Tag It

Tag It

Screen capture of Evernote tag list

Most people look over my workspace (virtual or physical) and label me psychotic. Because if you can think of it, I have it. Color-coding, tracking sheets, Post-It notes, scratch paper, files with (color-coded) tabs… I even have one notebook for writing down the weirdness with my health and one for the Minions (complete with cute stickers on the outside so you know which belongs to who). Organization is my life. I can FEEL when a book or movie is out of order on the shelf (and I’ll go crazy until I remedy the situation). So it stands to reason that I’d never overlook a way to sort through my research.

Or so one would think.

Subconsciously, I think I allowed some self-sabotage to get to me. After all, following a dream you’ve held your entire life is terrifying. You expect to crash and burn and go crawling back to corporate, soul-sucking America. (Incidentally, if you’re happy in corporate America, good for you. I never was) So when I set up my first few “notes” in Evernote, I didn’t bother with the single-most critical feature of the program: the humble Tag.

Allow me to briefly diverge here and confess that I’m old enough NOT to live in a world of hashtags. To me, the “#” is still a pound sign. You use it to play tic-tac-toe, not to devolve into weird spirals on Instagram or Facebook. When I had my first blog out of college, tags made their introduction as a part of blog culture (before any of us knew what the hell SEO meant). But that blog died ages ago, and I lost practice. I only picked it back up with my writing.

Fast forward to last month when I found myself scrolling back through PAGES of notes, trying to find the name of one stupid fish. I knew I’d researched it at some point, and I knew the title of the Note, but where the Note lay in the “stack?” That was a mystery. Then came the realization that I was coming across the same dog breeds over and over – with no desire to cover the same territory. But THOSE Notes lay buried even DEEPER. And while flipping through physical notecards would take longer than scrolling through a screen, Evernote wasn’t making my job easier.

Because I failed.

If I took a few extra moments after finishing each assignment to type in a few tags, I could simply pull up the entire list and then view the Notes I needed. The option sits at the bottom, waiting happily for input each time a Note’s created. You can throw as many tags on as you want, with no character limits. A level of organization deeper than anything I’ve yet encountered, and I MISSED it!

So guess what I got to do – on my days off, no less. That’s right: go back and assign tags to every single Note. Over TWO HUNDRED Notes! We’re talking an entire weekend, stuck on the couch with my laptop, working through research – some of which I haven’t see in MONTHS. But I finally caught up on everything. (And, honestly, once I had a chunk of the tags set, I got to select them without a need to type them in) The work’s already paid off, too. Which is why I have a little Post-It reminder scribbled down to tag NEW research, preventing the need to repeat this insanity.

Organization exists to save you time and effort. Of course, if you ignore the options, you create MORE work for yourself. And when you’re a freelancer, there’s a GOOD chance you may find some themes cropping up time and again. Rather than redoing work you DON’T need to, tags can save you from going up the wall. It’s a huge time-saver. And when you find yourself filling up your calendar (something you’re probably going to strive for), every moment counts.

Or you can wait until you’re drowning in Notes and then decide you want that last little helper. It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I wish I’d thought ahead – like I usually do. (Self-sabotage is a tricky slope!)

The Modern Note Card

The Modern Note Card

Screen captures from Evernote

For those of us who lived through school without Google, there’s nothing quite like savoring the joy of shuffling our thoughts together via color-coded note cards. We were trained to think that way when researching, and a lot of us carried that training through to our writing (assuming you’re not an organic writer like myself). Character traits, plot points, scenes, quotes you dreamed up and didn’t want to forget: plunk them on a note card and then shuffle them into the appropriate order.

Nothing wrong if you’re still doing that!

However, if you have your own demon with a penchant for stealing note cards, I have an advancement for you: Evernote (available via the Apple Store and Google Play – and, no, I don’t receive any kickback from this). Evernote is the equivalent of those note cards, gathered into nifty notebooks, with the added bonus of being available to you 24/7. You can utilize the app on your computer (desktop or laptop) and your phone, so when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, you can grab your phone and type/write it out without needing to find a light source (or, as I’ve done, attempt to decipher what you wrote in the dark). The image above is a screen capture from my story idea notebook, the handwritten scribble from one such late-night idea. Best of all, with one account, you can link both devices, and they’ll sync with each other.

Sometimes, technology gets it right!

