Paul Lagasse, Freelance Writer
I first stumbled across Paul Lagasse on his Sotto Voce blog, the entries for which are sometimes written on a typewriter and posted as images.
That led me to his Channel 37 blog, where he posts pulpy serialized science fiction stories. Clearly, this is a man places some value on the writing process.When I realized he wrote for a living, he seemed a logical choice for the Working Writer series. It turns out he doesn’t send his clients typewritten pages (hey, a guy can dream), but his workflow should prove interesting anyway.
Welcome to this issue of Working Writers.
Tell Us Who You Are and What You Do (briefly)
My original career goal was to become an historian or archivist, so I earned a BA and MA in history and followed up with an MLS. Naturally, I discovered I didn’t have an academic temperament, so I took a chance on a career in writing. I’ve been a full-time self-employed writer/editor since January 2001.
After hours, I write science fiction for the web serial fiction site Channel 37, which I co-founded with my friend Gary Lester. I’ve written two books: a young-adult historical novel called Seeing Through Clouds and a humorous historical novella called Invasion of the Orb Men. This year, I’ve set a goal of getting my fiction published in at least a couple of recognized outlets.
I’m a Connecticut Yankee by birth and it is my spiritual home, but I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I ended up in Maryland, where I’ve lived for just over 20 years now. Annapolis is my current home base, and I hope to stay in this city for a long time — unless it’s to move back to New England.
What Hardware & Software Do You Use?
I am a fanatic about using the minimum number of rugged, reliable tools, both digital and analog.
At the home office I use an early 2008 MacBook (256GB HD and 2GB of RAM), which is running OS X 10.7.4 and hating every minute of it. At my desk, I hook it up to an inexpensive ViewSonic external monitor and use the Apple Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad. In the field I take notes on an iPod Touch plus Bluetooth keyboard. I will probably upgrade to a Windows 8 tablet for field work when they come out.
My word processor of choice is Nisus Writer Pro, but for complex projects where heavy formatting is required prior to layout, I use MS Word. I use iStudio Publisher for print layouts. For graphic design, I rely on three programs: Lemke Software’s GraphicConverter, Omni Group’s OmniGraffle, and BeLight Software’s ArtText.
Along with a handful of small specialty apps for photo formatting, color picking, etc., they do pretty much everything Photoshop can do while collectively costing less and being much easier to use.
Because no writer should ever be without paper and a pen, I also write with a 1943 Parker “51” vac-fill fountain pen. In the field, I carry a Zebra 301 Portable ballpoint on my keychain and a stack of 3×5 cards in a Brigade Quartermasters Notesaf™ 3×5 Tactical Tablet Holder.
Any Special Copywriting or Workflow Tricks To Share?
My computer workflow relies on a few key apps: Cocoatech’s Path Finder is like the Apple Finder on steroids. It’s a very well-designed file management tool that I’ve tweaked to serve as a basic project management tool as well. Indev’s Mail Tags and Mail Act-on are plugins for Apple’s built-in Mail app that let me manage my e-mail workflow as efficiently as Path Finder lets me manage files.
It’s a carryover from my archives days, but I have established an easy-to-use file management system that lets me purge paper and electronic files and e-mails regularly. A few years ago I formalized the process into a system I called PaperJamming, which I wrote about on my blog.
I came out with the system along with some Hipster PDA templates at the peak of the whole Lifehack movement about five years ago, and its fifteen minutes of fame brought my site far more traffic than anything related to writing.
I’ve also tweaked out a Numbers spreadsheet to track invoice status, expenses, business checking, and taxes. It started as a simple invoice tracker but over the years I kept adding features to it until, now, it serves as my business dashboard.
It took me a few years to develop a paper system that was as efficient as my computer system. My notebooks and files all use the Rollabind ring system, also marketed as Circa by Levenger and Arc by Staples.
It’s a cross between a spiral notebook and a three-ring binder; pages can be pulled out and swapped between notebooks and folders very easily. You can create a notebook for a special purpose (a one-day conference, say, or a long-term project), and then break it down or merge it with other notebooks when you’re done. My whole file system, from cradle to grave, is “on the rings.”
What Pieces of the Puzzle Are You Missing?
I’m on the cusp of some big decisions right now regarding my hardware and software. I definitely need a faster laptop (which doubles at my desk computer when coupled to an external monitor and Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad). It’s about five years old and having a hard time keeping up. Right now I am waiting to see if the refreshed MacBook Pro line is worth holding out for, otherwise I’ll get a refurbished late-model MBP instead.
Until recently Mac OS X was a Swiss Army Knife. Lion introduced a slew of non-optional features that hinder my productivity, and if Mountain Lion continues that trend, then I’m going to have to face a choice there too. So I’m waiting until Mountain Lion and the new MBPs come out before I do anything.
It’s a weirdly unsettled place to be, and I’m unhappy even considering a major hardware and software switch when I’m so busy.