A little while ago, I wrote an article, 3 Habits Of A Freshman Writer, where I touched on the importance of having a proper system to file your work and research.
No writing book or article I ever read mentioned organizing your writing and notes, yet it is one of the most important habits for new writers.
I have spent months trying to find quotes/ notes/ stories that I scribbled somewhere and didn’t file them properly. Not only it a wasted time, but my writing is poorer for the lack of all that reference material that could have made it more impactful.
This week, Austin Kleon touched on Indexing, filing systems, and the art of finding what you have in his blog. He, too, has no system to file his work.
“I have no index for the notebooks (unless you count my logbook), and no way, really, of knowing what’s in them, a condition worsened by my terrible memory, and the fact that one of the reasons I like keeping a diary, as Henry Jones, Sr., said, is because I don’t have to remember what’s in it. I plan on starting an index in the coming weeks and updating it for each new notebook.” — Austin Kleon.
He wrote this more than ten years ago and didn’t follow through. Today when he is working on his fourth book, he is kicking himself for not doing what he knew he should do but didn’t.
Your system should consist of three things.
- Ease and robustness. If the system is tedious or time-consuming, you will not do it. Now and then, you will slack, and things will fall out. You will need a system for both digital and paper-based documents. It should apply to everything. Even the writing that seems trivial at the moment will sound beautiful when read months or years later.
- Retrievability. The system needs to be supported by a powerful search engine so that when you need anything, you know where to look for it and how to retrieve it with minimum effort.
- Portability. This is to capture any idea you get at any time of the day. It should travel with you everywhere, even in the bathroom (especially in the bathroom to capture the ideas you will get in the shower).
“A good idea is not of any use if you can’t find it.”
— Logan Heftel
Some Unusual System to Organize Your Work
I am fascinated by the filing systems of other writers, and Austin Kleon’s article prompted me to share my system with you.
Although not foolproof, some of the ways I am using to organize my work are working well.
Julia Carmen, the writer of The Artist’s Way, suggested a handy and method to picking up the grain from the chaff.
Those of you who haven’t heard of Julia Carmen, she is the one who suggested that the writers should start their day with writing Morning Pages.
Morning Pages are three pages (approximately 750 words) stream of consciousness, writing about anything and everything that crosses your mind. Usually, morning pages are gibberish, things meant for your eyes only, but now and then, they will have some nuggets that you want to save.
The best way is to do that, according to Julia Carmen, is to pick a highlighter and color the bits you want to save. You can then type them up in Evernote or whatever notes software you are using. Keep each idea/story separate and give them an appropriate heading.
Now when you need it, all you need to do is a simple keyword search.
Email is an unglorified and somewhat underused way of storing your work.
I usually email myself whatever research I did on the project I am working on. I keep it in a separate folder. Most email software has a pretty powerful keyword search, and since my email is always open, my research is literally at my fingertips.
My blog has become my repository. I can retrieve any story or a quote that I have used in an article and published on my blog. All I need is a keyword.
I have thousands of articles, research snippets, and pdf that reside on my computer under appropriate files. Although criticized mercilessly, File Explorer is the oldest filing system in the digital world and is quite intuitive. It has a decent search facility, and I have usually been able to find the document as long as I have given it a good title.
I am relatively new to Evernote and use only the free version. Yet, I am suitably impressed with it. The search is swift, and it can even recognize text in images as well. So if I take an image of a page from a book and save it in Evernote, it will read it as if it is reading a text document.
Index for Medium Articles
Recently I started indexing my Medium articles. I created a Main Index that lists all the categories I write under. Each category is a separate post and lists the article I have written so far. I update them twice a month. It is working like magic. Now I can access any of my articles with a couple of clicks.
It’s very easy to write every day and collect a lot of material through research, but it’s not easy to keep track of it all.
You have to develop a system so that you can access whatever you need with minimum effort.
You either create your own system or follow someone else that works for you.
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