I’ve always been interested in different ways people take notes, save notes, retrieve notes, and synthesise notes into their daily, er, practice. (OK, that sounds wanky, though “daily life” sounds just as bad.) I am a particularly awful note-taker, with my scribblings taking the form of various notebooks, diaries, small notepads (field notes), index cards, and now a loose-leaf binder in which I’m attempting to bring together all of my random “writing notes” in the hope that I can file them away in a box somewhere and forget they all exist. There’s also my reading notes (on paper, via kindle notes, and also via intstapaper notes), most of which wind up being shuttled off into Evernote, which I do actually review from time to time.
Needless to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all. And I’m not convinced that it’s necessary, or that Evernote really is the best place for it all to go.
The index cards are a bit of an anachronism, really. I love writing on them, and flicking through the stack, but I’ve never put them into the “chaotic practice” I always envisaged for them, ie throwing them all up in the air to see if strange combinations result. I write all sorts of things on them, but the subjects are all so disjointed and random that I’m not convinced I will be able to form any connections between them. I also spend a lot of time, apparently, pondering note-taking, and index cards, which isn’t really useful for much apart from generating more index cards.
At one stage I transferred them all to nvAlt, which is great in that you can create links between entries there. I do love the ease in which you can link notes in that app. But, again, without a master index (or something similar) I feel like too much time is really wasted (is it wasted? I guess you could argue it’s not, the filtering) just flicking around wondering where everything is. (Although nvAlt has a great search, which makes it somewhat more useful than the index cards, for me.)
Potentially they could be useful to me in a more directed way – ie just as a fiction repository (ahem, dumping ground) where it would make sense to periodically throw cards around and see where they fall. I’d also be able to leave out the indexing (currently YYDDMM-HHMM), as why would it matter?
Maybe the indexing could use revamping, to something more like a pure zettelkasten, with subject forks and, again, some sort of master topic index.
As I said earlier, I probably spend too much time thinking about this.
A digital format is also problematic, in many ways. I’m not convinced I like tagging things, but I’m also not convinced I enjoy many different “buckets” for my notes. Recently I consolidated all of my Evernote notes into just one notebook, when it got to the point that I was spending too much time thinking about which notebooks to file notes in. The result is many tags, which also requires maintenance (checking which tags have no notes, or which can be consolidated, split off, searching for notes with no tags, and the like).
It’s all more work than I really want to be putting into all of this information. I feel like I need a degree in library science just to organise all of my thoughts and notes at the moment, and I wish I had an answer, or a report I could give you to sum up my learnings, and perhaps make some recommendations.
Some observations, however:
- Having one repository (or fewer repositories) is better than having a large number.
- I like the concept of randomness more than having everything totally locked-down.
- I like the idea of being able to link different things together, as they suit me.
- I like being able to write down quick notes with a pen and paper.
- Regular reviewing of notes seems to be essential, as otherwise you can get just as swamped with your own information as you can with information from other sources.
I guess that’s as good as I can hope for, at the moment.
That said, I have recently downloaded a few new apps that I intend to bring in to my, er, practice, and see how they go. One is the possibly-not-still-in-production, but still very cool SlipBox, which I’ve always been quite interested in, but never really knew how to use.
The other is Day One (2), which I’ve had on the iPhone for several years, and which has been great for capturing snippets about my daughter as she’s grown up. I think I’d like to use the multiple journals feature to set up another one for me to talk about my readings and thinking, piecing things together. Maybe it would be a good fit for my writing journal too (which I use to agonise over the progress of various writing projects), but we’ll just have to see how that goes.
edit to add:
Oh, I knew there was something else! I’ve also finally managed to get wikidpad installed on the mac. Maybe a personal wiki is more what I’m looking for. I’ve tried out a few different ones (TiddlyWiki, among others) but I want something that’s fast, with little clicking about (i.e. text-based, and local). Wikidpad looks like it might tick those boxes, so fingers crossed it turns out to be a winner.)