Tag Archives: lifestreaming

How many notebooks does a writer need?

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Photo courtesy SXC.

The other day, when I stopped to think about it, I realized I have a bit of an office supply fetish. It’s not that I’m compulsively well organized; it’s more that, to me, file folders and new pens and notebooks–especially notebooks– symbolize the potential that exists within the articles, columns and other writing projects that I might use those very office supplies to create.
I often claim my root profession to be documentarian, so my profusion of notebooks, journals, blogs and other recording tools seems appropriate. I recently did an inventory of my notebooks/journaling tools, both past and present. Here are the varieties of notebooks, if I may use that term loosely, that I’ve found to be indispensable over the years…

My Notebook Inventory

Reporter’s Notebook—Distinguished by being bound at the top edge and (for the most part) being slim enough to fit in a shirt pocket. I use reporter’s notebooks (or memo pads, if nothing else is available) for all my interviews and never mix interview notes with notes unrelated to a specific story assignment. That makes locating notes from an interview years after the fact much easier, as does my habit of listing the article topics covered and the date range for the interviews on the cover of the notebook.

Writer’s Daybook—This notebook is for all writing-related notes that are NOT interviews, including story outlines, to-do lists, handwritten rough drafts, snippets of dialog overheard on the light rail, and (most importantly) the ideas that often come completely unannounced when I am focusing on something other than writing. I prefer hardbound notebooks with illustrated covers for my daybooks. My mind must be going places when I write, because I’m always drawn to notebooks decorated with map, postcard/letter or travel themes.

Food/Exercise journals—Many years before my current relationship with the food/exercise recording site SparkPeople.com, I kept richly detailed running logs as a teenager. I gave my regular running routes names and wrote evocative descriptions of the weather, my thoughts during the run, and the friends and neighbors I often saw along the way. In late 2006, as I was preparing for a move, I found my old running logs and cracked open a few. It was if I popped open a vintage bottle of wine—decades later, the content was still moving and took me back to a time when I viewed burning calories as an almost spiritual experience.
When I reviewed Julia Cameron’s book The Writing Diet last year, I learned that this type of notebook writing, whether done online or on paper, serves another purpose—keeping a food journal can help one lose or maintain weight.

Blogs—I’ve kept several blogs over the past 4 years—this blog on writing and editing nonfiction; my blog on the creative process, Creative Liberty; a short-lived personal blog and two private blogs that I set up to chart progress on various writing projects I’ve got going.
Using blogs as diaries or notebooks is pretty well documented (since the word blog was originally short for the term “web log”). While my two current blogs are more commercially/communally focused than the preceding ones, I like the digital capture possibilities of blogs for writing research and may start using WordPress as a content management system to corral notes for projects that will end up online in one format or another anyway.

Social media updatesA lot of people pooh-pooh the idea of one’s personal Twitter tweets or Facebook/LinkedIn status updates being anything more than narcissistic over-sharing, but I disagree. While I’m not ready to do full-on lifestreaming myself, I do find that dipping into the journal-like commentary of my friends and contacts has positive research value for me as a writer. When I upload personal observations via social media, I do feel as if I’m sharing some sort of “open notebook” with my social circle—much like a blog, only more limited in its distribution. Some of my non-blogging Facebook friends share their activities and observations through posting notes and links, and a few (I’m thinking of Rod and Bill K. in particular here) friends share their blog posts as notes on Facebook, bringing their content to friends who don’t typically visit blogs.
I’m cautious about my use of social media as an open notebook for now, but I am tantalized by the possibilities.

The questions to you…

  • How many notebooks or notebook-like online tools do you use on a regular basis?
  • Do you prefer to have your note-taking in some all-in-one sort of solution (one big notebook) or use task-specific tools (lots of little notebooks)?
  • Do you purchase/select your notebooks or journaling tools primarily based on functionality, aesthetics, or both?
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Digital Diets, Information Overload, and Your Writing

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

A lot of people resolve to lose weight at the beginning of the year, but few carry through successfully. I’ve discovered from personal experience that sustained weight loss is possible, but what works for many people is a tough, but attainable, set of practices. There’s no quick fix.

