Does It Matter What Tool You Use?

Recently, I was wandering the internet (I think I almost made it to the end) and I discovered a fun site called UsesThis.com. It catalogues what many tech luminaries use to get their job done: from DHH (of rails), to Joe Hewitt (maker of Firebug), to Jakob Nielsen (usability guru).

It’s a fascinating site to me because, for some unknown reason, I’m intrigued by what tools people use and specifically how to do a task as efficiently as possible with the just the right tools.

I have this idea in my head that if only I had the right tools I could write that awesome piece of software or those memoirs that change the world! But I’m slowly learning (to paraphrase a bad joke) it’s not the tool; it’s how you use it.

This was reinforced to me on one of our family vacations when we drove by the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Wilder wrote the famed Little House on the Prairie book series, and while I was at her home, which has now become a museum, I saw her first drafts on display. Would you like to know what “tools” she used to write her enduring masterpieces of homespun american life?

A yellow lined school notepad and a pencil. That’s it!

No word processor, no 30″ monitor, no MS word, no vim, no spell check, no nothing! Kind of makes us feel a little spoiled when we worry about having just the right tool to get a writing job done.

On the usesthis site, Mark Pilgrim echoes that sentiment during his interview:

I’m a three-time (soon to be four-time) published author. When aspiring authors learn this, they invariably ask what word processor I use. It doesn’t fucking matter! I happen to write in Emacs. I also code in Emacs, which is a nice bonus. Other people write and code in vi…Whatever. Picking the right text editor will not make you a better writer. Writing will make you a better writer. Writing, and editing, and publishing, and listening – really listening – to what people say about your writing. This is the golden age for aspiring writers. We have a worldwide communications and distribution network where you can publish anything you want and – if you can manage to get anybody’s attention – get near-instant feedback. Writers just 20 years ago would have killed for that kind of feedback loop. Killed! And you’re asking me what word processor I use? Just fucking write, then publish, then write some more.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it. Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about tools and do a tad more writing?

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