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I usually keep a notepad and pen with me at all times. So, if I'm out thinking about a story and a scene or a bit of dialogue comes to mind, I write it down for recall later. I also keep a list of things that need to be added or changed in the story in other places. Say, I'm working on chapter five -- writing or rewriting -- and I realize that what's happening there requires a change in chapter one, I write down the change in a list in my notebook to make later.

Lately, though, I've been using Evernote as sort of a digital journal for my writing. There are iPad and iPhone versions, too. I'm kind of torn, because I love having the handwritten notes to look at later. So, my question, is do you keep a writing journal to help organize thoughts and ideas and -- what do you use? A Word file, a paper notebook or something like Evernote? Are there any apps out there specifically for writers?

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See also closely related How do you track random thoughts and ideas and somewhat related What are the first things I should do with an idea? –  justkt Jan 18 '11 at 19:55
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6 Answers 6

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Applications: I cannot say enough good things about Scrivener, from Literature & Latte (for Mac). It's not a word-processing program, it's a writing program. You can organize notes, drag "notecards" and folders around, block out the rest of your screen, paste in photos and movie clips, and use a virtual corkboard to rearrange thoughts. It was THE main tool which got me unblocked and writing again, because it just made the entire process so easy.

Paper: I love the old-fashioned black-and-white-marbled bound notebooks.

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I'm really liking Celtx simply because it's free on the Mac. Very similar to Scrivener. –  Slick23 Jan 18 '11 at 21:17
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I personally love spiral notebooks when I'm out and about. You know, the cheaper than dirt, back to school sale, 10 for a dollar kind. I love that I can use one per project or destroy them with a latte and not feel bad about it. I end up importing images of the pages into OneNote if I want to keep what I've written. I love using OneNote for a quick cache of ideas. I have the free 20GB skydrive account that MS offers and my OneNote notebooks are all in that. The web based OneNote works pretty well on my phone and any computer I've tried too. It's not amazing, but it works.

Lately I have actually been using a wordpress blog that I have set to private. By setting up one category per project I get a lot of space out of it. I can upload sketches or ideas I've written down. I can access it from anything with a net connection. Tags have been amazingly useful for lateral organization. The biggest thing that has made this so nice for me is the ability to search through mountains of information amazingly quickly. The fact that it comes with a built in versioning system with a compare feature makes it pretty nice too.

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I use a combination of tools to not only accomplish this, but also to do periodic updates on any work in progress I might have. I store my primary versions of my files in a Dropbox folder, and then I use the DocsToGo app on my iPhone or iPad to access the documents. I don't have all the formatting tools I might need, but the primary goal is to update the content. I can always finalize the formatting later on my desktop PC.

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For my writing journal I use a regular notebook that I write in when I'm away from my computer or when I'm just tired of typing. I take it if I'm going on a trip or to school or to a friends house so I can always write in it.

For actually writing the story I use either MS Word or Scrivener depending on my mood. Shorter pieces I tend to use Word because I don't need most of the Scrivener functions. But if I'm writing a novel or something with a lot of planning or research I'll use Scrivener.

For notes I use MS OneNote. I use it to write down plot idea for later, character/setting sketches, deadlines, etc. I also use it for writing down notes for things I need to remember - books I wanna check out, movies I wanna watch, songs I liked, etc. It's also what I use for taking notes in my classes. I have an HP Tablet PC so I can write or type my notes in it and it works for everything from English and History to Math and Sciences.

For editing I use MS Word. I haven't found anything that's as clean and straight forward as Word for editing. Also, when I'm editing for work and not my own manuscripts, it has Track Changes features and allows for comments. Each user's edits and comments also come up as different colors to make it easier to differentiate.

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I've been using Springpad as an alternative to Evernote lately. I also use a simple to do list program on my Mac called Things that lets me organize the todos into projects. Works really well for keeping lists of edits that need to be made on any given writing project, especially long ones.

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I just signed up for an account. Awesome, thanks for this one. –  Slick23 Jan 18 '11 at 21:49
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As FoxCutter has said elsewhere, for many of us Moleskine is hard to beat. You can pick a size that works for you to carry anywhere, ranging from just smaller than an iPad to one that fits in a pocket and clutch. The fact that it is a notebook lets you keep everything in one place. The fact that you can get it in a "to-go" size means you can have it with you whenever an idea strikes.

And personally I find that I seem to think better with a pen on paper than in any other medium. It's just a personal quirk. I collect ideas on paper and often do my first drafts there. If you work better with a screen and typing, this won't work so well for you.

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I love Moleskine's -- my trouble is organizing. I'm starting to go with one notebook per project. –  Slick23 Jan 18 '11 at 21:16
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