It’s been over a month since I posted about how I turned my journals into something I actually use.
I’m still at it, which means that this is something I’ll probably do for a long time since habits that last a month for me tend to stick.

Already, though, how I use this journal has evolved. I’ve discovered that there are things that a notebook is good for, and for things that notebooks aren’t good for, I’ve discovered digital tools that do better.

The Good

Conventional creative wisdom says that the best way to treat a new idea is to just let it be what it is. If you jump into judging it too soon, you risk killing a good idea that just hasn’t had the time to develop.
Preserving embryonic ideas is one of the things that keeping a physical notebook does phenomenally well, especially if you invest in a high quality notebook, the kind that would make you feel terrible if you tore out a page.
At first, I was hesitant to bring the notebook ideas that might be truly ridiculous because there would be written evidence of how much I entertained stupid ideas, but as I relaxed, I noticed something magical. The notebook has become like a slow cooker for ideas where each stage of the process is preserved from the moment the idea is articulable to the point when the idea crystalizes into a story or blog post or personal revelation.
This is the most direct change that has come about from the journal, but there have been side-effects, too.
Before I started keeping this notebook, I was a verbal thinker and needed to process my ideas aloud. Sometimes this was a good thing. When I talked with Leander about what I was thinking early in the thinking phase, truly terrible ideas tended to die relatively quickly. But thinking aloud is a real time-sink, and we would spend entire evenings sometimes hashing over nebulous ideas.
I still hash out a lot of my ideas with Leander, but ever since I started keeping a notebook, I’ve been able to do a lot of the initial percolating myself, and the conversations that we have are much better because the ideas that I bring to the table have a lot more meat on them.
As someone who lives in a product driven society, it is easy to under-value the process part of the creative process. Usually, the musing phase of the process is invisible, but recording my thoughts during this phase has made the invisible visible. And it’s harder to tell yourself that you haven’t been productive when you are holding a notebook that has more pages filled in than it did yesterday.

The Bad

You’ll notice that I’ve spoken a lot about the early stages of the creative process. This is because a physical notebook is wonderful in the early stages, but in the later stages writing by hand is bulky and awkward. Revision is difficult enough when I’m marking up a typed page. Trying to read notes in my handwriting and then throwing revisions in the mix, too, is utterly impossible.
I’ve also discovered that the notebook is less than ideal for projects that begin with a definite form. In the beginning, all of my blog posts were dutifully written in the notebook and transcribed into Blogger, but I’ve since discovered that there’s no benefit to this. These days, I might jot down some notes in the notebook or a rough outline, but it’s much more efficient to do the actual writing on a computer.
Re-occurring record keeping is also something that the notebook doesn’t do very well. Recently, I’ve gotten into coffee roasting, which is a process of trial and error, so it’s important to keep track of roasting times in order to duplicate successful roasts in the future.
At first, I kept all of my records in the notebook, but after testing half a dozen varieties, organizing became a nightmare, even with the index, requiring me to flip through pages of notes to find out how much time it took the Ethiopian beans to reach second crack. (More on the process of coffee roasting later.)

The Digital Helpers

Evernote

I was a relatively early adopter of Evernote, and when I signed up for my account Evernote was much less developed than it is today. So, as sometimes happens with early adoption, I spent years listening to people gushing about Evernote, wondering what the big deal was…even though I had an account.
Recently, though, Moleskine came out with an Evernote Notebook. Since I’m a bit of a Moleskine fangirl, I had to investigate. I haven’t actually tried the Evernote Notebook yet, but rediscovering Evernote has been invaluable. It’s the perfect intermediary for ideas that have developed enough to be sorted into projects but aren’t yet developed enough to have their own folder on my computer or to be released into the real world.
Being able to take pictures of notebook pages and search (even with my terrible handwriting) has been a wonderful bonus.

Gollum

Periodically, I rant to Leander about painful keeping track of drafts is for writers, and we muse over whether it would be possible to use Git. We still haven’t come to a conclusion on that–mostly because I’ve been trying to learn how to program for years and I’ve only just learned how to make annoying popup boxes in JavaScript (Thank you, Code Academy.)–but I have been able to make use of Gollum, the wiki that powers GitHub’s project wikis.
Incorporating wikis into my process is really new for me, so I can’t go into much detail. And since wikis were a buzzword fifteen minutes ago, it feels makes me feel like a buzz-stalker to advocate using one, but I’ve already discovered that the non-linear format and automatic change tracking is ideal for doing any kind of major world building.
But more on that later!
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