Most of us don’t just sit down and start writing. We record ideas, fact-check and research (often wandering into territory only tangentially related to our original topic), flesh out our characters and settings, and create a mess of information that needs to be organized into something that flows and actually makes some kind of sense to people other than ourselves.
I work for a tech company so, despite my enjoyment of more tactile methods, maybe it’s not surprising that I began looking for technology that might make this process simpler and clear some physical clutter from my life. So far, I’ve found a variety of applications that I like.
A few years ago, I started using Evernote to organize pretty much everything in my life. If I find an interesting article, I can save the whole thing from a link in my browser (with the Evernote Extension), or I can bookmark a site, save a PDF, etc. Once saved to the app, I can assign each item to a notebook, then add tags. I like to use a few very broad notebooks (Work, Writing, Personal, Inbox), then several very specific tags for each piece. This works much better than a traditional file tree because I can label information with as many relevant tags as I like and later find it using any one of them – I don’t have to remember exactly where I put it, and I can view it in different groupings. The app syncs between all of my devices, so I always have what I need. I can also annotate articles in the app.
At the same time, I started using Penultimate, which is a note-taking app designed to integrate with Evernote. I can take notes with a stylus and they continually sync with the Evernote app – which means I can go back and edit or add to a note and it continues to update in both applications.
I stopped using Penultimate, though, when they changed the interface drastically in ways that made it uncomfortable to use. I discovered that there are several other note-taking apps that both integrate well with Evernote and are organized and used in the way I want. I settled on Noteshelf, and I use it all the time. My favorite thing about these apps is the ability to upload custom papers, which lets me organize my thoughts the way I need to. (I tend to use a lot of papers by David Seah, who is a brilliant organizer, though there are others I use, too – some I’ve found, some I’ve had to make because I just can’t find exactly what I want.)
While working on my capstone, I discovered an app called RefMe. It can be used to scan barcodes from books to create a reference list. In the browser-based app, I could then add notes, quotes, and page citations. This was really helpful in keeping track of all my sources.
The one thing I wished RefMe could do, though, was let me drag and drop those notes and quotes into a new order, preferably on a blank screen where they can be placed anywhere – kind of a storyboarding function. My husband recently pointed me to Zotero, an application that stores references and lets him organize them in folders. This is closer, but I’m still looking for something that lets me drag and drop to rearrange things until I find a flow I like. It also isn’t available as an app for smartphones or tablets, it seems.
I did find an app that I do use for some types of storyboarding. Grid allows me to create a bulletin board of sorts, on which I can place pictures or text. I use this sometimes for creating a collage that represents something of a character portrait, reminding me of who the character is when I need to work with her. I can use it to organize a scene list, too. The only problem is that it doesn’t integrate with anything else, and if I wanted to use it to organize research I’d have to copy all of my references into it.
I’m still looking for the perfect tool that lets me store references and images, then drag them into a storyboard-style space and organize them as I please, and that syncs with all my devices, preferably while integrating with Evernote. Until that application appears, I have some options that I’m pretty happy with. Overall, I find that organizing with technology makes it much easier to always find what I need.
I’m always on the lookout for better tools, though, so maybe one day I’ll find that perfect app.