My Virtual Writer’s Desktop

When I write, I try to minimize distractions. On my iMac, I do my writing on a separate “virtual” desktop from other things I might be working on to help with that. Usually, there are only two applications running in this desktop:

  1. Google Docs (in Chrome)
  2. Terminal for “stuff”

One of the things I like about terminal, and text files, is that it makes some of my writing tasks easier. For instance, on longer stories, I keep track of the characters in my story so that I remember their names and the rough order in which they appear. I may include some other notes. I have a text file called WIP_Characters.txt1 in which I keep this information.

I write in Google Docs, and every time I add a new character, I switch to my terminal and run a little script I wrote called “wip” (for Work In Progress”). The command looks something like this:

wip add "Darrell Winner"

Running this command will add a character named “Darrell Winner” to my WIP_Characters.txt file.

I also use GeekTool to trick out my desktop a bit. One of the things GeekTool allows you to do is show text files as if they were part of the desktop. So I have a GeekTool widget that displays the contents of my WIP_Characters.txt file and refreshes it every 30 seconds or so. This way, I can alway see the list of characters for my WIP on the screen. Here is any example of what my virtual writer’s desktop looks like. (The screenshot is small, but keep in mind, I have a 27″ iMac display.)

Writer's Desktop
Click to enlarge

You can see my WIP is on the left side of the screen, in a large, easily readable font. On the right side of the screen, I’ve got my terminal, and below that, you can see the contents of my WIP_Characters.txt file rendered right on my desktop. Any time I make a change to the file (almost always through my “wip” command), the desktop updates almost instantly.

Up at the top left, partially hidden by my terminal, is my to-do list, showing me what I finished yesterday, and what’ s on my list for today. I can add to this list from the terminal as well, but more on that in another post.

The big benefit I get from this setup is that I don’t have to be constantly changing windows, opening files, saving files, or anything like that. If I need to add a new character, I jump to the terminal and run my command. If I want to see my list of characters, well, it’s right there.

I know that Scrivener has a whole mechanism for maintaining character sheets, and I think that is great, but that’s not how I work. For me it is overkill. Mostly, I just need a way to remember the names of my characters at a glance without losing my flow.

My virtual writer’s desktop helps me do that.

  1. My WIP_Characters.txt file is stored on Google Drive because I also access it when I am writing on my Chromebook.