Here’s a screenshot of my thinking space, the Markdown editor Ulysses. I’m currently working on a piece about our “generation ship” house and NATiVE’s part in making it: “Our Generation Ship: Electrify all the things, Automate all the things, Backup all the things”
You can see other pieces I’m currently working on in that screenshot: “Accommodations in Neurodiverse Relationships”, “The Mass Transformation of Other People’s Risk Into Profit”, “Samefooding the Apocalypse”, “Crip Wisdom in the Age of Coronavirus”. Whatever’s on my mind ends up in Ulysses. Some of those thoughts are iterated into blog posts that I publish to my WordPress blogs directly from Ulysses.
Start building an anti-library of your interests. My ebook collection is pretty vast and full of highlights. I use Readwise to collect and surface those highlights. A commonplace book of quotes is a useful tool for knowledge, and ReadWise helps you mine, master, and create serendipity from your commonplace book.
Besides your web browser, your music player, and your team communication app, what are your most used macOS apps? My top 5 (per Timing): Ulysses, DEVONthink 3, Reeder, Spark, YNAB
Ultimately, we argue that a workflow-focused approach to writing offers a pathway to agency, creativity, and confidence with computing—a spirit that is very much in line with the lineage of digital and multimodal work in composition studies.
From our participants’ practices we draw the concept of workflow thinking-the act of reading knowledge work as modular and intertwined with technologies. Workflow thinking allows our participants to break any given project into a series of shorter process steps-a perspective that is well in line with rhetoric and composition’s understanding of process and its typical pedagogical practices. Workflow thinking, however, foregrounds the mediated nature of that work. It looks at each task or component and asks a question of the writing technologies and available affordances within that component: “Through which technologies will I accomplish this task? Why? What does a change in technologies offer here?” For our participants, a shift in these practices might afford them mobility or the removal of drudgery or new ways of seeing a problem or new invention strategies. In each case, however, they are able to use this mediated and modular thinking to reevaluate when and how they approach knowledge work.
This book offers workflow thinking as a counterpoint to contemporary discussions of digital writing technologies-particularly in regards to the increasing prominence of institutional software. As more universities sign on to site licenses for platforms like Office 365 and Google Apps for Education, and as more students and faculty become comfortable with working within those applications, writers risk a “cementing” of practice-a means through which writing tasks begin and end in institutionally-sanctioned software because it is free or pre-installed or institutionally available or seen as a shared software vocabulary. A lens of workflow thinking pushes against this, instead asking “what are the component pieces of this work?” and “how is this mediated?” and “what might a shift in mediation or technology afford me in completing this?” In short, we see workflow thinking as a way to reclaim agency and to push against institutionally-purchased software defaults. This perspective has origins in early humanities computing (particularly in 1980s research on word processors), as we will more fully discuss later in this chapter.
Peter Elbow (1973) offers the metaphors of growing and cooking as a model for thinking about the writing process. Growing, for Elbow, points to the macro-level change that happens when writers embrace multiple early drafts and see ideas again and anew. “Producing writing,” Elbow says, “is not so much like filling a basin or pool once, but rather getting water to keep flowing through till it finally runs clear” (p. 28). Cooking, in contrast, “is the smaller process: bubbling, percolating, fermenting, chemical interaction, atomic fission. It’s because of cooking that a piece of writing can start out X and end up Y, that a writer can start out after supper seeing, feeling, and knowing one set of things and end up at midnight seeing, feeling, and knowing things he hadn’t thought of before” (p. 48). Elbow, who was writing in the early throes of the process movement, uses cooking as a metaphor for the activity that happens when a writer lingers on a task. It is a micro-activity through which ideas are collected, assembled, and stirred together. “Cooking,” Elbow says, “consists of the process of one piece of material (or one process) being transformed by interacting with another: one piece of material being seen through the lens of another, being dragged through the guts of another, being reoriented or reorganized in terms of the other, being mapped onto the other” (p. 49). More specifically, Elbow names two types of cooking: external cooking (or desperation writing) and internal cooking (or magic cooking). External cooking is the work of writing and rewriting and writing again; it’s a means for pushing through stuck points and finding ideas. Internal cooking, in contrast, feels magical. “It is somewhat mysterious,” Elbow writes, “but you are sitting on heat or acid and it is working on the material. You are writing and it is coming out well. Or you are not writing-sitting or walking around-but you can feel it bubbling inside. Things are going well. You can feel it’s not wasted energy even if you are not writing” (p. 68).
In offering the concept of workflow thinking, we diverge from the business & systems-focused concept of the workflow (one that is often used by our participants) in suggesting that workflow thinking should not privilege efficiency above all else. Just as there are compelling outcomes to automating a mundane computing task via a program or script, there are also compelling outcomes to purposefully introducing constraints to a modular workflow component—for example, writing a draft in crayon (Wysocki, 2004)—and purposefully introducing friction into process.