I fell across a blog recently regarding the one software application I love–and hate–the most in the whole wide world: Evernote. If you haven’t heard of it, it might be worth a quick Google, especially if you’re thinking of going “paperless”. It seems to be the buzzword lately when it comes to Getting Organized (eek!).

The blog is by Mark Carrigan, who also has problems with Evernote; and he asks the question that got me thinking about my dependency on this most amazing–and frustrating–hunk of software: “What do you actually use Evernote for?“. The question intrigued me enough to write a reply … which I realized had quickly evolved into a blog. So I’ll post it here instead. It goes something like this:

evernoteI was sucked into Evernote for probably the same reason most of us were: it’s just a perfect way to get at things that used to be horrors to keep track of, because they were hiding inaccessibly in file folders (real paper ones or on a hard drive). Without tags to filter what you need to look for, the grouping of the notebooks to filter out what you DON’T want to dig through, as well as searches to pinpoint a specific target, all that information we tend to collect was either useless or just too time consuming to scan through manually to find anything. Eyestrain, paper cuts, paper everywhere! I think this is where Evernote is at it’s finest.

That said, Evernote (to me) seriously sucks at APPLYING that data in any usable way when it comes to relating the individual notes in an organized manner. For example, I’m into writing novels and screenplays. Evernote makes it too awesomely easy to grab whatever device is at hand to jot a random scene or character idea just as it pops into my head. There are no end of ways you can throw an idea at Evernote and they all magically collect in the right place by just tagging the note with the project name. But … once enough of these ideas collect to the point I actually want to start writing, there is absolutely NO way in Evernote to start organizing these notes so that the cards on the screen begin to look like the outline of an actual story. For a brief moment I tried playing with multi-level numbering schemes prefixing my note titles to get them to fall right, but that got old (and insane) very fast.

scrivenerScrivener is my favorite way of organizing these ideas together … all those lovely index cards to drag and drop until a story pops out. It’s amazing! But … getting ideas from Evernote to Scrivener is a major PITA, and disheartening to do one at a time after I’ve taken all that time to collect them in Evernote in the first place. To migrate them piecemeal is like going back to chipping words in stone again (and we all remember that, right?).

And once you do, how do you keep Evernote and Scrivener synced up? If I want to jot another note, Evernote is still the go-to app, because Scrivener seriously sucks for not being on all my devices–they don’t have anything for my lovely little iPad, and its data exports don’t play nice with ANY other app. How do I know which notes are not yet in Scrivener?

So I just stop using Evernote for that project for fear of losing the ideas amongst all the others.

This is where the Evernote fanatics start grumbling and warming up their keyboards to defend their undying love for Evernote and how it “wasn’t designed for anything but to hoard data and find it later, NOT for anything else,” blah blah blah. I’ve never seen people so zealously defend what an application is NOT supposed to do, as if the original posters they’re attacking (and there are bunches of them, just like me) were threatening the American Way of Life or something.

@MiscEvernoteZealot: We’re not going to harm YOUR lovingly hoarded mound of data by asking for a new output feature. Relax. I understand what Evernote wasn’t designed for (I’ve read it enough on their forums). Evernote does what it does very well indeed, thank you very much. I still use it for all that …1200+ notes so far and growing. I’m with you on that.

But I can typically generate 1000+ notes (or twice that) for one story project alone (and I’m gleaning most other writers often do, too). And writers are not exactly a “splinter” crowd (ask any publisher or agent. And although I WISH Evernote would take a moment and add a feature to manually sort our notes, I’m aware they just won’t.

Meanwhile, Scrivener, as awesomely gorgeous and perfect as it is, has been promising an iOS app for over three years now, which must be a record for an iPad app (Guys … hire another developer or three already; the investment will return quickly–just look at your forums). So Scrivener is just about out of the picture for me as a writing tool, as well.gingko

Lately this has become something of a quest … minus the swords, dragons and fair maidens (dammit), but with plenty of wizards! One of them bade me go forth and find an odd yet-little-known creature known as Gingko (mispelling deliberate). This turned out to be a browser-based writing tool that turns Scrivener on its ear, offering an elegantly simple technique to amass almost any genre of writing project. I’m hesitant, having never tried to write a project fully on a browser before, but I love how I can access it from anywhere, and it looks every bit as easy as Scrivener at organizing scenes and ideas into stories. I’ll let you know how this goes! =)

But, alas, it isn’t that lovely data-bucket I can drop notes in randomly from every direction like Evernote is. With all the gadgets Evernote has popped out lately–scanners for business cards, OCR, searchable PDFs, searchable handwriting; you name it . . . you’d think a simple thing like manual note sorting would be a cinch for them.