What does this have to do with writing and editing? A lot. It appears that 2009 may be the year when “info-bloat” reaches a turning point and challenges the benefits that many have seen from digital and online platforms and Web 2.0 technologies. Thinking proactively and taking preventative steps can keep your writing from suffering the effects of too much information, available too readily, with no focus to guide its usage or significance.

The incredible expanding information waistline

The fact that the digital universe is in “growth” mode is obvious to everyone, but it may come as a shock that, according to market research firm IDC, by 2011 the digital universe will be 10 times the size it was in 2006. ComputerWorld, the source for that fascinating little tidbit, ran a very good article last August about the consequences of information overload and what companies can do to avoid “data-rich” parts of their businesses becoming data dump heaps.

As reporter Mary Brandel writes,

“Today, ideas and discussions are broadcast not at a prescribed time on a specific channel via a single medium, but all the time, on millions of forums, discussion groups, blogs and social networks. And they occupy a growing piece of our consciousness, thanks to RSS feeds, Twitter messages, mailing list and newsletter subscriptions, instant messaging, e-mail and Web surfing … It’s gotten to the point where information — which should be useful — has in some cases become a distraction.”

Inherent in the explosive growth of information is the rise of user-generated content. Duo Consulting, a group of web content experts, posted an article this month about digital overload, noting that “participatory media is resulting in a nearly infinite supply of content, although the increased fragmentation of attention is certainly an implication” of the shift to many-to-many, mass collaboration types of communication.

Do I look fat in this data?

Things have gotten so bad, Duo notes, that some are considering “digital diets,” limiting their intake of computer and Internet based materials to the bare minimum. Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits and Write to Done blogs, wrote a great post in 2007 on the Web Worker Daily, giving readers 21 tips for dealing with info-overload. Many of his tips work well for anyone considering a digital reducing program:

Map out your day. (Make a time map of what you want to accomplish.)

Allow RSS feeds to overload. (Just because it is there doesn’t mean you have to read it.)

Learn to focus. (In other words, learn to “unitask” and get one thing done at a time.)

Eliminate the news. (Believe me, as a journalist, I can vouch for this one—if something’s truly earth-shattering, you will hear about it at work or from friends.)

Read only 5 posts a day/Respond to only 5 emails a day/Write 5-sentence emails.

Beyond editorial-type content online, Seth Godin also points out that our writing has to compete against marketing in new media, which is rapidly leading to what he calls “social clutter”:

“It’s the clutter of the impersonal. Yes, you want an alert from a friend when it’s really a friend and really an alert. But what happens when it’s an ad that pretends to be an alert? Or what if it’s not an ad, but not really a totally personal tweet either?”

Seth predicts that social clutter will only get worse, so it appears the best offense against digital info-glut is a good defense. I’ve outlined a couple of steps writers can take to avoid the damage that information overload can produce, both from the standpoint of the information we consume, as well as that which we produce.

Tips for writers as information consumers

Resist the urge to try out every new social media tool that comes along. Be a mid-cyle adopter. Read about the promise of the next big thing while it’s in beta testing, sort through the hype and cautionary tales that follow the initial public rollout, then jump on board when you have reason to. Which leads us to the next tip…

Know why you’re online. The Internet is TV on steroids; not only is it possibly to surf endlessly and view passively, you have billions of “channels” to do it on. Before you sit down at the computer, or before you click the next link, ask yourself, “What am I looking for by going to this site?”

Find the 20 percent of social media/Web 2.0 tools that further your writing and learn how to use them effectively. Writers have a lot of uses for social media. Blogging can make you a better writer, Twitter can be useful for getting a heads-up on breaking news stories or doing quick fact-checks on stories and Facebook is so useful to journalists that numerous news organizations have a presence there. But to use each tool effectively, it helps to find out how your fellow writers or editors are using them.