On the research side of things, Evernote has a great “clip” feature which allows you to save website clippings – complete with the original page, in case you need to refer back to entire page at some point. This works beautifully for me when I’m doing research. Since each “Note” functions as a standard document, you can also format it any way you want (hello, color-coding?). I use it to keep my work documents organized by contract and then assignment, noting deadlines at the top, as well as any particular notes the client has requested.

Evernote has a selection of built-in templates you can access, including several geared toward writers. I’m not a personal fan of them, but you can create and save your own. For one of my regular contracts, I’ve done just that since the same notes apply each time. If you’re one of those writers that DOES prefer to plan, the templates are a great option.

Best of all, you can set up your own tags for each Note, making it easy to keep track of your work. So if you set up a Notebook for your novel, you can then generate Notes for everything you need within, from character profiles, to background profiles, to plot points, down to world-building details, and then use your tags to link everything together. You can also rearrange your Notes into whatever order you need, as many times as you want – the equivalent to shuffling those note cards around on your wall.

Evernote is really user-friendly, and while there are paid versions available, I’ve been able to function with the basic free edition quite happily. It gives me the organization I need for work, while also giving me somewhere I can scribble writing ideas down – without a risk of losing them (not to mention being able to decipher them).

A writer held responsible for their work is a writer that gets work done!

Color-Coding, Erasable, Visible – Oh, My!

Color-Coding, Erasable, Visible – Oh, My!

The two white boards I use for my writing life.

Behold – the greatest invention in the entire world! Yes, lasers and jellybeans, I mean the humble whiteboard. This little piece of erasable genius is pure perfection. If it weren’t for the fact that white is insanely boring and only meant for institutions, I could quite happily exist in a house made completely of whiteboards. (Side note: I promise my writing room is actually painted one color – just so happens the morning sun shines on one wall and not the other, so it looks like two in those pictures)

I use whiteboards for both sides of my writing: the work part and the fun part. I am an organization FIEND, and they’re one of the tools I use to:

  • Stay on track with my goals
  • Make sure I know where projects are
  • Leave notes for myself (I have a great memory, but no one’s perfect)
  • Plan out blog entries

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, if you don’t have a visual representation of your goals somewhere you can see it daily, it’s harder to meet that goal. When it’s in your face every day, you find yourself with a greater drive to be able to mark the box – and the satisfaction of getting to do so is IMMENSE. Even if the box is minor – i.e., writing up to two Goodreads reviews or writing 1000 words a day. When you put an X or a check through that box, a sense of achievement/fulfillment comes over you.

Unless you only have one short story or novel that you are submitting – and if that’s the case, shame on you! – you need to know where your work is currently sitting and for how long. Things still get lost in this digital age, and editors/first readers aren’t infallible (they’ll be the first to admit that). While I do have an Excel file that has detailed records for every short story and novel (more about that in another post), being able to quickly glance at a whiteboard without having to pull up the computer is easier. It tells me where each story is currently at and how long it’s been there. It also tells me whether or not I’ve updated my Excel file.

I’d love to say I’m one of those people that never forgets anything – and if you’ve screwed me over or made me mad, I remember every word (not kidding). However, if I’m trying to remember where my can’t-possibly-forget-it hiding place is or didn’t-need-to-write-it-down item for the grocery list…yeah, no dice. Especially if it’s work-related, and especially because SOMEONE likes to steal my pen, the whiteboard becomes the catch-all for notes. (Thankfully, Tonks hasn’t figured out how to get to the whiteboard marker)

I do plan out my monthly blog entries – at least my weekly posts. I take time into crafting them, figuring out images and such; on my other blog, I take time researching quotes I want to use. This means setting out my schedule in advance so my brain has time to digest my topics.

Whiteboards let me do all of this, and then I erase what I don’t need and start again. Nifty, right?

And because I’m one of THOSE people, everything is color-coded. How else am I supposed to tell different tasks apart? How else am I supposed to tell different genres apart? It all makes my little organizational heart go pitter-pat.

I used to make do without the whiteboards, and things were more difficult. I had to turn the computer on (this was before my SSD – torture!), or I had to flip through a physical calendar to find things (I always had multi-color pens, so that wasn’t so bad), and trying to keep track of Post-It notes or scraps of paper – even without a tiny demon – never seemed to work well.

Now, everything is within a couple of steps, it’s easy to see, it’s easy to use, and I can add or subtract without a fuss.

It’s so easy, I added an additional whiteboard to help with the wedding planning…much to my fiance’s chagrin…um, “delight.”