They’re so focused on the IN, they’re barely looking at the OUT of it at all.

Why bother collecting all this information if we’re not going to actually USE it somehow in an organized fashion? A skeptical side of me is beginning to wonder if they’re collecting all of our data for themselves, instead of for us… just sayin’

I wonder how many of you identify with this one . . .

~takes a big breath . . . steps up to the podium~

Hi, my name is Miki, and I’m, uh, . . .  I’m addicted to office supplies!!  ~sobs~

It’s been two weeks since I last bought a G2 pen . . . well, a whole pack of them actually, indigo blue, fine tip.I can’t help it, they’re my favorites.

While I was there I may have looked at a few composition books, the kind with quad-ruled lines in them, which my inner engineer gets all excited about! And those colored sticky notes I never find a use for!! And OMG, multicolored binder clips!! Eek!

20 pack of Pilot G2 pens
Heaven in ink . . . sigh

I wonder if there’s a 12-step program for compulsive writers . . .

Oh, and there may have been some highlighters and a laser pointer I thought my cats might like. No, really: I can’t use a highlighter without a couple of fuzzballs pouncing up to sniff glassy-eyed around my homework. I need the laser pointer to literally throw them off the scent!

But that’s nothing compared to my excitement around anything with paper in it. If you’re a writer, perhaps you know what I mean. It would be nice to know I’m not alone.

When the urge gets to be too much, I will likely set out on a pilgrimage to my favorite place of quill repute (see what I did there?), a wonderful not-so-little place called the New Renaissance Bookshop on 23rd Avenue here in NW Portland. Along with lots of lovely inspirational things of all flavors and genres, there exist whole walls of blank-paged books crying out to be filled with awesome words and thoughts.

If the beautiful covers don’t draw you in . . . the artfully etched or pressed or drawn bindings might, covers meant to be touched as much as looked upon; in a plethora of inspiring scenes and designs. Perhaps the gold-edged or round-cornered pages will call out to you instead. These beautiful books range from the heavy, metal-clasped-and-hinged “book of shadows” variety, to the perfectly mini idea-book sized ones that yearn to live within your purse or backpack, ready to collect your wily ideas.

I can’t walk in that store without fondly admiring–or is it fondling admiringly–at least a dozen of these little journals.

journalsnotepads_ss61But for all this love of the blank page, I will rarely give in to this particular compunction. Experience has finally taught me that the empty pages that so attract my writerly sense will not placate my writerly needs. Often instead I will return home with a lovely book already filled with someone elses words.

The irony here is that although I love the physical form of journals to record my thoughts in, it is the computer keyboard that ends up fitting the bill. But it’s so less romantic . . .  sigh.

Here’s how this happens . . .

On one shelf in my home at this moment sit a half dozen lovely journals, still waiting to be filled. Most of them have their first ten or so pages carefully torn out. Many times have I blindly followed an inspiration to begin a physical journal in one of them, but a few pages in, my impatient fingers remind me how much faster my ideas could be recorded on a keyboard. I shake this thought off as unworthy and tarry onward, thinking how truly wondrous it is to lay ink to paper, ignoring the growing soreness in my wrist. But then, around the tenth or twelfth page mark, another unruly realization invades my paper-and-ink love affair:

My forgotten “organization foible” has unmasked itself once more! ( . . . stay tuned!)

Suffice it to say that I realize that every word I have painstakingly scribbled within those lovely pages . . . will have to be methodically retyped into a computer anyway, if for no other reason than for me to actually see them again. I know from years of trying how impossible it is to locate an entry in all those consecutive pages, especially trying to scan for words and ideas in my own handwriting. Perhaps one day they’ll make paper-and-ink journals with built in keyword search capabilities. I will come back to them then.

Until that day, I’ll stick with my Evernote app. I’ll talk about that one later, too, if that’s okay. I think it might be worth having one blog post just on that. For those of you who dream of becoming paperless, Evernote or one of its clones may be the way to go.

I think it may be a foible within a foible that alongside my love of pen and paper lives a deep desire to be completely paperless . . .  every idea, note, or journal entry digitized, tagged and search optimized.

Ah, the dichotomies that occur when foibles meet. =)