Nerd-Herding: How To Keep Track Of Your Crap

Hoarders: small business edition

My office before digital media. (Photo credit: RobertFrancis)

I have, as I have mentioned, lots of ideas. And I gather a lot of information. When it comes to info, I’m the hunter-gatherer: I’ve moved beyond waiting for it come to me and now venture out on my own to find it.* But how do you manage all that? How do you turn the information and the raw idea seeds into something useful? And how the hell do you keep track of it all?

One word, people: notes.

I use two systems** for notes, one digital and one meatspace:


Ah, Evernote. Or, as I think of it, the Junk Drawer app.

This is where articles, essays, pictures, news items, recipes, knitting patterns, and random pieces of information go. I make a note, tag it, and then throw it into one of the notebooks. I have all my newsfeeds synced to this, so I can send things to a giant SORT pile to take a closer look at later. An important step, that one, because otherwise I’d lose hours of my day just going through things and figuring out if they’re useful. Now I tag it and toss it.

It syncs to my phone, so I can glance at this stuff during the dead space time of the day: standing in lines, waiting on hold, going to the bathroom, trying to escape from a boring conversation. I read it more closely then, and highlight or tag any particularly interesting sections. Then it goes into the right notebook—‘Writing’, ‘Food’, ‘Weird’, ‘Tech’, ‘Skills’, ‘WTF’, what have you—so that I can call it up when I’m scratching my head and trying to remember what I read somewhere once.


I never met a writer who didn’t love notebooks. I swear to Christ we’re the only ones who get excited about back to school stationary sales.

As I mentioned, I use the Moleskin Cahier Large and am very happy with it. Or rather them, since there’s a herd of the fucking things by now.

There is a distinction between the notebook and Evernote. Evernote is for raw information. The notebook is for the physical equivalent of thinking out loud. It’s easier for me to test an idea to failure if it’s in a form I can scratch out. Which is why you’ll find long sections in my notebooks with titles like ‘Reasons why M. Should die’ and ‘A Bunch of Things That Don’t Happen’ and ‘What if there were space badgers?’*** Half those sections contradict each other, sometimes in the space of a page. Doesn’t matter. They’re just for working that crap out.
And sometimes, when it is worked out, it goes back into Evernote. In a notebook called ‘Story Ideas’.  This is the cycle of ideas: information from Evernote, working out on paper, then semi-coherent crap back into Evernote. It’s a system that works for me because, one, things rarely get lost and, two, I can find it when I need it. Nothing’s worse than trying to find that one idea in the pile of papers six feet deep. Besides, it’s a fire hazard.

So, this is my system, but I’m always open to improvements. Writers and other information junkies out there, how do you keep track of your shit?

*Actually, truth be told, I have designed a variety of systems to ensure that information I’m interested in—technology, science, medical, crime, just plain fucking weird—is delivered to me automatically and continuously throughout the day. And night. The stuff I go looking for is the stuff I don’t know exists.
**Mostly use two systems. In a pinch, I’ve been known to use email, bar napkins, and my own skin to keep track of things.
***For extra fun points, I went through the notebook on my desk and took actual section titles. You’re welcome.

Does This Draft Taste Fresh To You?

Pint of American beer

Crisp, with a lingering taste of adverbs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the ongoing quest to Win at Writing, I keep trying new methods. My brain is an experimental space. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a new draft form, inspired by this post by Joe Hill. I bookmarked it and then threw it into the giant junk drawer that is Evernote a while back, but found it again when I was looking for some ideas about rewriting. For those of you who can’t be arsed to click through, the link discusses a method of drafting used by Hill during his writing. The part that I’ve been using lately is mentioned here:

“With my third draft, everything is rewritten from scratch. No cutting-and-pasting, no editing on-screen. Every single chapter, paragraph, and sentence must prove its worth or die.”

God help me, I do love the idea of a word death-match.

I found this interesting, though. I’ve always edited the existing document. Or maybe a copy if I wasn’t feeling entirely certain about my changes. The snapshot feature on Scrivener is great for that. Never occurred to me to do it any other way. Isn’t it weird how that works?

Anyway, lately I’ve been splitting the screen into two documents, keeping the original on the bottom, and writing again as I edit. It’s slower, I can tell you that. But I think I’ve been turning out cleaner final drafts. No clutter that gets to stay in out of sheer laziness on my part. I have to want a line in a story bad enough to type it from scratch. You really consider how much you want to say something when you’re doing that.

Also, it makes my hands tired.

This is all good stuff, though. It makes me much less tolerant of my own bullshit. And, man, can I bullshit.

I’ll try this way for a while, see how it works out for me. But, if you haven’t clicked through yet, you should check out that article. There’s some interesting tips on drafts in there. Some of it might work for you. I’m all about the experiments. Stay tuned for more, or drop me a note in the comments about what you do. I might try it myself.

And, hey, Hill’s got a great line about writing: “I just want story. Story and a little music.”

Ain’t that the truth.