Use content filtering to help the information you really need come to you. The ComputerWorld article offers several useful options for setting up aggregators or feed systems that provide only highly discussed and relevant content on a given topic. The article mentions using Techmeme for technology news, Blogrunner for general news and Wikio for global coverage. It also recommends customizing your iGoogle dashboard to develop a newsfeed that’s unique to your interests, something that I also recommend highly.

Another way to filter your content is to select a circle of Web 2.0 friends and acquaintances who’s online activies mesh with your information-gathering needs and following their “lifestreams” on services such as FriendFeed or Plaxo Pulse. Mark Krynsky, writing on Lifestream Blog, discusses this filtering strategy:

“I’m now leveraging the ultimate human filtering algorithm to bring me the wisdom of the masses. By selectively following those who are sharing bookmarks, Tweets, RSS shared items, and more, for my areas of interest, I am increasing the chance of having creme of the crop content delivered to me. This shift is treating people as a valued commodity ahead of the content.”

Have an “analog” workday and compare your productivity to a typical digital day. Try reporting, writing or editing “old school” style for one day. Travel back in time to, say, 1990 and work with the tools from that era: using a computer to type up your story is fine, but call sources on a land-line phone, take notes in a paper notebook and go to the library for research (it’s OK if your librarian uses the Internet to help you, but you have to interact with her face to face). Then work on a similar project in your usual digital fashion. If you save time doing it the old way, you may want to put yourself on a digital diet for a while.

Tips for writers as information producers

Think of your audience before beginning any project. What is the return on investment your reader will get for engaging with your material? How can you be of value to “digital dieters,” making their brief plunges into cyberspace worth it?

Think pull, not push. The upside of Web 2.0 is that readers can customize their content and have it come to them. Writing seductive headlines, subject lines and blog post titles is a matter of making a provocative proposition, then backing it up with substance.

Distribute your content in non-paying media (blogs, Twitter, RSS) strategically. Offering content for free is sensible if you’re building your brand, creating a platform for later revenue-generating work, connecting with people who may be important to your projects, or if your passion for what you’re doing is your overriding motivation.

Link enthusiastically, but add value. I’ve pruned several bloggers from my RSS aggregator list who simply posted links every day. While the filtering of content that they provided was useful for a while, I longed to understand their take on the topic of their blog and what they had to share with their audience. When you link online, pay at least as much attention to where you’re sending readers as if you were sourcing the material for print.

Pay attention to usability and information design when creating for online distribution. Sometimes, good online content gets buried in a 2-inch-deep paragraph, or simply doesn’t read the same way on a screen as it does on a piece of paper. Learning to optimize your writing for online display can make the difference between your audience taking the actions you want them to and your voice being ignored.

Letting Go of the Words by Janice (Ginny) Redish is a terrific resource for web content producers and is filled with dozens of before-and-after website “makeovers” that focus almost entirely on how the content is arranged, rather than the visual design or the code behind the site.

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Write This Way: Writing and Editing Links for January 12, 2009

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Photo courtesy SXC.

It’s a new year, and time for our first 2009 installment of the writing-related hyperlink-love-fest we feature at least once a month on this blog.

1. Everyone still seems to be taking stock of the old year and setting goals for 2009. One inventive way to sum up 2008 if you’re a blogger, is to create a parataxis entry, which fuses a number of disparate, seeming unrelated fragments to create meaning. Michael Eddy, over at Orange Crate Art blog, used this technique on Jan. 1 by including the first sentence of the first post of the month for every month of 2008 on his blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“Small calendars for the new year, well designed and free. Alas, it’s a parking area that’s reserved. Victoria’s Secret likes to ask in its marketing, ‘What is sexy?’ Whoso would be a G-Man must be a pencil user, as Emerson might have put it.”

