Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tools for Keeping and Organizing Fieldstones

A Compliment

A reader writes: "I recently picked up your book on the Fieldstone method of writing, and I realized that it exactly fits my style. I've been collecting fieldstones for years but didn't realize it and therefore haven't used them or collected as effectively as I could. Several years ago I even threw away a good-sized notebook full of what I now realize were fieldstones, just because I didn't really know what to do with them or how to use them and they seemed to be just sitting around and taking up space [sigh]. I'm still working my way through your book, taking on the exercises as you describe them and working to internalize the process. Always having pen/paper available is again something that I've sort of done, but now I'm being adamant about that with myself. So, as always, thank you for a thought- and action-provoking read!"

A Complaint

I blushed to read this, but this kind of feedback is the food that energizes a writer. It also sets them up to listen when the reader continues with a complaint:

"One question: you mentioned in Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method that you eventually transcribe your stones to the computer. I've often deliberated about how best to do that, even going so far as to look at unstructured database-type tools (such as Ask Sam, for example). I found the reference to EndNote (that was worth a stickie. I'm one of those 'can't yet highlight books' folks.) , but I didn't see any reference to the tools that you use for actually collecting and searching your stones. Did I miss it, or am I just trying to complicate something simple? I've always wanted a marginally structured way to capture the basic information, then add date, tags (and possibly links to websites, images, etc.) and later organize/search for what I want. I'm now experimenting with a simple web application to allow me to do that. Anyway, I was wondering what tools you used for your basic stonepile."

A Response

After that complimentary feedback, how could I refuse this request?

Well, you didn't miss it. I guess I didn't say exactly what tools I use because

1. there are so many available

2. I have changed over the years, as new and better tools became available

3. I use a combination.

So, because of 3, my first criterion is that the tools don't use esoteric/private formats that can't be ported to new tools that come along.

Right now, my primary tool is a Mac app called Mori (an upgrade from a previous tool called Hog Bay Notebook). Mori doesn't seem to be available on PCs, but its makers recommend a similar PC app called NoteLens. It's like an internal wiki and more, so I can organize in various ways at the same time, with links, outlines, and easy shuffling and sorting.

Mori seems able to store anything, but sometimes I keep large files (drawings, pictures) as regular Mac files (though sometimes these same things go into Mori later). It also offers many customizable views of the data, though I haven't played much with those. It's such a rich system that it would be easy to lose oneself playing around with it, but for me it's just a tool, not a plaything. I do use a different view for novels than I do for non-fiction works. I also use a Mori notebook to store all my contact information, like publishers and agents and plumbers.

I keep a separate Mori notebook for each different project, but, as you know, lots of stones don't immediately suggest what pile (past or future) they might go in. I have one Mori notebook for misc. unclassified stones, but these tend to wind up in ordinary Mac files and folders, which I peruse every so often to see if some of those stones now fit some project. (I have maybe twenty projects going at the same time that are sufficiently well-conceived to have their own Mori notebook.)

Now that storage is so cheap, I save all notebooks (and, of course, back them up regularly in several ways), even for completed or abandoned projects. I'm almost to the point where I'll create a separate Mori meta-notebook cataloging all my Mori notebooks. I could keep them all in one huge Mori notebook, but that somehow doesn't seem prudent or efficient. I may change my mind on that, but as an old-timer, I still fear losing every stone if somehow Mori should choke on too large a database.

In any case, I'm always looking for ways to improve my handling of fieldstones, and I would be pleased to hear readers' comments on what they use and how they use it.