text for Mac and iOS. For me, any piece of text on my notebook starts in Byword. From there, it goes to any number of places. It could be a draft for an email (or a letter) I am composing, I could be doing long-form journaling or I could be reflecting on the day’s events, or sometimes I’ll just have a short list of things I want to work on for a given day, which I’ll keep over there. The use cases are endless. If you work with text at all, then a text editor can be your best friend. Most of the time, I don’t even save the document. It’s called Untitled, and I add and remove things from it. Right now, I have a short list of things in it that would make my day great.

The dictionary defines scratchpad as a small, fast memory for the temporary storage of data. Twyla Tharp describes “scratching” as an act best done on a routine designed to gather and collect small ideas to be used at a later date, though my use case is more temporary — things I have in my untitled Byword document typically remain for a day before it gets saved or goes elsewhere so I can start anew the next day.

I use it primarily as a placeholder for text before I decide what to do with it so I don’t have to constantly think about where something goes. The reason being that you can’t think and do things at the same time. You can’t write and edit together, and I need to write things through before I can make sense of it all. There are times when I’ll leave text in the untitled document and let it incubate for some time because I am not yet ready to commit to it in that I don’t know if it’s worth capturing just yet. For instance, if I am going to be writing about the one thing that was amazing on a given day, I feel compelled to write the things I did that day before I can settle on what’s truly amazing. In other words, I am using the Explore, Evaluate, Execute process to find out what’s most meaningful about my day.

To say I’ve found the software and the writing process indispensable would be an understatement. It’s the most-used software on my notebook. I’ve sung its praises many times in my journal, where I waxed poetic about how I like the white-text-on-black-background window (though there is also the inverse option). I have found its sophistication to be in its simplicity. I use Menlo 22pt font in a Wide text width. It’s very minimalist in its aesthetic, which I find to be very zen-like in its use. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t. That’s the only way it has survived this long to be my tool of choice, as one of the things I despise in software is feature bloat (apart from paying for native software as a recurring subscription, but that’s another conversation altogether). In fact, I would go so far to say that I deem it to be more important than even my project management application.

I use K.Q. Dreger’s application, Edit, in a similar fashion on iOS (iPhone and iPad). You don’t have to use Byword or Edit; you can use any text editor to make the “process” work. It’s not about which tool you use, rather how you use it.

I waited to write about this tool and its use case for this long because I didn’t know if I had much to write about it and I wasn’t sure others would find it valuable. Come to think of it, things that are obvious to us (and to our process) need to be explained to others.

I don’t remember the last time I used Word. I don’t even have it installed. Any time I get a .docx file from others (which is rare, but happens), I open it with TextEdit and copy text into Byword before I make changes and put it back in there. Other than that, it’s Byword and Edit all the way!

If you liked this piece, subscribe to the Weekly Newsflash to read my latest writing. Topics include mental health, simple living, and true success: