My outdoor desk in 2009
2 January 2013

Iain Broome’s writing setup

This is the first post in a new series here on Write for Your Life, where I ask writers of all shapes and sizes to tell us about their writing setup. Everyone will answer the same five questions. The idea came from The Setup, which is excellent.

Get in touch if you think there’s someone who would be good to feature.

Who are you and what do you write?

My name is Iain Broome and I’m the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. I also happen to be the chap behind this very site.

I write fiction (obviously) and I’ve worked as a copywriter, copy-editor and content producer for almost a decade. That means I’ve typed out words that have appeared on websites, posters, brochures, stickers, and lots of other objects too.

Where do you write?

Anywhere I can, to be perfectly honest. A is for Angelica was written on several laptops in various houses in at least three cities in the UK.

I think the image that people have of the whistful writer with the perfect desk that looks out on to some idylic location is mostly a myth. I’m sure that some writers have all that, but not many. For me, my writing space has always been heavily determined by whatever situation I’ve been in at the time. We’ve moved from rented property to rented property. Sometimes I’ve had my own office, sometimes I haven’t.

Having just become a father to identical twin boys, I suspect I’m going to have to be more flexible than ever with where I write. I’m currently working from my grandfather’s old bureau in a corner of the boys’ nursery. I’m there until they’re old enough to turf me out.

What hardware do you use?

I converted from various low-budget Windows-based PCs to an iMac in 2007. Since then, I’ve been Apple all the way.

In 2011, I switched to an 11″ Macbook Air because I wanted the portability of a laptop. It’s the best computer I’ve ever had and I would hugely recommend any writer to pay extra and make the switch. It’s not just the size and lightness, it’s also incredibly fast because of its SSD drive. And the variety of apps for writers is astounding (see below).

Other writing-related hardware includes my 32gb iPhone 5 and recently purchased, 16gb wifi-only iPad mini. I use both for collecting story and blog post ideas and will often use them to compose first drafts, especially the iPad mini. I also use both to keep up to date with the latest publishing news and other writing blogs. I also own a bog standard Kindle, which I use far less than I thought I would.

I backup all of my work to two external, 500gb hard drives, one of which is stored safely away in the cellar. To record the Write for Your Life podcast, I use one of those slightly phallic but rather spiffy Yeti microphones.

That’s my home setup. At work, I’ve always used an average Windows PC desktop, of which there is very little to say.

What software do you use?

I’ve tried lots of writing apps and the one that I use most often is Byword. It’s great for blog posts and shorter pieces, especially if they’re to end up on the web. I tend to write web stuff in Markdown these days, and Byword makes it easy to do that. I use Marsedit to do final edits and publish posts to Write for Your Life, which is powered by WordPress.

Fiction is a slightly different beast. A is for Angelica was written entirely in Microsoft Word, partly because I didn’t know any better. I put up with its complex interface and janky behaviour and once I’d got a load of documents started in .doc format, I couldn’t face the hell of making the switch to another piece of software. I still use Word at work and when I have to at home, but never out of choice.

I’m currently working on novel number two and I’m using the much lauded Scrivener. People love it for good reason. It’s a dream app for writers who want to keep all of their work and research in one place, without having to create hundreds of files or worry about version control. Everything happens in Scrivener. That’s all you need to know.

On my iPad mini (and to a lesser extent my iPhone 5), I use Simplenote for jotting down ideas and the odd paragraph that comes to me. When I want to write something more substantial, for the last couple of years I’ve used PlainText, but have recently switched to the iOS version of Byword. Both use the wonderful Dropbox to sync your writing, which means anything I write on the iPad is waiting for me on the Macbook Air when I get back to it.

Don’t let anyone fool you. Writing on the iPad is not only possible, it’s perfectly marvellous, especially if you use a wireless keyboard. Inevitably, I use Apple’s own bluetooth keyboard, which works a treat.

Other iOS apps I use include Reeder and Instapaper, which allow me to keep track of all my writing and publishing related news and information. I tweet with the excellent Tweetbot and read using the also excellent Kindle app for iOS.

To record and edit the podcast, I use a combination of Skype, Garageband and Levellator on my Macbook Air. I publish episodes through Buzzsprout.

What’s your dream writing setup?

In terms of technology, I’m very happy with my writing setup. The Macbook Air is so brilliantly portable that I can sit down and work wherever I want or can. I’m not tied to a specific location, which is just as well because I don’t really have one at the moment. The bureau in the nursery is extremely temporary.

What I would really love is some kind of shoffice. That’s a combination of shed and office, a room in a garden with a window and a computer and a few books of my choosing. Writers do need to be flexible and the dream writing setup is a bit of a myth, but it really would be nice to have a dedicated place that I can slip off to and call my own.

One day, maybe. One day.

  • http://www.kareninglis.com Karen Inglis

    What a great post, Iain – and really useful to be able to compare notes with what others are using. I have heard many good things about Scrivener and what is useful for anyone reading to know is that it is very reasonably priced at around $40 (I think) but also that you can have a free 30-day trial during which you don’t need to use those days consecutively. I must also check out some of those other writing apps you mention. Finally I wholeheartedly agree about Dropbox – it has revolutionised my life. Being able to seamlessly move from desktop to laptop to mobile is fantastic. And if you spend most of your day writing it’s also useful for allowing you to change where you work quickly and easily – which is great if younhave back problems and need to vary your writing set-up. Ok – back to my post-ski tea! It’s blue skies, sunshine and plenty of lovely snow in Val D’Isere! Happy new year! And congrats on your new job!

    • http://iainbroome.com Iain Broome

      Happy new year to you too and thanks for the congrats! Dropbox is the centre of everything. More people should know about it.

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