Monday 11th January 2021
I like to be a mobile writer, and by that I mean, I want to be able to write anywhere. Obviously some locations are better than others, but I don’t want to be in a position where I have chance to write and don’t have tools at my disposal to do so.
One of the major ways I do this is through the use of digital notebooks.
I was never a fan of physical notebooks. I know writers who swear by them and that’s all well and good but all my best ideas seemed to come to me when in the bathroom or on a long walk. By the time I’d found a notebook, the idea was gone. If only I could have entered notes from my phone.
There’s still a large part of me that thinks that good ideas get remembered, bad ideas get forgotten, but as I’ve finessed both my writing and the processes that surround it, I do find I lose some of the subtlety if I do so.
There are a huge number of tools out there to implement digital notebooks. I started with Evernote but never really got on with it. I moved to Notion a few years ago and it clicked for me. But there are all manners of digital apps out there, each subtly different. Roam, Obsidian, Bear Notes, Apple Notes. It seems not a week goes by without a new one on the market.
My original reason for moving from Evernote to Notion was because Notion seemed a bit more aesthetically pleasing. The ability to add a picture at the top of the page served no practical use but it made for a more pleasing workspace. However, they started adding basic databases and that’s where personally my usage really took off.
I’ve spent the time and organised my notes into a system. That’s what I like with Notion – it’s grown with me. Originally I started with just a page for short story ideas and a page for novel ideas and that was that. But as time has progressed, I’ve started dumping all manner of things into Notion.
I’ve recently started making notes when I learn stuff. This is basically a cheat sheet of any online class I might have taken. I’m slowly trying to trust my memory less.
Things soon became a bit messy and so I started organising it at that point. I took cues from my task management system. There I have my life split into areas: Writing, Social Media / Marketing, HEMA, Health, House, Work and Games. I did the same in Notion, and then moved pages into those relevant categories. As areas get messy so I go in and move pages around as needed. It means I don’t need to worry until I do so. For example, my screenwriting area is starting to get messy and may need reorganising at some point in the future.
Last year I added planning and this is where I really started using the database features. I found a template online and copied that. It uses the database features to have yearly goals, which are split into various milestones. There’s then a weekly planner that basically asks a bunch of questions about my week before and tracks your milestones.
It was a bit complicated for me at the time (I’ve since got my head round it and now use it heavily) but I did use the weekly planner. At the beginning of the week I would set my focus and goals to work on for the week, and then review the following week to see how well I did. I find Notion’s database features both very simple (depending on the view you have, it’s little more than a spreadsheet; in other views it’s like a Google Form). But the fact that you can link between databases is very useful.
For example (and take into account that I now have several years experience of this), in recent weeks I built a Writing Projects database. This has little more than a name, a brief synopsis, a genre and a date range for when I intend to work on it (taken from an excel spreadsheet I used to plan out my year).
I’ve gone back into my Word Tracking database and added a field for project and linked it into my new Writing Project database. So now I can track progress on all my projects. I also went into my weekly planner and linked that in too, so I can review what projects I’ve been working on in any week.
It’s very rudimentary. Maybe one day I’ll want something more robust and need to move to a different system. I tried to implement my task tracking in Notion and whilst I did build a great task tracker, it didn’t have the flexibility of ToDoist, so I keep my task management there.
The point is, that my digital notebooks have grown over time. I’m a tiny bit of a relational database geek so having notes links to other notes works for me. It may not for you.
It means that I can access a HUGE amount of information just on my phone. Whether that be a new story idea, or doing my weekly planning whilst sat on a friends sofa, I’m never away from my notes.
Of course, it would be amiss of me to remind people that there are risks. Services can abruptly end, services can get hacked. If I had to rebuild my system elsewhere, it would be a pain but anything vital gets backed up locally. But hard disks can crash too. I had one a few years back that completely corrupted the hard drive. If I didn’t always backup my writing I really would have been screwed.
I suggest you start small. Just start with story notes, and build up over time. Try out a few apps, find the one that works for you, and build out from there. I want to do worldbuilding wikis in mine at some point but that might be months down the line.
If it’s of interest to writers, please let me know what interests you and I’ll see if I can film some tutorial videos.
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