Create simple text notes using Keyboard Maestro and TextEdit

Sometimes you just want to make a note on your Mac. Nothing fancy – just a text file that’s searchable, giving you quick and easy access. There are several ways to do this, but most are more complex then necessary. If you have Keyboard Maestro, however, you can easily create a simple macro that provides a streamlined solution using TextEdit.

Such files store simple snippets of information. For example, I’ve recorded my Writers’ Guild membership number in this way, so if I ever need to quote my number all I have to do is use Spotlight (I actually use Alfred but it’s a similar thing), type the file name, and hit return to open said file. I have lots of others, and storing these in a Dropbox folder called Notes means I can access them using the Files app on my phone.

TextEdit is a stalwart of the Mac, but for many uses, such as blogging or coding, it’s been supplanted by more use-specific apps with added functionality. Yet it’s TextEdit’s simplicity and lack of bloat that make it particularly appealing in this case.

First off, launch TextEdit, open Preferences, and set a couple of defaults. In Preferences, I set new documents to open as plain text, to streamline and simplify, and set the plain text font to Menlo 14pt so it’s nice and easy to read.

The macro itself is quite simple, requiring the following steps:

  • Open TextEdit
  • Create a new file
  • Save that file to give it a name

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Then all you have to do is type your note, and quit when finished. When saving in TextEdit for the first time, navigate to the folder in which you store your notes, and the app will continue to use this path unless you dictate otherwise.

To make this process really convenient, assign a hotkey to the macro – I have OPT+1 set to several macros, which gives me a palette; I just hit the appropriate number – in this case 6 – and Bob’s yer uncle.

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I previously used nvALT to create such notes, but when I upgraded my computer it was one of those apps I didn’t bring to the new machine. iA Writer, in which I’m drafting this post, can also be used for this purpose. Yet while Writer’s a great-looking and functional app whose files are searchable, for something as simple a one-line or even one-word text note, there are just too many layers to the processes of creation, saving and organisation.

As with most things Keyboard Maestro, thinking about each step is key – there are often more than you expect, and you may need to add pauses to allow each step to be completed before the computer tries to take the next. The real trick is examining the way you work, and finding ways to utilise Keyboard Maestro’s extensive capabilities.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener Tip – progress at a glance

Scrivener’s Project Targets tool is great for keeping an eye on word count, especially if you’re writing something to a prescribed length. On a Mac, to set your targets and check progress call up the Project Targets window using SHFT+CMD+T.

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However, you can also get an idea of your progress as you write with a quick glance at the toolbar. Whatever document you may have selected in the Binder, a line beneath that file’s name indicates how close you are to reaching your pre-defined overall project target. Moving your cursor over the area reveals more detailed information.

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It’s always best to over-write your project and edit down, but this is a great way to keep track, not only of how much work you still have to do, but how much you’ve already done.

To read my other Scrivener tips, click here.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener tip: Lickety-Split

To quickly split the screen without leaving the keyboard simply hit:


This makes it particularly easy to compare two Binder documents, or refer to one pane – say something you have in your Research folder – while writing in another. When working with text documents the zoom can be set independently in each.

For my other Scrivener tips, click here.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener tip – an alternative to Compose mode

Scrivener has the excellent Compose mode, which I use a lot. The thing is, though, I tend to flit between documents in the Binder quite a lot too – comparing, cutting and pasting, that sort of thing. This means I’m frequently switching in and out of Compose. But I’ve found a handy alternative.

To get a super-clean look without going into Compose, do the following:

  • Use CTRL+CMD+F to expand Scrivener to full-screen.
  • In the View menu select Hide toolbar.
  • Use SHFT+CMD+R to hide the formatting bar.
  • Use CMD+R to hide the ruler.
  • With OPT+CMD+I hide the Inspector.
  • And with OPT+CMD+B hide the Binder.

Viola. This approximates Scrivener’s Compose mode, but I find it’s a little snappier and more convenient to use OPT+CMD+B to reveal the Binder when I need to, rather than dipping in and out of Compose mode when working on shorter documents. And as we already know the team behind Scrivener has already thought of everything, so simply positioning your cursor at either edge of the screen will result in the Binder and Inspector sliding into view when hidden – handy if you want a sneak peek.

You can find my other Scrivener posts here.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener tip – compare & roll back snapshots (Mac)

A particularly useful feature in Scrivener is the snapshots function. Before making changes to a document press CMD-5 and – you guessed it – the program will take a snapshot of that file, making an appropriate camera shutter sound in the process. If desired you can name your snapshots to remind you why they were taken: pre cut character X for example.

When you’ve made some changes you can click the Compare button to, um, compare your existing text with that in the previous version. If you decide you don’t like what you’ve done – maybe you want to keep character X after all – simply click Roll Back to undo all the changes you’ve made.

I use the snapshots function a lot, and while I rarely perform a full roll back, it’s handy to have the option available as a safety net. Also useful is the ability to copy selections of text from the snapshot pane to replace into the current document without having to revert completely.

Click here for more Scrivener tips.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener tip (Mac) – switching text modes

If you’re in scriptwriting mode in Scrivener and want to add some text that isn’t part of the script – perhaps some notes or thoughts about the direction the story could take – you might want to switch from scriptwriting to standard mode, so that whatever you type isn’t formatted as dialogue or technical directions, for example.

To do this simply press CMD-8 to toggle between the two. Scrivener will tell you which mode you’re switching to, and change the colour of the document’s Binder icon: in scriptwriting mode it’s yellow, in standard mode it’s white.

Click here for more Scrivener tips.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener tip – Links in the chain

Sometimes when working in a large Scrivener project you might find it useful to link related documents. For example, in the novel I’m currently revising I need to move a detail from a scene that I’ve cut to either one of two other scenes. I don’t want to think about this in too much depth at the moment as I’m writing a new scene, but I would like something to remind me of my train of thought and the options that are open to me when I do come to deal with it.

The best way to do this is to create a hyperlink to the document/s in question. As ever, Scrivener makes this very easy to do:

  • Select some relevant text in the current document
  • Right-click
  • Select “Scrivener Link” (or in Scrivener 3 Link to document)
  • Choose the document you want to link to from the menus

This makes the selected text a hyperlink to the document you’ve specified, which when clicked will open up in a new window. The text in this window can be edited just like any other. To remove the link, just hover your cursor over the hyperlink text, right-click and select “Remove Link”.

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