Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor (kistaro) wrote,
Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

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Notes, and notes, and notes, and notes

A very recurring theme on my various writings has been writing about writing. Specifically, the writing of notes. Ideas leak out of my brain, and the only way to avoid them splattering about and making a mess of the floor is to collect them in some sort of proper aggregator, and thus I am learning what notetaking tools I need.

After years of heavy-duty computational solutions, I've dropped back to the fundamentals: paper. Staples Arc notebooks for large-format notes, because they still solve the big problem I kept using computers for; since the pages are easy to remove and reorganize, I can periodically take them out, scan them in, mark them as scanned, put them back, and then not worry about losing them. It's the most practical paper-to-PC note system I've found yet. It's only really practical because work has an industrial high-speed full-stack double-sided automatic document scanner, but, well, that's kind of why they have one.

Portable notes cause more of a quandary, though. People who have been following my Twitter feed will know I've switched to an iPhone by now, and I am startled to admit that I have a much higher text entry speed on its virtual keyboard than I ever did on any of the hardware keyboards of my previous smartphones; the physical act of pushing a tiny button is significantly slower than tapping the approximate region of a key, and autocorrect usually helps more than it hinders as long as I'm paying some attention now and then.

It's just the wrong form factor for things, though. Handwritten to-do lists are just more expressive and more present, for me. If I enter a to-do list on a PDA, I put it there and then I forget it; it's not a to-do so much as a tomb, and the act of entering data is such a trivial thing that it fails to gain mental traction. A handwritten list is much more present: it's more flexible, it takes more effort to enter and thus sticks in my mind better, and its physical nature means it confronts me more often- things get off from it more often.

To-do lists and "scrap data" are why I've taken to using a Hipster PDA (the Levenger variation thereof, actually, which means I can fasten old pages into my notebooks) on a regular basis. Unlike a conventional notebook, old-but-still-important items don't get lost in a forcibly-sequential snow of completed lists. Completed items are simply removed, and what remains is generally more relevant. It's extremely useful for getting things done.

What it isn't is very inspiring. It doesn't make me want to write. It's a stack of cards, and that's very helpful, but its perpetual, reloading, flowing nature keeps me from having something to fill or write into. It doesn't have a real sense of continuity, and that's by design; it's the best tool I have for getting things done, but it's bad at thought debris.

This goes back to a concept I've brought up many times before: ideas need respect. This is why I'm in favor of good notebooks: a notebook is a physical representation of your thoughts, and as your thoughts are something to respect, one manifestation of that respect is a good notebook. Cheap index cards with little mushroom-shaped tabs punched out to hold onto plastic discs are practical, but not very reverent. Little notebooks? Those have a lot more presence.

Which means that, once again, I'm carrying multiple note-taking devices. My phone, because it's my communication device but also as an excellent recorder of factoids; a disc-bound pad of index cards, because it's my best tool for actually completing things; and a small notebook, because something that sits there asking for ideas to be written into it tends to cause me to produce more ideas.

It's worth noting that I'm starting to unravel why Field Notes work better for me than other, similar products. The quality of the paper stock and reliability of manufacture are significant pluses, but the fact that they are unabashedly small notebooks counts for more. They're only 12 sheets of paper plus a cover, folded in half, for 24 leaves, or 48 pages of content. The other notebooks I've tried are, for the most part, 80 pages. This works much worse for me. Filling it seems much more distant, rather than an achievable and reasonable goal. The notebook physically starts to suffer from the strain of travel long before it's full; Field Notes are a bit sturdier, but perhaps it's more important that their small size limits their travel life. Little tiny notebooks aren't exactly indexed things, nor is having much other than a front-page meta-todo-list practical, so they need to be searched for relevant content- and that's harder in a larger notebook. (Also, Writersblok's notably thin paper makes it very difficult to work with.) I'm probably just trying to justify buying a stupidly premium-priced product, but it's one that actually works for me.

This is sort of a conglomeration of about five different posts I had notes on about making notes. Every time I started to write one, my opinion changed. I think it's starting to shake out by now...

I've migrated to DreamWidth. The original post is at View comment count unavailable comments at; go ahead and use OpenID to post your own, or you can comment here.
Tags: notes

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