And so on. Musician and blogger Elaine Fine also jumped on the parataxis bandwagon, with somewhat different results:

“Daniel Wolf has put together a nifty Winter Album of twelve (and maybe more) piano pieces that incorporate a great range of compositional techniques. Scott Spiegelberg found this wonderful clip that is sure to make you smile. My grandmother kept magazines like this April 30, 1945 Life magazine on her coffee table. Thanks to Anne for this! And music criticism of unusual quality.”

I think parataxis is an interesting technique to experiment with—it can be fun to see if you find a thread of narrative in your varied posts if you blog, or it could be interesting to use the first-sentence/first-entry-of-the-month theme with a writer’s notebook, a poetry journal, or other analog writing tools.

2. Will Web 2.0 tools make us better memoirists or storytellers? That is the intriguing proposition of Kathy Hansen at A Storied Career blog, who asserts that 2008 was the year of the personal narrative, and that “lifestreaming” is the key to understanding why social networking tools will facilitate personal narrative nonfiction.

Lifestreaming, she explains, is the aggregation of personal content (status updates, blog or news item postings, photos, videos, etc.) across a number of services. FriendFeed and Plaxo Pulse are two examples of services that help users follow all their friends’ activities, from their status updates on Twitter or Facebook to their bookmarks on del.icio.us.

As Hansen tells it,

“Lifestreaming is unquestionably a form of personal narrative. It doesn’t provide a complete picture of one’s personal narrative; often the beholder is left to try to fill in the blanks, connect the dots, and assemble puzzle pieces. But in many ways, this lack of comprehensiveness is part of the charm. The little bits of information and media serve almost as story prompts that enable the reader to construct his or her own story about the lifestreaming person. And you can always ask the lifestreamer to fill in details or explain cryptic status postings.”

This assertion is one I’ve pondered privately for a few months now, and I tend to agree. As I determine what to post on my Facebook page, blogs and other places, I definitely think through my audience, how vulnerable I’m willing to be on the page (or screen) and how the items will reflect my experiences when I (or someone else) review them later. I believe that this tension between social media users’ desire to connect and share, and very real privacy and security concerns, will influence personal narrative development (or maybe it should be called “personal broadcasting”?) in the years to come.

3. If you are a mom with a book idea, take a minute to read an interview on Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Quips and Tips for Freelance Writers blog with Iris Waichler, MSW, a member of the Wyatt-MacKenzie Writer’s Co-operative. This innovative publishing group is comprised of 24 stay-at-home moms who had dreams of becoming published authors. Led by Nancy Cleary, the company has a special focus on publishing titles that relate to motherhood.

While Waichler acknowledges that being a member of a publishing co-operative has its drawbacks, the experience has mostly been positive:

“The team helped my book become a reality…My wonderful colleagues helped answer questions I had about a multitude of issues like book marketing, putting together a press release and sell sheet.

“We cheer each other on when something good happens like great publicity or a book award or successful author events.  We cheer each other up if things don’t go well and offer valuable advice about how to tackle writing, marketing, and book challenges.”

4. Finally, business communications expert Bert Decker recently posted his list of the Top 10 Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2008. For those who are interested in the public performance side of communication, Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen (who made Decker’s “good” list) added a few names of his own in a separate posting.

Whether or not you agree with (or like) the people on Decker’s lists, they have definitely all made their marks in the media world, and the list of “good” communicators (which includes Barack Obama, the late Tim Russert, Colin Powell, Mike Huckabee, Tina Fey and businessman John Chambers) provides ample material for discussing what it takes to reach your audience in this media-clogged world.

(P.S. Decker put GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on both the “best” and “worst” communicator lists, which perhaps emphasizes the truism that very few people can communicate in every situation with equal effectiveness.)

Bonus Links

Line Number Your Writing
An incredibly practical tip for those who receive feedback on their works-in-progress from Marsha at Writing Companion blog.

The Six People You Meet in Freelance Internet Writing Hell
Adam Brown details the types of people you don’t want to spend eternity with online in this hilarious post on the Freelance Switch blog.

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