Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writing Tools: Organizing my Brainstorms and Research

Here are some tools for the writing life. I find them helpful for both academic and creative projects:
  • Zotero (Mac or PC): Free Mozilla Firefox plugin. When I found this free program, I stopped using both EndNote ($100 USD for students) and SOHO Notes ($39 USD) as note organizational tools. I find this indispensable for my academic work--it will download the citations from the library site or other online services, and build a bibliography in a flash in Word (though you have to be careful about formatting, still, a bit). It, however, will allow you to save and organize book info from Amazon on anything, as well as take snapshots of any page and easily add notes and keywords to any of things I've already mentioned, so I also find it helpful for everything from saving articles relating to my creative projects to saving receipts. And it resides on your computer, so you don't have to be online to get to anything.

  • CopyWrite (Mac only): A relatively low-cost, stripped-down word processing program designed for novelists, though I'm also considering its potential uses for my dissertation. It allows you to keep each chapter as an individual file but search and find and replace across a whole project. It also has a handy "notes drawer" for flipping between notes you want to keep about that individual project and for the project in general, a nifty tracking function for your progress (you put in a goal word count and it tells you how many percent you have as you go). Plus there's a full-screen editing mode to help you focus in and make your words bigger.

  • Good old-fashioned journals (no computer required): I keep a lot of my notes on specific projects in my computer now--in Zotero and CopyWrite's notes drawer, but a set of good old-fashioned journals is also indispensable for collecting my writing brainstorms. A few years ago, I found a system that still works for me--I got a bunch of my favorite kind of spiral-bound sketchbooks (the kind with room for a pen to clip onto them) and I keep different kinds of notes and first drafts in each one, so I'll be able to access them topically or based on genre later on.

    The most important of these notebooks is the one in which I capture my random creative brainstorms and first lines/first pages of potential projects. I don't have to--in fact I'm not allowed--to finish these projects in there, which means I always know where to go back to when I need a new project to inspire me.

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