I’ve been writing full-time for four and half years. Slowly, I’ve created a system but it wasn’t until this past year when it finally all clicked in place. I’m so loving my new set up, that I’m telling everyone about it (I’ve already written about this for my blogging course and to anyone who would listen on my personal Facebook page). I’m a total convert. Excuse me while I gush.
So, a little background. This year, I’m researching a book and it involves not just my travels, but interviews and original research as well. I’m collecting all these different pieces of information and I’ll eventually sort and organize everything into a cohesive narrative (or at least that’s the hope).
So I need a solution that would store all of my notes, let me tag or import web pages, research studies or full pdfs, plus allow me to store audio files from interviews, and images from the field (useful for capturing things like a sign in Mandarin, when I want to remember the exact characters for later). We’re talking about 500 tagged articles and studies alone, never mind my personal notes, images and any interviews. A Word doc just isn’t going to cut it. I’m traveling so printing is completely unrealistic (and I already have an entire suitcase full of print materials for this project, like my moleskins, hard to find books, movies and transcripts that I’m carrying around with me).
In comes Evernote. I’ve been using it over a year now, and I love it. Loooove it. If you’re a writer, this will make your life better. Beyond being able to collect, tag and keyword all these disparate digital sources of information, here are some ways it makes your life better:
1. You can set each project as a different “notebook” so you have discrete collections.
2. You can install the Evernote plugin to your web browser so as you search, you can clip the entire webpage. If for some reason that site changes or goes away, you still have an exact copy of that content for reference later.
3. With the browser plugin you can set it to tell you in Google Search, if you have matches in Evernote. You know when you’re like, “What was that website that told me how to do X?” and then you have to go back through your thought process and try to remember the path you took to get there? Now, if I’m searching for something that I’ve already clipped, it’s right there, on the top, as a link to my Evernote clip. Great for forgetful creatives like me.
4. It’s accessible from any device. I use it on my Mac, but I can look at everything on my iPhone, my iPad, or from any computer via the web interface.
5. If I’m offline I can still access all of my web-based research.
6. I can share “notebooks” with someone else for collaboration.
7. If you’re writing anything that requires you to show your sources (or to have them available) it’s so convenient.
For research: Evernote all the way.
Then, the second big thing that has changed for me this year is using Scrivener. This is a harder sell, unless you’re writing long form projects, because there’s one little thing about Scrivener that everyone complains about: You HAVE to do the tutorial. I mean you can skip it, but then you won’t know all the cool things it does. Or the flexibility of it. Or what features you should or shouldn’t use for your own workflow. It basically allows you to write however you want — from index card style outlines, to straight writing, to prioritizing unfinished sections, to tracking edits and so on.
But, you have to dedicate 2-3 hours to do the tutorial. I don’t know what to tell you! The people who have tried it seem to come in two camps:
1. They use it and love it so much that they can’t imagine being a writer without it.
2. They tried it or wanted to use it but didn’t do the tutorial and gave up.
For me, the big thing is being able to do brainstorming with index cards in an interface that allows you to drag cards around but then that content flows into an outline and I’m able to jump into writing or back out to outline at any point. For me, it changes the planning and writing phases because instead of doing outlines by hand or feeling like I’m doing duplicate work, everything I do to plan for the project is also part of writing it. It’s awesome. It makes writing faster.
It also has a distraction-free writing mode that is great if you’re constantly getting pulled away with notifications and other temptations. It’s just you, a blank page and zero interruptions (and you can set a timer or word count goals, it’s brilliant).
So for writing longer projects Scrivener is amazing. (Nod to my friend Antony Johnston who has been banging on about it for years now, glad I finally took his advice!)
Then the last big thing is getting a Kindle. Well, let me say this: the big thing is getting an e-reader because I’m not totally in love with the Kindle. Why? Because I keep breaking it. Granted I am not gentle with my electronics but I’m on my third one in two years and I have spent months with a broken Kindle because I ordered it in Thailand so I can only get a free replacement when I’m in Thailand. For someone who travels, I can’t see spending nearly as much as the original device to ship it back and forth just because it’s so breakable.
So we got an iPad (3). Which meant that Cole got an iPad and I haven’t seen it since because the child is obsessed with Angry Birds and knows how to bounce between games, movies and music like a pro (actually last night I said, “Drew how do I turn off this song?” and Cole just reached over and pressed the right button — so basically it’s his iPad for the foreseeable future).
That being said, the Kindle is great for reading, the iPad is too heavy for me to hold up for hours at a time. I don’t know what the perfect solution is, I suppose I could upgrade to a better version of the Kindle and buy a $50 case for it, but we’ll see. (I’m too invested ebook-wise to switch to a Nook or any other device).
One thing: I have the international 3G Kindle, which means I can technically get internet for free, anywhere in the world. It works pretty well for downloading books, but the web interface for surfing is just for truly desperate moments (perhaps as Amazon intended).
I have about 80 books on my Kindle. I used to travel with about a dozen books, so this has completely cut my collection down. Now if publishers would just let me highlight and copy quotes from books and send them to Evernote, I might just die from joy. (Currently the highlight feature is deeply unsatisfying to me).
e-Readers: pick your poison, but get at least one (unless you like balancing your laptop on your face while you read in bed).
What about the good old-fashioned moleskin? Well, I do still use one. If I’m out and about taking notes, then obviously, pulling out my laptop isn’t going to work. I am carrying around a half-dozen of them that I’ve filled up over the last year. I flip through them as reference, but I think a big part of my process involves writing notes and organizing my thoughts that way, so in a way I feel like I rely on them more because they help me form ideas about what I’m seeing (although as reference they are extremely helpful too). Beyond that in-field work though, I’ve moved digital as much as possible, so I no longer draft in long hand or write outlines that way. I resisted doing so for a long time because I like the feeling of writing, but Scrivener has helped in that regard. I want to be able to take notes and lay them out and look at them. You can pretty much do that now on your computer. So while there’s no substitute for the handwritten notes, I’m finding myself doing most of my work digitally and being more productive for it.
That’s it! By the way, I didn’t get a paid to say these things, although I would accept thank you notes in the form of vintage bottles of wine.