discovering notion, or one system to rule them all

I’m always on the look out for better ways to organize my chaotic brain. But because each application or tool is really good at one thing and then medium or bad at everything else, I end up with a vast collection of tools that I barely use while trying to hold all of my workflow stuff in my head.

This works about as well as you would expect.

And though I know exactly how it’s going to end (i.e. poorly), my system consistently devolves into this state. Entropy, man. It’ll get you in the end.

At the beginning of last week, I had once again reached that threshold where this “system” was untenable. I was only paying attention to my day to day agenda without thinking about how each of my tasks impacted my overall trajectory towards long-term goals. Was I moving in the direction that I wanted to go? Was I prioritizing things correctly? Is it possible to know any of those things without writing them down somewhere? Maybe for some people, but definitely not for me.

So I found myself looking at the vast array of tools I already use to track parts of my life—AirTable for submissions, Excel/Sheets for story outlines, Word/Docs for brainstorming, Pocket (prev Evernote) for interesting articles or resources or inspo, Calendar for tracking appointments and life stuff, a bullet journal for day to day agenda items, Trello for workflow, variably Todoist or Keep or Workflowy or scraps of paper for checklists…—and despairing. I mean, the process of listing all of those things out gave me mild palpitations.

The idea of adding something to this list was daunting. The idea of shoving a writing workflow/goals tracker into one of these systems, having it fail because it doesn’t quite fit right, and then winding up back in this exact same position a handful of months down the line… It’s so demoralizing.

You see, I end up at this place because I am very particular. I have an idea of how I want to track things, of what might be useful to my brain, and of how I want to interact with a program. The problem I have is that nothing seems to work quite the way I want it to. It’s a lot to ask for, one organizational system to rule them all.


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In advance of NaNoWriMo and to put off the NaNoPrep I know I should be doing, I’ve been distracting myself by trying to figure out what I’m going to use to write. Mostly these days, I have a bunch of Word documents (or sometimes Google Docs) with names like “that one thing ver 1” and “that one thing ver 2” and “that one thing ver 2 – polished” and so on and so forth. All living in folders nested within folders nested within folders.

For a brief period of time, I toyed with Scrivener, which I know is supposed to be an amazing powerhouse piece of software. But I always get vaguely annoyed that the Windows version, which hasn’t received the beautiful 3.0 update that Mac has, just looks kind of clunky. Additionally, there are about a million settings that I can change and get distracted by. Couple that with a handful of settings that I can’t seem to change though I sorely want to, and I just drive myself crazy fiddling with buttons and knobs instead of putting words on a page.

So when I was perusing the NaNo sponsors page and came across Dabble, I figured I might as well check it out.

It is gorgeous. The interface is simple and straightforward. There are basically no settings for you to adjust. You just go in there and write. There are no fonts to choose, there is no formatting to mess with. It’s just a word processor and you.

But also, it has some of the novel relevant functionality that Scrivener has that is definitely lacking in most less specialized pieces of software. You can label scenes and chapters and rearrange pieces. There’s a section for a plotting chart (which I haven’t tried yet, but am curious about) and another for story notes. When you’re done writing, Dabble can export your words into manuscript format with the click of a button — suddenly, everything is Times New Roman and double-spaced and exactly the way it needs to be as a Word doc or a text file. (This might be a me thing, but I hate writing in Times New Roman with a specific formatting because it just. doesn’t. look. nice.)

It even hooks into the NaNo word count API and updates your word count for you if you link your account.

Thus far, it is the thing that comes closest to what I would want in an ideal word processor environment. The only two things I’ve noticed straight off the bat is the lack of inline comments (I make a lot of inline comments to myself) and the inability to resize within the program (though this is solved by just magnifying in the browser).

It’s free to try through the end of November. After that, it’s a subscription service, which I don’t mind — usually means that people are paying attention and updating things in a more or less timely fashion. If you participate in NaNoWriMo you can get 20% off the subscription fee, and if you win, you can get 50% for a year. In any event, I’m going to try it out for this NaNoWriMo and see how it goes.

putting together characters

Buckle up, friends. This is a long one. Mostly to help me remember/collect some tools I’ve found.

I find these tools for building character much more useful than things like “the character interview” — where you ask things about favorite colors or food or whatever — because really, who cares? Those things are just trivia. Just like your knowing that my favorite color is green or my favorite food is scallion pancakes* doesn’t mean that you actually understand anything about me.

Pieces of trivia don’t reveal character motivation and drive and desire and limitation,** which are the things you need to consider when figuring out what a character’s Problem is and what they’re Going to Do About It.

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